Off-road cycle tracks way to go

RIGHT OF WAY: In Tokyo cyclists share the pavement not the road.
RIGHT OF WAY: In Tokyo cyclists share the pavement not the road.

It's healthy, economical, and good for the environment - so why aren't more of us getting on our bikes?

In a word: vehicles. They deter people from cycling, and with good reason.

Sharing the road with hulking great SUVs and giant trucks is inherently dangerous. Most of us know of somebody who has been killed or injured after being struck by a vehicle.

OFF-ROAD: David Killick pedals the old railway line in Nelson.
OFF-ROAD: David Killick pedals the old railway line in Nelson.

To be a modern, green city, Christchurch needs better, safer routes for cyclists. A commitment by the new council to build 13 cycleways over the next five years - at an estimated cost of $68 million - will prove to be money well spent. The paybacks will be less traffic congestion and less expenditure on roads. A more accessible, healthier city will be another plus.

Simply painting white lines on the road is not enough. Off-road cycle tracks, as found in many overseas cities and parts of New Zealand, are the only logical solution.

We also need to change our road culture.

Cycling in Tokyo
Cycling in Tokyo

Getting around the city is an exercise in tolerance. Christchurch's poor driving increases the risk for all road users.

Faults include impatience and aggression, not indicating, not changing lanes correctly, talking or texting on cell phones (it is supposedly now illegal but watch how many drivers do it), and strange manoeuvres like doing a U-turn anywhere.

Driving on bumpy, potholed roads increases driver frustration. Trying to turn right, with no green arrow, is nigh on impossible. Courtesy and patience would help.

A friend who visited Christchurch was horrified when a driver did a dangerous manoeuvre in front of her and then made an obscene gesture (yes, most aggressive drivers are male). She couldn't wait to leave.

In Germany a few years ago, our friend slowed down where cycle tracks emerged from the forest. Here, drivers would be likely to speed up. When I slowed for cyclists at the bottom of Cashmere hill, the driver behind started tailgating me because he was unable to wait a few seconds.

SUVs, which now account for about 40 per cent of all vehicles on Christchurch roads, may be good off-road or for towing a boat, but in cities are hard to see around if you are in a smaller vehicle or are a cyclist. Cyclists are not immune from blame. They can be as infuriating and ill-mannered as some drivers. Faults include ignoring red lights, give way and stop signs, riding the wrong way down one-way streets and swerving through multiple lanes of traffic.

Pedestrians, too, can be aggressive, walking out on to busy roads. Part of the problem is a lack of pedestrian crossings. Instead, pedestrians and cyclists often have to dash into the middle of the road into "refuges", while traffic roars past less than a metre away.

In Hanmer Springs, signs at crossings tell pedestrians to give way to cars. This is plain wrong, and reinforces our cars- first philosophy. In most towns around the world, cars give way to pedestrians at crossings. Road rules are enforced.

It is no surprise that accidents occur. Whose fault it is does not really matter. With no protection, cyclists and pedestrians are always going to come off worse.

Cycling should not have to be a combat exercise. European cities are full of off- road cycle tracks. I used them often when living in Germany more than 20 years ago. In Cologne, a city with a much larger population than Christchurch, getting around by bike was easier and safer.

Japanese cities also have cycle lanes on pavements. When I visited Kansai University, students were not allowed to drive cars into the grounds. Instead there was a massive cycle park.

In Nelson, we loved the off-road cycle track that extends from the city to Richmond, following the old railway line (getting rid of that was another mistake by myopic planners, but at least something positive is being done). The trail extends all the way to Rabbit Island (we felt all 50km of it afterwards).

Electric bikes are a smart idea if it gets windy.

Unfortunately, there is no proper off-road track along Nelson's waterfront, just those white lines, and you cycle perilously close to huge logging trucks.

Tourists will delight in off-road cycle trails in rural and scenic parts of New Zealand - however, city cycle tracks are the responsibility of local councils.

The transport plan for Christchurch's CBD encourages cycling and pedestrian access. So far so eco-friendly, but how do you get to the centre to begin with? New cycleways will be essential.

Why not use suburban berms, which are often redundant? Or footpaths. A small strip exists on Tennyson Street, in Beckenham, and Lincoln Road.

Let's build off-road cycle corridors from the suburbs to town: freedom from cars, freedom from fumes.

The Press