The 'daily terror' of cycling

Last updated 05:00 18/05/2014

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Considering the wind and the hills, Wellington has an amazing number of cyclists, possibly because the city isn't as car-dominated as other New Zealand urban centres.

Compact dimensions and a good public transport network mean that alternatives are always on the table.

The experience of being a cyclist here is probably much like it is anywhere, moments of cheerful self-propelled independence alternating with bursts of raw fear.

There are always pinch points in a journey where the roading system suddenly forgets about you, you're left to either cower in the gutter or assertively stick yourself in the centre of the lane (1.5 metres wide of parked cars as advised) and ignore the irate motorists queuing up behind you. Being annoyingly assertive is the only way to avoid accidents.

Cycling through the Basin Reserve is a moment's blessed relief, but to approach from the north requires a dice with death across a three-lane arterial road (Kent Terrace). You end up in the right hand lane with cars parked on your right and a queue of traffic fresh off the motorway behind you. Sixty seconds of terror every day. There are spots like that all over the city.

The problem cyclists face is that we're stuck between worlds; we're either non-pedestrians or non-motorists, travelling at the speed of neither and rarely recognised as an independent entity.

There's also a minority of car, van and truck drivers so intractably motor vehicle addicted they struggle to see us as anything but an anachronistic nuisance.

It comes to a head at traffic lights where the temptation for cyclists to go illegally early and avoid the drag race is hard to resist. There are now cycle zones at the front of traffic lights in many places (that's good!) but even sitting in these little reserves you feel very nervous about the several thousand kilowatts of internal combustion behind you waiting for a green light.

Cycling is a brilliant way to transport reduce carbon emissions, and improve health stats for that matter, so it needs to be encouraged.

An increase in visible, independent cycle infrastructure will help drive participation and legitimise our equal claim to the road, encouraging other road-users to treat cycling as they do in the more enlightened cities of Europe.

Things are happening, which is great. Bus drivers are treating cyclists with renewed respect. Little bits of green-marked roadway are popping up everywhere.

The bottom line is this: if we could travel anywhere in the city on a network of green-space cycleways completely separated from motorised traffic, everyone would do it. It's such a pleasant and relaxing way to get about when you take traffic out of the equation. Obviously that's a pipe dream, but the closer we can get to it the better.

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I may be a cyclist but I'm also a motorcyclist, a bus user and a car driver. I actually have a slight petrol-head streak believe it or not. But when I look at a stationary roadway full of consumptive cars stuck in first gear with one person in them, I despair. It's warm and cosseting in there and you can zone out to The Rock or whatever, but it's an increasingly absurd thing to do in the face of the problems the world faces.

With the advances in bikes and biking (electrics are particularly interesting) we should do everything we can to foster this socially desirable activity. Basic safety and security is a really good place to start.

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