10 ways to stop the cyclist killings

It’s madness.  The recent spate of bicycle deaths is no doubt partially caused by the nicer weather and people getting out there on their bikes. But the families and friends left behind and all of the rest of us have cause to be angry, as the deaths were arguably caused by known hazards that did not have actions assigned and closed out. For example Auckland regional transport knew that Tamaki Drive is “the city’s the most dangerous stretch of road for cyclists” despite it also being one of the best tourist spots. So why was it not fixed? Why was the prospect of someone losing their life not prioritised and addressed?

It’s not time to accord blame though, and it really never really is. It’s beyond time to fix the underlying problem – and so here are 10 starters. Retesting car drivers is not on the list, as it isn’t the underlying issue. Increasing safety is about reducing physical hazards, by for example physically separating cars, bikes and pedestrians, and by changing the values of the people on the road to put safety first.

1: Extend the authority of the NZ Transport Accident Investigation Commission from all other transport to include all road transport. This group has the right to investigate, in a non-blaming way, all other transport accidents and incidents, and delivers remedies that save lives. Allow them the right to dip into any road transport accident and do the same — this in addition to existing accident investigation. Do nothing else and this will save the most lives.

2: Temporarily ban cyclists from the most dangerous roads to cyclists, such as Tamaki Drive, until actions have been taken to redress the danger. Yes this will be a wildly unpopular thing to do, but we need to stop killing people and this will ensure action is fast. At the very least put up signs informing all road users of the dangers.

3: Review all of “the most dangerous roads” before Christmas and implement temporary fixes to all of them, either banning bicycles permanently or, preferably, removing hazards such as the parked cars on Tamaki Drive. That particular road should be one of the most pleasant to ride in the country, and instead it is the most dangerous.

4: Change the law to presume that the driver of a vehicle that causes death is guilty of manslaughter, and embark on an extensive and never ending advertising campaign to drive that home. While mitigating factors can be bought into play, changing this law will result in actions such as vehicles moving further to the right when over taking bikes, people looking before opening car doors and the even French approach — slowing behind the cyclist to wait for a safe moment to pass. When we step into a vehicle we should be aware that we are stepping into a potential murder weapon and drive with due care and attention. If we are not willing to accept the consequences then we can take the bus.

5: Conduct a review of the cycling law in New Zealand, including changing the law to enforce a certain safe distance that cars must leave beside bikes when overtaking on 50km and 100km roads, allowing bicycles to have signaling equipment on their bike (such as indicators) and clarity about where bicycles can ride in the lane when there is insufficient room on the shoulder.

6: Cyclists wear high visibility gear so that you are seen. Put a bell on the bike or be prepared to yell frequently so that you are both seen and heard.  When there is no bike lane or sufficient room to ride safely with the cars on your right, then move into the car lane, right in the center, and stay there until it is safe to move to the left again. You are a vehicle and have every right to a safe journey.

7: Wield your camera phone and take pictures of drivers, and bike riders for that matter, who behave unsafely. Post them to twitter, facebook, the web and the Police. Direct the attack at the person’s behaviour not the person themselves.

8: Finish the New Zealand cycleway project. NZ should be paradise for bike riders but our roads are literally killing our reputation. (I’ve motorcycled safely in 70 countries but do not recommend that people ride bikes on the highways in NZ. Go to South America or France instead.) Extend the bike path project to include safe paths on routes between all major cities.

9: Abandon the idea of shared footpaths and cycleways — they may work for promenading on Oriental Bay or Tamaki Drive, but they are unacceptable for cyclists and pedestrians wanting to train or commute.

10: Ensure that all bike paths, such as the Hutt Motorway one, are in better condition than the road, which means the surface should be smooth and regularly swept clear of debris.

About Lance Wiggs

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57 Responses to 10 ways to stop the cyclist killings

  1. Philip says:

    /rant

    I have to confess you have some good ideas but I think driver education would be in part one of the solutions. Putting up signs telling people they are on the road with cyclists would seem to be the quickest option but will drivers take notice of them.

    Drivers need give cyclists at least 1m. This would obviously mean taking one of two courses of action. Slowing down to the cyclists speed until it is safe to pass in another lane. Or moving into another lane when it is safe to do so before approaching the cyclist.

    I don’t take “the cyclist was in my blind spot” as an excuse for an accident as being a driver of a car you should be checking your blind spots!

    /end rant

  2. Kids Kayaks says:

    It is scary cycling in NZ – drivers just do not give cyclists enough space. The killings are making me think about stopping road cycling.
    I live in the coromandel and are regularly scared by towed boats that are wider than the car – these drivers just seem to forget about judging a safe distance from the boat. try to remember cycclists when your towing a wide load or boat.

