Impressions from 2 Walk and Cycle Conference 2016

caption: Alastair Smith receives a Bike to the Future Award for Wellington's Ciclovia from Hon Simon Bridges

by Catherine Elliot
Lecturer and Active Living Researcher, Lincoln University

The hotel bike racks were jam-packed with bikes of every variety: cargo, commuter, touring, electric and folding. It was clear, the delegates of the 2016 2WALKandCYCLE Conference had arrived in Auckland on 6 July to talk all things walking and cycling. Touted as the premier walking and cycling conference in New Zealand and occurring every two years, this year’s focus was on active, human-powered transport for achieving healthier and more livable cities. Delegates flew in from around the globe to showcase their research findings, walking and cycling programmes and success stories related to outcomes in health, policy and society providing a wealth of relevant knowledge for New Zealand today. Key stakeholders and policymakers from the likes of the NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Transport, BECA as well as City and Regional Council members from both islands were represented and eager to learn.

Keynote speaker and founder of 8-80 Cities, Gil Penalosa, informed the audience about how to improve the well-being of people aged 8 through 80. He opened the conference with a passionate message about prioritising the needs of pedestrians. To achieve this, governments must not become complacent. He warned policymakers and advocates to beware of the CAVE people (citizens against virtually everything). He assured listeners that there would most certainly be backlash with every change, but change is needed for progress. He further supported his message by noting that our transport system has been built for cars not for people and this brings about stark mobility inequalities, particularly among people who cannot afford a car. Considering that 28 percent of children in NZ live in poverty, and a car soaks up 25 percent of one’s income, there is no reason to believe that the current transport paradigm is serving the needs of all. Gil offered several tips and kernels of truth to consider throughout his keynote, including:

  • For every vote against biking and walking there is also a vote for road congestion and obesity.

  • Change is hard.

  • There is no copy/paste solution, what works for one city will not work in another. Each city is unique and requires a unique solution.

  • Ciclovia (temporary street closures to prioritise fun activities like cycling, walking, running, and Zumba) equalizes the rich and poor. It’s an event to get people socializing. Ask community members what they want to do during a Ciclovia then host on an annual or weekly basis. Be playful in your creative discussions. Allow people to be themselves and do whatever activity that is fun for them.

  • Even at bus stops we can incorporate the idea of play. We can install a swing at the bus stop, a unique bench or a play structure for kids.

  • City planners are currently building cities for 30 year old active people, but with baby boomers doubling in the next 50 years, they should consider how to meet the needs of older adults.

  • Streets are the biggest public space in the city yet we build them for cars not people.

  • When you ask people, “Where do you dream of living?” they answer “I want to live in a place where I can casually walk along a green space or beside a beautiful river”, they don’t mention streets with cars and traffic, yet that’s what we keep building.

  • To realise 8 80 cities in New Zealand, transport policy planners must lower speed limits to 30km.

  • When someone gets hit, it’s an incident not an accident.

  • Pedestrians should not be treated like second-class citizens, they should be able to walk everywhere safely.

  • Walking is the only individual mode of transportation for kids, adults and elderly.

  • People are not in love with their cars, they are in love with mobility.

  • When we take away walkways, we take away mobility for many people who rely on walking for transport.

  • The best cities are ones where the rich use public transportation.

The conference lasted 3 days with speakers sharing a plethora of information. One discussed Auckland’s plan for becoming a world-class cycling city while another shared information about introducing electric bikes for behaviour change and still another showed how to promote “bike to school” days.

Vivienne Ivory, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington introduced the Neighbourhood Destination Accessibility Index (NDAI). She alluded to the 2012 study by Karen Witten and colleagues who found roughly 30 percent more physical activity occurring within high NDAI areas. Vivienne also shared the findings of her 2015 publication where she investigated the micro geographies of physical activity, including walking and cycling for transportation. She stated, ”neighbourhood walkability factors appeared to shape where residents engage with public places” and “individual factors, like employment status, also influenced how residents engage with their neighbourhoods.” What was thought-provoking to me was Ivory’s findings that “being physically active in public settings was valued for social connection and mental restoration, over and above specifically ‘health’ reasons.” In short, areas of high social segmentation correlated highly with poorer mental health.

Simon Kingham and graduate students Jesse Wiki and Karen Banwell reminded listeners of the book, Livable Streets by 1970s urban designer and theorist, Donald Appleyard. Donald compared three similar streets which had either high, medium or low levels of car traffic. The Canterbury University researchers replicated this study in Christchurch, finding that Cantabrians living on streets with less traffic generally consider their “home territory” to be larger than those living on streets with high traffic. After hearing this, I thought to myself, maybe they can also analyse how the traffic calming and bicycle lanes installed along the Papanui Parallel could encourage the “sense of home” and further encourage social capital.

Dr Ben Rossiter, Executive Officer of Victoria Walks flew in from Australia to inform the audience on how cities continue to build shared paths without much thought. Cities build shared paths and add paint and signage in the hopes that people will obey, but this just doesn’t work. “If you have to put a sign up, you didn’t design the path correctly”, he proclaimed. Cyclists ride between 19 and 35km/h while a walker travels much slower, oftentimes not seeing or hearing a cyclist from behind. This is one of many ways collisions occur on shared paths, causing injury and even death. The kinetic energy from a car hitting a bike from behind is similar to that of a cyclist hitting a pedestrian. He purported that cities should build walkways for walkers and cyclepaths for cyclists and that the two must not be mixed. He also suggested that “walkers are the “indicator species”, whereby the more people there are walking, the healthier the city. After hearing this, I asked myself, “could cyclists be included in this indicator measurement?” Maybe the 2018 2WALKandCYCLE conference will have to answer that question.