How to make the most of a ‘no fly zone’ year or two

As restrictions start to lighten and we get excited about our new freedoms, there is one that will be in place for quite some time – we won’t be freely flying to all the wondrous corners of the world for a while. However, it looks like we will still be able to travel to New Zealand and I’ve heard it’s full of adventures (I have never been). This might hit some of us quite hard, there are those of us with loved ones abroad and there are those of that feel like we are contorting quite uncomfortably in a box by being stuck on one of the largest islands in the world.

This reminds me of the time when I decided I wasn’t going to fly. Well, at the time I was living in Paris, about 17000 kilometres from my home. If my boyfriend had decided to stay with me, perhaps I wouldn’t have jumped on a plane to fly home, maybe we would have even cycled, but it didn’t end up that way. So I took, what I thought would be my last, flight with blurry eyes, feeling like I was a passenger of my body. My original reasons for not flying were a mix. I was learning about climate change and petroleum consumption. I had also visited developing countries where I met people I could relate to really well, but the idea of flying to another country was completely off their radar. It seemed like such an inequitable thing to do.

I found myself in Sydney, finding ways to keep studying – perhaps because I thought I hadn’t learnt enough to contribute anything substantial to society (although I still feel like that) ….  During my studies I would try and get a grasp of the latest research on the impact of aviation of climate change. This knowledge could fuel my responses to people’s questioning of my decision not to fly. But as I time went on, I realised it wasn’t about the equivalent tons of CO2 or the fuel being burnt, although they are important. It was about a loss of romance with space, distance, journeys and adventure. I wanted to respect all the space between take off and landing by not taking off.

I could see that some plane travel was necessary (like getting me home from my studies in Paris). However, the mundane, or even habitual, use of planes was undermining how amazing it was that, when needed, we could actually arrive in another part of the world without being out on the high seas for months at risk of getting scurvy. It was sad to see that the sheer amount of energy and ingenuity required to get us up in the air was being wasted on the pathetic arrogance of business meetings and the manufactured whims for a desire to spend a week here or there to unwind.  I was in my twenties, so it was my job to feel disgusted with the world.

However, I couldn’t help but feel like I had created a limitation on myself that was not only going to potentially affect my happiness but also my ability to succeed as a researcher. After all, as part of our scholarship we were being offered money to travel to conferences. I did make it to a few local conferences, as well as one in Brisbane and another in Melbourne – reaching the limits of the country link train service or in the case of my trip to Brisbane, testing the limits of my legs as I rode up the coast of NSW. However, my choice not to fly, limited not only my ability to network (which is questionable even when I am in the right location), it also limited my choice of thesis. After living in France, I wanted to gain glimpses of how different aspects of transport systems affected how the local people lived and related to transport – that wasn’t going to happen without flying. So, my work ended up being much more theoretical and as you will see later, it led to my eventual decision to break my commitment… I guess working under these constraints also gave me some direction and it also made me feel less hypercritical about being someone working towards reducing our negative environmental impact.

So, there was also the fear of feeling unhappy, trapped or lost without aeroplanes being able to take me to adventurous locations. However, the time I had spent away from Australia had made me realise how precious this land was and I was going to have plenty of time to explore it. I bought a bike, made some bike buddies and searched for adventures at the end of train lines. I did some silly things, like finding ridiculous and unnecessary hills to climb or taking an extra 50 km to avoid 10 km of a main road only to find myself riding 30 km down the same road a bit further along. These were the days without smartphones, where maps, printouts and memory were the foundation of wayfinding.

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Most of my cycle tourism were weekend camping trips. So humble, that tourism seemed a bit of an excessive term to describe it.  However, the nature and the experience took my breath away.  My friend would casually mention how the countryside we were riding through reminded him of Pakistan…. It made me realise that I don’t need to fly to feel faraway. It was just a matter of visiting different places close to home and seeing them in beautiful ways. So with this in mind, I had some great adventures over six years where my feet nearly never went further than a ten metres off the ground. I did actually fly once, on my way home from Alice Springs after arriving with the combination of a rental relocation to Adelaide and a day on the Ghan train.

In someways I felt frustrated as I sometimes struggled not to buy a relatively cheap flight to visit friends or do an amazing overseas cycling adventure. I would witness others (that identified as environmentalist more than I did) so flippantly flying around for one reason or another.  However, I do appreciate the time I spent without flying and I continue to want to limit my flying. I believe adventure can literally be just around the corner and you would be embarrassed to realise you spent thousands to travel the world and missed some of the most amazing spots just a $5 train away combined with a bike or bush walk.

So, after I finally finished my studies, I had a dream to make a documentary. I wanted to convey the human side of transport through words and moving images. To make it about humanity, I decided it had to capture a diverse range of cities and the cultures within them. So I found myself packing my bag, putting my flightless commitment on hold and booking flights. I thought long and hard about it, and tried to find ways to travel across land when it was feasible. This was going to be the trip of a lifetime, and I was going to work hard, not visiting the nature that I was normally drawn to, but instead be in the cities, with the people, completely out of my comfort zone. I did have one fear though. It was that I would fall in love with someone from another country and then create a driver for more air travel once I returned.

