The small engine menace and what we can do about it

11 10 2013

This is a cross post with my other blog – Clean Air New Zealand.
The ideas in this post have been kicking around in my brain for a while, but the thing that is spurring me into action is this post at Crikey’s Urbanist Blog by Alan Davies “Can scooters make our cities work better?” That post talks about the Dutch experience of allowing light mopeds onto cycle paths and what Alan is calling Powered 2 Wheelers (P2W), which includes electrically and petrol assisted bikes and scooters.

At their lower speed end P2Ws are e-Bikes, or electrically assisted bicycles, as I’ve been riding for the last 4 years, and these tend to have the same characteristics as bicycles and happily coexist with other cyclists on cycle infrastructure.

At their higher speed end P2Ws are traditional mopeds and motorcycles which belong on the road with the cars and trucks.

And in the middle there is a plethora of products where it is not obvious where they belong. They don’t belong on cycle paths and they don’t belong on roads, as they are too slow to keep up with highway speeds. These include petrol driven motorcycles, petrol driven kick-scooters and petrol driven skateboards, electrically powered scooters (ie moped form, rather than kick-scooters) and electric motorcycles.

Preventing these becoming widespread is important

Preventing these becoming widespread is important

Why they don’t belong on cycle paths and shared paths is three things: speed, noise and fumes. Electric bicycles can go fast, but in NZ where they are limited to 250W there are plenty of normal bicyclists who ride faster than e-bikes. Fast bicycles have skinny tyres and fit, skinny riders. There are no fumes and only a slight motor hum from electric bicycles. The hum is generally so low it is easy to sneak up on ducks and pukekos without scaring them.

Conversely all those petrol-driven P2Ws just don’t belong on cycle and shared paths. The noise is annoying. It is unmuffled and high-pitched and in an environment where the other users are quiet, they piss with everyone else’s tranquility. Plus 2-stroke emissions are absolutely foul-smelling and foul-tasting, but more on that later. And whilst they may be too quick for cycle paths and shared paths with pedestrians they are generally too slow for general road traffic.  Vehicles that go 50 or 60km/hr don’t belong where people are walking and doing 15 or 30km/hr on a bike, and they don’t belong in 80 or 100 km/hr zones either. They need kind of a middle speed infrastructure. Some cities, such as Kuala Lumpur have got special scooter infrastructure where scooter lanes parallel the motorways. But there scooters are much more in use. I think for Australasian conditions building another parallel infrastructure would be be a waste of money and space, considering building the slow speed infrastructure (ie bicycle lanes) is really just in its infancy.

Instead the middle speed P2Ws should be discouraged from sale. The main reason to discourage their use and hence not need infrastructure for them is air quality. Cities that do have large moped, scooter and tuk-tuk use have very bad air quality. They have very bad air quality because of the emissions from 2-stroke engines. In Bangkok I suffered black snot and nose bleeds and after a few days a raspy cough.

I’ve noticed an uptake in 2-stoke scooters in Wellington and Palmerston North, the places where I hang out the most. When I am a pedestrian or cyclist I hate having a 2-stroke motorcycle or moped go past. I hear them, and yes the sound is annoying (very annoying to me, but some people claim to like it, so to each their own) but then I know I am going to be tasting the smoke, and it’s not only smoke, but a suspension of unburnt oil and petrol. The number and amount of carcinogens I’ll be unwillingly ingesting is quite high.

I do find normal motorcycles annoying as well. Trail bikes, because they’re two-strokes, but also the Harley style. With Harleys it is only the great bloody ruckus that comes out of them, but their engines seem to be cleaner (hint they’re not 2 strokes).

When on occasions 2-stroke engines are encountered on cycle paths they are definitely not welcome. I have been known to be belligerent and block the path to mopeds, telling them to “fuck off of the bike path”. There are a number of petrol powered kick scooters, petrol assisted bicycles out there that are getting used on bike paths, and they do not belong.

So that’s my opinion. If it is quiet, clean and slow enough to be on a bike path then good, and if it’s fast enough to be at highway speeds then good, go on the road. If it is in the middle then it’s no good.

Of course the vehicle emissions of highway users need to be regulated to meet air quality goals too. Diesels need to get cleaner, and 2-strokes need to get banned.

There goes the neighborhood

There goes the neighborhood

Why 2-stroke engines should be banned.

2-stroke engines are notoriously filthy. This is taken from How Stuff Works.

