Post-quake Christchurch less cycle-friendly
Christchurch was once called the Copenhagen of the south. But now the city's cyclists feel isolated and picked on by motorists.
Vulnerable. Unsafe. Fearful. Safe. Alert. Anxious. These are just some of the words cyclists use when describing riding in Christchurch.
Before September 2012, cycling in the city was safer. It was easier.
But since the quake, roads have become almost like obstacle courses, littered with traffic cones and potholes .
Cyclist Robert Fleming knows all too well that cycling can be dangerous.
Two months ago he was hit by mistake by a car in Travis Rd. He spent five days in hospital with several injuries including broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
Cycling in Christchurch was "atrocious", he said.
He also felt traffic had become more aggressive.
This week Mayor Bob Parker proposed a $20-a-year "tax" on the city's ratepayers to help fund cycleways. It should be noted however, the proposed $20 cycle charge is offset by a $20 drop in the general rate.
The proposal has already created divisions. Most cyclists rejoiced but others called for those who use bikes to pay a registration fee as motorists do.
Keen cyclist Des Erby, however, said people needed to get off cyclists' backs.
"There are good drivers and bad drivers, just the same as there are courteous riders and rude riders."
Most accidents were caused by a moment's inattention, not malicious behaviour, he said.
The council appears committed to making cycling better, but is more needed?
Axel Wilke, a senior traffic engineer and transport planner with traffic engineering consultancy ViaStrada, said to make a cycle-friendly city you needed three things: strong political support, money, and technical support.
"I look at the cities that have made a difference and you always have a very strong mayor who wants to make it happen, Sydney, London, New York . . . It's always been led by the mayor or lord mayor and if strong political support isn't there it won't happen."
Wilke, who specialises in planning for cyclists, said Christchurch had unlimited potential as it was flat, several suburbs had strong grid layouts and many streets were relatively wide.
By creating a physical separation between motorists and cyclists the opportunity for conflict was minimised, he said.
University of Canterbury senior lecturer Glen Koorey said Christchurch had the perfect layout for a comprehensive cycle network, and clear divisions were necessary. Likewise, lowering speed limits in known hot spots, such as Riccarton Rd, would be hugely beneficial.
"We are a bit behind the eight-ball here in Christchurch about putting in lower speed zones," Koorey said.
"I have looked at this so much all over the world and the benefits seem self-evident.
"It's like promoting the benefits of water."
The $69 million cost for the cycleways would be offset by fewer accidents, less road maintenance and less congestion, he said.
A lot of work is needed though.
Cars, pedestrians and cyclists competed for space in too many places, making it dangerous for everyone, he said.
"The key thing is get safe crossings and you need to provide cycle lanes, like on Moorhouse Ave."
Koorey stressed some people would ride regardless, but a large chunk of the population could be encouraged to cycle if made to feel safe.
Some have already been convinced.
Cantabrian Gavin Tait dusted off his bike after taking 2 hours to get home in his car on February 22, 2011.
"From that day I wanted to be at home as quickly as possible so I started biking a lot more with it in the back of mind having been through the February quake and I can do it in 25 minutes."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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