How should we tackle Cycle Safety in NZ?

So you may have heard that I got myself another little job to do in the next few months – help the Government formulate some proposals about what to do about cycle safety in this country. The NZ Transport Agency has announced a national Cycle Safety Panel to follow up on the recent work by the Coroner investigating previous cycle fatalities.

Cycling safety has once again hit the headlines this week after the fatality in Christchurch earlier this week, and now another person has just been killed today while riding in Palmerston North. Our deepest sympathies to all of those directly affected. These events often come in clumps, which seems to raise the spectre that things are getting worse. Of course this is also balanced by the long periods (e.g. Aug 2013 – Jan 2014) when no fatalities occur; that’s simply the nature of relatively rare events like this. But nevertheless, we’d all rather that none of these fatalities (or other cycle injuries) occurred, so it is a good reminder to the Panel about what it is trying to address.

We'd like to see more bikes ridden and fewer bikes as memorials (c/ NZ Herald)
We’d like to see more bikes ridden and fewer bikes as memorials (c/ NZ Herald)

We’ll be taking advice from a range of key stakeholders, such as road user groups and road safety experts. And you can even send your ideas directly to NZTA as well. But I’d also be interested to know here what your thoughts are about the existing state of cycling safety in NZ. As I’ve mentioned previously, the actual risk of a cycle fatality or serious injury in NZ is actually very low, but it certainly could be better (esp. compared with other countries) and clearly perceived safety in NZ is quite an issue.

There are a range of different issues that we will look at, and they lend themselves to a range of possible types of solutions:

    • Is it just a case of better infrastructure? E.g. more cycle lanes, separated cycleways, pathways, crossing treatments. The $64 million question might be what the cost is that would be needed to significantly improve the country’s cycling.
    • What about speed management? Lower speed limits are widely used in other countries, especially where it is not feasible/possible to separate cycling from motor traffic.
    • Should we be focusing attention on cycling behaviour and training? We’re all aware how much vitriol is regularly directed at “f%!$#n cyclists” who apparently break the laws with impunity and hold up traffic. So do we need to educate riders better about how to interact with traffic?
    • What about other road users? Most people who ride have their “war stories” about incidents with motorists around the place (pedestrians are sometimes not much better). Do we need to look seriously at how people are trained to use motor vehicles and share the road, or what behavioural messages we send to them about common conflict situations?
    • Do our vehicles need changes to their safety equipment? For bikes, that could be things like lighting and conspicuity aids; for motor vehicles that might include “friendlier” fronts/sides and use of safety technology.
    • Are there legislative changes that need to happen? Some existing traffic rules are not really written with cycling in mind, e.g. issues around keeping left or overtaking on the left. Then there are gaps in the legislation, such as safe passing distances.
    • Maybe it’s more about the systems and processes at central and local Government that are preventing good practice from happening. We know how to make many things better for cycling, so how come it can be hard to get priority for cycling? Or why does it sometimes seem to get completely overlooked?
    • What else…?

There probably are no silver bullets; it is likely to take a variety of measures to improve things. For example, the two most recent fatalities both involved trucks and they show up as being over-represented in cycle fatalities. So, it is an interesting exercise to consider how different types of solutions might help reduce problems with trucks, such as:

    • Separated bikeways might keep bikes away from trucks (although it can still be tricky to maintain that separation at intersections & side-roads)
    • Lower speed limits might reduce the likelihood of a truck and bike being in the wrong place at the same time
    • Cycle training/promotion might help make riders aware of the vast blind-spots around many heavy vehicles
    • Bus/Truck-Bike workshops can help all parties can see the issues from “the other side”
    • A minimum passing distance rule when overtaking cycles might provide more “margin for error”
    • Requirements for trucks to fit side under-run protection and blind-spot mirrors could reduce the likelihood and consequences of collisions with bikes
    • ACC and NZTA fleet road-worthiness incentives might encourage companies to make more use of bus/truck workshops
    • Local network planning could help to separate bus/truck routes from bike routes
Trucks are just one issue facing cycling that we need to tackle (c/ Fairfax)
Trucks are just one issue facing cycling that we need to tackle (c/ Fairfax)

The next step would then be to assess the relative merits (costs, benefits, practicality) of each option and identify which ones you would go ahead and recommend (or implement straight away vs implement later).

Trucks are just one of the many issues that no doubt we will identify with cycling in New Zealand. So it will be a big challenge for us to pull together our key recommendations by September. Therefore we welcome any constructive help we can get from those at the coalface – feedback please!

If you could change ONE thing to improve cycle safety in NZ what would it be?

21 thoughts on “How should we tackle Cycle Safety in NZ?”

  1. What I would like to see changed is that cycling is seen as a serious transport mode when we design roads. If I cycle I often get the feeling every other transport mode is accommodated for but that I am just not taken seriously as a cyclist. Cycle lanes are ridiculously narrow, interrupted, or completely absent. In my opinion there is a unhealthy obsession with off street parking which too often takes priority over creating safe cycling infrastructure. Not enough business owners take cyclists serious as potential customers and are hesitant to give up parking spaces in front of their shop. Driving in New Zealand cities used to be cheap, fun and very efficient but those days are forever gone. You wonder when NZTA will ever get the message..

    1. Completely agree. Cycling could go an awful long way to eliminating some of our congestion issues and increasing general livability of our cities.

  2. All off the above, but I do think driver education is underrated in our current debates. It’s still pretty easy to get a license in NZ, and of course we have many drivers on our roads still who predate the current regime. I feel we have an agressive and careless driving style which manifests in dangerous overtaking, cutting off with left turns, pulling out without looking far enough to the right, dooring, and so on.