  • Two-stroke engines produce a lot of pollution — so much, in fact, that it is likely that you won’t see them around too much longer. The pollution comes from two sources. The first is the combustion of the oil. The oil makes all two-stroke engines smoky to some extent, and a badly worn two-stroke engine can emit huge clouds of oily smoke. The second reason is less obvious: Each time a new charge of air/fuel is loaded into the combustion chamber, part of it leaks out through the exhaust port. That’s why you see a sheen of oil around any two-stroke boat motor. The leaking hydrocarbons from the fresh fuel combined with the leaking oil is a real mess for the environment.

2-strokeSo what is in the emissions of 2-strokes:

  • unburnt hydrocarbons (HC) – about 30% of the fuel/oil mixture comes out of the exhaust unburnt, the petrol itself being a carcinogen, but also the other nasties found in petrol including benzene, which causes leukaemias
  • Carbon Monoxide  (CO)
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which react with some of the unburnt hydrocarbons forming ozone (O3)

The volume of pollution is surprisingly quite high. Despite getting way better fuel economy than a car or a gas-guzzling SUV, scooters and motorcycles can pollute 90 times as much as a SUV.  (Think MotorCycles and Scooters are Great for the Environment? Wrong! , Motorcycles, scooters big polluters   , Motorcycles and emissions the surprising facts.)

Hypocrisy is a moped rider with a face mask

Hypocrisy is a moped rider with a face mask

What needs banning

To prevent their uptake and thereby protecting urban air quality I think all 2-stroke engines for transport vehicles should be banned. For petrol driven mopeds 4-stroke technology is cleaner. For dirt bikes and trail bikes (which probably should be controlled anyway and limited in sale to people who have the private land to ride them without annoying the neighbours. as illegal motorcycle riding is a problem in many places) again there are 4 stroke engines. For petrol assisted bicycles there are e-bikes. For petrol assisted skateboards and kick-scooters there are electric versions.

What about other uses of 2-strokes.

Many inland waterways regulation ban 2-stroke engines because of pollution concerns in freshwater. 4-stroke engines are a viable alternative.

For garden and power tools, such as lawn mowers then 4-strokes are viable alternatives, although lithium ion technology has grown up and is practical for many uses.

Firstly on lawn mowers. Choice Australia will no longer recommend 2-stroke lawnmowers because of the pollution and says “A four-stroke motor typically emits half the carbon monoxide and one-tenth the hydrocarbons that a two-stroke produces.” There is no need to sell 2-stroke lawn mowers at all.

Personally I maintain over an acre of gardens and have been progressively spending my pocket money on a certain brand of 18V Lithium Ion power tools. Ryobi, Makita, Bosch and Hitachi are some brands that have such systems of interchangeable batteries and tools.

Depending on the system there are 18V and 36V batteries of sizes generally in the 1.5 to 4 Amp hour range, and then there are power tools and gardening tools available. Makita does make a small bicycle that can use its batteries, but that is an exception. E-bike batteries tend to need to be a bit gruntier than these kinds of batteries.

I’ve been replacing some of my wood working tools and some of my garden tools with one of the systems. I had a petrol Line Trimmer/Whipper Snipper which was noisy and smelly and I have replaced it with an 18V line trimmer. It is so much quieter, not smelly, and also lighter to use. My wife couldn’t use the petrol one, and I couldn’t use it for too long without feeling tired, but the electric one is light and easy. I also replaced my hedge trimmer (ok I cut through the cord), and got  a reciprocating saw which is great for pruning, and for me has replaced a chainsaw. I also got a blower vac. I gave away another battery blower which had a lead acid battery which was heavy and had a 10 minute battery life. The new one with lithium ion batteries goes for half an hour. I find with 3 batteries I can have a session in the garden swapping them between the tools and recharging them as needed and I never have run out of battery power. The batteries charge in less than 90 minutes.


There are some tools I’ll never use outside my workshop, such as a mitre saw, so there are some tools where it still makes sense to buy with an electric cord, but I think of all the tools I have used in the garden there is nothing I would ever buy a petrol model of again (and certainly not a two-stroke). There is a chainsaw that Ryobi sells in Australia for it’s 18V ONE+ batteries, but it isn’t sold in New Zealand (slightly different safety laws I think). I do wish that the battery design was standardised between the manufacturers to give more choice amongst the tools. (Imagine how annoying it’d be if there weren’t standard AAA, AA, C, D and 9V battery sizes). I also do wish that there was a household vacuum cleaner that used the batteries as I could vacuum the whole house on one charge easily, and it’d get rid of the hassle of the cord.

