9 Feb 2017

Go by Bike Day 2017 - my experience!

Yesterday (February 8th) was Go by Bike Day and I, like many others in Auckland, changed my usual method of commute to a two-wheeled non-motorised mode of transport. The humble 200 year old invention.

I bought a bike 5 months ago and have been loving my adventures around the city with it. I'm not a confident road cyclist, I'm just a recreational cyclist who would love to get out and ride more if there were safer routes, particularly near my house in Greenlane. Then I could run more errands, meet up with people, maybe even commute regularly by bike.

My office is a mere 10 minute bus ride away ($1.85 one way) then 10 minutes of walking. Yesterday I put my handbag in the front basket, changed from a pencil skirt and blazer to leggings and hi-vis and off I rode.
Arriving at work, sweaty but awake and alert!
There is a bus lane along Great South Road operational at the time of my ride. A long, intermittently vacant stretch of green. But don't let that deceive you, when the buses come, they are big and intimidating. Luckily the driver knew to give me 1.5 metres of space and overtook me to pull over at the bus stop ahead. But now what do I do? Shoulder check, making sure the car behind me knew my intentions and I merged into the traffic lane to overtake the bus.

And then it happened again. Another shoulder check, another cautious merge. Weave in, weave out. I was aware that every time I couldn't see their side mirrors, I was in the blindspot.

I passed more than 20 cars on Great South Road, all waiting at the red light and I put myself ahead of all of them to use the bike advance box.

Coming up ahead was the five-finger intersection of Great South Road/ Manukau Road/ Alpers Ave/ Broadway/ St Marks Road. I approached it timidly and slipped between the stopped cars to use the bike advance boxes. A few seconds later, another cyclist joined me. Thank goodness he did because I followed his manoeuvres all the way down Broadway.

Broadway is a nightmare. This is where citybound buses converge and they could come three at a time. Wide footpaths are required outside the shops for the high volume of pedestrians. Then there are on-road parallel parking. There are a couple of pinch points where the footpath extends out onto the road, meaning the buses have to merge into the general traffic lane. Transport engineers, do let me know how we can make Broadway safer and more efficient!

I followed the cyclist along the cycle lane that appears briefly and disappears after the intersection of Broadway/ Khyber Pass Road. Then I cut through Lumsden Green and on to the segregated cycle lanes up Carlton Gore Road.

Wow what a difference cycle lanes make! Suddenly I stopped being so nervous, my grasp on the brakes loosened and I started to enjoy myself. There is a psychological shift in perception when your needs are being met. When I use cycle lanes I think: my safety and comfort are being prioritised; there are people thinking and designing for vulnerable road users like myself. It reassures me and encourages me.

I got to the office 15 minutes after I left home, cutting down journey time by at least five minutes. I am thankful my office has covered and secure bike racks. It wasn't full, even though my colleagues are avid cyclists as well but they store their bikes in the office. The shower facilites at work is also something to be grateful for. I'm not sure how much that affects people's decision to ride to work, but it definitely feels amazing to have worked out, exercised the mind and the legs and have a refreshing shower before starting work.

The route home was slightly different. There were right turns to make at uncontrolled intersections and a car parallel parking to avoid. But it was all successful and I logged the day's ride for Auckland Bike Challenge!

The challenges I faced as a new road rider were buses, cars and parked cars. Buses have bigger blindspots. Along the dedicated bus lanes, they have to encroach onto regular traffic lane to make space for cyclists. When they pull over at a bus stop, I had to work out whether the time to overtake a 14 metre vehicle will be shorter than its dwell time.

Cars are different; drivers have more visibility and manoeuvrability, therefore they can be unpredictable and not realise how easily and quickly cyclists can appear in their blindspots. Then there are cars waiting to turn out of intersections. I've learnt to establish eye contact with them before assuming right of way.

The parked cars are a different issue altogether. Although the "door zone" is a major hazard, parallel parking is actually the 'safest' parking layout for cyclists. Safer than 90 degree parking (which almost got me rear-ended twice in the past).

I am glad I rode to work. It woke me up and I felt energised and ready. I am thankful for the end of trip facilities and thankful to the cyclist that I followed all the way through Nightmare on Broadway. Cycling also made me more aware of the conditions of the road; the bumps around manholes, surface cracking and uneven road surfaces. The travel time savings and the saving cost ($3.70) does not override the vulnerability I felt on the road. Before I turn this method of commute into a daily habit, I need to be more confident on the road and it takes getting used to as well as safer road designs.

I would like to see more cycling infrastructure implemented because cycling is fun regardless if you're a child, a woman or a MAMIL! (Thank you M.Y. for the new hilarious vocab).
"Do it once and do it right". Connect dedicated cycle lanes cohesively, put some around train stations and please implement safe intersections! But I'm not just talking to the engineers and the designers; drivers, you too! Check your blind spots, give us 1.5 metres and let's all learn to share the road. We can ride our way into a more sustainable, congestion-free future.



For more transport related post click here for my Los Angeles travel experience by PT, and here for Auckland bike rides and routes.

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