Saturday, June 7, 2008

Will we all be forced back on to bikes?

One of the first things I did, after coming to New Zealand in 1972, was buy a bicycle. As we lived (and still live) only a mile from my office, and as Palmerston North is almost entirely flat, a bike seemed to be the logical means to get from home to work.

I rode a bike for more than 20 years, before I finally acquired a car - a little red Honda Civic. In the 1970s and 1980s, biking could be enjoyable. There wasn't much traffic on the road I used, and there was always space for my bicycle in the company bicycle shed. Only when there was heavy rain and strong wind did I dread going out.

Since then, the number of cyclists has dropped dramatically, while the numbers of vehicles on the roads has shot up. Two of the factors behind the decline in cycling were (1) the introduction of a law that made the wearing of a bicycle helmet compulsory, and (2) the fears of parents that cycling to school was, for one reason or another, no longer safe.

I found the bicycle helmet inconvenient, to say the least. As I have sensitive skin, and have to wear a peaked cap to keep the sun off my face, the helmet had to go on top of my other headgear, which made me look a little odd. I was also annoyed by the fact you couldn't leave the helmet with the bike in the bicycle shed, or beside the road, without running the risk of having it stolen. So you had to either continue to wear it, sometimes even while you went shopping, or carry the wretched thing around.

In the past six months, as the price of gas has gone up and up, I have looked for an increase in the number of cyclists on the roads in Palmerston North. So far, I haven't noticed any. But with no end to the rise in petrol prices in sight - and with experts predicting there will be no end, in view of depleting oilfields - I wonder at what stage people will dump their cars and take to two wheels.

How fortunate we are to live so close to the city center and within walking distance of almost everything we need, including our doctor, dentist and vet.


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