But love doesn’t really care about your morals, or maybe my morals are just weak. However, my Spanish husband has always maintained that he is happy to limit our travels. So far, we are doing ok with just a few major hiccups when I decided I wanted to learn Spanish and meet his family and another time I was “tricked” into going over to the Iberian Peninsula for a very very small film festival to show my film. Well, not quite tricked and I did have some good feedback about the film, but I did do that flight with a 1 and a 3 year old by myself.

So, over the next year or two, let’s make the most of this country and its neighbour. Being a tourist in Australia isn’t so bad and our tourism industry is going to need all the help it can get. If you feel like contributing to other countries that you would have visited, use the money you saved from the plane tickets to find ways to give something whether it’s through charities or buying something remotely. My heart goes out to those with loved ones overseas, but just imagine how big the hugs will be when you finally get to see them.

 

The year humans became as dangerous as cars

This year I feel slightly like my saddle has been pulled out from me.  I’m left wondering what to think about the current situation and whether I should have an opinion about it in relation to transport. I’ve barely caught a bus for a month and there are some days I don’t even step out of my house. Meanwhile, cycling is booming, with many replacing gym memberships with two wheels and sunshine. Transport has changed a lot for most people, and it might also be a moment where we change how we frame transport. I’m going to give some scattered ideas that I see at the intersection of COVID 19 and transport. However, I feel like there is much to be learned from the public so I invite you to answer a few questions that I hope to use as I start to put together a short documentary on this time in transit.

St Petersburg Metro

Risking lives and livelihoods

We learn that cars are dangerous from a very young age. My 2 year old son knows not to cross the road without his mum. I have seen his shocked little face when a car has come a bit close to the footpath. A car can kill you and when you drive a car, you increase your chance of killing someone. Not only directly through a crash, but also through the fumes that your cars produce, and more indirectly through a myriad of ways. These include wars that are fought over oil, the destruction required to feed a very resource intensive transport system and a reduction in physical activity and inclusivity of the city. And yet people get into their cars without feeling like they are being irresponsible and without feeling the pressure that “we are all in this together” and hence should be doing their bit to stop the carnage – and drive less.

This feels in direct contrast to how we are managing the risks associated with COVID-19. And while I appreciate the urgency to deal with the coronavirus, which won’t just cause suffering and death but compromise our health system which isn’t prepared for such a load, I don’t feel it is that different to the car-related feedback loops that actually put stress and potentially threaten to collapse many of our institutions and eco-systems that help prop up civilisation. It’s really just a matter of timing…

Privilege of those with private spaces

Isolation is mainly about isolation from places that other people use i.e. where there is public access. It therefore privileges those with private spaces and motors. For those of us living in apartments, we cannot continue to enjoy the lifestyle we rely on for our well-being and joy. If you don’t own a private swimming pool, children cannot swim, if you don’t have a private playground, children cannot swing and if you don’t have a private motor (and you feel uncomfortable about catching public transport as I do with my children) you cannot visit the places past walking and cycling distance. For us, this meant foregoing our little bush walks that we normally catch the bus to.

Luckily, we live in a great area, with parks and beaches, and we are still allowed to access these places. Compared to the apartment dwellers in Italy and Spain who have been locked in their 40 m2 except to buy groceries, we are lucky. However, it is sad to see that some of our choices to make our lives more sustainable, by sharing public spaces and vehicles rather than acquiring private spaces and vehicles for ourselves, leads to greater impacts on our lifestyle and livelihood during these times. But it’s not so bad when you can ride a bicycle I guess….

A time for going forward or backward?

And this leads to my last point of discussion. As we see more people riding bicycles and walking for exercise and to get around their city, but less people using motorised transport, both private and public, we are left wondering what will happen next. With many countries taking measures to make cycling and walking safer (both for social distancing and reducing risks posed by motor vehicles), there is a sense of hope that this can be a moment of change. Fear that people won’t be wanting to use public transport to its full potential for a while, brings one back down but perhaps a balance will be found with active and public transport both playing important and supporting roles for each other.

However, last night when I watched car advertisements which glorified being big, aggressive, and untamed, along with a TV show targeted at my 4 year old showing a lady hooning around on a quad bike, all my hope was crushed. I started to think about a career change. I know there are many people having mini- mid-life crises, there are many marketing departments brainstorming how to make the most of this and they won’t be worried about any of the other problems afflicting our society and planet. They will be looking at how to get people jumping back into cars when this is all over – perhaps using it as the symbol of freedom from the lockdown, the symbol of control over your environment and who you are in contact with, or the symbol of sexual prowess for all those who have have been sexually repressed during these times.

