Backpedalling on cycling infrastructure the wrong choice
Electrify NZ Founder & Director Michael Tritt says Auckland's proposed "Emergency Budget" makes the wrong choices on cycling at the wrong time.
The Covid-19 lockdown created a cycling boom, not just in New Zealand, but around the world.
Many people rediscovered the joy of cycling, often with their families, riding in cleaner air, on relatively quiet and safe streets.
Demand for bikes soared, and stock shortages have become common.
Michael & daughter Ella cycling during lockdown
As we, and the rest of the world, have emerged from lockdowns, many countries and cities are seizing this opportunity to do things better.
In France, cycling funding has tripled under an emergency budget, which includes subsidies of up to 500 Euros (around $900 NZD) for e-bike purchases and up to 50 Euros for bike maintenance and repairs .
In Italy, they have also introduced a 500 Euro bike subsidy for anyone living in a city of 50,000 or more people. In Milan, hard hit by Covid-19, the city is reallocating 35km of road space to cycling and walking. The New York Times has described this international phenomenon as “Corona Cycleways” .
Milan, Italy where the city is converting 35km of road space to cycling and walking. Image (c) Shutterstock.
Yet, in Auckland we are moving in the opposite direction. The Auckland Council’s “Emergency Budget” proposes to defer investment in all cycling projects not currently underway.
The fast tracking of the long-planned Harbour Bridge path by Central Government (creating 50 jobs) is an exception, but it otherwise looks bleak.
If people cannot ride safely to and from major cycle routes like the Skypath, they will be under-utilised.
This is at a time when the world needs bikes more than ever. Dr Ashley Bloomfield has been a major advocate for cycling, and for good reason – cycling reduces one’s risk of heart disease, diabetes and many types of cancer, therefore reducing demands on our health system.
Poor air quality from vehicle emissions has been shown to increase one’s risk of fatality from Covid-19 and other illnesses .
Auckland’s “emergency” budget fails to consider the climate emergency. The International Energy Agency warns that we have six months to lock in the changes needed to reduce carbon emissions, before we return to a devastating business-as-usual scenario.
They are right. If we don’t take this once in a lifetime opportunity to change things, with billions being invested in economic stimulus, then we never will.
Yet, as the traffic congestion and pollution in Auckland creep back up towards pre-Covid levels, our response is to cut funding to low-carbon alternatives.
The reasons Council give are financial, but applying an austerity mindset to expenditure which has a long-term net benefit is a false economy.
In 2018, New Zealand spent around $11.2 billion of our hard-earned income importing petroleum , which was then burned and deposited into our lungs and the atmosphere.
The collapse of international tourism means a huge balance of payments problem for New Zealand. Reducing oil dependence means less money leaving the country, helping solve that problem and a host of others.
The 100km per week I commute on my e-bike costs me about 20c of mostly renewable, “made in New Zealand” electricity. Given the right infrastructure, I know that a huge number of Kiwis would like to join me in ditching their regular commute in gridlocked traffic.
Now is not the time for backpedalling on already modest cycling investments. Rather, it should be the moment that we decide to make an ambitious and unprecedented expansion of our cycling network. We won’t get this opportunity again.