Of all the power garden tools only perhaps chainsaws and lawnmowers still might be a legitimate use of a petrol engine. Then for light chainsawing battery chainsaws will be ok. (and if you want to whinge about cutting up the firewood, wood burners should be banned due to pollution concerns anyway). Chainsaws might be the one legitimate use of a 2-stroke engine, as they need to be wielded at many different angles, which 4-strokes aren’t really designed to do. Blower vacs (or lazy man’s brooms) definitely should be things other than 2-strokes. As I said my Li-Ion one works brilliantly.

Lawn-mowers as I have said above need not be 2-strokes, and going on my experience of the rest of my Li-Ion battery tools, when my 4-stroke one finally gives up (or I get sick of the noise and the fumes, 4-strokes pollute as well) then I am going to look at replacing it with a Li-Ion battery one. Then my 1 acre garden is going to have zero petrol inputs at all.

Apart from some very small niche markets, it is very feasible and very desirable to prohibit the sale (and soon after the use) of 2-stroke engines entirely. Prevention is the best cure, and good policy would be to make sure there isn’t a break out of 2-stroke engine sales that will reduce urban air quality and ruin cycle path amenity for the rest of us who don’t make such bad decisions.


The Capital choking on traffic congestion due to the RoNSzi scheme

2 09 2013

Today there was a bit of a hoo haa in the local press about the Arup and Opus report that the Greater Wellington Council commissioned on the effects of the RoNS on the Wellington region, but then embarrassingly the GWRC has been trying to ignore ever since.

It seems that the Airport to Levin corridor part of the Roads of National Significance is going to have quite an effect. Because of Transmission Gully and the Sandhills Motorway projects the congestion in Kapiti and Porirua (ie Mana and Pukerua Bay) is going to fall and with the Petone to Grenada project Hutt Road congestion is also going to fall a bit, but with induced demand and extra trips the now efficient roads are going to funnel many, many more cars onto Wellington and Wellington just isn’t going to cope.

Because reducing congestion is one of the reasons that the RoNS are getting foisted onto the public it is a bit embarrassing for the government and for the pro-roads part of the GWRC, since the RoNS are going to fail to solve the problem they are designed to solve, namely congestion. Because that’s generally a stuff up and because of their staggering expense, the government should really go back to first principles and start again on its transport policies.

There seems to be some confusion whether the report has been made public yet (although it’s been funded by GWRC rateapayers so they bloody well deserve to be able to see it) and there are accusations of leaks and although it isn’t too hard to find on the interwebs I still feel a little reluctant to post the whole thing, so I’ll just post some highlights. I really hope that it is officially released through appropriate channels very soon now.

Firstly the report assumes the RoNS projects and the Petone-Grenada link get built. It doesn’t entertain other options. It also assumes that there are no public or active transport improvements and it is just business as usual on those fronts with no great modal shift to bikes or trains and trams, and it assumes that parking capacity in the CBD will grow to meet demand (like where?). It also doesn’t assume any oil shocks or similar. It does however assume continued growth of car trips, ignoring any evidence of peak-car (just like the business case for the RoNS does).

You can see that graphically. I think some of its assumptions are wrong. I think the green and red will both grow especially if we build separated cycleways and we build light rail to Newtown and Kilbirnie.

TripsByMode-AM peakThen here is a graph of vehicle to capacity ratios at key bottlenecks in the AM peak with those assumptions. The higher the V/C the worse the congestion. There are some improvements by 2031 in some places and some things are getting worse. State Highway 2 seems to fare the worst.

VCatBottlenecksThis is the most interesting graph in the report.  Below LOS D means below a level of service where the volume to capacity is greater than 0.80, i.e. congested. And it can be seen that in Wellington many more vehicle kilometres are going to be spent waiting in traffic.  In fact it means that congestion in Wellington is going to be up 80% with greatly increased fuel imports to match.

CongestionGraphically that means that instead of these current conditions of 2011:2011LOSPlotThat it is going to look like this by 2041. (There is a lot more orange and red)

2041LOSPlotTo put it mildly, that’s a bit of a debacle that we are going to pay billions of dollars to do to ourselves. In fact so much traffic would completely destroy the city. There has to be a better way than overbuilding motorway capacity that induces demand that then dumps thousands of extra cars onto a small city whose built form is dictated by the steep topography and the collection of tram based suburbs that it largely still is.

The RoNSzi scheme is unsustainable financially or environmentally. In a time when cities need to be talking about sustainability and alternative transport here we have a 1950s solution that is no solution at all.

Why add lanes to Cobham Drive?

