It’s not just the physical and mental benefits, but also the social and economic ones. The evidence is overwhelming, we find. The average New Zealander conducts almost three times as many trips every week by car as by bicycle. There are many reasons for this, including the weather, the apparent lack of cycle-friendly infrastructure and the fact that we’re not a particularly cycling-mad nation, as is evidenced by the near-total absence of bicycle tracks in urban areas.
After a cyclist’s death on Harbour Bridge, there were calls from a variety of quarters for the city to build better cycling facilities. However, there’s a simple modification the council could make to our urban environment to get more Kiwis pedalling: reallocate parking to deliver a net increase in spaces for bicycles. On the face of it, this seems to have little logic.
Why would someone who drives to a destination park their car further away from that destination than they would park a bicycle? A little-known, if widespread, fact is that the majority of people who travel by bicycle will actually park their bike within a few minutes’ walk of their destination. In other words, they will park their bicycle in the area set aside for bicycle parking and then walk the remaining distance.
In fact, probably one of the best ways to encourage more people to cycle is to provide convenient parking close to destinations. Most people who drive take the path of least resistance. If they’re travelling to a nearby location, they’ll drive. If they’re travelling to a more distant location, they’ll probably drive. But if their destination is close enough to walk, and if car parking is scarce, and if there are places to park their bicycles, some of them will cycle. Cycle parking already exists in most supermarkets and shopping malls.
But these facilities are often underused. The problem is not a lack of storage, but a lack of awareness. The solution is simple. Auckland Transport, the council’s transport arm, should set a target for increases in cycle parking. It should then identify suitable areas and stop allocating car parking spaces in those areas.
Instead it should devote spaces to bicycle parking, making them attractive by providing secure, well-maintained facilities. The benefits would be manifold. Those who cycle would benefit from a reduction of their trip times. They would benefit from the exercise and enjoyment of their trips. They would benefit from helping to reduce the pressure on the city’s road network. The city would benefit from reduced traffic congestion and lower transportation emissions, as well as lower parking demand. Businesses in areas with increased cycle parking would benefit from potential increases in foot traffic and potential reductions in car parking demand.
Neighbouring businesses would benefit from a general increase in the visibility of their area. And pedestrians? They would benefit from reduced congestion. They would benefit from increased safety. They would benefit from the health benefits associated with increased cycling, as well as increased social contact. Most of all, they would benefit from the potential increase in spending in areas with improved cycling access. Of course, there will be costs associated with the reconfiguration of parking spaces. But the costs are manageable, and they are more than outweighed by the benefits.
And the costs of not providing more cycle parking are even greater. All it takes is a simple decision to stop allocating parking spaces and turn car parks into bike parks.