The sun is starting to hang around a bit longer these days, and that means one thing: more bikes on the road. Many of us are oiling our chains and giving the bike a good once over ready to start riding to work again...Now that it is actually a thoroughly enjoyable way to get there. But while some of us already use the bike as a clean and healthy means of transportation, there are many people out there who might like to do the same, but just aren’t quite sure how to go about it.
Connie Christensen used to be one of those people, but over the years she has become pretty proficient as a commuter; her involvement with Frocks on Bikes no doubt contributing to her love of getting around on two wheels.
Right now Connie is working hard to help other people start riding to work in Christchurch, so we thought we would catch up with her to find out a bit more about the initiative that she is calling Go Cycle Christchurch.
Connie, how did Go Cycle Christchurch get started?
Well it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years actually, especially since the earthquake, and all of the talk there has been about cycling infrastructure and the cycle lanes project that is being developed over the next few years. And so I was thinking, well…we need more cyclists. I’ve been to talks where they are saying that up to 50% of the population would like to cycle as their means of transport, and so I thought: how can we get them to actually get out there and give it a try?
So what is Go Cycle Christchurch, how is it different from other training programmes or ride to work initiatives?
Go Cycle Christchurch is more individual, it basically tries to utilise existing experienced riders and volunteers to try and be a bit of a mentor for new cyclists in their area. So ideally, you get paired up with someone more experienced than you who can help you find routes that are the safest and most efficient ways of getting from A to B around the city, and who will actually go out and cycle it with you.
So it sort of aims to create a network of experienced cyclists around the city who then work with a buddy to help them so that one day they can commute confidently on their own…
Yes that’s exactly right. As of this moment we only cater towards adults, we don’t work with kids; there are school programmes to do that. But we do hope to possibly link in with other initiatives and council programmes - possibly even schools in the future.
Are there a lot of developments planned in terms of cycling infrastructure as a result of the earthquake?
Yes absolutely, the council is aiming to build 13 new major cycleways. Christchurch is perfect for cycling, you know because it’s so flat here. Compared to Wellington for example, this is heaven, for commuting! And if you then take in to account the new bus infrastructure in Christchurch: all the buses in Christchurch now have cycle holders on the front. So again, that’s part of what I’m trying to get out to people. A lot of potential cyclists aren’t aware that they can take their bike on the bus, and that it’s free! It’s free to take your bike along, so if you are trying to get into commuting you can take the bike on the bus in the morning and cycle home in the evening. Maybe it feels like you are getting sweaty before you start work, so this provides a solution to that problem.
Why do you think all of a sudden the local council is keen to develop cycling infrastructure so extensively? Are they taking inspiration from Europe do you think?
Yes possibly. It’s very impressive compared to what there was here in Christchurch before. But you know, they are basically still ripping up all of the roads and re-laying them. So it’s really a once in a lifetime chance to improve cycling here.
Well it sounds as though they are really trying to turn what was a terrible situation in to a positive opportunity.
Absolutely, of course I am a commuter and being quite passionate about that, it can be hard. But I do also have a car and use it regularly. I think it’s in everyone’s interest to put in good cycling only infrastructure so that cyclists can feel safe, but also so that motorists don’t have to worry so much about cyclists; so that we get in each other's way as little as possible.
How are you funding the initiative?
There is no funding...it’s purely volunteer based. It’s something that was in my head and that I have put on to a Facebook page. But if we can get the local council involved, we can say ‘we need some help here’, because there are lots of people who want to cycle. That would be an ideal situation – we would love that to happen.
If you want to get involved with Go Cycle Christchurch, either as a volunteer or as a new cyclist who wants to ride more, enter ‘Go Cycle Christchurch’ into Facebook’s search bar and like the page!