Why are Kiwi motorists so threatened by bikes?

flickr photo: psd

Today, the Herald ran a story regarding the upcoming installation of cycle lanes on a busy road that runs past my office.   Good news but the detail of the piece serves to highlight a less palatable fact: kiwis are not that cycle friendly and are no more keen to relinquish road space than their UK or US cousins.  Consider these points, if you will:

  1. Residents are concerned about losing on-street parking.  As the local community board chairwoman pointed out, most homes in the area (and indeed NZ) have enough off-street parking for two cars.
  2. Residents are complaining that they have to cross a very busy road to parking on the other side – and say that it is dangerous for cyclists too.   More dangerous than being hit by a car door and spilled into oncoming traffic?
  3. Opposition to the planned loss of 174 parking spaces saw this reduced to 113, with a 1.4m cycle lane running outside them, to placate the residents.  This concession was at the expense of the flush median strip (prevalent in NZ), the removal of which has led to more road traffic accidents elsewhere. So, the argument goes, bike lanes cause accidents. QED.

All this tends to point towards an unpleasant, shortsighted NIMBY attitude among car-loving Aucklanders but things are little better in the suburbs.  One of the local papers ran another piece this week on a woman who is an experienced cyclist and who had been in a driver-at-fault accident.  After emergency care and hospitalisation, she is now recovering but, when interviewed by the paper, she pointed an ironic fact of life for cyclists in New Zealand, which I have tried to capture in my own words. 

The average Kiwi loves and embraces almost any sporting endeavour and will support New Zealand athletes to the ends of the earth.  It is strange and sad then to think that those who cheered Sarah Ulmer to her Olympic Gold Medal victory most probably include the antagonistic, abusive and aggressive who drive cyclists, literally and metaphorically, from the roads every day.

Those looking for further supporting evidence need look no further than the soon to be published Long Cloud Ride by the much acclaimed world cyclist Josie Dew.  In nine month’s cycling, she covered 10,000 kilometres across both islands of New Zealand. During this time, according to the pre-press and accounts elsewhere, Josie was spat at, shouted at, honked at and run off the road.

Come on, Kiwis, embrace the bike and hug a cyclist today.

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1 Comment so far

  1. SF_Mark (unregistered) on December 16th, 2006 @ 12:28 pm

    Bicycle lanes have become ubiquitous in San Francisco, where they are usually clearly marked as separate from the traffic lanes. Woe to the driver who double-parks in one, as each passing cyclist will thump on the roof!

    As you said, the main complaint is that they take away parking. As Americans have a built-in ethos of privilege around cars, driving, parking anywhere — even in San Francisco — this remains a point of contention. But speaking as a driver, I actually like the bike lanes. It makes it easy to tell where the bike is supposed to be, and where the car is supposed to be.

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