It might surprise some of you to find out I've actually only owned a bike for the past four years and still don't really consider myself to be a "cyclist". Just after Christmas in 2010 my Dad got taken to hospital with severe back pain. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he pretty quickly ended up in hospital care at Village at the Park retirement home in Newtown. I obviously wanted to be able to visit him as much as possible but without tying up the family car all the time (or needing to wait for the car to come back from somewhere). Taking the bus or walking was just too time-consuming so I decided to get a bike. It was simply a pragmatic decision based on my need to get around locally without using the car and without it taking up too much time.
The first couple of weeks were awful as I was unfit and also learning both the formal and informal rules of the road! It really is quite scary cycling in Wellington at first but it slowly got better. I even started cycling to and from work in Thorndon (which is about a 16km round trip, roughly 30 mins there and 30 mins back). The best thing was having the freedom to visit Dad pretty much whenever I wanted to but there was also a nice side benefit of getting me a bit more active at a time when there was obviously quite a few negative emotions to deal with. Riding a bike is a physical activity but it is really good thinking time also.
Sadly, about five months later Dad passed away. I kept biking though and if there's one good thing that came out of the situation it's that. I am healthier and happier now than I've ever been. That said, I am still a very functional cyclist. I go to and from work and ride around Island Bay a little bit on the weekends with the kids. Apart from that I don't really bike for recreation. I tried mountain biking once and hated it and I'm certainly not a member of the lycra-clad road biking brigade. Not that I think there's anything wrong with doing those things, they're just not for me. I'm also not a member of any kind of biking club or cycle lobby group.
Fast forward to early 2014. I had heard about the Island Bay cycleway and thought it sounded like a cool idea. So did a lot of my other friends and acquaintances around Island Bay. In fact, I was so complacent about this cool idea going ahead that I didn't even put in a submission during the April consultation. So I was really surprised in May when stories started appearing in all the local newspapers about how "the Island Bay community didn't want it" and it appeared it might not go ahead after all. The most disappointing thing was that a couple of councillors had already jumped on the bandwagon, apparently without checking whether there was any support for the cycleway in Island Bay first. My gut feel straight away was that it seemed like a bit of a beat up - it certainly wasn't reflective of the views of a lot of the Island Bay residents that I knew. My partner went to one of the community meetings and came back shocked by the negativity and behaviour of some of the cycleway's opponents. In particular, she felt that supporters of the cycleway had not been given a fair chance to speak and were dismissed as being "just part of the cycling lobby". People started to talk and after a very informal meeting of about a dozen people down at Brew'd (some of whom I had never met before) I decided the most positive contribution I could make would be to start up a Facebook page and Twitter account. This required me signing up to Facebook for the first time! The intention was simply to demonstrate that there was support in Island Bay for the cycleway and also get some information about cycleways out there.
Eight months ago I didn't know a single thing about protected cycleways, cycling infrastructure or urban planning and I honestly tried to approach the whole thing with an open mind. If I had found a whole lot of evidence saying protected cycleways are rubbish I would say so. But of course, the reverse is true. I have been completely overwhelmed by how compelling the case for these cycleways is, even in a relatively cycle-friendly area like Island Bay (by Wellington's standards anyway). And this is really the key reason for writing this. The single most important thing that the cycleway is going to do is enable many more people like me - ordinary people in ordinary clothes riding inexpensive bikes - to give cycling a go and discover it as a totally viable transport choice. The Island Bay cycleway on its own might not seem like the most important thing in the world but it will be a gateway. It will be a gateway to getting more people cycling here in Island Bay and a gateway to building a cycling network right across the city. The health, social, economic and environmental benefits, both individually and collectively, will be tremendous.
So there you go. Four years ago I didn't own a bike. Eight months ago I didn't know a single thing about cycleways. I still don't really think of myself as a cyclist and I'm definitely not a member of any cycling lobby group. I'm just an Island Bay resident advocating for the cycleway because I think its a good idea. Actually, I'm pretty damn sure it's a good idea.
Thanks for reading.