  3. Darren says:

    ‘Increasing safety is about reducing physical hazards, by for example physically separating cars, bikes and pedestrians’ – spot on Lance. $60 million was recently spent on the 2.7 km upgrade between Maungaraki and Petone and yet not a single dollar was spent on improving safety for cyclists through this stretch of road. They still share the same road, separated only by a thin white strip of paint. We can’t fix it all at once but we seriously need to make a start.

  4. Robyn says:

    Re point 10 – I have friends who choose to ride their bikes on SH2 instead of the Hutt cycleway because it’s usually covered in debris.

    It’s a pity New Zealand has such a culture of disdain for cyclists. I can’t even ride a bike (and I don’t own a car) but I can see that cities are better places with more cyclists and fewer vehicles.

  5. Andrew says:

    Its not cars, its not bikes.Its People.No driver see what he does not look for.Every cyclist on the road reminds other road users about cyclists.More sings will do as good a job as helmets are doing right now.Its the education that will start the solution.

  6. Juha says:

    All of the above makes sense, but… how do you deal with the underlying problems of aggressive and inattentive drivers?

    Having driven and cycled in really busy cities in Asia and Europe, I’ve never felt a target the same way as you do in Auckland. Nobody’s ever thrown bottles at me overseas, tried to ram me off the road, or my favourite move, overtake me just before turning left in front of you.

    People here own the tiny bit of road they travel on, and are prepared to smash into you to defend it. You don’t give way and you don’t leave space to the car in front of you. If you do, someone else jams into the space, forcing you to stand on your brakes.

    Before coming to Auckland, I had never seen a u-turn on a motorway before. Or people reading maps, texting with both hands and steering with their knees, while doing 40kph for safety’s sake… across the Harbour Bridge. And where in the Road Code does it say you must slow down or even stop, and attempt to merge at straight angles on motorway onramps, into 100kph and faster traffic?

    Even on suburban roads, you have people crossing the centre into your side of the road if there’s an obstacle on their side. They do this rather than slowing down from 60kph and waiting for the other side to be clear.

    I’ve attended three nasty smashes. One was fatal – the driver in front of us went into a tree for no apparent reason on that long stretch of wide road between Napier and Hastings.

    Another one on SH1 was caused by a driver over-estimating his cornering skills and crossed the centre line, into a small truck. Very messy and bloody.

    Further up on SH1, some drunk drove off the road near Ti Point. He went really fast, and managed to become airborne over a bridge across a culvert. He landed in the mangroves but was unharmed. When I went to help him, he was really aggressive and shouted “WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT? NEVER SEEN SOMEONE CRASH A CAR BEFORE???”

    With all that around you, I’m not sure technical solutions will work. Policing aggressive and poor driving might however.

  7. Hamish Keith says:

    In New Orleans – very much like Christchurch for its terrain and bicycle use – there is a constant billboard campaign aimed at both motorists and cyclist showing the legal distances that must be allowed between cars and bikes and encouraging courtesy between drivers and cyclists. It seems to work they shoot more citizens than they run over.
    Most European cities insist on helmets for children only leaving adults the choice – I might be wrong but I think the cyclist uniform here probably makes them less safe than more and cycling seems not a civil behaviour but a competitive sport.

  8. Sid says:

    11. Cyclist licence, registration, and road usage charges.

    • Rob Coup says:

      Do people seriously think nearly all cyclists aren’t *drivers as well* and are already licensed and paying for the roads? #cluestick

      • Sid says:

        That’s like saying I have two cars, why do I need to pay tax on my second one?

        • Andrew says:

          is my bike tax free? do i pay tax on my car that im not driving whilst im riding? do i pay rates? do i mess up the roads? Ummm… its just a red neck comment.

    • Su Yin says:

      “Maybe there’s another answer — to charge cyclists a ‘road tax’ proportional to the wear and tear they produce compared to cars? The standard figure is that damage to roads is proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight. So a rough figure suggests that a car, which weighs about ten times as much as a cyclist (say 1000kg versus 100kg) should pay 10x10x10x10, or 10,000 times as much in ‘road tax’. So if a car pays £100 a year, the cyclist pays 1p. I’d happily pay my next 50 years’ ‘road tax’ now if it would shut up those certain motorists

      Via http://realcycling.blogspot.com/2009/11/taxing-problems.html

      • Sid says:

        Good luck trying to build cycling lane with that tax money.

