Cy­cling in Ky­oto v Chch: Are we ready?

Christchurch Mail - - REPORTER RAMBLINGS - MONIQUE STEELE

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.

SUP­PLIED/KARIM LAFDAL

Hav­ing a pic­nic by the Kamo­gawa River in Ky­oto after a hot and sweaty bi­cy­cle ride around the city.

DAVID HAL­LETT/STUFF

A young cy­clist en­joys a ride through North Ha­gley Park.

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