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Legal Barriers

( the prevailing concept and legal definition of what 'a cyclist' is and  the legal framework limiting  where we must and must not ride our bicycles.  )

Transport planners and cycle advocates working to provide for the planned increase in the numbers of cyclists in New Zealand's cities (to 17% by 2040 )seem to have defined a model of 'ideal cyclists' as being those who are willing to comply with the existing law that defines bicycles as 'vehicles' (which thereby compels users of bicycles to share the road with motor-vehicles). 

This precept underlies the inappropriacy of the current approach to planning if the goal is to facilitate and encourage an increase in the uptake of cycling for transport by a wide range of demographic groups.  ( i.e. the elderly, women in general, children, etc... as opposed to just athletic young(ish)men ) .

According to traffic engineers, a competent and confident cyclist SHOULD ride about one meter out from parked cars to avoid car doors opening, while also trusting that drivers of cars will not hit them from behind. 

The problem is that in the real world , the number of people who are trusting enough to comply with this assertion is only ever going to be a very small minority ( witness the narrow demographic and small numbers currently cycling here and compare that with the situation in places where cyclists enjoy the right and the choice to be segregated from motor-vehicular traffic). 

People in the 'vulnerable user groups' refuse to cycle in New Zealand because they are deprived of the right to micro-plan their routes to include using the existing network of segregated facilities ( i.e. they are subject to a fine of $200 for riding on  footpaths) and are forced to adopt behaviours that conflict with their inherent sense of self-preservation and which demand more effort than they are comfortable to exert to keep up with the pace that is inherent in sharing the road with motor-vehicles.

The way forward ? 

 If we're ever going to get more people on bikes in New Zealand, we have to make it easy for the vulnerable, the timid, the lazy and the slow ( i.e. just plain old ordinary folks ) instead of restricting cycling to the small numbers who are athletic, brave, assertive, compliant 'officer-class' cyclists who are willing to accept the risks that complying with the law places on cyclists. 

  To facilitate those who choose a slower,more gentle style of riding, the obsolete law that prohibits cyclists from using what are currently designated as 'footpaths' must be reviewed and rescinded to give ALL cyclists the right and the choice to ride off-road where and when THEY deem it is in their best interest to do so.

If you can see the sense in getting segregated cycling facilities installed in your area, be sure to make a submission to your Local, Territorial and Regional Council's Annual and Sustainable Transport Plans.  It will never happen if you don't.

Alan Preston (in Christchurch, New Zealand)

21st of February 2009.