One paradox of lockdown is how social our streets become. It almost feels like we see more of our neighbours than we’d normally manage in a year, with so many of us out walking, jogging, scooting, rollerskating, and rolling around on bikes.
If you noticed a bike boom in lockdown, you're not wrong: Point Chevalier was second only to Tamaki Drive in Bike Auckland’s 2020 Big Backyard Bike Count, which tracked local trips at 300+ locations across the city. Talk about pedalling above our weight!
Here’s what it looks like when foot and pedal traffic outweighs motor traffic, and here's how it sounds. But how does it feel to cycle on low-traffic streets? To find out, we ran a survey. It’s taken us a wee while to write up, but we think you’ll be intrigued by the results.
This survey was shared on our Facebook group and this website in May 2020, and we received 88 responses.
Almost everyone who responded (95.4%) had access to bikes, 78% were from households with at least three people, and 70% had children under 18 at home. So it's not a sample survey; it's more like a focus group of highly engaged locals with valuable insight into cycling in the Chev, especially with children –and representing the experiences of around 300 people overall.
Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. We'd love to meet you all for a ride one day!
You might have seen the 'Four Types of Cyclist' graph from Portland, Oregon. It suggests that in a typical city (designed around cars), only 1% of people will feel strong and fearless on a bike, and around 7% identify as enthused and confident. The great majority of 60% are interested but concerned about safety. And about 1/3 will just say no way, no how.
We adopted this framework, with a local twist. Heaps of families and free-range kids cycle in Pt Chev. We're also one of the biggest 'bike-to-school 'burbs: in the last census, with a citywide Auckland average of 1.5%, Pt Chev averaged 11%.
And yet this is all without safe bike lanes!
So we added a fifth option: confident for myself, but worried for kids."
Of course, the point of the graph is that people can move along the spectrum from fearful to confident – and the key is safety. The more access to safe bike routes, the more people feel confident to ride. Local research bears this out: a 2015 survey by Auckland Transport found that 60% of Aucklanders would ride a bike if given protected cycleways (the 'interested but concerned'!). And annual surveys show more of us are cycling, or thinking about it, every year – while the "no way, no how" group gets steadily smaller. (See AT's research here.)
Right. That's the background. So what did we discover?
We gathered a baseline vibe, by asking how it felt to cycle in Pt Chev in 'normal' times.
Given the bike-friendly demographic, we weren’t surprised that 4.6% identified as “keen and fearless” and 13.8% “enthused and confident”, nor that we only had a small number of “no way, no how” (4.6%), and "intrigued but concerned" (14.9%).
The striking thing was the big orange slice on the graph. The majority (57.5%) felt confident for themselves – but worried for kids. What this tells us is that 'normal' conditions are not ideal.
Based on observation, we assumed people felt more comfortable on Level 4 streets, but the results blew us away: 90% became confident-to-fearless on bikes – and the worries for children's safety evaporated along with the traffic.
Almost half of our survey group (46.6%) felt “keen and fearless" – ten times as many as 'normal'! And a similar proportion (44.3%) became “confident yet cautious" – three times as many as normal. All it took was less traffic on our streets!
Most respondents (70.5%) said they and their household biked more than usual during lockdown. The number one reason (85.1%) was because the streets felt safer than usual.
This was followed by exercise, nice weather, a fun way to spend time with the kids, and a way to explore the neighbourhood. All great reasons to go for a ride!
Here's how that looked in graph form. Before lockdown, over half rode at least a few times a week, with four out of five jumping on their bikes at least 1-2x a month.
During lockdown, 43% biked almost very day, 70.2% at least a few times a week, and 4 out of 5 biked at least once or twice. And the “hardly ever or not at all” group fell by half.
For those who said they rode less during lockdown, reasons ranged from mechanical trouble to family logistics, to missing out on their normal commute (“we biked more often, but less far”), and one unfortunate respondent had their bike stolen the day before lockdown.
A couple of survey responses asked why some people biked on the footpath even when the streets were quiet. It's a fair question, especially with footpaths at such a premium.
It all comes back to safety. It's natural to prioritise feeling safe, especially when riding with children. Vehicles are big, fast, and scary, even when there are fewer than usual. And if there's no protected space for bikes, the footpath is the next best thing.
To find out more about how people make that call, we asked if the rise of traffic in Level 3 had an impact on the choice of where to bike. It sure did!
With or without kids, more traffic on the road = more biking on the footpath. When traffic came back at Level 3, 75% were as likely or more likely to ride on the footpath, and 48% were more likely to ride on the footpath.
The effect was even stronger for those biking with kids. At Level 3, 85% were less likely to ride on the road with kids, and 76% were as likely or more likely to keep riding on the footpath.
Level 3 traffic reduced our freedom to ride in other ways, too:
• 59% were less likely to ride on Pt Chevalier Road and Meola Road (i.e. the busy roads)
• 50% were less likely to ride on the road in general
• 32% were less likely to ride at all…
… although 64% were as or more likely to keep riding, which is encouraging!
The top reasons for riding in 'normal' times were exercise (56.8%) and rides along the cycleway network (49.4%), to local parks and destinations (47.1%), to local shops including dairies and takeaways (44.8%), trips to school (43.7%) and work (39.1%), and family rides for fun and fresh air (39.1%).
Looking beyond lockdown, the reasons were the same, but local destinations and shops moved up the chart. It was as if all that local cycling had helped us remember how easy it is:
So many everyday reasons to ride! So many possibilities for happy independent kids, healthy journeys, and stress-free streets in our neighbourhood.
We asked what practical help would help keep people cycling. The number one request? More and better bike parking at shops and destinations!
This is Auckland Transport's job, but Bike Pt Chev filled the gap by donating pop-up bike racks, which are still in action at Ambler and the dairy on Raymond St a year and a half later.
AT has been adding bike stands outside shops, at bus stops and at the beach, and you can request more bike parking online (although there’s a always a waitlist).
As of October 2021, there's a handy new bike rack in the carpark at Countdown. It's a temporary set-up, courtesy of the Local Board and AT, and all going well, it will be upgraded to more permanent form.
Other things people were keen on:
When we asked how changes to the streets would let more of us ride more often, top of the list was safe and separated bike space on the main roads (85%).
People also wanted quieter side streets with 30km/h limits (62.3%), less rat-running on side streets (56.3%), and slower speeds everywhere (50.6%).
Also high on the wish-list:
The good news is, protected bike lanes and safer crossings on Meola Road and the southern half of Point Chev Road are still on the cards. The latest update is that work is expected to start after mid-2022. A trial roundabout has been installed at the intersection in the meantime, to test the design.
Also, safer speeds are on the way for a small pocket of Pt Chev, with AT consulting on a safe speed zone around Pasadena School. Feedback closes 14 Nov 2021 – read more about it here and add your voice, including if you think the zone should be wider!
The late 2021 lockdown rolls on., and our streets are more social than ever. We still don't have pop-up bike lanes to help keep the footpaths clear so we can give each other 2m elbow room. We don't (yet) have pop-up 'parklets' outside cafes to gather while enjoying an open-air treat. And a lot of people still drive too fast, making it stressful for those of us on foot and on wheels.
But there are glimpses of the ways stress-free streets bring us together when we need it most. Kids and parents coping with home-schooling by blowing off steam on bikes and scooters. Neighbours greeting each other with our eyebrows above our masks. We step aside for pushchairs and wheelchairs and joggers and dogs. We see each other.
So let's look out for each other, w hile we wait for the infrastructure to catch up – especially at side streets and driveways – and roll on a hopeful summer of adventure and fresh air!