Think of Christchurch and quite naturally you think of cycling.
OPINION: Of bikes piled in untidy heaps outside schools and shopping malls, of cyclists on every kind of bike imaginable sweeping through Hagley Park in all weathers, of the serious mountainbikers ripping around rough tracks strung across the Port Hills.
Thirty years ago, many pupils were still biking to school every day and large areas were specifically set aside at tertiary institutions such as the University of Canterbury and filled with bike stands. Fifty years ago, the route from Ilam through the park to what is now the Arts Centre on Rolleston Ave was bursting with cycling students making their way between the two campuses for hourly lectures.
There are still many tens of thousands of Christchurch folk who enjoy hopping on their bikes. But the number who are reliant on them as their principal form of personal transport has declined.
The rise and rise in popularity of privately owned cars - including among those in their late teens and early 20s who once would have, as a matter of course, been on two wheels - may not have dissuaded the hard-core cyclists. However, the heavier volumes of traffic on city roads have had an effect on putting off those less dependent on their bikes, as has the state of roads in Christchurch since the earthquakes.
Excluding the Port Hills, Christchurch remains, physically, an ideal city for cycling. While not quite as flat as a billiard table, it still has the perfect topography for biking. Many streets are wide and, away from the main routes, not too congested. And if you have a head wind one day, there is a good chance you will have a tail wind the following.
In post-quake Christchurch, it is arguably easier to get around parts of the city on a bike than in a car or by bus. However, that mobility comes at a price exacted by the state of the roads, sharp rocks and broken glass. Just ask any cyclist how many punctures they have had to repair in recent months.
After the quakes, much was made of the need for the new Christchurch to be a green city, to go back to its cycling roots. Many submissions were made to the city council's excellent Share an Idea initiative about the importance of putting bikes first in the city centre, followed by pedestrians and public transport, and only then cars and facilities for them.
But after all the talk and apparent acceptance and embracing of the idea by those in power, the green vision remains a very pallid green. Very little has really been done.
While cars may still be king in Christchurch, at last the cycling community has some small victories to celebrate. Last Thursday, the city council recognised the need to develop six cycleways at a cost of $25.2 million. Unfortunately, only three have been prioritised for funding in the next three years - routes from the university to the city, the northern suburbs to the city, and linking the city to the Little River Rail Trail.
A promising Borrow A Bike scheme was also trialled last week, in which people could hop on a cycle for the day in return for leaving their details and a valued possession.
Both are a good start, but it is time to speed up on the cycling front and finally get out of first gear.
- The Press