Fancy a free e-bike? Robin Fiore, Director of Sales for Electric Utility Bike startup UBCO, with an UBCO 2x2 at the Tehachapi Pass Wind Farm. Photo: Supplied

The things we should be improving – cycling, public and shared transport, walking and urban design 

Last week I got Covid (we all did in our family, fell like dominos in fact). And now my brain doesn’t work properly. So my column this week is a list. Lists are what column writers do when all our neurotransmitters fail to launch.

On Monday, people in the government showed their willingness to make public transport more accessible, one effective action for helping protect the environment and climate. They also reduced fuel costs (definitely not climate action at all). It got me thinking about all the things people in government can do to kick the fossil fuel industry out of our transport lives – transport being a huge contributor to New Zealand’s carbon emissions – and help us overcome the harms we all experience from being forced to rely on their products.

They are actions that will help make our towns and cities attractive places for people to enjoy, support kids to move about freely, and mean all people, regardless of physical ability, income, or location will be able to get about easily. They will make our streets less polluted and calmer – in other words, it will help us build cities and towns we can love.

Some ingredients for a much healthier and freer way of getting about (without fossil fuels):

All the bike-related things

Enable many different groups of people to use this awesome fossil-fuel-free mode of transport.

1. Free e-bikes and bike solutions for some 

Helping particular groups of people, especially women, those with disabilities, those on low incomes and those responsible for children, get around easily without a car, increases our independence, reduces car use, helps our health and reduces short car trips (highly carbon intensive) and the number of cars on the road.

Cargo e-bikes for people moving kids and shopping about on multiple trips, e-trikes for those who need more stability, and wheelchair bikes are innovations that support many people to get around on the wheeled machines, and are fun and effective. For those on low incomes these are simply not accessible – make them so.

2. E-bike and bike subsidies for all

E-cars are old news. That people in government are vaguely obsessed by them shows what late adopters public servants can be. We have got bigger fish to fry and can fry them by subsidising e-bikes. Simply put, e-bikes deal with many of the problems that a reliance on cars plus lots of people living in limited spaces bring.

Access to push bikes is still a limiting factor for many families on low incomes to use new protected bike paths, so it’s important that analogue bikes are part of any policy increasing people’s access to bikes.

3. Integrated protected bike networks 

Many people don’t cycle because the environment is toxic to it. It’s not safe, it’s stressful. For women and children, people less confident, less able on bikes, protected cycle networks have been shown to work to support the option to ride. This is basically putting lanes everywhere across towns and cities that join up like a great big bike track that we can all pop on and off near where we live, work, learn and play. Which is essentially what Wellington City Council has voted to do this week after leadership by councillors, especially Tamatha Paul, on the issue.

4. Bike storage everywhere, in vast numbers

Get people on bikes and they need somewhere to lock them that is dry and secure at work and in public. They also need places to charge them if they are e-bikes. Locky dock is an example of an innovative solution to public e-bike storage and charging. More of this.

5. Paying workplaces and employees to bike

Internationally this is a pretty common approach, where there are various subsidies to support people to cycle to work, whether it’s a bike as part of work, or a per kilometre ridden payment.

6. Supporting companies to move freight with e-cargo

There are already a few companies doing this, incentives should be in place for freight and transport companies shifting to carbon-neutral transport means.

All the public and shared transport things

As much as I love bikes, they are not for everyone or appropriate everywhere, and it’s increasing the mix of options that are easy and everywhere that will help the most people.

7. Free public transport – nuff said

8. Trains, many more trains to all the places (and buses)

Restarting our passenger services between towns is a must for the climate (here is a petition you can sign to support this). To reduce flying, there needs to be easier, cheaper, and more convenient train travel. In towns we need many, many more buses. (I’m not a big fan of intercity bus travel.)

9. Support ride-share schemes

We have a lot of cars, we will still need them, but fewer of them. It does not make sense for everyone to pay to own a car, to store it on the street, especially as we increase the ease to use healthier transport. There is a low take up of car-share schemes in NZ – they need help to grow and expand. It has to be easy to access a ride share to make it the best option over a car. There should be a focus on schemes that work best for disabled people, people moving kids and older people, and these should be e-cars.

While we are at it, research shows we are going to need to make it more expensive for people who don’t need to to drive in their own cars to work, to school, to shops. That means using tax on high emitting vehicles, parking charges, peak travel charges, etc.

Prioritising people who walk (not cars)

Nothing says we love you walkers and wheelchair users like making them a priority in a city.

10. Wider footpaths for people to walk on

Footpaths that don’t trip us up, tip us over, squeeze us out, or suddenly stop or launch us into four lanes of fast-moving traffic.

11. Help the flow of people walking

We need safe level crossings everywhere and lights that change regularly for people walking. The days of prioritising traffic flow need to end because the benefits are limited to a few, and every day the carbon count climbs.

12. Let people know streets are for people not just cars by enforcing the rules

At the end of my street are traffic lights that people run every single time I’m walking with my kids. This is a normalised part of our lives that needs to stop. People matter, people walking and kids’ wellbeing matter. It matters more than a 10-second advantage to the next red light. We need heavier enforcement of existing rules, from red light running to parking on footpaths and in parks for disabled people (the worst). It’s especially important that kids living in areas with fewer resources get the benefit of this first, as they are harmed the most by cars in our country.

Changing our streetscapes and urban design

Our cities were designed around cars, but that is not working for us any more, including the people who drive cars. Time to redesign our cities.

13. Remove many of the car parks on our streets

To prioritise people walking and riding and make those the better options, we need to reduce the share of the street that cars have. Leave the car parks for those people who really need them – disabled people and those using low-carbon freight modes.

14. Make more streets for play

Remember when kids could play in the streets, when our streets were places for everyone, not just cars? Neighbourhoods can be good places to be if they are not guillotined by vehicles driving through them and endangering us all. Creating low-traffic neighbourhoods, with planting, bollards, and residents-only parking, is where it is at.

15. Recreate “the local shops” and community 

Reducing the need to travel at all and send goods via carbon-intensive means is a big part of the solution, and this means ways to support and recreate more local services and shops. It also means rebuilding local communities in other ways apart from commerce –parks, playgrounds, meeting places for all communities and cultures, libraries.

Rethinking who sets the transport and urban space agenda and what matters

16. Be led by Māori values, knowledge and innovation

Working in partnership with iwi and hapū on redeveloping our cities and towns is a no-brainer (see also te Tiriti o Waitangi). Being led by Māori values, and expert solutions and innovations within Te Ao Māori means more and better solutions together, and that is what will ensure all our communities will thrive.

17. Put kids and their caregivers at the heart of it

By thinking about the needs of a child (and the people who they need support from across their day), we get the transport solutions that work for people.

The ideas and solutions are all here (and have been in some cases for centuries). It’s enacting where people get stuck. To do so means prioritising what matters most. What people in government showed us this week is that they can absolutely make big moves to take care of people when challenges hit – climate change is the biggest we have and transport is an area we need to retool and quickly in ways that ensure the people who need it most benefit. 

Thanks to the Women in Urbanism experts for their input on this list.

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