An inside (bicycle) job
When I owned a Saab I belonged to the Automobile Association (AA). It just made sense. I no longer have the Saab and I no longer belong to the AA, but the AA still sends me its excellent magazine. The last issue was so good I read it all the way to their annual report.
It’s a very successful business — it can sell you insurance; lend you money; insure you, book your holiday, teach you to be a defensive driver and, of course, come and fix your Saab. All this and a magazine.
It adds up to a fine looking balance sheet. A great big gorilla of a balance sheet, in fact, alongside the modest bank accounts of cycle advocacy groups I belong to. Like ours, the AA is a lobby group. Like ours, it speaks for its members about the state of New Zealand’s roads. Unlike ours, it has serious money.
An earnest campaigner such as I cannot read such a mighty balance sheet without imagining what you might do with that kind of ammo.
The AA is governed by its members. Once a year they meet, all the way from the Settlers Hotel in Whangarei to the AA Centre in Invercargill, to elect representatives to the national council. Admission to the meeting is by presentation of your current financial AA membership card.
The annual report has a photo of the men of the national council. A white man in middle age who likes to wear a suit and tie would feel very much at home at an AA council meeting.
Reading this report, with its handsome numbers and its handsome council, thinking of our proud cycling army, I couldn’t help wondering: are we destined to fall into one another’s arms?
What if we lonely cyclists were to harness the enormous lobbying power and resources of the AA to advocate for the finest road vehicle of all: the humble bicycle? As an oppressed minority, we know all about turning up to meetings and making our voices heard.
Motorists don’t. A silent, contented majority, they feel less need. How many would come to the Settlers Hotel in Whangarei and the AA Centre in Invercargill to eat club sandwiches and vote? My guess is not that many.
What would happen if we cyclists were to join up en masse, turn up to each and every AGM en masse and vote for one of our own en masse? What would happen would be this: we would get our own people onto the national council and we would democratically take the reins of the Automobile Association of New Zealand.
We could then use this powerful body to advocate for making the road friendly to all vehicles, bicycles included. We would lobby for cycle lanes. We would lobby for separate cycleways. We would lobby for cycle-friendly cities. We would never stop talking, because we would have the budget and the resources.
And we would talk like Jeremy Clarkson. Yes, the one from Top Gear. Have you read what he’s has been writing lately? He loves Copenhagen, loves the bikes. “There are no bloody cars cluttering the place up,” he writes, “almost everyone goes almost everywhere on a bicycle.”
If Jeremy Clarkson can love the bicycle, anyone can. We would support the clip-on cycle lane for the Auckland Harbour bridge. We might even stump up a bit of funding for it. We would support the Auckland CBD rail loop. We would advocate for getting people out of cars because that makes it nicer for everyone, including the people in cars.
But is any of this possible? Could we not just find ourselves slapped with injunctions and constrained at every turn by incensed petrol heads waving a copy of the AA constitution at us?
Perhaps. I imagine it would be easy to stop us if you could show we weren’t acting according to the aims and objects of the association. But our defence would be solid: our plan would be sure to reduce congestion — the driver’s mortal enemy. What act could be more more car friendly than to build sufficient cycle ways to empty the motorway?
Driving is not the fun it used to be; the roads are full of idiots.
We would restore those golden days when you could drive 10 miles down state highway one listening to Motoring with Robbie without seeing another car.
Would it work? Well, not now. I’ve shown my hand.
But I offer this thought to the country’s motorists — we had you by the throat and you didn’t even know it. Please. Bear this in mind next time you are about to elbow us off the road.