When I went to school over 30 years ago the norm was to walk, cycle or take public transport. Similarly a colleague I spoke to yesterday said that when he went to school in Tauranga 20 years that there were hundreds of bike racks at his school and it was hard to find a place to park his bike. And I talked last night to someone from Hawkes Bay, and when she went to primary school a little over 10 years ago cycling was the norm as well.
But there has been a dramatic shift to little children being dropped off by their mummies (that’s how we would have cruelly described it at school) over the last 20 years. And the result of the critical mass shifting is that it’s now deemed too dangerous for kids to cycle or walk to school. But a lot of that perceived or real danger is the very traffic caused by those car driving mummies.
It’s a vicious circle, exemplified by another conversation yesterday with someone who firstly talked about how she used to cycle in Auckland, then about how cycling in Auckland became too dangerous because of the cars and poor infrastructure, and then about how cyclists in Auckland are painful and dangerous when she drives her car. I struggled to get her to understand the causes and effects.
We need to break this circle of despair, and get people back onto the streets, walking and cycling. We are seeing this start in some cities, Wellington especially, and successes in Auckland with multi-use areas like Fort Lane and Elliot Street. The end game is that New Zealand has vibrant walkable, liveable cities, with incredible people-filled street life and places to live that attract and retain the best talent.
So it’s great to see the Greens today launched a cycling to school policy. It’s a clever start.
Firstly, it exists. I would like to see policies from the other parties about how they will create better people-centric cities, and how they will also remove a huge number of cars from the roads at rush hour.
Secondly it focuses on schools first. That’s cheaper, as the infrastructure will be in relatively simple residential areas, but it also allows for dramatic uptake rats as a school’s students switch en masse from cars to bikes and walking. I think the Greens policy needs to provide for more support to each school as they embark on the switch to walking and cycling, helping them, for example, work with council on the infrastructure plans and with rider instruction, education and campaigns to get parents and kids to switch to the new modes of transport.
Thirdly it is safer and smarter. Getting people out of cars and moving creates healthier lifestyles, lowering obesity rates and, rather interestingly, that little exercise in the morning increases capacity to learn. But this policy is also taking responsibility for delivering kids safely to school, and that means physically separating cyclists from cars on busy roads, cunning moves to create safe shared environments on suburban streets and the shift in driver attitudes that will come when over 1,000 kids cycle to one school.
The policy grants $50 million a year over four years for the schools and councils that grab it first. I’d like to see the early schools competing for the first round of funding, and a great deal of care, learning and experimentation taken with the initial roll out. If the programs in the first few schools work well, then the demand will naturally spread to other schools, and the funding needs to be available as it does.
Above all — I can’t wait for a future where the kids can take back the streets and hoon to school on bikes. It’s so much fun, and once it becomes cool again then who knows, maybe us adults will want to start walking and riding as well. At some stage, and please make it soon, we will have critical mass, and people around the world will start talking about our cities in revered tones.
So good for the Greens, and I look forward to the other parties responses.