Dunedin cycleways: A behind-handlebars perspective

The author on the Royal Cres cycleway. Photo by John Fridd
The author on the Royal Cres cycleway. Photo by John Fridd

ODT columnist Dave Cannan gives his thoughts after spending some time on Dunedin's cycleway network. 

As you can see from today's photograph (stop laughing!), yesterday I went for a bike ride around a fair chunk of Dunedin's much discussed and written-about cycleway network.

The very fact you are reading this means yes, I'm still in one piece. It also means I'm all the wiser for what was, mostly, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

But, and it's a capital letter-sized ''BUT'', there will be a hoarfrost in hell before I'm ever tempted to again ride a bike along the cycle lanes of State Highway 1, i.e. Crawford, Cumberland and Castle Sts.

Never have I felt so vulnerable or so exposed to serious harm than when cycling among mid-morning traffic on that part of our national highway, not that there were any incidents or near misses. But having huge, articulated trucks roaring past me at 50kmh, barely an arm's-length away, minding their own lawful business, left me feeling decidedly endangered, especially while also watching out for car doors being opened ahead of me.

No-one, not the NZTA, not Mayor Cull or his pro-cycling cohorts, not the DCC and not the most credentialed traffic engineers on the planet will ever convince me these cycle lanes, in their present form, are safe. Frankly, I've always said cyclists should be using the near-empty footpaths, but, if there is still some argument over the value and/or cost of separated cycle lanes, I say forget all the argy-bargy; just get on and build them, before someone else gets badly hurt or even killed.

So, what was yesterday's ''adventure'' all about? Well, fervent, well-travelled bike-riding colleague John Fridd, who has probably subbed previous Wash columns (not always supportive) about Dunedin's cycleways, challenged me to join him on this jaunt.

''Friddo'' argued, quite rightly, that as an everyday motorist, I needed to experience life in the cycle lane, to pedal my way from the ODT to St Kilda and back, to negotiate whatever challenges arose, and then to write about it.

He even arranged my transport, a ''cross-bike'' kindly provided by Steve Dyet, co-owner of AvantiPlus, who also loaned me a helmet (we wisely passed on the Lycra tights option) and showed me how to work the 27 gears, which turned out to be 26 more than I needed.

And so, for about 55 minutes, Friddo and I shared a mostly peaceful and picturesque journey of, roughly, 10km. We encountered just two pedestrians and two groups of cyclists, all friendly and all enjoying excellent cycleways we've helped to pay for.

• The ''highs''? The ''super-highway'' along Royal Cres and also a fair part of Portsmouth Dr (both shared paths, by the way). You couldn't ask for better.

• The ''lows'' were just as easy to identify. The previously mentioned SH1 cycle lanes, most significantly, that section just past the Settlers Museum heading south where cyclists have to watch for vehicles on BOTH sides of them, trying get on to the Jetty St overbridge. We covered that section twice yesterday. It's unnerving, bordering on terrifying, and nuts - absolutely nuts!

Much more sensible though, a little further along Cumberland St, past the BP service station, is where the cycle lane moves off the road and on to a spacious, uninhabited foothpath. Suddenly, my comfort levels and sense of safety soared. This IS what we need more of.

But, the elation was short-lived. Around the corner, into Andersons Bay Rd, we ran out of cycleway/shared path as we turned left into Strathallan St. On our left was a wide, unpopulated footpath. Surely we should ride along here? Not allowed, apparently. Now, that's just ridiculous.

• One final low: Yes, we cycled along THAT piece of Portobello Rd, still being converted into a cycleway and which has caused so much dissent and comment in recent weeks.

Sorry to say, what's being proposed here makes no more sense when you are riding a bike than when you drive along it (see today's poll).

As for my cycling companion, well, ''Friddo'' was kind enough to say: ''Nice ride Dave!'' when it was all over and also accepted my invitation to add his comments on our outing.

''Yes, riding with lots of traffic is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be very aware of what drivers are doing and always ride defensively. I'd rather be cautious and alive than right and dead. Use hand signals whenever you think drivers want to know what you're doing.

''I usually don't ride down SH1 on the one-way - I use the footpath/cycleway.

''I think there are many people out there who think they'd like to bike to work but won't because of the danger of cycling on roads with traffic.

''So the spreading cycleway network is brilliant and will make Dunedin a better place to live for many and also cut congestion on the streets,'' he said.

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