Big biking boom: Kiwis turn to other modes of travel and fun while in lockdown

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

With fewer vehicles on the road, Aucklanders are feeling more comfortable hitting the pavement on bikes and scooters.

There's been noticeably more people, especially families, cycling together throughout the region since the nation has been in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Bike Auckland communications manager Jolisa Gracewood said people have felt safer using the roads for biking, scootering and walking with less traffic, which proves people do want to take up cycling but had been held back by concerns over safety.

The group, which advocates for a bikable city, is calling for Auckland Council to invest in ways to make cycling safer, including safer speed zones, more pop-up protected bike lanes, and better bike parking.

"The sudden drop in car traffic has taken the 'if' out of the equation. Streets feel instantly safer, so more of us are giving it a go, especially families, older folk and rusty riders," Ms Gracewood said.

But while the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has been difficult and challenging for many, staying home and exercising locally has given people an unexpected opportunity to experience much quieter streets.

"Nobody wished for an opportunity of stress-free streets at this cost, but it is something of a silver lining," Ms Gracewood said.

According to Bike Auckland's Backyard Bike Survey, carried out at 200 locations during the lockdown, walking (45 per cent) and biking (19 per cent) account for the majority of all the local trips recorded across the city, while only 36 per cent is vehicle travel.

Almost 10,000 movements have been counted so far as part of the survey.

In a previous survey by Auckland Transport, sixty per cent of people have said they would like to go by bike if it felt safer.

"Some places will be busier with cars and others will be busier with bikes or walking, but overall that's a spectacular shift for Auckland streets at the broad scale," Ms Gracewood said, adding that right across the city, from Orewa to Manurewa, people were giving feedback about hearing and seeing more while they're out and about, including listening to birds, children and people talking.

"All this is generally lost in the traffic and it's so important for quality of life," she said. "It takes the rush hour out of the equation."

The uptake of people getting out on bikes in the past month also comes as Trade Me reported fielding nearly half a million online searches for bikes in one week of the lockdown, and some Auckland cycleway counters recording twice as many bike trips as usual for this time of year.

Ms Gracewood said she expected an increase in people taking up riding, but numbers suggested even more than predicted.

"People do want to cycle, they just need a safe place to cycle," she said.

"It's an unusual moment to salvage something great. It's a once in a generation.

"People are remembering that riding a bike is fun, safe and easy. What's hard is riding in fast or heavy traffic or on local streets full of rat-running.

"Even if you're not on a bike yourself right now, you can see how comfortable our streets are for walking when they’re not roaring with traffic and how quickly we're adapting to giving each other more breathing room."

However, as New Zealand's lockdown restrictions lift tomorrow in Alert Level 3, there will no doubt be more traffic back on the roads.

"As we move back to more travel and normal conditions, we continue to ask people to be kind and more safe," Ms Gracewood said.

Auckland Transport said earlier this week 17km of temporary cycle space will be installed as part of physical distancing measures.

Tamaki Drive would have its cycle paths widened as the existing ones were too narrow, among the changes.