The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

26 Sep 2015

Bicycling in Auckland: the big no-no

I’m an European guy, so when I came here I had some expectation of being able to get around in the immediate area on my bicycle.

I was wrong.

Auckland is not just built for cars. Apart from a small area in the CBD it’s built exclusively for cars. And it’s utterly hostile to pedestrians and even more so to bicyclists.

You could argue the streets are not really built for bicycles, but that doesn’t have to be a fatal problem. The streets in Leuven are not built for bicycles too, but all the students get around on their bicycle anyway. On the quieter streets, with this one car cruising by every half a minute, bicycle lanes are overkill. And in a transport budget, the cost of building decent bicycle lanes is just some rounding error.

The main problem is the attitude of people. Many look at bicyclists in a similar way as at possums. Possums are a pest here in New Zealand. If you see one, you speed up and squash the sucker.

They even make them into candy.

In case of bicyclists, squashing them is illegal, but you can still push them aside and pinning them between your car and the kerb. Show them who’s the boss. Have some fun.

Doesn’t it look a bit like a possum?

I was intending to exaggerate a bit for dramatic effect. But reality beats me to it. A bus driver actually did that to a cyclist.

Read that story and think about it. For your average driver, losing your driving license for a while would be annoying, but for a bus driver that license is your livelihood. You would need to be fairly confident that stupid manoeuvre wouldn’t cost you that licence.

So what if one of them gets killed? Well, the newspapers then can go on declaring he should have worn a helmet, or a hi-vis jacket, or a clown’s nose. Whatever. About that poor driver who didn’t see him coming in time.

What if a street actually has bicycle lanes? They built some on Lake Road between Devonport and Takapuna:

Lake Road, Takapuna

They even did it properly. It continues across intersections, so you don’t have to get off and give way to cars at intersections. That’s a rare privilege on the wrong side of your car.

So what do the drivers do then? Some drive on the cycle lane, just to make a point. It’s their domain, and you’re not supposed to ride a bicycle on their domain.

And boy, the protests against those. If you would have to believe those, reducing this street from 2×2 lanes to 2×2 lanes has led to horrible congestion. Well that’s not really a reduction but never mind, it surely led to horrible congestion anyway.

And there’s the biggest problem. The mentality of a large amount of people here. This idea that bicycling should be banned. All the rest, like bickering with bicycle lanes and shared paths and so on, is just some meddling in the margin. Until this changes, Auckland will remain absurdly hostile to bicyclists.

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