7 October, 2008
Cycling Advocates Network Cycle-Friendly Awards
Canterbury Provincial Buildings Stone Chamber,
Durham Street, Christchurch
The Transport Minister, Annette King, very much regrets she is unable to be with you tonight. I am pleased to be able to attend on her behalf, and to present these awards, now in their sixth year.
I am delighted that this event is taking place in Christchurch, the cyclists' city. With its cycle-friendly infrastructure - and geography - it is understandable Christchurch has the highest percentage of cyclists in New Zealand. And we're not just talking recreational cyclists, cycling is a way of life in Christchurch. For many it's how they get to school, to work, do the shopping, catch-up with friends. They start young here in Christchurch, and put a lot of effort into cyclist skills training in schools, which I'll touch on later.
As someone Christchurch born and bred, I of course learned how to ride a bike early on - my parents did not own a car until I was at high school and by then there were already six children - you could tell when we were at church by the number of cycles stacked up outside. And I also remember Mr Mariner coming to the school to give our cycles warrants of fitness. Being a Brownie and then a Girl Guide I of course knew how to patch up my tyre tube all by myself. So I cycled to school, cycled to University, cycled to the shops, cycled to work and then I lived in town so I walked everywhere and then I got married to someone who owned a car and I stopped cycling.
The only thing that is surprising in that story is that I didn't own a car until I was 27 years old and that was only because of the Matrimonial Property Act. We are a nation of car owners - I am told we have the highest rate of car ownership per capita in the world - although I do note that we are now importing more bikes than cars so maybe we will see a turn around in those statistics.
There is clearly much to be done in providing for cycling as a mainstream mode of transport, especially for commuting.
This is where you come in, the Cycling Advocates Network, or CAN. Your army of cycling volunteer members do an excellent job in promoting the importance - and pleasure - of cycling as a sustainable travel mode and the parking is so much easier.
Getting people to kick the car habit is challenging, although rising petrol prices are already causing people to think differently, and, of course, cycling brings so many benefits to the individual and to society at large.
Health benefits of cycling
I don't need to talk to you about the adverse health effects of traffic congestion and the pollution it brings, nor the flow on effects to the economy; nor do I need to talk about the health benefits of exercise in the face of the obesity and diabetes pandemic we are now confronting as a nation. To do so would be to preach to the converted.
As you are aware the government has allocated $18 million within the 2008/09 National Land Transport Programme for walking and cycling. This is $3.5 million more than in the previous year and reflects anticipated growth in demand.
We have also recently launched the New Zealand Transport Strategy 2008 which has a sharper focus on sustainability than its 2002 predecessor.
One of the targets within the strategy is to halve per capita domestic greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2040. This will mean we need more hybrid and electric vehicles on our roads; more people cycling, walking and using public transport; more movement of freight by rail and sea; greater use of renewable fuels, more efficient technology and improved operating practices. And we are determined to achieve this ambitious target.
But to do so we need to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as encouraging children to walk, cycle and use public transport. I love seeing the children in the walking buses being safely escorted to and from school by responsible adults, which is the reason why so many mums and dads feel they need to drive them in the first place.
There's also the more sobering safety target of reducing road deaths. If we want to promote walking and cycling, we need to make them safer. The number of cyclists killed this year already sits at nine, and included Police Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald who had dedicated a large part of his career to traffic safety. His focus was to change attitudes in order to bring the road toll down.
I know that the area of safer speeds is a critical one for cyclists, when they have to share the roads with cars, trucks and buses.
While the majority of our streets are safe to cycle on, it's often major linking roads and junctions that are less safe for cycling. ‘Driving to the conditions' should mean considering other road users, especially cyclists. And the speed limit should not be treated as the minimum speed at all costs - it's a maximum speed for ideal conditions.
It's all about education really: locally there is the ‘Cycle-safe Christchurch' education programme - a collaborative effort of the City Council and the NZ Transport Agency. It's focussed on Year Six school students, with a mix of classroom, playground and on-road instruction. Research shows that parents of children that pass the test at the end are more likely to permit them to ride to school. We really must encourage the younger generation to cycle, because they're more likely to make intelligent transport choices as adults if we have equipped them with the necessary skills and provided cycle-friendly infrastructure. As an advocacy organisation, education, I know, is one of your vital tools.
However, the predominance of the private car, along with suburban sprawl, has meant that in some areas there are few alternatives to driving. This is where the Transport Strategy comes in with its objective of improving access and mobility. Better, integrated planning and urban design is an important factor in achieving this. I cannot believe whole suburbs are being developed without even a corner dairy considered as a mechanism for encouraging a stroll for the Sunday papers rather than a drive.
To conclude, we're all working together to reduce dependence on car-based mobility. It takes a concerted effort to ‘get there - on foot or by cycle'. And an organisation like the Cycling Advocates' Network shows the way with their 'Can-do' attitude in terms of implementing the 'Getting There' strategy. Tonight's awards recognise that this effort and must be commended, as the benefits to society are huge.
But it's not just about winners. I'd like to congratulate all the finalists for their work and the range of initiatives and ingenuity, which will inspire us further. I understand we're going to be treated now to samples of your work in a presentation.
Thank you for allowing me to step into Annette's shoes and to be part of this special occasion.