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New Zealand Commuting Challenge
Jamais Cascio, 9 Mar 04

WorldChanging ally Emily J. Gertz writes to us:

Several years ago, my friends Lenny and Laine emigrated from the U.S. to New Zealand. Lenny is a plant geneticist; he and I have had spirited debates about the eco-ethics of biotechnology, me coming from a ex-Greenpeacer/deep ecology/deep distrust perspective. Politically, I'm more of an outside agitator, while he is inclined to be persuasive from within. Needless to say, there's friction there, but at the same time, a lot of love and respect.

My friends discovered that New Zealand is not terribly green. Oh, it's got a lot of greenery, and a huge culture of outdoors sports and adventure tourism. The country strongly identifies with its' magnificent landscape, but in terms of policy and practice, there's a long way to go. This extends to alternative transportation; rather amazing that some Western nations are still debating the virtues of bicycle commuting at the dawn of the 21st century, but then I'm not exactly objective about it.

Lenny, a devoted bicycle commuter longer than I have known him (which means for over 20 years), joined the Cycling Advocates' Network of New Zealand. He recently organized a bicycle commuter challenge in the Auckland area. "The event was a race between amateur cyclists, celebrities on buses, and professional race car drivers, through morning rush hour traffic," he wrote. They started out from four points in the Auckland suburbs for central Aotea Square. On three routes, the cyclists won, and on the fourth, came in at 28:04 to the car commuter's 27:37. The event was well covered in New Zealand and even picked up by the media as far away as China.

Lenny told me, "My biggest achievement of the commuter challenge event was getting Alasdair Thompson to ride a bus. He is the president of the New Zealand Employees and Manufacturers Association, the most powerful and outspoken critic of alternative transport in NZ. He has been fighting for improvements in transport on behalf of big business, and his primary strategy has been to demand that 100% of the transport budget is spent on roads (no buses, trains, cycleways, etc). Within his organisation are about 100 sub-lobby groups, doing the same thing, on behalf of different business groups in different regions. With the way I organised this event and approached him, he agreed to ride the bus in support of alternative transport, and has agreed to become an ally of the Cycle Action Network to help us reach our goal of getting more people out of their cars and into alternative transport (bike, bus, train, etc). Not only have we gained a very powerful ally, but we've just eliminated our most powerful adversary. There are good reasons to work within the system."

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