Cycling in Kyoto v Chch: Are we ready?
The weather is warming up, the cherry blossoms are out in full force and our city is coming out of hibernation.
All of a sudden lycra-clad, flat white-toting Cantabrians are lining the streets, walking and cycling down Harper Ave and throughout Hagley Park, being all healthy and happy and stuff.
I, however, am not one for exercise.
The only reason I would walk or cycle is if I was car-less, like after leaving my car in town after a boozy night. And even then, I would grimace while I walked or cycled and would most likely have a cancer-stick hanging out my mouth.
However, during my most recent travels to Japan, exploring Kyoto in their summer, I even surprised myself – I became a cyclist.
Japan has a phenomenal public transport system, but for me, cycling from temple to temple in Kyoto, a city of nearly 1.5 million people, on 38-degree days was an easy and safe mode of transportation.
In 2013 more than 70 million bicycles filled Japan’s streets, compared with only 27 million in 1970, according to the Japanese National Police Agency.
Bicycle lanes were almost everywhere in the relatively flat city. Helmets were optional. Armed with a bell, cyclists even cycled on footpaths.
I felt free, biking around like Elliott with E.T. seated in my front basket; biking perhaps not to the moon, but most likely to a traditional sake bar.
But what really stood out for me cycling in Japan, coming from Christchurch, was the behaviour of pedestrians and motorists towards cyclists.
Motorists wait patiently and make room for cyclists, apparently out of the fear of having an accident and having to negotiate a settlement which generally come out in favour of the cyclist.
The Christchurch City Council’s vision for our city is that of a cycling city, which would reduce congestion on our busy roads, promote healthy habits and enhance the environmental benefits of choosing to walk, cycle or bus over driving.
Christchurch’s response to this has been a staunch middle finger, raising the question: ‘Is Christchurch ready to become a cycling city?’
Taking the forefront of its agenda, the council’s decisions have been scrupulously scrutinised by the media.
The installation of central city cycleways has disrupted business operations, created a loss of street car parking and been responsible for the demolition of properties.
And most importantly, our roads – in case you hadn’t noticed – have so much more repair work ahead post-quake that many believe these need to be prioritised over a bicycle network.
But is this public push-back just the first step in transforming a city’s infrastructure for the better? Do we just need to bite the bullet?
One day, will we all be seated on our Raleigh town bikes, smiling from ear to ear, drunk on the sweet nectar of being obnoxiously environmentally-friendly and healthy?
And would we look back to this time with regret that we didn’t get on board earlier?
Or, will we still be a city of drivers?
From the Queen of All Things Fat and Lazy, I pose those questions to you. Is Christchurch ready to become a cycle city? Or are we hanging on to our cars and our lazy lifestyle in spite of ourselves? Join us on Neighbourly and join in the conversation. Take a poll, start a discussion, or have your say about our city and cycles. Or find us on Facebook or Instagram and share your thoughts and images of your experiences cycling around the garden city.
Having a picnic by the Kamogawa River in Kyoto after a hot and sweaty bicycle ride around the city.
A young cyclist enjoys a ride through North Hagley Park.