Buy Your Neighbour A Bike! Cycling for Social Change

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It’s been quiet around here because shit’s been gettin’ done in the real world. Among it all, a new issue of Metro goes on sale today with a cycling feature written by me and my brother Greg Wood. [Not available online, sorry.]

Since I’ve based myself in Brooklyn, NYC, I have reclaimed my right to bike anywhere – something I’d let slip during my decade in Wellington. That’s partly because I worked just two blocks from where I lived, but also because my bike was stolen on Karangahape Road just before I made the move south from Auckland. Doh.

When I lived in Auckland, I commuted to 95bFM by bicycle several days a week. The reason I felt safe doing so was that I started work at 6am and finished at 3pm, so I was never really riding with the rush-hour traffic. The few times I had to ride in the rush, I haaaaaated it. (But the only time I ever came off a bike was when I was younger, and riding to school on the footpath. A convertible – I couldn’t see it below the hedge – came barreling out of a driveway. I went over , the bike went under. Thank goodness it wasn’t the other way around.)

Anyhoo… the Metro story is pretty crammed, but there’s always more that can’t fit. For instance, Greg and I took a “Jane’s Ride” through a neighbourhood near my house with Doug of Brooklyn Spoke, and Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, who were showing off the new bits of cycling infrastructure around those parts. It was great; the kind of ride that I reckon Auckland will see more of in the future… hopefully…

Doug was great to chat with. He’s a TV producer and director who writes the Brooklyn Spoke to be in the conversation about New York’s streets: what (and who) they’re for. He didn’t make it into the Metro story, so here’s an excerpt from his interview. I liked his points about “normal clothes”, and his sneaky plan for people to buy their neighbour a bike if they want a faster commute in their own car.

What changes have you noticed in the neighbourhood since the cycling infrastructure started to improve? 

Doug: I have lived in NYC since 1998 and I’ve lived in Brooklyn since 2003. I’ve seen all kinds of changes. The biggest change I’ve seen has really been in the cyclists themselves. I am wearing my cycling clothing. [Doug is wearing a button-down shirt and jeans.] This is it. No spandex, no Lycra. I wear what I wear to work on my bike. I see more and more of that. When I started cycling there was a lot more spandex. And now it’s just people getting to work, getting to school. That’s the social change.

The physical change has been all the cycling infrastructure. I used to bike up and down 1st and 2nd Ave in Manhattan. It was scary! It was really scary. So I dressed like I was ready for battle: reflective clothing, big old helmet, lights blaring. And now it’s so much more relaxed and so much more casual. You have to be careful, but it’s just easier now.

What do you say to the motorist who doesn’t understand all this kerfuffle about bikes? 

Doug: One of the reasons you shouldn’t be afraid of a bicyclist on the road… Think of it this way: if you want better traffic you should buy your neighbour a bike! Because if everybody in your neighbourhood is driving to work, to school, for their errands, that makes it harder for you to find a parking space, that makes it harder for you to get where you’re going.

But if everyone around you switched, and you could fit 12 of your neighbours [i.e. their bikes] in one parking spot, you’re going to find a parking spot. So if everybody bought their neighbour a bike, youd probably be better off. Bikes aren’t causing traffic. Cars cause traffic, so there’s a benefit to drivers when you increase the amount of cycling space on the road. Not everybody is going to switch to a bike. Some people can’t. But there are a lot of people who could who currently aren’t.

Cheers, Doug!

There’s more, much more. I might even get around to posting some of it! But for now, one of my very favourite things from the whole NYC CitiBike debate – from The Daily Show, of course. And yeah, my thoughts too: the bike-share scheme, bike lanes and more general bike infrastructure would be amazing further out from the city.

This is something that Auckland has in its favour: it thinks about people who live and work away from the CBD ( the Albany Highway bike/walk path, for example).

Right then. On yer bike!

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