Make Christchurch cycle safe now

21:51, Apr 03 2014
Daniel Nielsen on cargo bike
PREFERRED TRANSPORT: Daniel Nielsen uses a cargo bike when not riding his single-geared road bike for commuting.

The city council has decided the cycleways network will take three extra years to build. The argument is, essentially, good things take time.

But the death of a cyclist who was hit by a truck on Lincoln Rd on Wednesday morning has highlighted the urgency of making cycling safer in Christchurch.

A network of cycleways would be nice, but what this city urgently needs is comprehensive cycling infrastructure for commuters.

To approach the construction of cycling infrastructure as a project with a start and end date is not how to create a "cycling city". The infrastructure must be developed and improved continuously. It has to start now and it has to be sustained.

The city council promotes cycling as a great thing and spends a lot of time and energy designing and planning. How many rounds of consultation have we had on naming the cycleways? They don't need names. It's not important.

Focus on building the infrastructure instead.


Safety is the main concern for people, who do not, but may want to, ride a bike to work or school.

In Copenhagen, the perception of safety for cyclists rose from 51 per cent in 2008 to 76 per cent in 2012. Research in New York shows that cycle lanes in Manhattan led to a 35 per cent decrease in injuries on 8th Avenue; a 58 per cent drop on 9th, and a 49 per cent increase in retail sales on 9th.

Building a network of cycleways is not the way to make Christchurch cycle-friendly. It has to become safe to ride on the streets and roads, and at the moment it does not feel safe.

Opening doors from parked cars send cyclists scattering into the path of vehicles approaching from behind. Negotiating intersections forces cyclists to cross the path of left-turning vehicles.

Segregated cycle lanes and intelligent intersection design would mitigate the danger.

The lanes should be placed between footpaths and parking spaces, separated from vehicle traffic, and intersections need dedicated traffic lights for cycles just as there is for pedestrians and vehicles.

Cycling infrastructure should to be an integral part of transport development. Every major road or route passing by commercial hubs, recreational centres and education facilities should have segregated cycle lanes and safe intersections. Space for cycle parking is also vital.

Cycling advocacy group Spokes has a vision that Christchurch should be one of the top five cycling cities in the world by 2020. It's a grand vision, but why not?

The world's top cities for commuting on two wheels, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, weren't always cycle-friendly. In the Netherlands, cycling accounted for about 85 per cent of all trips in the 1950s, but as cars became more affordable, that rate dropped to about 20 per cent in the early 1970s. Since then, the country has prioritised cycling infrastructure.

The history is similar in Copenhagen, where 36 per cent of people now commute to work or school by bike.

Christchurch's early commuting history is similar. The city was once nicknamed Cyclopolis because so many people in the city rode bikes. As in Northern Europe, cars became more affordable and Christchurch changed.

This city has a golden opportunity to return to its Cyclopolis roots.

The central city is an almost blank canvas on which excellent cycling infrastructure could be created.

The city is flat and the roads are wide enough to include segregated cycle lanes. How about replacing some grass berms with cycle lanes?

We have the luxury of seeing how well cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen function. Let's replicate what works.

And of course there are universal reasons to get people commuting on bikes: Rising fuel costs; congestion; air pollution; public health; the benefits to all commuters and the retail economy.

Retailers ought to embrace cyclists and provide as much parking for them as possible.

An evaluation of the development of cycling in Copenhagen shows that eight parked bikes take up as much space as one parked car.

The occupants of that car spend on average $142 shopping, while the eight cyclists spend $644 in total. In Copenhagen, shoppers on bikes have surpassed shoppers in cars in terms of retail turnover.

People become fitter and healthier from commuting on bikes. Danish researcher Astrid Ledgaard Holm has found that the positive health effects of cycling are about 35 per cent larger than the loss of health from accidents and air pollution.

Of course, we could do nothing. Let's just rebuild the city as it was and regain the noisy, windswept, dead central city. All those expat Kiwis abroad will be rushing back to help rebuild our great city.

Irony aside, the council needs to focus less on planning, designing and recommending. The commuters of Christchurch need leadership, decisions and action.

They need safer cycling infrastructure prioritised. Christchurch would and should become a great cycling city, a modern, sustainable, awesome place to live.

The Press