The COVID 19 lockdown has seen locals exploring their neighbourhoods on foot and on bike, perhaps more than ever before.
People from all walks of life and backgrounds have used the lockdown to get out bikes that have sat gathering dust in the shed, and to get kids who have not been active in their local neighbourhoods out walking, scooting and biking and enjoying the range of benefits this brings….connection to neighbours and community, improved fitness, improved mental health, and reduced emissions.
This is because we can. Before lockdown, it felt too unsafe for all but the hardiest and most risk-tolerant to use our busy roads in anything other than a car.
Before lockdown, it was too unsafe for all but the hardiest and most risk-tolerant to use our busy roads in anything other than a car. But during the lockdown, we’ve seen many of our vulnerable people – young children, elderly people, people with disabilities – out using our streets in huge numbers. Because the streets feel safe to use! This gives us a unique insight into how our town could look, feel and be used if we take action to make it more people-friendly.
What if safe and easy active travel across our community wasn’t just temporary?
What if Whakatāne emerged from the COVID 19 lockdown an accessible bike and pedestrian-friendly town? Instead of urban areas designed for cars, what if we changed our design to put people first? What would the impacts of such a transformation mean for our individual, collective and environmental well-being?
Let’s make Whakatāne Active now! Let’s use what we have learnt from this experience to make our town’s streets safer, healthy and nicer and to use, for everyone!
We have written to the council and started a petition to ask councillors to listen to what our community wants post lockdown. We want to be able to keep using our streets in this way when the lockdown ends – through pedestrianised areas, reduced speed zones, stream margins, a safe and connected network across the whole of Whakātane.
We want to be and feel part of active, healthy and connected whānau and communities. We have asked that the council makes this is an immediate priority of our town’s response to this unprecedented situation.
Like all communities, we need to make the most of this pause in our busy lives and think hard about what we could do differently in our communities. Our town has suffered the trauma of Whakaari just a few months ago, and now the shared stress of being confined to our homes unable to work, live and relate like we usually do, as well as the huge economic impacts.
We need good things to come from the lockdown.
We know that the council has undertaken significant pieces of work alongside the community towards moving Whakatāne to a more active town, promoting health and wellbeing through people commuting safely by foot, bike or mobility device, rather than by car. The council have told us that the once the Active Whakatane strategy has been fully developed that priority initiatives will be implemented. But little on the ground has changed for our community until this lockdown where we have been able to use and experience our neighbourhoods in unprecedented ways.
So we want the council to listen to our community and use what we have learnt from this experience to make our town’s streets safer, healthy and nicer and to use, for everyone.
We know that the council is considering using infrastructure spending to consider temporary changes to allow people to use our streets while observing social distancing rules.
But our community is asking that we can to keep using our streets in the way that we are now always – to encourage active, healthy and connected whānau and communities.
So let’s make the transformation of Whakatāne into an accessible and active town our immediate priority. And let’s make these changes permanent.