        Bicycles and motor vehicles should be on separate lane. It’s too dangerous for the both to share the same lane. Just like we generally do not allow cyclists to use pedestrian lane.

      • Lance Wiggs says:

        We would beed to add the ACC levy to that as well though, which at current accident rates would be a whopper.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      Want to start with your 12 year old kids?

    • Brenda says:

      I’ve seen this argument before. to paraphrase “They don’t pay road tax for their bike therefore it’s okay that us car drivers kill some of them”.

      So if they were paying road tax for their bike, aggressive “this is my road” car drivers would start trying harder to not hit cyclists?

      • Sid says:

        Which part of my suggestion translates to it’s okay to kill some of them? What an idiotic reply.

        The solution will involve both parties to change their dangerous/unsafe habits. It will also involve building infrastructure, educating the public, etc, etc … all involving money that must come from somewhere.

  9. 12. Cyclists may travel two abreast only while overtaking and only after checking that no cars are coming up behind them.

    Ever come round a curve on a narrow road to find both an oncoming car and a herd of cycles taking up better than half of your lane?

    • Juha says:

      In which case, you slow down, and wait for a safe spot to overtake, surely?

      Or do you crash into the “herd of cycles” hoping they won’t scratch your paint too much?

      • Brake hard, wait for a safe spot to overtake of course. There are lots of jerks in the world; I don’t have the right to kill any of them.

        But I don’t think that road rules allowing two cyclists abreast on New Zealand roads, in their current state, is very good policy.

        • Lance Wiggs says:

          Two abreast is a must – but I for one and most others go to single file when conditions require it. Still – we must be allowed to overtake each other.

      • Sid says:

        Why do we always get this kind of reply when someone points out that some cyclists and some cyclist behaviors are inconsiderate, dangerous to themselves and others?

        • Of course two abreast ought be allowed for passing, under the same conditions as for cars passing – that it not impede other traffic and is only done when safe.

          Seriously – some of the roads here are just way too narrow, windy and hilly, with blind curves, for bikes to safely travel two abreast. Even if you’re travelling at a pretty slow speed in a car, coming around a blind curve and finding pack of cyclists taking up the whole lane ahead of you, going 2 mile an hour ’cause it’s uphill, and there’s another car coming the other way, is no kind of fun.

          And on safer, straight highways with lots of opposing traffic, being in a car behind a pack of cyclists is no less infuriating than being behind a campervan going 70 kph. Either way, a line of cars gets held up because folks won’t yield.

  10. Des says:

    “5: Conduct a review of the cycling law in New Zealand, including changing the law to enforce a certain safe distance that cars must leave beside bikes when overtaking on 50km and 100km roads, allowing bicycles to have signaling equipment on their bike (such as indicators) and clarity about where bicycles can ride in the lane when there is insiffficient room on the shoulder”

    I (some 12 years later than usual) have just sat for my learner’s permit and so I’ve just read the rode code through a good half a dozen times. It’s pretty fresh in my memory, and my copy says that a car should always leave 1.5M of space while passing a cyclist.

    One of the questions in my test gave me a picture of a cyclist coming up to the same intersection I am, ahead of me. Possible answers to ‘what should I do?’ were things like beep at the cyclist, overtake the cyclist, etc.

    The correct answer was to slow down and let the cyclist go first.

    It sounds like the road code is pretty sensible about how drivers should be treating cyclists. The information is definitely out there – the problem is the car drivers who are convinced that they have more right to be on the roads than anyone else, and who are also convinced it’s violating their rights!!!1111eleventy if they might have to go slower than the speed limit. Or indeed, as slow as the speed limit, ’cause that doesn’t seem very popular here either.

    I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had near misses at crossings where cars legally have to stop for me and instead speed up. Aggression and just plain willful disregard for the safety of others is the problem and it really needs to be fixed. It’s not safe to be on the road at all with people like that around – cyclist, pedestrian, or even more timid drivers.

    Of course, posts like this always make the aggressive drivers come out of the woodwork and start complaining about how much the cyclists/pedestrians/etc piss them off =) Entitlement much?

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      As I understood it the 1.5 meters is a suggestion not a mandate – as you said, it’s “Should” not “must.” We are all in this together – I’m a driver, motorbike rider, bicycle rider and pedestrian. We all have multiple roles and the truth is we need to abandon the us versus them approach and fix the root causes.

    • Brenda says:

      IMO many car drivers, upon seeing me on a bike in the middle of the road waiting for the traffic light to change, will stop their car to the right of me, halfway across 2 lanes.

      What causes this mentality? They either don’t know the road rules or have some “i must not be behind a cyclist” thought.. or … i dunno..