27 08 2013

Anyone else think 6 lanes for cars on Cobham Drive is just overkill?



There’s not that much stuff over on the Miramar Peninsula, and it’s not like people are missing planes at Welly airport because of heavy congestion. Is 6 lanes on an arterial road that is perfectly fine at 4 lanes indicative of just how much transport funding priorities are spectacularly unbalanced under the RoNS programme? Wouldn’t this excessive bit of infrastructure be an example of government waste that would be very easy to cut?

Heavy congestion eastbound on Cobham Dve on a Saturday afternoon.

Heavy congestion eastbound on Cobham Dve on a Saturday afternoon. If only there was an added lane.




Is the Conservation Minister smarter than the average bear?

17 03 2013

Is the recently rehabilitated, formerly disgraced, Conservation Minister, Nick Smith,  smarter than the average bear when it comes to making the right decisions about not messing up Fiordland with crazy Disneyfication get rich quick schemes?

We think the best way to help him come to the right decision is set him in down in front on a kids’ film, the filmed in New Zealand, Yogi Bear. (It got hammered by critics, but my better half and I, close to our 40ths, loved it.)


It comes with a great message, made so simple, even a National Party MP could understand it (we hope).

The story goes like this:

Mayor Brown, who has wasted too much of the city’s money on trivial things (being analogous to National’s spending on the Roads of National Significance boondoggle no doubt) needs to turn his deficit into a surplus and decides to monetise Jellystone Park by selling it to logging companies. Yogi, Boo Boo and all their fellow forest creatures are going to be out of a home, and instead of perpetually stealing pic-a-nic baskets, they have to cooperate with Ranger Smith and love interest/biology researcher Rachel to save the park. There are the predictable scenes of rafting over a waterfall, and waterskiing bears and Mayor Brown is shown as the on-the-take, shallow, nature hater that he really is, when he gets his comeuppance and Jellystone Park is saved.

This year the Minister is going to make a decision on whether either or both of the schemes to violate Fiordland are going to be given concessions. There is understandably a bit of a local backlash about the proposals, ie see Save Fiordland’s website.

Firstly there is the Milford Dart Tunnel which proposes to build a tunnel for buses with an eastern portal near the Routeburn Shelter and a western portal just north of Gunn’s Camp on the Hollyford Road. Tourists can then rush from Queenstown via the road to Glenorchy, over the little bridges over the Rees and Dart rivers, through the tunnel, to the Hollyford and then on the existing Hollyford Road, through the Homer Tunnel, and into Milford Sound, instead of going the long way round through Mossburn and Te Anau.

Secondly there is the plan to build a monorail from the Kiwi Burn through the Snowdon Forest to Te Anau Downs. With this tourists would be able to rush from Queenstown to Milford via a boat across Lake Wakatipu, then an “all terrain vehicle” (oh gosh) on the Mt Nicholas Road to KiwiBurn and then catch a monorail to Te Anau Downs where presumably they can get on pogo sticks to go through the Eglington Valley to the Homer Tunnel and down to the Sound.

Both of these would mean granting significant commercial concessions to build intrusive infrastructure in Te Wahipounamu/Fiordland World Heritage Area that would have big effects on scenery and recreational users to save tourists a few hours on an exhausting day trip bus ride. They would both significantly reduce the mana of the parks.

Here’s a suggestion for any tourists coming to Fiordland and are in Queenstown and want to visit Milford Sound. Don’t do it as a day trip. It is a long way to go, and there are many beautiful things to see on the way. There are world class walking tracks and the scenery is fantastic. Fiordland is worth more than one day of your life.

On paper the Milford Dart Tunnel would appear to not have much impact you might think, but the roads and bridges between Glenorchy and the eastern portal will all need to be upgraded for the large number of buses using the tunnel. (There would also be political pressure to open up the tunnel to trucks and cars once it was built).

The Lower Dart. What this valley needs is lots of diesel pollution.

The Lower Dart. What this valley needs is lots of diesel pollution.

Most of the Routeburn track walkers won’t notice the buses in the tunnels underneath (and the people in the buses would be looking into blackness when above they could be hiking in a lovely beech forest up to the Harris Saddle). A hundred diesel belchers going past the start of the walk to Lake Sylvan are going to mess with the ambience of what would have to be one of the nicest short walks in the world.

The beech forest en route to Lake Sylvan.

The beech forest en route to Lake Sylvan.

A short walk to a peaceful oasis of serenity, Lake Sylvan.

Peaceful Lake Sylvan

Peaceful Lake Sylvan.