The only thing that can stop the commercial interests winning, is a huge amount of creative will to free up people’s minds to reflect on, to experiment with and to envision their life and their world in new (less consumeristic) ways. I don’t have all the answers, but there is some great work happening in the space of tactical urbanism, in creative and caring communities and I urge you to support these initiatives and find your way in these confusing time. Here is what I can offer…

If you want to contribute to the big drawcard please start drawing

If would want to discuss your transport experiences please answer these few questions

If you want to help with any other projects I am working on, check out this page and get in touch awaywego.doco@gmail.com

If you want to spend an hour meditating on movement in our city, watch my film

 

Caring across generations

So it seems trivial to say that the last few months have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. We have been shaken up with grief and confusion, and had life turned on its head, with a constant fear of what might be coming up, for us personally, the people we love and more broadly for society and the earth (which hopefully we also love). It’s hard not to read about it, talk about it, dream about it and feel like it is suffocating us even when we haven’t got it.

It’s no wonder some people (particularly young people) want to dismiss or deny it (well at least denying the extent of the tragedy and continuing threat). And yes there has been parallels made with climate change. The economic impact of actions to stop the coronavirus or climate change are hard to deny. But also the moral impact (along with the economic, psychological and social impacts) of letting the destructive force slide out of control is beyond our comprehension as we have seen with bushfires ravaging the world in the last year and health systems falling apart in the last months.

After the biggest year of climate change activism in a long time, I actually see this moment, in the midst of the COVID 19 outbreak, as the best chance in a long time for young people to do some activism for our future. Because, in some ways it seems like the tables have turned from when school strikers were calling for older people to care about them and future generations. While young people have less risk of getting severely or critically ill from the virus, their action affects those around them, including people in their grandparent’s generation.

Now is the chance to show people from every walk of life that young people are caring and willing to make changes (even sacrifices*) for their compassionate love of humankind. If every young person who skipped school or just showed support for climate action last year started making posters, and other things that the cools kids do these days, that showed how important it was to stop the spread of the virus, a groundswell of support for staying at home could sweep across the empty school playgrounds and university grounds.

And if you could do this – I am not sure if I still count as young – but I’m going to say it anyway … if we could do this, surely we would be showing people from every other age bracket that we do care. We’d be setting an example for what has to come next for our planet, which is a caring that crosses generations and cultures.  It is looking someone in the eye, or at least an image of them, and realising that you honestly care about them and you feel sadness for their suffering.  And it is using your imagination to realise you care about all the people you can’t see as well, including those from the generation of your great great grandchildren.

So young people – show that intergenerational caring that you’ve been searching for- show them how it’s done! And hopefully the older generations will learn and feel inspired by you. So, let’s tackle this immediate threat wholeheartedly and then move on to tackling climate change and other eco-system collapse with renewed tenacity and inspiration.

*my sacrifice includes not taking my children to play with other children or to playgrounds which means I am starting to lose the plot. Hence my cliche driven and dramatic writing should be excused this once, but hopefully you still get the gist.

 

 

How do we look at transport?

I wrote a thesis many years ago, and had a stubborn arrogance that it was one piece of work, and so it should be read in its entirety. As a result I didn’t publish papers and I didn’t keep going in Academia, and almost no one has read my thesis. So… I thought, why not at least put some of the work I did out there in a more accessible form. I’m going to start with Chapter 2, which explores the different contexts or lenses through which urban transport systems are examined.

So what type of system is urban transport and how do you see it and all the problems and opportunities related to it? Perhaps this depends on your profession, your interests or just what is going on around you? If you are a public health practitioner, it might be seen as a problem of safety and health. If you are interested in the environment, it might be a problem of consumption of materials including fossil fuels and emissions of solid waste and air pollution. If you live in part of the city which has problems with traffic noise and feeling cut off from your neighbours by big roads, perhaps it is an urban planning problem.

If we want to solve transport problems and explore opportunities for transport to play a positive role, we have to examine transport from the perspective of all these people and more.  I set out six different contexts (or lenses) to look at urban transport systems. They are not independent on one another but they help give us different ways of focusing our attention and ensuring various elements of transport problems are being considered.

Diagram of contexts
Source: Hicks (2013)

 

They are even more interrelated than this graphic shows, but I wanted to keep it from getting messy.  An outline of the contexts are as follows (there are a lot more details in my thesis):

  • The political/cultural context – modes of transport have broad impacts on the culture and political ideologies of the society, and conversely, transport development is also influenced by culture
  • The material and energy context – modes of transport use consumes resources, and produces waste and emissions
  • The urban planning context – modes of transport impact the landscape and function of a city
  • The economic and industrial context – modes of transport require financing and their operation impacts on the wider economy
  • The psycho-social context – modes of transport impact their user psychologically and socially through the experiential, symbolic and utilitarian values that transport use offers them
  • The public health context – modes of transport impact the health of people who use the transport as well as other people in the community

The table below gives some of the findings that came from examining the transport in Sydney from the different contexts.

Contexts related to urban transport

Source: Hicks (2013)

This basically gave me a good base to start any examination of transport within my PhD, and has continued to help me when contemplating new innovations or approaches within urban transport, or reflecting on long standing issues. For access to my thesis please visit the UNSW library UNSWorks webpage and search for The social context of urban travel behaviour

 

 

Spotto – a sustainable transport initiative?

