Culture Change Called For

We All Have to Change

Motorist culture centers around a lifestyle of last-minute daring-do. We've all been there done that. 

It is a lifestyle that crowds as much experience into the day as possible. One's automobile, the unspoken logic goes, needs to be as fast, as precise, as comfortable and as punctual as possible. 

That is, nothing should get in the way of one's headlong, street-bound, motorway-launched pursuit of being on-time to the next event, be it pleasure or commerce.

That is what is maiming and killing cyclists on Auckland roads. 

Obstruction, even for five or ten seconds is anathema to a motorist in a hurry. When one's lifestyle includes going into debt for the latest German or Japanese car in order to get to work or to the gathering in style, or when one 'graduates' from the necessity to commute on a bike as a preteen, one is not inclined to slow down nor to afford any leeway to cyclists.

Furthermore, the speeds which today' cyclists generate are equal to that of cars in many situations. Drivers are simply not cognizant of how fast cyclists go these days. The average driver thinks she or he has a lot more time to turn in front of that cyclist than is the true case. Impromptu turns left and right by uncomprehending drivers take down a lot of cyclists.

Who are cyclists anyway? You and me, regular people. Your neighbor. Your work colleague. Your cousin, niece, nephew, uncle, auntie. Your children, my daughters, his son. Her doctor, her lawyer, his teacher.

Driver Education Change

We are now well into a second generation of Kiwi adult motorists who have never ridden a bike. A novel yet imperative change to driver education would be to require every novice motorist to ride a bike for a set amount of time on a roadway with traffic so they know what it feels like out there Sharing the Road.

We have passed the threshold of maximum freedom represented by the automobile that was promised decades ago. Commuting in near-gridlock conditions is no one's realization of freedom of movement. Nor is it the solution to shrinking one's carbon footprint. A simple way to beat gridlock on crowded urban and suburban streets is to cycle.

New Zealand roads have become such an ideological battleground between 'us and them' that cyclists have come to be symbols of hatred for many motorists. Symbols are no longer people, they have become less than human. For some motorists--demonized. Bikes represent the devil, or at least an annoyance in 'their' way. A rational weighing up of the 5-10 seconds it might take longer in a commute of 20-60 minutes to slow down behind a bike until it is safe to pass never enters the mind blinded by symbolic reaction.

What we have not yet learned to do is to leave earlier, to expect some delays from other modes of transport sharing our roadways with us, and to appreciate that cars are no longer kings of the road. In fact it is the rare adult Kiwi cyclist who does not own and use one or more cars in his daily life. But that does not mean that four wheels rule.

Law Change

Our young culture has some maturing to do. We need to see cycling and walking as healthy, constructive alternatives to desk-bound jobs and to automobile-centered lifestyles. Vulnerability is a huge issue when it is your life at stake. The speed and bulk of cars and trucks make them into weapons, deadly weapons when they encounter a cyclist or pedestrian, no matter who is in the legal right. The more vulnerable always lose. We need to change laws to reflect that vulnerability. The bigger and the faster need to shoulder more of the response-ability.

Cyclists, like their motoring counterparts on the shared roadways of NZ, need to anticipate having to take evasive action because of someone else's unawareness or downright stupidity. But again, the vulnerability factor needs to be high on the list. Motorized vehicles are no match for slower, flesh-and-blood actors. The car or truck always wins. We need to empathize with that brave soul out there risking his or her life to beat the system, be it poor health or traffic snarls on their regular commute.

Last, those groups of cyclists are out there because every one is convinced that it is much safer to ride in a group than on your own. Vehicles see you more easily, and find it more difficult to blow past twenty bodies on bikes than to bully a lone cyclist to the edge of the tarmac. Yet the behavior of even grown, rational men in a group is often enough irrational and exuberant to the point of what motorists correctly perceive to be careless if not downright arrogant riding.

Cyclists Need to Change

Running red lights is no way to make motorists get onside. Cyclists are unpredictable at intersections with traffic lights. Cyclists too have to learn to slow down, to break stride when called upon by the laws of the land. It is a big ask when your muscles are circulating endorphins, your body circulating adrenaline, your mind focussing on the wheel ahead before you hit the next hill. But if motorists have to break stride, so can and must cyclists. The consequences are born by all cyclists and all drivers who encounter the running of red lights. Not just yourself.

The time for acknowledging cycling as an integral, not peripheral, part of daily life in Auckland and in NZ is here. We cannot afford to kill and maim our own any longer. We need the life skills of those who have gone down on their bikes. We need their enthusiasm for life, their regard for the natural environment they cycle through. They love life. Why shouldn't we help them on their way?     

Dale Johnson