Bike lanes have become a source of tension between motorists and cyclists – so much so that the boil-over effect has been given a name: bikelash.
Now researchers have taken a closer look at how these conflicts unfold and what can be done to dodge them.
A team led by Dr Adrian Field, of the University of Auckland and consultancy Dovetail, analysed three well-known cases where proposed bike lanes prompted organised pushback.
They included Wellington's Island Bay cycleway, which has been at the centre of a long-running row between residents and officials, and is now being challenged in the High Court; a 5km-long lane running between Auckland's Devonport and Takapuna that sparked a two-year battle; and the South Dunedin Cycle Network project, which had to be rebuilt after heavy opposition.
Part of a larger, government-funded study looking at the future of the bike, Field and his colleagues wanted to understand what it was about bike lanes that seemed to draw such heated opposition.
The researchers visited each of the sites and canvassed opponents, supporters and council and transport agency planners.
"We found that although at one level, bike lanes are just paint and concrete, at another level they're very different to other street works," Fields said.
"They have a community-wide impact and they make people use their streets differently to how they have before."
The obvious problems were lost car parks, narrowed roads and motorists having to drive slower.
"There's nothing wrong with any of these, but they're changes that people have to adjust to, and that's in itself a challenge for many drivers," he said.
"We think there is usually a type of 'adjustment stress' which happens while people get used to the new road layout."
For some, however, there was a much a deeper opposition at play, and it was this that could be better described as bikelash.
The team observed that opposition to bike lanes often erupted only when lanes were being built, when planners and bike lane supporters had assumed the job was done.
"The level of opposition encountered can genuinely take people by surprise, and it's tapping into an underlying concern about change."
From their interviews, they found strong support among the cycling community for new lanes, largely for safety reasons.
But that wasn't the case for all cyclists; some came out against them just because of the way they were designed.
"In Dunedin for example, they were keen to have lanes, but the design was widely seen to be circuitous, confusing and half-finished," Fields said.
"It's interesting that one group of cyclists we spoke to were frustrated by what they saw as a sense of 'otherness' that was created of them, which they saw as portraying them as somehow not residents of the area, or different to residents of the area for being 'cyclists' or 'advocates'.
"But it's worth noting that often, people from all sides, not just cyclists, spoke of the stress and demands of their role."
"A DIFFICULT BALANCING ACT"
The researchers found it was crucial to get the public behind cycle lanes – and that this wasn't just a job for council planners, but leaders at both city and national level.
"There's also a real challenge for planners in doing things in a standard, best practice fashion across the city, so that it's clear and recognisable, and creates connectivity, versus designing suburb by suburb, in a way that reflects local wishes," he said.
"It's a difficult balancing act, but making lanes consistent and connected across a city should be the top priority, because that's what will lift cycling levels."
At the neighbourhood level, the researchers found plenty of examples of intensive consultation that still couldn't resolve opposition.
"We think it's time that we thought a bit more out of the box about what public buy-in at the local level could look like, rather than keep trying to do more of the same thing.
"For instance, using temporary materials like planter boxes to set up bike lanes for communities to try out, which can then be refined for permanent implementation.
"We think this sort of on-site testing of ideas needs a lot more use here."
After all, he said, bike lanes were good for society: they offered a boost for public health and gave people the confidence to try cycling to work, when the fear of riding in traffic otherwise put them off.
"With at least a decade of growth in obesity, here and in other parts of the world, bike lanes are a key part of making healthy choices easy choices," he said.
"And if we've only got 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, the bike is part of the change we need to shift away from fossil fuels."
Cycling Action Network spokesperson Patrick Morgan welcomed the new study, but added that changing status quo attitudes toward cycling was hard.
"The pressure is on councils to get better at public engagement," he said.
"They need to understand what people value about their streets, to make the case for change, listen, and to design streets that work for everyone.
"I've noticed some councils have raised their game and are getting good results, such as in Christchurch, Whanganui and Newtown in Wellington.
"New Zealanders love cycling, but they don't want to mix with fast traffic. After initial resistance to change, most people appreciate having bike lanes that are connected, comfortable and convenient."