Yesterday, to pass time on the bus, I started playing a game with my children. As I looked across the intersection of Tudor and Parry Street in Newcastle West, encircled with car dealerships, I was trying to spot something nice. There was a man walking along with a dark pink shirt. So I said who can spot the man walking with a pink shirt. This game soon evolved to spotting cyclists, pedestrians, bonus for prams, motor bikes, people waiting at bus stops and buses. We had a point system that we didn’t keep count with (but it was there), and Dante kept declaring he won because a bus was worth sixty hundred thousand points.

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But this game got me thinking…. about two things. When we were little we would never let a yellow car, a beetle or a mini go by without noticing it and someone else getting a punch or a pinch. OK, maybe we just were looking for an excuse for small acts of violence, but the key thing was that they became a salient part of our experience on the road. In juxtaposition to this, the advertisement with the bear behind the basketball players is all about not being able to spot something because you aren’t looking for it. This is backed up by research by Herslund & Jorgensen (2003) finding many crashes were caused by drivers looking but failing to see cyclists.  So combining these these two lines of thought, surely this must mean we just need to have a game to get people spotting cyclists in order to start looking out for them more on the road and therefore creating a safer cycling environment (but I’m still undecided as to whether there should be small acts of violence involved).

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Another logic behind this game, would be the importance of observing various signals in our environment that evoke the descriptive norms of a behaviour. Put simply, if you take the time to notice the people who ride (or walk or take the bus), then you are more likely to appreciate that riding (or walking or taking the bus) is a normal thing to do. And this can be a  powerful tool in determining our behaviour as researched by Cialdini (2007). So perhaps this game could not only make cycling and walking safer, but also people might start giving it a go more often. And then this game will get a whole lot more crazy and we might have to limit it to yellow bikes or cyclists and pedestrians dressed in yellow!

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Now comes the fun part – what would be the rules of the game? How could it evolve from something I play with my kids, to something the world wants to play? Our scoring system went like this:

Person riding bicycle : 10 points

Pedestrian : 2 points

with Pram : extra 2 points

People waiting at bus stop : 6 points

Motor bikes : 3 points

Bus : 60 00 000 points

My first thought was an app, and it could have different bonus point systems that change weekly (like extra points for pedestrians in pink). However, I realised that for the drivers out there this wasn’t going to work – unless it could be all done by microphone and if it was in driver mode and the phone sensed it was being picked up, it would stop working… Or maybe it just has to continue being a game that families and whoever else wants to play… I have no idea how to popularise it (maybe through schools) and I can’t imagine any level of government willing to promote the idea as a sustainable transport initiative, but I can’t help but feel that it might be a good idea. What do you think? Would you play? What would be your rules?

 

 

Who’s driving who anyway?

When contemplating a career in transport these days (or just contemplating transport), it seems important to have your head around autonomous vehicles, electric and shared vehicles, and to have some opinion on them. Meanwhile it feels like people in the field of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles or any technological development in transport don’t have to have their head around public transport, active transport or urban planning, but that’s another matter (or maybe it isn’t).  I have been trying to work out what I think about autonomous vehicles, shared vehicles, electric vehicles and what they might mean to a transport planner, a parent and a car-free person.

Ten years ago I organised a debate ‘Sustainable transport means seriously fewer cars’ and the idea was to get those that saw our urban transport woes being solved purely by technological changes with continued car ownership vs those that saw the need (and possibility) to change the way we do things and own things. I couldn’t find enough people for the negative team so the debate turned into a forum of the good things about shifting away from car ownership and use. So I was still left pondering where the world sat with this question – what was the potential for a mass shift away from privately owned cars?

Since then, the next generation of electric cars with the help of lithium batteries has rapidly developed, along with autonomous vehicles and then there are the shared vehicle and ride services. In someways each of these developments has kind of excited me and freaked me out at the same time. I love the idea of sharing a car or a ride. When I need a car, I borrow one, knowing it would just be sitting there otherwise.  And I was a big believer in hitchhiking – when dropping someone at the airport, I had once collected the three people waiting at the bus stop and dropped them off at various places on my way home. My passengers were surprised but I can’t stand the inefficiency and lack of community that our individualised untrusting world creates (which is epitomised by private car ownership and use). About thirteen years ago, I had learnt about some smart features of cars related to pedestrian safety, including detection, autonomous braking and airbags on the bonnet, and I was excited about this but not so much about completely autonomous vehicles which my professor at the time was predicting well ahead of the pack.  So I see some advantages to some of these technologies if used well, but I fear that the monetising and marketing of these technologies isn’t inline with what the world needs.

Do we need or want vehicle’s picking us up and dropping us where we need to go from door to door? I believe it obliterates some fundamentally important aspects of sustainable transport systems. These include exercise, efficiency of movement and interaction.

Firstly, there is a good chance that such a model of transport will obliterate our own movement, with people not walking or cycling to public transport stops or from door to door, or not even having to walk from a carpark to the door, autonomous shared vehicles could make incidental exercise non-existent. While people can exercise at other times of the day, having it structured into your life and moving at some stage of your movement through your city just makes a lot of sense. There is the possibility that having autonomous vehicles as a service might encourage occasional use, but I imagine it will be a subscription type model separate from public transport so it will have minimal marginal costs, in a similar way to current car use.

