The arguments for cycling both to work and at work are growing. The barriers are falling away. Andy Kenworthy reports on how businesses in New Zealand are finally getting on their bikes.
The ‘carrots’ lining up to encourage cycling at work are converging with the ‘sticks’.
Some of the carrots come from the government. In 2014, $100 million of extra funding was announced for urban cycleways.
We are seeing the results in towns and cities all over the country. Cycling reduces air pollution, traffic congestion and helps tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
The investment is making cycling more convenient, and cycling is now safer. A 2015 study for Sustainable Cities completed by the University of Otago found cycling and pedestrian fatalities declined by 75 to 80 percent between 1970 and 2014. New cycleways are proving popular. The expanding network is bringing them closer to more and more businesses.
Another ‘carrot’ is the continuing development of fast and economic electric bicycles. There are also the wild and wonderful e-scooters, unicycles and others. They take the sweat and hills out of this kind of transport. It means there is no need to get dressed up like Lance Armstrong for your commute. There’s also no need to worry about turning up dishevelled to your crosstown meeting. Foldable bikes and scooters combine well with public transport. They put more of our city centres at convenient reach, without the burden of a car.
A study in Copenhagen found those commuting by bicycle for three hours a week had 28 percent less chance of death by all causes.
According to a study done by the UK Department of Transport staff who are physically active for 20 minutes a day take less than half the annual sick leave of those who are active for only ten minutes a day.
One obvious ‘stick’ compelling us to try the cycling option is traffic. Traffic congestion in and around our cities is a time waster and cost drain. Comprehensive traffic counts in Auckland show a steady increase in recent years. The city’s population is rising. The City Rail Link is not due for completion until 2021. The pressure on Auckland’s roads is likely to get worse before it gets better. The network of safe cycleways provides a viable commute alternative for many.
Traffic in Wellington appears to have shown a steady decline in numbers over the past decade. But the city has something like 3,000 car parking spaces out of action following the November 2016 earthquakes.
How to become bicycle-friendly
For many businesses the cost of maintaining and parking a car fleet is a major burden. In nearly every business at least some of this is unnecessary spending. Short, cross town journeys can be made cheaper and faster by bike.
So why not help your staff stay make the switch?
Trade Me is a business that is doing just that. Nigel Jeffries is a keen cyclist and head of Trade Me Property. He describes how the firm has created a cycle-friendly culture.
“For us it starts with office location. We want to be centrally located, and this makes our offices easier for cycling. We want to create a healthy high energy environment and cycling contributes
“We have 550 people and nobody has a designated car parking space. Our CEO gave up his parking space for bike parking. In the building everybody has their own locker for clothes, and we have a drying room in Wellington for wet kit. We have got good showers and fresh towels laid on each day. There’s fruit on the table and coffee laid on.”
Jeffries says there are three or four different cycling groups at all levels, complete with half-priced branded cycling jerseys. “Our flexible working arrangements mean they can head out on a ride together when it suits.”
Between five and 15 percent of Trade Me staff regularly cycle, depending on the season.
“We also encourage networking, and cycling in a group creates great opportunities to do that,” says Jeffries.
Taking the lead
Auckland Council plays a lead role in this change to cycling in New Zealand’s busiest city, through Auckland Transport. Recent studies in Auckland show a steady increase in cycling, as well as the use of bicycles outside of recreation and fitness.
The Council itself is modelling the behaviour it is encouraging. It has around 7,000 staff, spread across a large number of city locations. So what the Council chooses to do on cycling has the potential for a big impact.
The Council’s approach received a kick start with the refurbishment of its new Albert Street premises in line with the Green Star approach. This requires the provision of secure bike parking for at least ten percent of the staff, as well as showers.
Duncan Munro is an energy and sustainability specialist for Auckland Council. He says they’re now working on making that ‘business as usual’ for the Council. “It’s both to reduce our carbon emissions and create a healthy workplace.”
The Council has added nine e-bikes to its vehicle fleet. It also has ten conventional bikes. The cycling initiatives have proved popular.
“On sunny days you can sometimes struggle to get a bike park within some of our buildings,” says Duncan. “We have entire floors full of cycling enthusiasts. It’s become a part of the social scene.”
The next step will see the Council gathering the data needed to guide further developments.
Census data suggests there is plenty of scope for further expansion. Cycling to work is most common in Christchurch, where seven percent of people described it as their main mode of transport to work on census day. This compares to just over one percent in Auckland. However, the increasing use of the new cycleways show an encouraging growth trend. The SkyPath over the harbour will provide another big boost.
On your bikes
The Sustainable Business Network has more than 500 member businesses nationwide. It has created the BikeNow! Project to help increase those cycling to work and get more businesses supporting commuter cyclists and using bikes during the day.
The project is partnered with the New Zealand Transport Agency, AECOM and Fulton Hogan.
Phil Jones, project lead for BikeNow!, says: “If your organisation does great things to support workplace cycling, or if you want to find out how you can do more, we’d love to hear from you.”
It seems that now is a good time to get your business on its bike.