Q&A | Jessica Rose on reclaiming Auckland’s streets, with Lady Gang

Jessica Rose is a New Zealand Green Party member serving on her local board in the electorate of Albert-Eden. She is a self-professed woman of many hats – a transport planner at Wairaka Land Company, specialising in sustainable multi-modal transit, and a bike advocate with Bike Auckland. Evelyn caught up with Jessica to talk about her passion for making Auckland a better place for everyone, and her membership in the all-female cycling group Lady Gang.

Ok, so let’s start with Lady Gang – it’s such an intriguing name for a group! How did it start? And how does Lady Gang connect to your work and personal politics?
Lady Gang is a group of like-minded people, so it doesn’t really belong to anyone as such. The Facebook group was started by a girl called Charlotte Rose – no relation! – and the first ride included both of us and four others. The best thing about the group is that it’s a forum for people to be leaders of their own rides, or to share ideas and vent shared frustrations about riding. It’s also a space where new people can ask questions, and for tips and ideas. Although there is a ladies riding group called Frocks on Bikes that also does this, Lady Gang is in response to a successful unisex bike group that typically is mainly made up of male riders. Lady Gang kind of acts like an incubator, fostering confidence in an all-female setting first.

As for connecting to work, that’s a little more convoluted. I am on the committee for Bike Auckland – this is a volunteer position where I advocate riding a bike as a normal method of transport. We seem to be in an age where people think that riding a bike is a sport-only related activity, and not something that could simply be pleasure driven, or simply functional. Nor do people seem to remember that riding a bike used to be a primary form of transport for a lot of people, and that roads were made for people to move along – whether on foot, by horse, electric cable car, or on a bike. It was the rise of the private car – and the private car industry, think parallels with Big Tobacco – that commandeered roads for the exclusive use of cars, and therefore roads became about cars. I’m not quite sure when people stopped using bikes to get around and started thinking they were only for sport.

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But then I ended up getting a job that does relate to bikes. My role at Wairaka Land Company is that of Transport Demand Planner, and part of this role is bike advocacy. In my political role, as local board member at Albert-Eden, I stood on a transport and environmental platform regarding easing congestion and living more sustainably in Auckland. Auckland, like most cities, is going to see a population increase, and of course our resources will be duly impacted, so it’s vitally important we ensure that we are allocating funding to the best infrastructure for our people, and for the land. A big part of this is moving to non car-dependent transit like public transport, which moves more people, more efficiently, and with less cost to roads and air. Adding a bike to a transport toolkit may mean if you live ‘too far’ from a train station, you can now access it.

How does Lady Gang connect to political activism in Auckland?
Being in groups like Lady Gang is fundamentally important as it is the grassroots of where societal change is actually occurring. This is quite remarkable when you think that women have been fighting to ride bikes since year dot; bikes were a sign of independence. We have Kate Sheppard starting the Atlanta Cycling Club a century ago, fighting for women to be allowed to ride bikes at all, and now we’re kind of campaigning to tell women that they still can. It’s a form of active transport that is going to keep you well, in body and mind, but society tells women that they will have helmet hair, bicycle face, be sweaty, not be able to wear heels, but have to wear high viz – and to top all that off, be completely unsafe if they do it. Lady Gang is a bunch of people who can put that into context. Getting on a bike to get somewhere is pretty easy, just in the clothes you are already wearing, without compromising something else.

I was listening to National Radio a while ago and the conversation was about ‘slow architecture’, with reference to ‘slow food’. I want to say that cycling is like a ‘slow commute’, but that’s misleading as in rush hour, it’s faster to ride past all the cars lined up as you roll into the office. Actually, it doesn’t really matter where you are going in the city; usually if you take a bus, train, bike or car, the commute is about the same. Traffic and finding a park slow your car, timetabling and getting to a station hold your PT and if you go point to point on the bike, you don’t have the same traffic and you park out the front. But it’s in that spirit, recapturing old technology as new technology because it’s nice and it works and that’s why people did it to start with.

Where has Lady Gang gotten to in terms of membership, and what are the typical types of activities you do together?
There are just over 200 members on the Facebook page.​ The activities are group bike rides, maybe to a park for a picnic, or a progressive secondhand shop trip. Recently there was an overnight trip out to Miranda Hot Springs and to the bird sanctuary out there. This was the longest ride to date. But it’s very much if you can dream it you can do it, anyone can be a leader. There isn’t a hierarchy, and no one owns the group, or specifically runs things.

Are there any activities that would qualify as environmental or feminist activism?
To date there haven’t been any activities that have been specifically engaged in any of these. However, the principle of equality on the road, irrespective of gender could be considered an act of feminism or protest​, just by virtue of its existence. All events have an environmental aspect because the bike uses less resources, and emits zero carbon so they can’t help but fit in this remit whether consciously or not.

The key thing is that Lady Gang is a group of people who have riding a bike, or wanting to ride a bike in common, but is not an organisation with an agenda. So each person’s ideas, reasons or aspirations are their own. I might end up viewing things through the lens of my Green Party membership and affiliation, but I can’t speak for any other person in the group.

How can someone join Lady Gang?
Lady Gang is on Facebook, so you just search and join up!​

Jessica Rose is a Green Party member, and transport planner at Wairaka Land Company. She is also a bike advocate with Bike Auckland, and passionate member of Lady Gang.

Evelyn Marsters has a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Auckland, and is currently based in Berlin. Her focus is global health and migration, and she is Deputy Editor at Impolitikal. Read more by Evelyn.