Secondly, while autonomous shared vehicles overcome some issues with car use, such as, how much material and space idle vehicles take up, it doesn’t deal with the fundamental inefficiencies of the movement of cars as a way to carry people from one place to another which I see most clearly when describing our transport system with an entropic-type variable.  Just picture relatively big, heavy, fast vehicles moving in all sorts of direction and compare it to other modes of transport which either go along set routes or tracks and carry many people (in the case of buses and trains) or are lighter and slower (in the case of bike and pedestrians) and you see the main basis of my argument.  There would still be a gluttonous need for infrastructure, space and management tools to satisfy all these autonomous vehicles fulfilling the whims of their passengers.  There is potential for induced demand as we take away some of the costs associated with car use, which could add another spanner in the works.

Thirdly, cities are a place of exchange, and incidental social interactions are an important element of a vibrant functioning city with caring citizens. Already, people driving cars have much less contact with others than those using other modes of transport. My fear is that autonomous vehicles will reduce our exchanges, because there will be no need for drivers to make eye contact with pedestrians and cyclists and exchange informal signals. This might seem trivial, but needing to watch out for your fellow human beings could be more important than we realise. Perhaps, autonomous vehicles users will spend more time looking out at the street but I feel like the technophilic world that thrives on attention and advertising, won’t be interested in creating outward looking citizens.

I understand that there can be benefits from these technologies, but I would just love a more systematic approach by the people pushing technologies and a critical examination of the social issues around them. I’m sure there are people working in this space, but we need to be careful with what we wish for at this time where we should be using our resources and research effort wisely. I’d love to hear your perspectives on these technologies and services.

 

 

 

The life (we need) is like riding a bike

We are reaching a moment where our political, environmental and social systems all seem on the verge of collapse. There are desperate cries and a call for action – a need to shift our lives and the structures that support it. At the same time I am trying to encourage people to ride bicycles whenever I get time and space to do it. Without understanding exactly how we need to change our lives, I can’t help but feel that Einstein was onto something when he said life is like riding a bike …. but I think he didn’t go far enough because it’s more than about keeping moving to stay balanced, it’s about how we keep moving – from the way we play, think, struggle, co-operate and act with courage:

Play

A friend of mine says we need to play more with our ideas, our lives and our understandings to move towards a more desirable future. She says that maybe it’s because she comes from an arts background, but I suspect it might also be because she rides a bicycle. A bicycle naturally allows you to play as you move through the streets, testing the way you balance, swerve, spin the pedals and bounce around. You can see the lighter side of life on your bicycle. I suspect that if we incorporate this play into the way we work, do chores, be with our friends, bring up our children and advocate for a better world, we would be more creative, flexible and lighthearted in how we tackle life.

swapping umbrellas on bikes hanoi

Think

Along with my ability to think more clearly on my bicycle, I also have to strategise my path and realise my own agency to navigate my way somewhere between shared paths and busy roads. I need to understand the lay of the land better than the people in the cars and use my intuitions to keep me moving and safe. All these ways of thinking should be crucial as we navigate a world where complacency with the situation of the world and lack of self-direction has put more power in the hands of large corporations and self-interested governments.

Struggle

Convenience has become the key factor in choices of how we travel, eat, work, play and socialise. However, one has to wonder if we are just aiming for a convenient death of the human spirit (and potentially humanity) with all this convenience. When you get on a bike, you know you may have to take some deep breaths, force your muscles to move when they are resisting and perhaps even sweat a little. This struggle (especially when you live on a hill and have two children), is something we get through and we get some post-struggle satisfaction from. Life is not meant to all be easy, we are meant to have some tough times and perhaps find ways to feel some positives through them, or at least learn from them. I cannot help but feel as a society we need to be prepared to embrace a bit more of a struggle.

Co-operate

On a bicycle, as Einstein noted, you have to keep moving to stay balanced. In Vietnam this movement is continued by a mass-scale co-operative act of look out for each other while continuing to move enough to stay upright, swerving around others where necessary. This act of casually looking out for each other is crucial in moving towards a better future. Caring for those around us without even knowing who they are, is vital to wanting a better community and not entering neo-liberal, individually owned, convenient parcelled, pieces of paradises.

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Act with courage

Some people think you are crazy for riding a bicycle, but I think I’m brave. I know that cars are much bigger and they have all sorts of safety devices for their occupants. I know they are driving too fast for the needs of the passengers (and the city) when they are in the centre of cities, where life is concentrated and speed hinders interaction. However, I know that riding my bicycle makes sense and that I am brave enough to get out there and keep riding, improving my skills and powers of negotiation with the rest of the traffic and those that plan our transport systems. Now is a time for us to be brave in our lives. To take risks in the careers we take, in the people we employ, in how we choose to live our lives and who we vote to govern us. We need to back ourselves and trust that it’s for the greater good, if we are going to get the cultural changes we need in our lives, our industries and our governments.

