Episode 14: Empathy Street

There was a bit of a fracas in the Wellington cycling community the other day, over this…

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The standard sort of anti-lycra meme, only this one was posted by a senior manager at one of bus companies serving Wellington, Tranzurban.  Now, I’m all for a joke, but given the lack of passing space some buses give bikes on the road, I did feel the company’s initial response to cyclist queries – along the lines of – don’t worry, he’s only having a laugh, cut it like a truck cutting me off at the corner.

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So it didn’t surprise me, once I’d passed this story onto a colleague in the RNZ Newsroom, to see  the company change its response.  Good. Next time, think before you post, Mr Tranzurban Manager. Turned out, a few of the people you shared your joke with on social media were cyclists.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. We are all multi-modal. When was the last time you drove to the counter at the shop? Sure, they’re talking about drive-in supermarkets in Dubai, but really, what happens when you meet an SUV coming the other way in the male hygiene products aisle? How many of you own a bike in lieu of a second car? Or take the bus when it’s too wet to scooter?

Actually I felt a little sorry for the Tranzurban man. It must be stressful work dealing with an omnishambles, even if it’s partly your own making. A joke at some other road users’ expense might just help ease tension with the foot soldiers.

What we all ought to be doing is looking out for each other, and showing support and appreciation when we do.

I’ve had many close calls with motor vehicles. I’m here today writing this because I often anticipated their mistake before they made it. Does this mean all motorists are wankers?

I can also think of the dozens of times a car has given me space this month. Just yesterday, an SUV waited until I cleared a narrow piece of Aro Street before overtaking. I gave him a wave. Riding with my son along the shared path at Balaena Bay, a ute waiting to enter the main road, reversed so we didn’t have to cycle around it. I gave him a big thank you.

So I decided to dedicate the latest episode of The Traffic Jam to courtesy. Using my regular “Quax” down to the Sunday market as a vehicle for chatting about some of the things I do to help other people on the road, and thank others when they help me.

These include….

  • Waving vehicles past at a blind corner when I can see the way ahead is clear: I don’t want to hold up others any longer than I have to. The sooner they safely pass me the better.
  • Waving a thank you for vehicles that stop for me at a pedestrian crossing: They could get away with rushing past, but they chose not to. I want them to feel good about the choice they made.

 

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  • Going slowly on shared paths when pedestrians are around: Having someone on a relatively large and hard object speed by a few centimetres away is no fun. If they have their back to me, and there’s not much room, I gently let them know I’m approaching (a little tinkle on a bell works a treat). If they still don’t hear me and the way is blocked, an “excuse me” usually works. If it doesn’t, I simply wait until there’s room.  If I’m in a hurry, there’s almost always the road (yes I know the road can be scary, which is why I’m all for calming traffic and more separated lanes for cycles, skates and scooters).
  •  When a vehicle chooses to wait, rather than risk passing me at speed in a tight space, they get a wave when they do eventually slip by. I do the same if the lane is so narrow I have had to ride in the middle of it: They could have bullied me with their extra mass, power and speed, but they choose not to. I want them to know I appreciate that.
  • Thumbs up for people who stop at yellow lights rather than rushing red ones: because the city is so much more chill when we decide to be the first off the rank on the next green, rather than the last to shoot through on someone else’s.

Am I mad? Naive? Possibly. But now you know what that crazy guy at the lights was on about.

There’s going to be a lot of discussion about how we share the road over the next few months. Let’s Get Welly Moving is saying, in its own mother of all roundabouts way, more space for cars is not the number one priority.

Fair call I reckon. I think 50 years of car-first policy is enough. However, that change in approach is going to upset quite a few people, and until we up our game on public and active transport in some of the outer suburbs, it’s going to make life harder for some as well.

In recognition of that, I’m putting away the middle finger and trying on the positive mindset. Being a cyclist,  as well as the part-owner of a car, has made me happier and healthier, and I want to share some of that happiness. In the battle for common sense, I reckon a smile is an under utilised weapon in the arsenal.

I even end Episode 14 with some positive thoughts on the new bus system.

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Those bike racks, for example, make it possible to Quax, even when you live 150 metres higher above sea level  than the market. They’re also handy when taking kids to distant cycle paths.

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But I might save those thoughts for another blog, lest you think I’m on someone’s payroll.

Still, I’d love to get some of your’s on sharing our highways and byways, while spreading the love, so feel free to comment.

Happy jammin’.

 

 

 

 

 

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