Flashback Friday: How should we tackle Cycle Safety in NZ?

It’s been a tough past month safety-wise for cycling, with the tragic death of two people cycling, one in Auckland then one in Christchurch. That still only takes the total of cycle fatalities for the year to 4, but every one of them stings. A similar double-up of deaths occurred back in Apr 2014, when this post was first published, and the formation of the Safety Panel mentioned was predicated on a spate of deaths in 2010. So have things improved? Certainly many of the recommendations from the Safety Panel did come to fruition since then, although some are still languishing…

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)

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?

2 thoughts on “Flashback Friday: How should we tackle Cycle Safety in NZ?”

  1. In Europe I found the rule that blames the vehicle driver for any accident involving a pedestrian or cyclist changed driver behaviour. They were more considerate and appeared to be on the lookout for pedestrians and cyclists rather than focusing just on the road directly ahead.

    1. It should be noted that this “strict compliance” default presumption of fault in some places in Europe generally only applies to the question of who is liable for insurance/medical costs, not for prosecution charges. Medical costs especially can be quite significant; here in NZ that is largely dealt with via the national ACC scheme.

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