New councillor walks the 'green' talk

New Hutt City councillor Lisa Bridson is proving she will walk the talk  or if not, cycle it.

Ms Bridson campaigned on environmental sustainability and said she would fight for a better deal for cyclists and pedestrians in the city.

A "big fan" of walking and cycling as affordable, convenient and sustainable ways to get around, she arrived at her first official council meeting last week by bike, having also cycled to an earlier gathering to meet senior officers.

For her, it was no Celia Wade-Brown copycat action or publicity stunt. She strongly believes that if more people walked or cycled, there would be less traffic congestion and pollution, people would be healthier and they'd save money.

"With petrol headed up towards $2 [a litre] again, I predict more people will be pulling their bikes out of the shed and giving it a go."

She aims to walk or cycle to most council meetings. "Living in Waterloo, the council office is only two kilometres away, so most of the time taking the car seems silly."

The same is true for many other people, she believes.

"With two thirds of trips shorter than 6kms, and one third less than 2kms, we could lower our fuel bills and get fitter by making more trips by foot or bike."

She has children and recognises that our weather isn't always the best for walking or pedalling, but if those factors don't impinge on her journey, she'd rather get on her bike or set off on foot.

Even her cycle is a statement. It's a secondhand Japanese Mamachari bike (the term means "mother chariot").

Lots of Japanese people use cycles to get to a train; broken down or rusty bikes are regularly abandoned at railways stations. Island Bay firm Mamachari Bicycles imports stylish and upright cycles and restores them for buyers looking for a practical but chic form of urban transport.

They have no gears but Ms Bridson says on the flat Valley floor, they're perfect.

"Being upright, they are also more modest when wearing a skirt, and the mudguards and chain guard are great for keeping your clothes clean."

She says she used to bike to school as a child and frets that many of today's youngsters "miss out on having that freedom".

The irony is that many parents don't want their kids on bikes for fear they'll be hit by a car  and yet most of us continue to drive cars.

Ms Bridson says when she was working at Wellington City Council on project and contract management in the road and traffic department, for fitness she'd cycle from the Hutt with a change of clothes. Those were the days she tackled triathlons too.

While "not as hard out now" she has three different styles of bikes and swears that for short rides of a few kilometres, cyclists don't arrive at meetings all sweaty  and certainly don't miss the frustration and expense of searching for a car park.

Later, she worked for the Land Transport Safety Authority and was on its cycle forum, and made connections with the Living Streets organisation.

On Hutt City Council, she's keen to work with others to see progress on a cycle track up Wainuiomata's Hill Rd and a bridge over its crest, plus cycle/walking lanes around the Eastern Bays. These are big ticket items: the budget for the Eastern Bays cycleway is $250,000 this year, $465,000 next year and $110,000 each year for the next decade; the bridge will cost $844,000 (work currently set down for 2012-13).

She's also keen on the Great Harbour Cycleway and says the Hutt River Trail is a magnificent asset.

But more work needs to be done on cycling "pinch points" around the city. There are little sections of cycle trails and lanes but they need connecting before they can be considered a proper network.

The last administration budgeted $360,000 to $420,000 a year for work on this network, with former Mayor David Ogden pushing for it to be a priority.

In Mayor Ray Wallace, Ms Bridson will have an ally.

He, too, has said he wants to see better pedestrian and cycling facilities, particularly if it makes travel safer.

Time will tell whether Mr Wallace's plan for an independent review of the council's operations will free up money to hasten cycling/pedestrian projects.