At the western end of the tunnel the Hollyford Road will have to be widened and upgraded to take the extra bus traffic. The Hollyford Road near the start of the Lake Marian track is narrow and steep and in pristine forest. They’ll have to cut down a lot of trees to accomplish this. On the Hollyford Road past the turnoff  the traffic will thin, and only be there to provide access to the Hollyford Track. It’s a good thing the tourist buses will rush past giving no-one the opportunity to see such a magnificent river as the Hollyford.

The Hollyford River.

The Hollyford River.

I had a hike once in the Snowdon Forest.  I walked in from the Mavora Lakes and in from the KiwiBurn. I’m pretty much of the opinion that this part of the World Heritage Area should be incorporated into a National Park and better protected.

Walking around the South Mavora I was pretty much of the opinion that the 4WD access should be shutdown, because they had churned up the fragile soils in the beech forest into mudpools. DOC, if you’ve got any staff left, you should look into that.

Potholed and hillocked - 4WDs fucked up the South Mavora Lake.

Potholed and hillocked – 4WDs have fucked up the South Mavora Lake.

The Kiwi Burn area itself is beautiful with flat walking following the Mararoa River through the forest.

Bridge over the Mararoa River, near KiwiBurn.

Bridge over the Mararoa River, near Kiwi Burn.

Would this look better with a monorail?

En route to the Whitestone.

En route to the Whitestone Valley.

If tourists want Disneyland then I suggest going to Anaheim, Lille, Orlando or Hong Kong. If they want to see a beautiful corner of the world (except for the bloody sandflies) then I suggest they do it on foot, or take more than a day to do it by the existing road. These projects are unnecessary. They will despoil a beautiful and unique part of the world. They will commoditise, monetise and Disney-afy a part of the natural world. They will allow a couple of companies to generate wealth for themselves, whilst detracting from the common good that is owned not only by every New Zealander, but by everyone on planet Earth.

Can Nick Smith make the right decision? Is he smarter than the average bear?

Save Jellystone. Save Fiordland.

Save Jellystone. Save Fiordland.

Government needs to step up to the plate on cycle infrastructure funding

13 02 2013

Recent news stories, these last few days, in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch all show that there is a significant push in each city to improve cycle infrastructure.

In Wellington and Christchurch this will be from rates and in Auckland, embarassingly, but fitting the sad ideological zeitgeist, it will be a private public partnership funded by tolls. Cars will be able to drive over the Harbour Bridge for nothing, but cyclists and pedestrians will be paying tolls. Imagine stinging tourists $5.00 for the pleasure of walking over the bridge and back. They’ll be telling their friends when they get home that New Zealand ripped them off.

The reality is that at the moment government funding for cycle infrastructure is miniscule. The summary of the NZTA’s National Land Transport Planning for 2012-2015 doesn’t even mention bicycles. It is budgeted to have $53m of funding for the years from 2012-2015 for all footpaths and cycle funding. That is less than $18m a year, or about $4 per person per year. That $53m out of a total budgeted $4,449m budgeted on roads. That is 1% of funding going to active transport, ie walking and cycling. Currently more than 1% or people get around on foot and by bicycle

There are about 1.27 million cyclists in NZ – about 31% of the population (by comparison, there are about 3 million people with car licences). There are about 750,000 regular cyclists (cycling at least once a month) in NZ – about 18% of the population. About 144,000 or 3.5% cycle nearly every day. Yet these people get less than 1.2% of the road transport funding.

There’s no other way to interpret it, but presently cyclists and pedestrians are being ripped off by the government.

Government needs to step up to the plate on cycle infrastructure funding. Cities all over the country are crying out for more funding. They are resorting to raising rates, or unbelievably, tolls.  Extra funding needs to be forthcoming.

Investments in cycle infrastructure typically have benefit to cost ratios much greater than road projects. Improving urban transport infrastructure improves cities. It reduces congestion on the roads, and enables people to get around by public transport. Cycling and walking improve air quality by taking cars off the road. It fights the obesity epidemic. This should be a no-brainer. Cycle infrastructure is a common good, benefiting everyone, even the people who don’t use it.

The amount of money available from the NLTF for local councils to implement cycle projects should be increased, even up to an amount of $50m or $100m a year. Cities and towns should still match the funding, maybe not at 50%, but at 20%. Each city should be able to plan and build their networks without fear that it won’t be funded.