I write this after being rejected from a job and trying to find the courage to get back on my bike and keep pedalling (as I had to also do after my film was rejected from many film festivals). It can be a challenge to live like your riding a bicycle and it can sometimes seem easier to just go with the flow, obeying the advertisements, the norms and the road rules. However, this is when we need to show the most courage and keep riding. Sometimes I feel like I am riding with no destination but at least I keep riding and I like who I am when I’m riding and I like the feeling of riding. So who’s ready to get off the treadmill and on to their bikes?

A small message from me and my baby-to-be

I found this amongst my draft posts….from 4 years ago a better description of cycling while pregnant 🙂

My transport experiences lately haven’t taken me to distant lands but they have taken me to slightly foreign territory.  In January this year I found out I was pregnant.  Along with all the thoughts, feelings and panic attacks, I thought about how this would affect my transport through my city – from the immediate impact of being pregnant to the long term  impact of have this growing child to occupy, nurture and hope they become a decent human being in a humane world.

First I’ll talk about pregnancy.  I’m still only 7.5 months pregnant so I can’t speak for what it’s going to be like from now until the birth but so far riding my bicycle as my main mode of transport has been great, not perfect, but great.  At the start I did internet searches to try and work out what made sense, but the myriad of different opinions and different experiences led me to realise that it was, as it should be, a personal choice.  All along I have said that if my body decides it can’t do it anymore I will stop, but I still haven’t had to face that possibility.

In my first trimester I was tired, really tired – it’s how I worked out that I was either pregnant or some other parasite was taking all my energy.  I kept riding though – in some ways riding does take some energy but in other ways it gives you it back, especially on beautiful days.  There were times when I did feel a little light headed and if my commute was much longer (it’s roughly 9 km) I might have had to stop and walk a bit.  I never got really nauseas and I actually think the daily exercise and the movement on the bike helped.  I was trying to be careful with the potholes and cracks but occasionally when I did hit a bump, I felt my belly asking questions of the city’s road maintenance program.  But after 13 weeks, my scans were showing a healthy baby with no signs of being in a washing machine type arrangement.

The second semester started great – with new energy and from what I had read – less risk of miscarriage or less discomfort from cycling (not that there is any real known risk of miscarriage associated with cycling in the first trimester). So I was enjoying my new found life of not being tired until at about week 17 or so I started to get back pain.  My instant thought was that this is somehow going to be related to my riding and I’m going to be told by my doctor to give it up.  But as it turns out it wasn’t – just ligaments stretching (which many massages from my lovely husband helped with) which stopped after a few weeks and no one was telling me to stop riding.  It was quite the opposite as people were happy for me to be still active and strong.    One comforting thing about the ride was that my baby always seemed to calm down when I was on my bicycle – I thought this might mean he will like riding in the future – we’ll see. He gave the thumbs up in the ultrasound after I road up the hill to the John Hunter Hospital.

I continued to ride through my second trimester with the only other major hiccup involving waking up in the middle of the night not being able to straighten my knee or put weight on it.  I had torn my meniscus (in my knee) during my sleep!  It turns out that riding my bicycle was part of the physiotherapy to get it back on track, so as slack as I’ve been with my other exercises it has been getting better (fingers crossed!).  So after a couple of days off the bicycle (contemplating whether I should get surgery) I was back on it with a purpose.  As I approached my third trimester I noticed it was taking me an extra ten minutes to get to work and by the end I was breathing like I was trying to suck up all the air within a metre of me with each breath.

And now I’m in my third trimester.  Things have become very obvious with no hiding the bump behind loose fitting clothes. On buses and trains people no longer have to contemplate whether I just have a large belly or there is an alien like creature in there – they can practically see it moving my belly around.  Note: this doesn’t always mean they give up their seat but usually they do.  So on my bicycle it’s a similar story, other people on the road can see that I’m pregnant.  Most pedestrians and people at bus stops give me lovely welcoming smiles.  Some people give me little words of praise for staying so fit, and I don’t know what most people in cars think (you can’t really see them).  However, I still get cars doing stupid things on the road and, with the crazy cocktail of hormones that possess me, I often find myself crying for humanity in such situations.

So, cycling while pregnant might not be for everyone but it seems to have worked for me.  As much as anything else, it helps me cope psychologically and emotionally with what is happening to me and to the world.  It gives me some rhythm both as my feet rotate the pedals and as I get to see the sun (or clouds) everyday and get to move through the streets.  I also forget that I’m pregnant when I’m riding (except on the uphills and after long distances).  I still find myself riding in a similar position and the extra weight doesn’t bother me as much as when I’m walking, sitting or even lying.

This brings me to my next issue – of raising a child within the urban transport world we face everyday.  But perhaps I will leave that for another day … the sun is shining and I should be outside :).

Can you fit a trailer on the train?

As a single carefree bike riding bandit, I would sometimes use the train network in combination with my bike to extend my range. I could easily find a way to put my bike on the train, whether it was hanging it from a hook or just hanging on to it near the entrance of the newer trains. These days, with two children in a trailer behind my bike, I have struggled with how to make the formidable train-bike combination work for me until….