    All the approaches above work together, and I think a small movement in every department would create positive feedback loops — every time we get a few more people on a bike, our constituency increases.

  3. If I had to pick ONE thing it would be parked cars and the hazard or being doored by drivers who carelessly open them. I always bike far enough away so that I cannot be doored and figure that there is less chance being hit from behind as traveling further out makes you more visible and cars tend to notice. The problem is that cycle lanes are always in the door zone and one has to look into every car to see if there is someone in them with the potential to door you. So where there are cycle lanes – removed parked cars and safety improves 100% ( added to that the bike lane goes in the parking area and thus passing distances improve dramatically.) It is clearly a case of safety verses convenience for motorists.

  4. I beleive the “Quiet Street” approach is a good alternative. Many of my colleagues ride to work the same route they drive. Better signage and education might assist. The proposed Grassmere bridge is the type of infastructure required. Once at the origin/destination where conflict is inevitable, then the seperation can be maximised. Implemented easliy by reducing the on-street parking.

  5. Interestingly I have just had two children complete their full drivers licence and a third just starting and not one of them has had any reference to how to handles cyclists whilst dring on the road. The AA approved instructors was un sure what to do when I asked her and she said she usually tell students to give them (cyclists) a wide birth!!!! Very dissapointing, I have trained my kids to ride and also to drive so they know what too do when they encounter cyclists on the road.

    1. I resat my driver’s license a few years ago to get a P endorsement, and having passed, the only thing the practical tester mentioned is that I kept to the right too much. I deliberately did this to keep my hurtling pile of death metal (car) away from people riding bikes. I remain unrepentant. Giving people riding bikes a “wide berth” seems to me like good general advise for starters, what other advise would you give?

  6. Hi, all the best with this project, we need sensible people with a wide ranging agenda to help tackle this problem. As you say there are no magic bullets but it is gratifying to see that the discussion is getting away from engineering solutions which is a problem when you consult with roading engineers.
    Being a frequent road (not a bunch rider) cyclist and one who had a massive accident back in 2007 (head on from a motorist overtaking on a blind corner) I believe that driver and rider behaviour is the most important thing to change. I frequently have discussions with so called sensible people who still believe that cyclists are some kind of secondary road users and really just in the way of motorists. It surely cant be that hard to get the message out there that we have every right be be there and be safe

  7. Can we add “Better enforcement” to the list above. Driving through the lights controlling cycle lane crossings or driving in cycle lanes past schools are both things I saw last week. Many things will help – enforcement is one of them.

    1. Total lack of enforcement of our road code by our police (besides the occasional speeding ticket) is a major problem. We need to change that – road users (cyclists and motorists alike) flout the rules all the time, many don’t even know they’re doing it because it’s so commonplace. The police need to have that as part of their mandate. I’m fairly sure road users will brush up on – and follow – the road code pretty swiftly if it’s likely to cost them if they don’t.

  8. I think it’s going to take a combination of things – better infrastructure, allocation of road space, network planning, education and enforcement. To get a comprehensive solution across all these areas it seems to me that it requires change right at the top, in the legislation around cycling and the funding/planning structures to deliver it. I don’t know what your scope is Glen, but I reckon if we want significant change (which I think we do) it’s pretty important to look for improvements in the decision-making structures, and the funding channels from central government through NZTA/local councils and then into projects.

  9. There are already comprehensive and recognized safety solutions in the Councils Infrastructure Design Standards (IDS). They require marked cycle lanes, medians and safety other safety amenities for collector roads and above (1,000-6,000 vpd and above). The problem is the Council are refusing to implement them.

  10. I strongly believe we should enact Law which automatically assigns blame for any injury-accident to the party in charge of the most dangerous vehicle. This puts the onus on that party to prove absolutely they were not at fault. The main outcome is a strong message to all drivers to take greater care around cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians. It has been done in other countries and though it obviously isn’t going to solve all of our problems, it does seem to make a very positive difference.

  11. Aside from the obvious infrastructure needs, there are two things I’d like to see:
    – an education campaign for drivers, perhaps as a video aiming to be shared as widely as possible, or ideally as a series of TV ads. It would show some basic tips for drivers that no-one ever tells you, e.g. if you see a bike on the open road, there isn’t room to pass, so wait behind them until the other lane is clear (like you would for a tractor or other slow-moving vehicle); look for bike when opening doors; bikes go faster than you think – if you’re turning left, wait behind, don’t try to race in front; check for bikes before veering left, especially if you’ve been moving slowly, etc. It would also attempt to give drivers some empathy for the vulnerability and difficulties that cyclists face, e.g. weather, signals not changing, aggressive drivers, squeeze points, etc. etc.

    the other thing is a specific set of road rules for bikes. As we all know, bikes sit in a grey area between pedestrians and cars. Bikes ride on the road, but they have about 1% of the kinetic energy of a car at urban speed limits, which is why they can also share paths with pedestrians while a car never could. I’d like to see rules something like the following: free left turns at lights (like a give way sign) or across the top of a T-junction; rules for bikes and pedestrians, esp. allowing cycles to mix with pedestrians at pedestrian crossings at low speed (including lights for pedestrians); allowance for bikes on footpaths at low speed; clear rules for groups of cyclists not blocking lanes; etc. They probably aren’t very good examples, and may have problems, but some official sanction of things that most cyclists already do could help ease some of the tension between motorists and cyclists, plus it would make it clearer which rules may not be broken if the other rules were more sensible.

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