You might recall earlier this year that Lower Hutt mother Jo Clendon was petitioning Government to make it legal for kids to ride their bikes on the footpath. As mentioned previously, currently it is illegal for anyone to ride on an ordinary footpath, unless they have a small child’s bike or are delivering material. Jo’s petition certainly attracted lots (and lots and lots) of media attention, and Parliament’s Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee has decided to ask for public submissions on the matter.
Jo exact petition is:
That the House recommend a change to the New Zealand Road Rules to
- allow cycling on the footpath by children under 14 years of age (and accompanying adults), seniors over the age of 65, and vulnerable users (such as those with mental or physical disabilities);
- make bells mandatory for any bicycle used on footpaths or shared use paths;
- and allow local authorities to exclude, on a reasonable basis, certain areas of footpath from being used for cycling.
So you can see that this isn’t a call for allowing blanket use of footpaths by everyone, just certain groups (particularly children) and with the possibility of excluding locations that aren’t practical (e.g. busy pedestrian areas). We also need to be careful not to get confused with separated cycleways and shared pathways (where cycling is already allowed) – this petition is just about allowing cycling on ordinary standard footpaths.
I have some sympathy for the reasoning behind this petition, although I can also see some problems with it. Briefly here are some things to think about regarding the pros and cons:
- Legitimises a practice that is already very common (particularly for young children)
- May encourage more people to cycle in places where the on-road environment is currently not very cycle-friendly
- It encourages more use of cycling by young children (whose parents are often concerned about the on-road environment), who lack the cognitive skills to handle road traffic situations
- It provide an immediate legal option for many would-be cyclists without having to wait until specific cycling facilities are built
- It allows some children’s bikes currently considered technically too big for footpath riding (>14 inches) to be legally used there
- One less barrier to encouraging more cycling, with all the environmental and health benefits that brings
- The proposed rules still allow Councils to identify places where footpath cycling is not appropriate or safe
- At least two-thirds of all cycle crashes occur at intersections and driveways, neither of which would be improved with a shift to cycling on the footpath (and may be worse due to reduced sight distances and reaction times)
- More cycling on footpaths increases the potential for conflicts and injuries with pedestrians and others already legitimately using the footpaths
- Councils may feel less pressured to provide proper cycling provision (e.g. cycleways, traffic calmed streets) if many less-confident riders already have the footpath as an option
- No evidence from Australia (where footpath cycling is allowed in many states) that there has been any increase in the amount of cycling happening
- Higher rates of cycling on footpaths may discourage many more vulnerable pedestrians (elderly, blind, etc) from travelling as much by foot
- Police are already able to use their discretion to turn a blind eye to footpath cycling that is not causing any concern to others
- Practically it may be difficult to clearly identify someone who is legally allowed to ride on a footpath (e.g. 13-year old vs 14-year old)
- Councils can already designate certain footpaths as shared pathways where it is warranted and appropriate
Jo’s Cycling with Kids website has a lot more detailed information to consider as well.
As it happens, the NZ Transport Agency already has some research underway to look into the whole question of footpath cycling. I think the final results are due in by about the end of the year, so hopefully Parliament will be inclined to wait and see what that concludes and recommends.
You have until Wed 12th Oct to make a submission to Parliament. At a time when the Government is already spending a greatly increased amount on cycling facilities around the country (much of which is also likely to benefit people walking), this current debate is a tricky one.
Do you think we should allow footpath cycling for more vulnerable groups?