Giving back to the city she loves was a wish for many years for Devonport dynamo Barbara Cuthbert, QSM. When she plumped for becoming an advocate for cycling in the city, she went full speed ahead, and hasn’t let up…
If you live or work in Devonport, chances are you’ll know Barbara Cuthbert, even if you don’t know Barbara Cuthbert. Her bright pink, animal print cycling helmet and splashes of colour make her more memorable than most as she wheels her e-bike on and off the Devonport ferry, and weaves her way around the suburb’s streets. ‘Barb’ is someone who walks the talk, or moreover, bikes it.
Chair of Bike Auckland, Barb discovered the joys of cycling in adulthood and has been an ardent advocate of the two-wheeler ever since. She has seen bikes used for great community benefit here and overseas – she has spent time in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka on humanitarian projects and saw the power of pushbikes in action in impoverished places. “I find that cycling is a great, important means of transport and connecting people. It helps to build strong, resilient communities.”
Born and raised in Whakatane, after leaving school Barb studied a politics degree at the University of Canterbury. She moved to Devonport 40 years ago with husband Mike and has worked as an urban planner alongside Mike, a structural engineer, in their planning and engineering consultancy. The couple has two sons; one lives in Northcote and one in London.
Barb’s mother, Betty, was a well-known local character who loved living nearby. She was the great-niece of Kate Sheppard. “My mother was fabulous! It was wonderful to have her around when we were raising the kids. She was a huge personality in Devonport.”
Barb and Mike are now doting grandparents to one year-old Ollie who, Barb says, loves nothing more than being a passenger on her e-bike. A second grandchild is due imminently in London. Barb is, of course, excited to meet the new addition, once Covid travel restrictions allow.
Her role as chair of Bike Auckland came about as the result of a long-held wish to give back.
“I said to Mike, once the children have left home, one of us has to do something for Auckland. I felt we had to give back to this city we love. I got the role! And Mike has been a strong supporter ever since – he’s my major sponsor,” she laughs.
Barb is as much on the urban cycling pulse as anyone can be. She often travels to the Beehive to meet with Ministry of Transport officials and receives regular travel updates of cycling numbers across Auckland. “I can look online and see how many people are riding down Lake Road at any given time, for example. There are automatic counting devices placed along the road that provide the figures.”
She is delighted by the increasing cycling numbers Auckland is experiencing and loved seeing locals discovering the joys of pedal power over lockdown. “All across Auckland we’ve had a huge uptake in cycling. It’s been massive. I accept it’s not for everyone. But I’m pleased to say that increasing numbers of people are finding it’s a healthy, efficient and affordable way to get around.”
Although the numbers of new bike riders who chose to hop on two wheels during lockdown and who have kept up this pastime is impossible to quantify, Barb gladly shares, “Auckland Transport used to teach 4,000 adults a year bike safety. Now, they’re expecting that figure to be over 10,000.”
E-bikes are a particular passion, and she loves her Cube. “It’s a functional city bike,” she says. “They’re especially great here on the North Shore where we have hills and Devonport’s nightmarish congestion, with lots of ‘one person in one car’ drivers taking short journeys. I’m glad there are increasing numbers of people who are choosing e-bikes as the healthiest and most efficient way to get around.”
She is glad more people are taking e-bikes over to the city on the ferry and is complimentary about how Fullers has come to the party in liaising with Bike Auckland.
“I’m working closely with Fullers. We had the Kea, which could take about 30 bikes, but the ferries that are available now have less capacity. I know they get criticism when ferries break down, but I have nothing but praise for them.
“They count the numbers of bikes and scooters on each ferry and report back to us. If they’ve had to turn a bike away, they report it to us. I think they are doing a really impressive job.”
The Northern Pathway development is a topic of much excitement for Barb. It will provide a cycling and walking path to connect Albany with Esmonde Road, which Barb calls ‘a motorway for bikes’. “It’s beautifully designed,” she raves. “There are bridges and Māori features, telling stories of local traditions along the way. It’s stunning!”
What isn’t so great, to Barbara and others, is the stalling of the SkyPath project. Intended to be part of the Northern Pathway development, it has hit numerous obstacles. Though there have been more twists and turns than a soap opera in the story of the SkyPath, she feels it is Waka Kotahi (formerly NZ Transport) that is now letting the side down.
“I would like Waka Kotahi to come to the party. They can’t hide in the corner. They have the responsibility for cycleways. Even now SkyPath has hit a wall, people still want that cycle route to happen. There are people in Takapuna, for example, who would want to bike to the city. There are so, so many benefits to this.”
That’s why Barb and Bike Auckland are spearheading a public show of support for a three-week trial of a cycleway to run in both directions across the harbour bridge next summer. Barb urges Shore residents to join her in showing ‘a swell of support’ for this on Sunday 30 May at 10am at the city side of the Harbour Bridge.
“Come and tell Waka Kotahi that there is strong public demand for a summer trial of a cycle lane across the bridge,” she shouts, adding, “I feel like I’m riding this huge crest of a wave of public opinion wanting this to happen. I really don’t think sitting in your car is good for your health, but we have to create that real choice, that safe choice. And that’s what I am very committed to doing.