Q'town's new bike commuters tackle traffic chaos head on

by Jen Smart - Nov 26, 2020

More and more of us are making the decision, or being forced, to get on our bikes in order to get to work on time - and in good shape. WHS teacher Jen Smart describes her journey from car to bike. It's what the planners, council managers and developers are all asking us to do - but are we letting them off the hook re: infrastructure investment - or supporting a clean green revolution that's good, whatever the trigger? Check out the Lightfoot Initiative/Sustainable Queenstown Active Travel Mini Expo on Wednesday, December 2 - 6.30 pm at the BuzzStop cafe. Main Image: Jen Smart on her new daily commute across the Shotover River - by bike.

How I learned to ditch the car and love cycling - by Jen Smart.

The logistics were annoying in the beginning. Too many hills. Got to dress well for work. Might need to go to the supermarket after work. Dangerous drivers. Butt sweat. Where will I shower? Not enough time. Looks like it might rain.

And this is how I found endless excuses to jump in the car and drive to work, which at only 8km away from my home in Shotover Country, is probably representative of many daily Queenstown commutes. However with a touch of the eco-anxiety that marks my generation (and an irrational fear of traffic), I couldn’t handle the inefficiency and carbon guilt any longer.

So we decided to sell one of our cars. It would force us to grapple with the logistics of being a one-car family with two kids and commit us to changing our habits. A lack of alternatives is always a powerful motivator, right?

I looked for a bike that I loved and wanted to ride. Drawn to aesthetics over functionality (why lie?) I found a sleek, sexy gravel bike the guy in the bike shop described as a “piece of art”. At first I felt like a smug gallery curator. But as I adventured around the trails, cycled to the pub with my friends and started commuting on it, my superficial admiration for this handsome piece of technology turned into something more profound.

Jen Smart beating the daily traffic nightmare along Ladies Mile

And here’s where the general communication around active travel could be better. We’re told about the carbon emissions we’re preventing, the calories we’ll burn, the money we’ll save on fuel and car maintenance. This has some impact, sure. But feelings and moods are much more compelling.

I can tell you that cycling to work and back guarantees me an hour of solitude every day. It feels phenomenal to have a quiet intermission between work and home. I can concentrate on the lyrics of a new album or binge a podcast. I arrive at work fresh-faced and humming with oxygenated blood. I get a front-row seat to the seasonal shifts of our stunning home and observe details I would miss while inside my metal wheelie-box:

The ancient wisteria budding into flower on the Ferry Hotel, the widening and narrowing ribbons of the Shotover River, the craggy face of the Remarks smoothing as the light changes.

On a crisp morning I often think of a Wellington novelist who, visiting Queenstown for the first time, said it was “like looking at an expensive television.”

There’s also this zippy feeling of freedom. Cyclists aren’t beholden to bus timetables or throttled by the thick traffic around the 8.30am and 5.30pm chokeholds, such as we’re currently experiencing along Ladies Mile.

Yet we still can sink into old habits. Today I “needed” to take the car and so left Shotover Country at 7.40am. I arrived in the traffic jam right behind my regular carpool colleague, both of us part of a two-pronged queue to join Ladies Mile that stretched down the Jones Ave hill and back to the Hayes on the other side.

As we crawled along my traffic phobia kicked in and I turned the car around. I got home, quickly changed, re-packed my bag and cycled back up the hill before she had even reached Ladies Mile. We arrived at work within minutes of each other — in distinctly different moods.

Active travel doesn’t mean ditching the car altogether and includes many forms of transport: walking, bussing, skateboarding, scootering, carpooling or even driving a section of your journey and connecting to an active network.

Not everyone can choose active travel. But we still need to make it the cheapest, safest and most efficient option for Queenstowners who are able to make a choice. I’m still trying out different ways to actively travel: starting carpools, using the bus-bike combo, or running home from work. It’s a journey, after all.

For those keen to start a conversation about how to transform Queenstown’s traffic problem, come along to Queenstown’s first Active Travel Mini-Expoon Wednesday 2 December at BuzzStop from 18:30. Run by The Lightfoot Initiative, you can test-ride an exclusive range of e-cargo and e-commuter bikes and hear from people working to make active travel part of Queenstown’s culture.

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