Of course the projects should still stack up, but not to the NZTA’s extremely narrow conditions that seem to only want cycle infrastructure if it decongests a highway. Cycle infrastucture projects should be done for their own sake, e.g. for extending the network of safe cycle ways into a useful grid, or for adding extra cycle parking in strategic spots or for other valid reasons.

The demand is there, the pent up demand, waiting for safe cycle infrastructure, is there and the induced demand from people who don’t yet know that they will want to cycle is there too.

A thousand people cycled into Wellington City for a free breakfast this morning for Bike to Work day. They got free bananas and bagels. They didn’t get their fare share of road transport funding.

On dooring

8 02 2013

Cycle lanes should exist to keep cyclists safe. They should not be there just to keep cyclists ‘tamed’ on an otherwise busy street. Yet when they are built in the “door zone” then they just are not safe. The Dom Post article on dooring was written because of this report:

Otago University’s Injury Prevention Research Unit report on dooring.

In New York they found definite advantages to building the safe separated lanes, with the added benefit that the extra buffer from the road, and the extra foot and cyclist traffic boosted local businesses.


Badly designed bicycle infrastructure can have fatal consequences. I’ve a photo of the crash scene, which I am not going to post, but this happened on Cumberland St in Dunedin this year. Dunedin cyclists have been asking for years for something better on the one ways through town. Why haven’t they got it already?

And why hasn’t Johnsonville got safe cycle lanes yet either?

We need to get the message, of safe cycling infrastructure, to sink into the minds of every traffic engineer, every councillor and every politician in the country.

Look what would be possible with the political will to value cyclists’ lives over parked cars, from Hornby St, Vancouver. I particularly like the planters on bidirectional cycle lanes. Very apt for Featherston Street?


On Yer Bike New Zealand

26 01 2013

As I get older one of life’s disappointments is how society and governments continually fail us in many different ways. It is especially galling when there is a body of knowledge about how to do things right, cheaply, and sustainably, and yet that body of knowledge keeps on getting ignored and ignored.

Yep, I am talking about the lack of cycling infrastructure in New Zealand.

There is currently an all party parliamentary inquiry in the UK that is addressing what it can do to lift cycling rates in Britain. The Guardian’s coverage of what should be said and what was said at the inquiry make for interesting reading. The report comes out in April, but we can see what it is likely to say.

I’ll write a big sentence here : What is needed is government support from all parties recognising that cycling is a legitimate form of transport and showing long-term and committed leadership at the very highest level to strategic, non-partisan planning as seen on other major transport infrastructure projects where the commitment that is needed should be like that made in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands several decades ago.

I’ll translate – What is needed is separated, safe cycle infrastructure. A whole parallel network of safe bike paths that are simply not lines painted on roads.

What works for the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, would work for the UK and it would work for New Zealand too.

Every politician in New Zealand should understand what a commitment to cycling as transport means, and they and their parties should make that commitment. We should have a target, say 40% of all journeys made by biking or walking by 2020.

Now let’s see what all this means. That body of knowledge of what constitutes good bicycle infrastructure is available on the internet. Start here, and go here. Of course there is more than just those two sites, but start there. The current synthesis of knowledge based on the northern European experience is what I call Bicycle 2.0. New Zealand needs to embrace Bicycle 2.0.

Here is a quick distillation of what cyclists want:

Separated cycle paths – Cyclists shouldn’t get just a painted line, which offers very little space and very little protection from passing vehicles, and as roads are signposted faster than 30 km/hr  this rule has to hold more and more. On busy roads separated cycle paths are just safer. Separate them with nature strips, or kerbs or with planters. Yes there are a faction of cyclists (who I point out have not yet been killed on their bikes) who want to mix it up with traffic and hate using cycle paths, but they are generally young, fit and male. With that kind of attitude children, women, the old and the less confident are excluded and cycling rates are never going to be more than a few percent. Separated cycle paths mean less noise, less pollution, and less chance to get hit by a car, a truck or a bus. If the only room to make a separated cycle path means that on-street parking has to be restricted then that is what should be done. Parked cars are often a waste of space, and it is of more economic value to have that space used for quality cycle infrastructure. Separated cycle paths mean that at intersections extra signalling for the cycle paths if required should be provided. Underpasses and overpasses as used in the Netherlands should also be considered.


A coherent network without gaps – One look at a map of the cycling paths in Auckland or Wellington will show that there is no linked up system of paths. There is no point providing quality safe paths for 90% of a cyclists journey if for the other 10% of the journey they have to share the road with trucks and cars going 80km/hr just over their shoulders as that is going to put most people off. The network needs to be extensive, coherent, well signposted and well mapped on paper, and nowadays electronically. The network shouldn’t have gaps. It doesn’t have to parallel the road network entirely, and it can go into places the road network just doesn’t go, like parks and along the seafront. For particularly horrible sections of road then a parallel route on side streets if it doesn’t affect directness could be used.

