Over the weeks of lockdown, the rule to “stay home, stay local” has led to more bikes on our streets, and some very creative constraints. We’ve been watching our Bike Burbs all over the city rediscovering their neighbourhoods, sharing advice and encouragement, and coming up with clever ways to get fresh air.
None more so than Bike East Auckland – already famous for their all-ages group rides and epic food adventures, they’ve really set the bar high for community connections and making your own fun in lockdown! Local energiser Jo Clements reports in…
Most people won’t think of East Auckland as a mecca for cyclists. If anything, we’re more likely to be noted for the high number of single-occupant car trips, and for people protesting against bike-friendly T2 lanes or being generally fierce towards anyone that suggests public transport could be an alternative.
Even our roads are hostile – not just the drivers who occupy them. We have yet to see any of the safe cycling infrastructure other parts of Auckland enjoy (although the AMETI project is on the way). On our daily commutes to work and to school, myself and many other local cyclists often feel like we’re riding against a tide of cars and “bike-lash”.
But despite the outwardly un-bike-friendly impression East Auckland gives off, we also have a growing community of people on bikes who are well-connected, mutually supportive, who ride together – and who know how to handle a lockdown.
When the streets emptied out, we didn’t just hop on our bikes for a casual spin, centre lane, Pakuranga Road, just because we could. Although yes, we did a bit of that.
We also made Strava and bike-map art on a multitude of themes…
We created local time-trial tracks, and fulfilled 100km rides without leaving the neighbourhood
We rode laps around our back yards…
… and took over empty carparks.
— Jo (@JoClements19) April 10, 2020
We ventured up every tiny dead-end road and a multitude of cul-de-sacs to outdo each other, discovering all sorts of delights in the process
We gave credit where credit was due – we managed to encourage a local board member to ride a bike more than once. And our local cop received a dedicated piece of Strava lockdown art as a thank you for backing us and our local adventures online.
We commissioned helpful DIY bike repair advice, like this video by local teen Jaden Clemow, on how to fix a flat.
Above all, we grew as a local bike community.
Since March 25th, we have had a 5% increase of members on the Bike East Auckland Facebook page. There’s now a whopping 503 of us, and while we may not all be super-active on social media, we can definitely be seen out on the empty streets riding.
And we’re not just Lycra-clad, road-confident riders – but also mums, dads, kids, teens, seniors. Every possible type of bike tribe is now occupying our once car-dominated roads, and we all look happy.
Now we can see how when our car traffic is reduced, bikes and walkers will take over – and we have some surveys to prove it, thanks to the Backyard Bike Count. For example, take The Parade along Bucklands Beach, usually a haven for vehicle movement and parked cars: this week, a combined bike and foot traffic total of 99 across a fifteen-minute period, compared to just 23 vehicles. Active transport outnumbering motor vehicles by 4:1. There have been similar results on other local streets.
Of course, it wouldn’t be East Auckland without the usual grumblings, particularly on our local community page the East Auckland Grapevine. There has been more than one thread to remind “cyclists” (aka fellow community members, just on wheels) that we’re still not welcome – not on our roads (pre lockdown) and now not on our narrow shared paths filled with walkers. Even our Local Board chairperson posted a reminder for us to slow down and ring our bells before passing.
Then again, undoubtedly lockdown has highlighted many of the issues that those of us on bikes have known about since forever, including insufficiently wide paths, missing links, and lost opportunities to create safe space on the roads.
Now, those issues are being noticed by the whole community, many of whom are newly on bikes themselves. And thanks to this most surreal of times, we may have finally got the attention and support we deserve from our councillors.
Just this week, the Howick Local Board committed a substantial amount of money towards investigating and prioritising the Walking and Cycling Plan that was developed in 2018. This is huge!
Let’s hope the development stage comes quickly, and well before locals get too settled back into old driving habits and cyclists once again get scared off our streets. We are only just beginning to relax into our new sense of freedom.
Most of all, it’s too soon to say farewell to the unexpected joys of the last few weeks: the creative challenge of Strava art, the families biking together, the free-range kids exploring the neighbourhood, the newbies brushing up their bike skills in a low-stress environment, the seniors on their e-bikes wasting the roadies up hills – for in this historical time, East Auckland discovered cycling is the future.