  11. My own experience of riding around Auckland has been pretty good, touch wood – luckily, I get to take the ferry to the Shore, where the bulk of my commute takes place – there’s decent bike lanes there, and the drivers are OK, generally. There’s no way I’d ride along Tamaki Drive, too many car doors, too many drivers with agendas.

    This article has some practical thoughts on staying safe while riding around town – key take out for me is ‘ride like everybody’s out to kill you’.

    • Hamish Campbell says:

      Great post.

      I can’t for the life of my understand why the Cycling Advocates Network is pushing for 10-yearly driver testing. I can’t see how that would make the slightest iota of difference in fixing our generally aggressive driving attitudes or poorly designed cycling infrastructure.

      Like Philip, I would think that an education campaign along the lines of the anti-drink-driving messages would be helpful. Being confronted with the reality of the consequences of being a jerk to a cyclist might just make people think twice.

      There is a huge lack of perspective held by our Entitled Drivers. Yes a cyclist might annoy you – but what is that in comparison to the loss of a family member / friend / co-worker? It’s nothing at all. The consequences of a drivers poor behaviour is so out of proportion to the cause, and that needs to be hammered home.

      • Lance Wiggs says:

        Neither can I – it seems naive. Reduce the hazard by fixing the infrastructure, change the values of society toward accidents and target NZ as the best place in the world to cycle. Some work to do.

      • Dave Lane says:

        I agree with Lance’s idea of making any conflict between motorist and unpowered road user automatically the motorist’s fault until shown otherwise. It’s this way in northern europe, and in my experience, the road culture is fundamentally different there.

        That said, we could go a long way in addressing the kiwi road culture problem by having the police actually police the road rules, so that every driver (and cyclist) who flouts them can count on getting a serious fine in the near future. No more “warnings”. Police should randomly stake out one or two intersections in each centre every day and pull over and *fine* every infringing road user, regardless of mode of transport. And no more of the speed camera bullshit – it’s pointless. Speed in and of itself is *not* the issue, bad driving and non-compliance with the road code is (which includes speed, but speed is a matter of degree, the road code is more clear-cut).

        Sadly, though, in my casual observation of police officers, many of them are equally ill-informed about the road rules, and so might not be able to police them… But I’d love to be proven wrong.

  12. Glen says:

    Re 2, temporarily banning cyclists from dangerous roads – a lot of people cycle on Tamaki Drive to get from A to B. If you ban them, they will just move to other, just as busy and dangerous roads such as Ngapipi/Kepa or Remuera Roads and people will die there instead.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      Indeed. We need to fix the problem, which means removing those parked cars. It could happen tonight if the council willed it. Or someone had some paint.

  13. Brian says:

    Some of the problem is that people are not aware how fast bikes can move. Competitive racers move around at over 40 km/hr routinely. I have had two serious accidents and many, many near misses because people pull out of a driveway or turn across my path and “didn’t expect [me] to be going so fast” (direct quote). Yelling is going to do SFA in this situation. I love the manslaughter point though.

  14. Greg Wood says:

    A temporary ban is about raising outrage. What kind of country would close one of the most beautiful, flat, sweeping, wide, wonderful roads in the world to cyclists, even temporarily? One that has an issue with anger management and respect regarding people on the road. Imagine the shame.

  15. Ian J says:

    Although not a cyclist, I strongly support them. Forget punishing drivers with more regulation and consequences – that doesn’t stop accidents – only increases the grief and financial cost afterward.

    Lets have a national programme to make separate pathways for the bikes alongside city and rural highways as we have foot paths now. It may involve more loss parking on the city routes and widening the verges of rural highways.

    I live in South Westland. The most beautiful but hazardous part of NZ to cycle. The fix doesn’t need to involve million dollar rolls-Royce solution. Get the planners out of the equation and just do it!!!

    There must be national carbon credits here.

    • Brian L says:

      Seperate paths beside roads is not a good solution. Think about how many intersections that makes for a cyclist going at 30-40 km/h

      • Lance Wiggs says:

        Its not the best solution, but it is a better one. The best solution is completely separate bike paths and roads, with the bike paths going through shorter routes through green areas. Brugge was one city that does this well – I saw one place where it was quicker to bike into town than to drive.

        • Brian L says:

          The problem with many cycle paths is they don’t go where cyclists want to go. When I lived near St Lukes, New North Road and Symonds Street was the most direct route to work.

          Traffic lights meant that for much of my ride I was not in traffic. Lights cause the cars to bunch up.