An extensive network  – Every possible journey should be possible only using safe infrastructure, which means a density of routes roughly equivalent to the arterial road network.

Use direct routes – There are places where recreational routes go where it isn’t the most direct route, such as along the coast, but urban routes should be reasonably direct like the road network is.

On backstreets slow the traffic down – on backstreets where it is necessary to share the road with local traffic make the maximum speed limit 30 km/hr. It makes the places safer for everybody; kids playing, the elderly on their mobility scooters, pedestrians and cyclists.

Don’t have to share bus lanes – Cyclists shouldn’t be forced into bus lanes, as bus lanes are for buses and buses are bigger than bikes and generally squash them.

More than a minimum width – Minimum widths need to be worked out.  For unidirectional paths it needs to be the width for 2 riders to ride abreast (because cycling can be a social activity), with room for a 3rd one to pass. This also allows for tricycles, wheelchairs, and velomobiles. Bidirectional paths need only be a little wider than that.

Minimum giveways  – When a private driveway has to cross a cycle path the pedestrians and cycle path on that path should get priority. i.e. cars have to stop for all traffic when crossing a cycle path. It is important to keep up the momentum of cyclists as much as possible and they have to be able to assume and get priority. When a cycle path has to cross a side street then having a marked cycle path on the road where the side road traffic then has to stop for cyclists is a great idea. Like this one on the Pioneer Highway in Palmerston North.


No bollards, or gates – Not only does this slow cyclists down, but an old man on a ped-elec tricycle, or a kid in a wheelchair has every right to use the bike path, but if there is some artificial choke point designed to keep motorbikes or cars off a bike path then it excludes legitimate users. Noise activated cameras, and active policing, can be used to catch illegal motorcycles and 2-stroke scooters (and then their machines should be turned into artificial reefs). A particular bugbear of mine is having to lift my bike over a gate.

No door zones. Cyclists should never be put in door zones, where an opening driver or passenger car door is opened in front of a bike. Door zones are fatalities waiting to happen.

Quality Surface – Skinny tyres are a legitimate choice. It’s all very well being chic and riding sit-ups and being stylish on balloon tyres, or riding a fat-tyred mountain bike, but road bikes, even with those awful drop handlebars, are also legitimate. Skinny tyres need good surfaces, and a good surface helps fat tyres too. Both types of tyres go faster on an asphalted surface, and skinny tyres just go faster. Loose gravel, or fine gravel may be ok on a recreational route, but for a piece of transport infrastructure the surfaces needs to be asphalt or concrete. I’ve had arguments before about a potential route through Queen Elizabeth Park in Kapiti or what passes for a cycle path on the side of the Waikanae River. Upgrade them to a standard road bikes can ride them, then it is a cycle path.

Swept of debris – One chief complaint, used by cyclists still on the road when there is a parallel bike lane or path they are not using is that it is full of debris. This is really true for the cycle path south of Petone on the SH2. Debris, glass and puddles make paths less desirable to use. Roads get swept. Footpaths in the CBDs get swept. Cycle paths should get swept. Every council should have one or more small, ride-on, electric powered street sweepers that can sweep the width of a bike path. Please no diesel powered ones, as diesel fumes irritate the lungs, especially when you’re riding hard and breathing deeply.

Bikes integrated into public transport with parking facilities – Everything possible to make it possible to mix public transport and bikes should be done. We need extensive secure parking for bikes at train stations, and at some bus stops that doesn’t require prebooking. It doesn’t have to be free (and neither does the car-parking) but it should be easy to use and widely available.

Bikes integrated into public transport by having provisions for carrying bikes –The average bike is 1.8 metres long, and Wellington’s Matangi carriages have an internal width of 2.53 metres, yet presently a Matangi train can carry a maximum of 3 bikes and then only not in peak hour. Every train should have one carriage which is for bikes, including in peak hour, and it should be able to take 20 or 30 bikes and their riders. It really is too far to ride from Waikanae Beach to Newtown, but it should be possible to do it by train and bike.  Of all transport projects the one that consistently has the most return on investment is bike carriers on buses. All buses should have bike racks for 2 or preferably 3 bikes. Where trams are built they should do what they do in Stuttgart and have bike trailers.


