The Wrong Side of my Car

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

15 Sep 2015

Life on the wrong side of my car

So, here I was, 4 years ago. Newly arrived in Auckland, the city of sails. See, it’s right there on the tourism website.

The city of sails

You know, I used to be one of these kids who was way too fascinated with all kinds of geeky stuff. Meshing together those Lego Technic cogwheels in weird ways. Programming computers, of all things. And those motorways intersections. You can just follow one of those ramps, make some twists and turns through that spaghetti of bridges, and poof, you emerge on the other motorway.

I mean, how do you figure out this thing?

OK, perhaps it looks a bit cooler when actually driving through. But now I’m in Auckland. We have the Spaghetti Junction! With capital S.

Spaghetti junction

I mean, just look at it!

Streets and roads sometimes in surprising ways. Ideal for a nerdy me to write a blog. Let’s talk about the streets here in Auckland.

There is this one thing I noticed straight away after I arrived. There’s nobody riding a bike here on the streets.

Literally nobody.

I studied in Leuven. Go there and you’ll easily figure out how the students get around there. It’s (quite literally most of the time) full of bicycles there. Every student has a bike there. And in most other places, especially in nice weather you’ll see the occasional pedestrian or bicyclist. A family on a Sunday afternoon ride. Someone shopping. Did you know it’s illegal to hold a shopping bag in your hand while riding a bike? Maybe yes, but everybody is doing that anyway.

But I digress. Why are there zero bicycles on the road here? And almost no pedestrians either?

It’s easy to figure out. Almost the entire city has been built with one assumption about travelling. You’ll always travel inside a car. People still try otherwise, leading to the occasional weird situation.

Like when they have to cross the street:

Here's the typical moderately busy 4 lane street. Painting a zebra crossing is still considered sacrilege by a lot of people, but here you’re lucky—see that little island in the middle of the street? That’s what we Aucklanders call a pedestrian crossing.

If you’re unlucky all you have is just a white line.

The brave wait for a gap on one side and cross the first 2 lanes, then wait on the centre line until they can cross the other two lanes. Wish them luck.

And the timid have to walk to the traffic lights, then press the button, and hopefully the next cycle they’ll get green light for a few seconds. Wish them patience.

For bicycles it’s simple. They belong on the roof rack of your car. Period. And then you can drive to all those mountain bike tracks.

Auckland has been built with a very clear vision. Travel happens inside a car at all times. It’s also possible to walk but that’s merely an afterthought. So for my fellow immigrants, I’ve made a handy flyer clarifying how to get around:

The good news is that there are enough dissenting voices to make some change happen. You start seeing some bicycles in some places. The city centre has some shared streets now. And there’s this shiny bicycle bridge being built right on top of the spaghetti junction! Given it starts right on top of a hill, the views from up there must be amazing.

But in other places the outside still is distinctively the wrong side of a car.

And you know what? I like being on the wrong side.

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