        • Lance Wiggs says:

          Agree – which is why we need more paths

      • Dave Lane says:

        Agreed Brian L, the issue is that if we (cyclists) have separate paths, motorists will feel enhanced entitlement to dis cyclists who are on the roads (incensed cries of “Why don’t you ride on your cycle path!”) – but almost every trip will have parts on the public roads, not cycleways. I actually expect that, without a fundamental road culture change and breaking the unwarranted sense of entitlement many motorists have, cycle paths will just exacerbate the us v. them conflict.

  16. Blair Rogers says:

    Maybe something like this could be useful for cycling.

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/02/lightlanes-lase/

    Not really a solution – but could see it’s use
    Day time – not so sure.

  17. Blair Rogers says:

    Maybe NZ should be aiming for something like a Ciclovia as well?

    http://bit.ly/9rnIBJ and http://bit.ly/aZTnVy

    Is one day once and a while too much to ask for a No Car day?

    Sadly can’t see it happening in NZ – as decision makers have no kahuna’s if it means taking on the 24/7/365 Autorama mindset.

  18. Juha says:

    The easiest and cheapest way to fix this would be to recognise the power of the civil society and… slow down. Take care. Don’t get angry. There is no need to kill others on your daily car trip.

    I suppose that’s socialism and insufficiently technocratic however.

    Then again, we have kerb stones for a reason, and that’s to stop motorists from massacring pedestrians. These are however rendered largely ineffective by 4WDs, as witnessed by me some weeks ago as I was overtaken on the inside by a courier in such a vehicle… driving on the pavement.

    • Sid says:

      “I suppose that’s socialism”

      I don’t think so, it’s not like that at all in North Korea and China

  19. Sid says:

    “OK – so your bill is $400 per child. That’s an expensive bicycle and an unpleasant society”

    I’m confused. So $400 is too expensive to build proper infrastructure and to save lives now?

  20. Mike says:

    All excellent points, I wholeheartedly agree with all of them.

    What you refer to as the “french method”. I like to phrase like this. “Frustrated by being stuck behind a cyclist? Consider it an opportunity to practice being a considerate human being”

    On this point:
    “When there is no bike lane or sufficient room to ride safely with the cars on your right, then move into the car lane, right in the center, and stay there until it is safe to move to the left again. You are a vehicle and have every right to a safe journey.”

    I think that something to that effect should be added to NZTA’s road code for cyclists. (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/cyclist-code/docs/cyclist-code-2009-low.pdf) I recently re-read that guide hoping to find some indication that cyclist safety should be prioritized over driver convenience, but didn’t find anything. Which frankly is a bit shit.

  21. Juha says:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4362001

    At this rate, cyclists’ safety will be moot. There won’t be any left to worry about.

  22. Greg says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with your attempt to ignore driver education. I’m in favour of physical separation and attempting to adopt safety values, but there’s a critical piece missing: basic skills. Drivers in New Zealand have next to no training. 10000 hours makes someone an expert, and in this case, they become an expert in bad driving. They get by, often by luck and because of New Zealand’s low population density. What’s worse, bad habits are passed down from parents to children and re-enforced nationwide.

    Day after day, I watch people do stupid shit on roads. I think they can be roughly filed into 3 piles – sometimes more than one – arrogance, impatience and incompetence. Arrogance and impatience can be tempered with revaluing safety, but you’ve unfortunately left a gap.

  23. Mike says:

    Ok so about occupying the lane when its not safe to pass. Its not mentioned in the road code but it is mentioned here: http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/roadcode/cyclist-code/about-cycling/cyclist-responsibilities.html

  24. Mike says:

    If there are cycling blackspots that can be fixed you can try reporting them to your council on fixmystreet.org.nz

  25. porkster says:

    I like what some of the cycling tourist do. They have these fiberglass rods that stick out about a meter from their cycles (after all you’re suppose to pass them with 1.5 meters of clearance) so if you get too close you get scratches on your car.

    It also stops cyclist speeding through those tight gaps that get them killed.

    It gives them a safety area where they have room to swerve out from a suddenly opened car door and miss the truck that’s going pass. Might kill a few fiberglass rods but hopefully not cyclists.

  26. richard says:

    As a truck driver and bike user i think everyone just needs to show more consideration for each other. i believe tougher penilties for drivers causing accidents and mandatory jail for those killing people on the roads is what is needed before change will happen, i have noticed that since the horrible accident in morrinsville drivers seem to be giving cyclists more room and i know as a cyclyst that 1.5m is not really enough room on our roads . but i also know when im cycling as long as i obey the road rules and make clear indications i have never had any problems with drivers.

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