Clean air is best to cycle in – Having bad air to breathe when exercising is a huge turnoff. It’s not only vehicular traffic which pollutes, but a bigger problem is woodsmoke.  Wood smoke is toxic. We need to take what the scientists are saying about woodsmoke seriously and ban the bloody stuff.  Could you ride in the shit that passes for air in midwinter in Masterton?


Don’t forget other forms of human powered transport – skateboards, kick scooters, roller blades, roller skates are all great ways to get around and should consider the safe cycle network their own. Wheelchair users, whether human powered or battery assisted, hand cranked cycles, recumbent bikes, and trikes and velomobiles are also welcome to use the system. For disabled people a safe separated system could be liberating for them to get around town, especially if they have trouble getting on buses and trains.

Reject all internal combustion engines – the noise and pollution from petrol and diesel engines, and especially 2-strokes is something that as a cyclist should never have to put up with. Petrol-assisted bikes and scooters should be banned. Mopeds should not be allowed on any part of the cycle network. Those stupid things belong on the road.

Don’t forget e-bikes – e-bikes are a great way to get more people riding. People like them because they are old, unfit, injured or it makes their journey quicker or more enjoyable. They’re not necessarily quicker than a normal bike (if you want quick, get thin tyres or a recumbent). I like mine, and I am only a little old and a little unfit. They use as much energy to make them the equivalent to 1000 mpg.

Don’t forget the elderly – Old people, who have trouble lifting their legs can get a bike with a step through frame, and some electric assist and keep on riding long after they thought they would have to give it up. There should be pilot projects to get people in retirement homes onto electric assist step through bikes and tricycles to give them mobility to go shopping and get about town, and they can ride safely long after they have to give up driving. Of course they need safe places to ride, but that is what all the points I’ve been making are all about. Being active old people are going to live longer and have improved lives.

Don’t forget the school children – One of the great failings of modern New Zealand is that kids don’t ride their bikes to school anymore, and with the traffic on the roads estimated to be 30% school runs really this is one area where we have to go back to like it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Firstly build the safe routes for them to get to school. Then, do as they do in Japan, and ban parking and dropping of the kids near school entrances. There are too many fatty boombahs in New Zealand and we need to get them on bikes. Most kids these days can’t even ride bikes. It is a generation of little scooter riders. They need to get on their bikes, and get riding, or it will be a lost generation.

Don’t forget the smaller cities and towns – it isn’t just Auckland and Wellington and Christchurch this applies to. It applies to everywhere, and it isn’t just in town either, but between towns too. There should be routes as safe as between Motueka and Nelson as what there should be between Pt Chevalier and Ponsonby. This is the great, as yet unfulfilled, promise of the National Cycleway. The National Cycleway should embrace cycling as transport, and not just think of it as recreational riding.

Cycling and walking attract trivial amounts of funding for infrastructure improvements and what little money there is is usually scraped from the bottom of the local council’s rates barrel. There is very little central government support for the active transport modes, which is quite surprising because compared to roads, or even public transport funding, it costs so little and has positive economic dividends well above what is spent.

If more people cycled there would be less air pollution, less noise pollution, less obesity, less traffic congestion and less fuel to import. If the central government does not understand this, and does not actively encourage investment into cycling infrastructure it is failing the people of New Zealand. You might get some dumb arguments about there being no demand for it. They are wrong. There is huge pent up demand for it. Have a look at the Wellington waterfront on a sunny evening where cyclists are free to ride. In an hour hundreds and hundreds of cyclists, and dozens of skateboarders, and now a few kick scooters will pass you. And there are those kinds of numbers with connections to the north and south being largely crap.

Local government should be given money by central government to build local infrastructure. It should initially be hundreds of millions of dollars to kickstart the network into coherence, and then settle down to sustainable levels of funding. The money should be diverted away from the costly and egomaniacal RoNS projecst. It doesn’t matter if the money originally came from fuel taxes or whatever. Transport money should be spent on all transport projects that stack up. There are better ways to cure congestion than building and widening motorways. The best way to cure congestion is to cut down on the number of cars, and the best way to do that is to build a safe cycle network.

These glamour cycle projects should be amongst the first to get funded:

  • The Great Harbour Way from Wellington to the Hutt (and Adelaide Road)
  • The Auckland Harbour Bridge (Stuff the tolls up a motorist’s arse too. It should be free to cyclists. Toll the bridge for motorists instead.)
  • The Caversham Tunnels and the rest of the Port Chalmers to Mosgiel route in Dunedin.
  • And be an integral part of the Christchurch rebuild.

On yer bike New Zealand.