Last week I visited a friend who had recently had a baby. It was in the suburbs and getting there would involve either two buses, a long bike ride with some sketchy roads, or a train and a 5 km ride along the bike path. I went for the last option, completely unsure whether I could pull it off – asking myself how we would fit the bike and the trailer on the train, and then there were the issues around getting it on and off the train to the platform, and from the platform to the bike path.

I nervously arrived at the station and was sort of regretting not bringing a friend when I realised the image of the ramp up from the platform at Booragul Station was completely in my head.  Negotiating stairs with a bike isn’t fun at the best of times but when you attach a trailer with two children in it, the whole thing becomes too complicated to contemplate on an empty stomach.  I then had the realisation that Cockle Creek had one platform (the right one for my outbound trip) and was grateful for the the relatively new bike path from Cockle Creek station to the lake.

At the train station I asked about previous experiences with putting trailers on trains and they said they had never seen anyone put a trailer on the train. I couldn’t work out whether it was due to their lack of experience working at train stations or whether it was something that just wasn’t done. After all, if the train was an old one, there was no way I could fit the trailer in. I asked about how to know whether it would be a new or an old train. Apparently if it says “Oscar” on the trip planner app you will have a new train. Also, non-express trains and trains on the weekend tend to be new trains. And yes you can fit a trailer on the new trains!

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I pulled my bike up into the carriage and did a fifty point turn to get it facing the direction of the door so we wouldn’t have to reverse out. On the way home I worked out that by entering in the next carriage and walking it through the wide automatic doors between carriages you avoid this manoeuvre. The kid jumped out of the trailer for the train trip but I started preparing early to make a smooth exit. While we were in the train my son pointed out that it looked like it was going to rain so my smooth exit turned into a mad panic of a wet cat trying to keep her kittens dry.

After securing the rain cover for the trailer and resigning myself to embracing the adventurous feel of rain hitting my clothes and skin, we were on our way. The ride along the lake was quite easy and reminded me of the days when riding in the rain was normal – you got wet while you rode and dried off at your destination and life went on. The small stretches of road with traffic really made me see the importance of a good network of quiet streets and bike paths. Even though there was a bike lane, the trailer stuck out and I was constantly negotiating with cars to make sure they gave us a wide berth.

On the way home, the rain had eased but my brain was pondering the possibility of getting the bike and trailer down the stairs at Booragul because all stations within cycling range had stairs to the platform I needed. I went with Booragul because there is a school nearby and I figured some students might help me and they did … plus every person on the platform.  I detached the trailer from the bike and four boys carried my sleeping children in their chariot without waking them, while I carried my bike and then reattached the trailer before the train came. I had people offering me help getting the trailer on and off the train, and the experience made me feel good about humans, particularly one’s that catch trains.

 

Getting to the urban audiovisual festival in Lisbon

Over the last three weeks, I have used more transport than I like to think about. But it was for a good cause and it wasn’t taken lightly. I am still not sure it was worth it and maybe you have your own opinions, but I am currently on the other side of the world to my home and I need to make the most of it. We came all this way to show a film, see the potential for collaboration with other filmmakers and academics and to visit family.

Three years ago we came back from spending four months in Spain, prepared to avoid too much plane travel in the future. Since then, we had one more child, I finished my film and I’ve been struggling to work out what to do next with my film and my career. My film was unsuccessfully entered in more than twenty film festivals and sent to dozens of transport academics and practitioners, before finally being accepted at the urban audiovisual festival in Lisbon, Portugal. I was suddenly faced with the opportunity to finally present my film at a festival, discuss the film with an informed audience and potentially find people to work on future projects with. I was also faced with a flight to the other side to the world.

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After unsuccessfully trying to persuade my husband to take three months of unpaid leave so that we could make the most of the flight and potentially test out some of Europe’s finest cycling tracks, I struggled with the idea of a short trip to Europe. I felt quite sick at the idea, but I also saw the opportunity to not only show my film but also to introduce my children to the Spanish side of our family and potential to get us speaking a bit more Spanish. The relatively short distance between Madrid and Lisbon pushed me towards ‘sky scanner’ and I suddenly found myself hunting reasonably priced plane tickets.

With a click of a button you find yourself about to be involved in a massively polluting activity. I had decided to book my tickets to stay for one month and then let my husband work out if and when he would come. This meant a long long haul flight with a 1 year old and a 3 year old by myself. Remembering the trauma of two parents taking our 1 year old on a similar flight three years earlier, this seemed quite insane. I am not sure if I was searching for some kind of nemesis for thinking my film was worthy of flying.

