Auckland drivers, cyclists learning to share
Friday 7 Feb 2014 5:18 p.m.
Auckland's roads are a mess of buses, cars and bicycles - where different modes of transport are forced together and the people using them often antagonise one another.
Today, drivers from NZ Bus swapped their seats for saddles, taking to the roads on bicycles. Joining them were regular cyclists and cycle instructors, each wanting to learn from the other.
It was hoped the experiment would bring the two parties together to make Auckland roads a bit friendlier – and a lot safer.
Workshop facilitator Julian Hulls says it is important the two groups, who share bus and bike lanes, work together.
"We've got the very heaviest vehicles and the very lightest vehicles and if the two groups don't get to meet and talk, they don't get to understand each other's point of view. So this is a very valuable meeting."
NZ Bus has been running the programme for just over three years now and encourages drivers to take part.
Chief executive Shane McMahon stresses the importance of having better, safer drivers.
The sessions are a joint-initiative between cycling groups, Auckland Transport and NZ Bus, designed so participants are more likely to see people on the roads, as people.
"When you're a driver and you're coming up behind a cyclist and you see a helmet and a fluorescent jacket, they look like a road cone, and they get treated like road cones sometimes," says Mr Hulls.
The sessions begin with each person's earliest memory of cycling and invariably, it's a happy memory. This is followed by everyone entering an 11-metre long bus. Here, the cyclists get to hear from the drivers about issues they've run into on the roads.
"He came out in front of me, and down the side, and then took off a mirror of a car that was in the outside lane," one concerned bus driver recalled.
The cyclists get to experience what it's like to be in charge of an enormous vehicle, with dozens of passengers on board.
Cycle instructor Rochelle Young says cyclists often feel vulnerable, but she now also sympathises with bus drivers.
"These guys are human too, they have feelings and families," says Ms Young. "Before I did this [I thought], 'Oh I hate buses!' [and now] that has totally changed."
The session involves a lot of talking, a lot of listening and eventually, a lot of understanding.
Bus driver Tau Maera believes it is "important to have a healthy respect for each other on the road".
"At the end of the day I think it's about safety, not only for the cyclist but for the people in the bus and the drivers as well."
The group soon head out for a bike ride, and despite the cautious start, everyone is soon pedalling with confidence, and gaining understanding with every revolution.
From this experience, the bus drivers gain an understanding of how vulnerable cyclists can feel.
Close to 20 slow, wobbly cyclists making their way through an intersection, and there are no horns blaring, no angry shouts or rude gestures.
Just a mutual respect between each party; motorists aware of cyclists and cyclists aware of motorists.
Cycle advocate Jena Niquidet Western believes there are responsibilities on each side.
"It's all about defensive driving and defensive cycling, so if you know more about who you're sharing the road with you can anticipate things and work together better."
The point of these sessions isn't finger pointing, or attributing blame. It's about respect and enjoyment.