An open letter to Gerry Brownlee

We will be leaving the UK at the end of this month and so I have started to think about what my life will be like back in Auckland. The biggest change will be the shift from a commuter-cycling lifestyle here over to a car-dependent one in Auckland. But does it have to be this way? Auckland is a very dangerous place for cycling but this doesn’t mean I cannot cycle everywhere if I really want to. So today I have decided that I’m not going to dispense with the lifestyle I have so enjoyed in York but I’m going to start cycling in Auckland as well and should I be hit and killed by a car/bus/truck, then this letter is for Gerry Brownlee (NZ Minister for Transport), who I will hold responsible for my death, should such an event occur.

Dear Gerry Brownlee,

My family will be returning to Auckland after a 6-month sabbatical in York, UK. We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here in large part because we have been able to live car-free and ride our bicycles everywhere. I have never felt so fit and healthy in all my life.

I am disappointed by Auckland’s lack of concern for the safety of cyclists. I have written letters to both you and John Key in the past, and even to the local newspaper, lobbying for the development of good cycling infrastructure but it has been to no avail.

There is a very strong economic case for investing in cycling infrastructure. A study conducted by the city of Sydney found that for every $1 spent, $3.88 gets returned to the community.

Investment in ‘cycling specific’ infrastructure has consistently had positive results, generally because the value of health benefits can be substantial and dwarfs the initial construction costs. For example, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority reported a ratio of 1.3:1 when calculating the cost-benefit ratio of building missing links in its cycle network, using conservative assumptions [22], and a specifically focused analysis of the Inner Sydney Regional Bicycle Network found the cost-benefit ratio was 3.88:1 [23].

Despite Auckland’s lack of concern for the safety of cyclists, I have decided I am going to continue the lifestyle I have enjoyed so much in York on my return to Auckland. In other words, I am going to make trips by bicycle rather than by car. I know that cycling in Auckland, particularly on main roads, is fraught with danger and not for the faint-hearted. But I am determined to do it anyway and this letter is not so much a request for change in the transport policies of the New Zealand government – I have given up on this now – but to lay blame where blame is due should I be killed while cycling. Should such an event occur, and it is not totally unfeasible, then I specifically hold you responsible. But since I will be dead and unable to let you know, I am telling you now. Your policy decisions which continue to favour cars over bicycles will be responsible for the death of a mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, sister and friend.

Yours sincerely,
Rachel Martin

11 Replies to “An open letter to Gerry Brownlee”

  1. Hi Rachel,

    Having had a little experience of activist campaigns, may I suggest:-

    Forming a cycling club or association. Community groups carry far more weight (i.e. not just for me) than an individual complaint. A preliminary association can be formed with three people and a memorandum of association. The memorandum need only be one page stating aims and limitations (e.g. according to what resources/time will allow). Such a stated limit is important to avoid an excess of responsibility.

    Community groups can apply for City Council grants. Such a group can face a council with the council’s own stated aims and with the wishes/concerns of the larger community.

    You can organise days out and events to highlight your existence and make your presence felt at fetes and other events. It helps to find sympathisers within local Government. Work with them and only against the unsympathetic. That is, work both sides of the street and boost the reputation of those who are helpful.

    Know the sticking point. That is, when you cannot get any more and so take what you can get. You can always seek more later. Mountains suffer from their own inertia but can, with patience, be moved one pebble at a time especially when the providers have something to gain.

    From experience I know these things work, although the degree of effect varies.

    A caution though. Such endeavours can be very time consuming and getting involved in local politics can suck the energy out of anyone. It is important to spread the load.

    And, I would kindly suggest that it is not worth taking risks over. All the latest safety gear would be wise. Risk assessment of irreversible consequence is better based on the extremity of the consequence rather than the probability. I hope you do well in your endeavour, it is certainly a worthwhile pursuit.

    Good Luck
    With best wishes and kind regards

    1. Graham,
      That is such a good idea. Thank you! I shall channel my disappointment, anger, helplessness into something more constructive like a community group. I may call on you for help/suggestions when I get back, so beware. 😉

      1. You’re welcome. Oh dear what have I done. Catsuit on a moped. Auckland drowns under a sea of bicycles. UN declares disaster zone. Compulsory roller skates introduced. The wheely wars. End of the world. Cool.

        Call anytime you like. The idea of aiding and abetting mayhem on the other sie of the world is quite appealing (i.e. wasn’t me guv).

        Have a nice weekend. Gram 🙂

    1. Thanks, Frances. I’m going to die though. We all are 🙂 But I’ll try very hard not to get hit by a bus in the near future.

  2. Oh Rachel, I can feel your passion so much but please don’t let it make you do anything that will endanger your life!!!!! I read Graham’s reply above and wholeheartedly agree with what he says, a great idea. You are such a dynamic woman with your causes and passions and I just know that you can make a difference. It is such a huge shame that cycling isn’t encouraged in Auckland and I know how much you have enjoyed your time here in the UK especially as you love cycling so much.

    1. No, I am really not at all reckless. This is why I wanted to write this. Riding a bicycle should not be a dangerous activity at all. The fact that it is dangerous in Auckland despite the cyclist taking all the necessary precautions says to me that something is seriously wrong with Auckland.

      1. Yes, I could see your point!! And a very good one too by writing this! I know you won’t do anything reckless 🙂 It is very concerning indeed that riding a bicycle is so dangerous in Auckland and about time something was done about it. I am very proud of you and all that you set out to achieve to make things change. You really do put your money where your mouth is and I love that about you, I really admire you Rachel 🙂

  3. Please be very careful. The world needs people like you.

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