So I survived the flight, thanks to some magnetic blocks, a toy dump truck, countless walks around the plane, a couple of siestas and my breasts.  I still am not sure if I had jetlag because I was so caught up in the jetlag of the children and so tired from the trip, sleep could come any time that I could find the time. After a week of touring the playgrounds of Madrid, we were travelling again. This time I chose not to use the plane…

To get to Lisbon, we would visit the beautiful cities of Caceres and Merida, travelling overland in between. Now the train line in this part of Spain, is known to be unreliable, and we still don’t know what kind of animal we hit, but our trip to Caceres was an hour late. I was travelling with my mother-in-law who used up all her phone data on the train showing Dante Peppa Pig. The next day we had a quick walk around the walled city (which was stunning), before the objectives of the day turned towards croissants and playgrounds (which we struggled to find). Tourism with children makes you see the stunning streetscapes and architecture through your peripheral vision, with more pressing concerns being food and play.

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We caught the train to Merida, and enjoyed the arid landscape with scattered trees and rocky hills. There was also amazing amounts of produce being grown, with cherries and olives and all sorts of orchards. The temperature in Spain was finally reaching the ridiculous heights of summer where shade is a survival tool. This meant hibernating until around 7pm and even then we felt the Sahara was close by. We found a playground and some food before heading back to the apartment for dinner and bed.

The next day we woke up early enough to visit an aqueduct and Roman amphitheatre before the heat became too much and we sought shelter in the bus station. The kids played and we tried to find a balance between giving them the opportunity to let out their energy and the general peace of this place of waiting. After a couple of last minute toilet emergencies, we got on the bus to Lisbon. The children were exhausted and quickly found ways to fall asleep almost all the way to the bus station of Lisbon. We had made it!

The next problem was trying to work out what transport to use and how to get tickets. We ended up paying for each transport individually but I would recommend people buy a transport card as soon as they arrive. I won’t go into the details of our accommodation issues but we moved to another place the next day after walking through the enchanting streets of Alfama and yes, searching for a playground. We had a couple of days of site seeing and working out how compatible different modes of transport were with a pram. Indeed walking the narrow steep footpaths proved a challenge at times.

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The day before my screening, I dashed off to the festival to see “All else being equal” https://vimeo.com/309867679. After a last minute feed and a sprint to the metro I just missed the route planned by google. Instead I decided to get off at a metro stop a couple of kilometres away and walk. The place I found myself after coming out of the metro was nothing like anything else I had seen in Lisbon. There were wide long roads, surrounded my fields of no mans land, beyond which were basic tall apartment. While I had a memory from the map to help me guide my way, I had no idea where I really was and I started to question whether I was safe or whether I needed local know-how to go through this neighbourhood. I walked and then I talked … in Spanish to an old couple at the bus stop. I followed their Portuguese instructions and found myself at Marvila Library. I felt like I had conquered something – whether is was fear, confusion or just a slight transition in my relationship with the streets, it was a good feeling.

The film showed transport from the perspective of woman, with a focus on the issues that tend to be more prevalent for women – from the fear of sexual harassment to the challenging transition between getting children ready and out the door to transporting them through the city. It was well shot and I could see some similarities to my film with a focus on the human lives in transport. I retraced my steps (with a different stride to my lost little lady moment earlier) to get back to my wild children, who were half asleep.

The next day was my film. We arrived super-early and let the children go a little wild in the library. There were only about 25 people who came to watch my film and I felt quite disheartened at that moment. If one person had turned up for every hour of travel I had made with two children to get there, there would be more people in the room. However, I just sat back and watched my film and listened for the reactions in the audience. I felt relieved when I heard the first laughs, because I had feared this audience might be a bit serious.

After the film, there were questions and comments. The first question was about the women who weren’t in the film, those that struggle with transport. While there are a few mentions of small struggles, my film had a focus on the positive experiences of our time on transport – it’s not a complete picture, but it’s a bit of a celebration, just like cars tend to be celebrate in the media. There was a lot of praise and discussion of liminality and non-spaces. There was even the mention that the film should be mandatory viewing for all geography and architecture students. It was interesting to hear discussion about my film that went slightly over my head. There were also questions about how I chose the chapters and what was my aim in making the film. I enjoyed the discussion and I have to keep remembering that when I question why I came so far.

That evening we were waiting in the chilly Lisbon air on the platform for the ‘hotel train’ to take us back to Madrid. We had a cabin to ourselves in Coche 3. Asking around for where might Coche 3 line up, I met a man who hadn’t slept for 36 hours and was waiting for a train back to Porto with a story that was too long to tell me there and then. But when the train arrived we had a pram, suitcase, backpack about 50 metres between us and Coche 3. We arrived to the door and started trying to get everything inside with haste. However, the pram was too wide and we created a bottleneck of baggage. It was all a bit hectic, and if you are ever taking a sleeper train, I recommend keeping everything narrow for entry.

When we were finally on board and moving, the children got quite excited by the cabin, the little cup holder next to the bed and the bed light. I managed to squeeze Tasio’s port-a-cot between the bunk beds while Dante was taking sips of water and turning on and off the light. Eventually they settled down to sleep while I found myself quite unable to. Perhaps it was the rattling shaking train or the glimpses of different lights through the window, or perhaps it was the feeling of not being sure where I am. As the train went through places I have never visited, I wondered where  I was and where to next for my film and for me.