Confronting death

Today I arrived very early on the scene of a cycle versus truck fatality in Auckland today. The sight of a person lying motionless in the street with mangled bicycle in the background is chilling enough. The sounds of grief-stricken people comforting each other, the shock on the face of the woman in the car stuck in full view of the scene, the general feeling of despair – these things are not easy to portray. All of us were changed today.

For the family and friends of the deceased – utter devastation. For the witnesses who saw the event happen, that event will replay for years. For the police, ambulance and other emergency staff – another brutally tough day. I don’t know how they cope.

What can we do?

Today’s accident was, like all accidents, preventable. Like all accidents the root and contributing causes of the accident will be varied and troublesome, but are also able to be eliminated. However like all cycle accidents in NZ they likely won’t be, and we should all be very angry and upset about this.

Most of the causes of this and other accidents are fairly obvious, and have been observed time and again by cycling and safety advocates. They come down to one core goal, to seek to limit human-vehicle interactions:

  • That means physically separating trucks and cars from cyclists, and cyclists from pedestrians, through a system of bike and pedestrian paths that criss-cross cities and form commuter routes. This increases bike use, boosts the retail economy and reduces motorised traffic, reducing associated infrastructure costs as well.
  • It means investing serious dollars into this human-scale infrastructure, and rather happily this also creates a lot more jobs per dollar than truck-scale infrastructure.
  • It means putting in place short term solutions immediately, such as smart use of painted lanes to widen cycle lanes, removing lanes of car traffic from Parnell Rise, removing car parks from Tamaki Drive (where a person was injured today) and laws which increase the incentive to give cyclists their space.
  • It means accelerating and building from the liveable city changes that have already happened in Auckland, removing car parks in favour of wide boulevard footpaths, bike lanes and multi-use zones. If it works for New York’s economy and people, it can work better here with our weather.
  • It needs a Mayor and Council and transport authorities and ministers to lead, and to take responsibility for just making changes happen.
  • And it also means asking seriously why we needed the truck there in the first place – and that goes back to whether we even want a working port in downtown Auckland. 

It’s an election year, and this is a great time for all parties and candidates to take a tough stand. Cycling and work safety are not Green, Red, Blue or other party-affiliated issues, but ones that offer benefits across the board. Improving cycling safety and work safety generates more retail and manufacturing revenue, saves on medical expenses, prolongs lives, saves money for individuals and families and delivers better environmental outcomes. It’s cheaper than building roads and rail, and will make it far safer for our children to walk and cycle to school. It seems obvious, and will attract a decent number of voters looking for a better life.

It’s a great time for us voters to ask the candidates and existing MPs what they are doing about safety on the streets and work, but we also need to ask and apply pressure to the recently elected mayors and councillors to follow through on their promises. I am particularly concerned with Auckland and Wellington mayors and councils, who have delivered little for cyclists on a mandate of change. Too many people are dead and I think we would all like to see a genuine sense of urgency before more people die.

About Lance Wiggs

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31 Responses to Confronting death

  1. davidinnz says:

    Yes, it is very sad that a man has died. But I think that you have gone overboard in your waving the flag for cycling, based on what, in all probability, was the cyclists’ own doing. Trucks cannot accelerate fast, cannot corner fast and cannot brake fast. If a bicycle is in the path of a truck, it is the fault of the cyclist (who, generalising commuter cyclists, treat traffic lights and other road rules with contempt).

    In the same way that sailing dingies keep clear of container ships, bicycles, skateboards and motorbikes need to avoid trucks.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      Nope. Not reasonable versus my experience on the road on bikes and motorbikes.
      The road conditions were not safe for the bike rider and blaming one party is not acceptable. It’s too soon to comment on how it occurred.
      They should never have been placed in a situation where the interaction could occur.

      • Interestingly, maritime rules require powered craft to give way to sailboats.

        The best possible thing, as Lance Wiggs says, is for cyclists to be physically separated from motorised traffic, especially trucks and buses. This has been proven in the Netherlands where the roads were lethal for cyclists, particularly children, until proper cycling infrastructure was put in place; it’s now the safest place in the world to cycle. Where cycle-paths intersect with roads, cycles have right of way.

        There’s a quick historical summary here:

      • Chris Newson says:

        I fail to see how the road conditions affected the bike rider. I work in the area and have seen many bikes, cars and trucks fly around the corner regardless of the colour of the lights. And as we know, the truck driver who was coming straight through the intersection was on the green light – meaning the cyclist did not have a green light.

        As dangerous as it is to cycle and drive in the city, silly risks like running reds should never be taken. I feel nothing but sympathy for the cyclists family and friends, but clearly one party was to blame – and it wasn’t the truck driver.

    • If large trucks are as dangerous, and are as incapable of responding to road hazards that are typical of an urban environment as you say, then you make a very good case for deincentivising their use for transporting containerised and heavy freight.

      • davidinnz says:

        It is very easy to criticise something (eg “trucks are too big and dangerous”, or “the container port is in the wrong place”). But to have anyone take you seriously, you need to offer a constructive and practical and affordable alternative.

        I agree that separate cycle paths would make cycling safer. But it is a question of cost and space. Cyclists, like train passengers, seem to expect to get their infrastructure paid for by ratepayers.

        There is a partial solution. It is not here yet. But within the next decade I think we will start to see driverless trucks (and taxis and buses). They will have better vision, better reactions, better warning systems and even pre-inflated air bags when they detect a collision is unavoidable. But it won’t avert the need for vigilance on the part of cyclists, because some vehicles will still have human drivers.

        • Su Yin says:

          “Cyclists, like train passengers, seem to expect to get their infrastructure paid for by ratepayers. ”
          Cyclists and train passengers are ratepayers.

    • Far out, Davdiinnz, I’m sorry, but you just plain suck. Clearly you’ve never ridden a bicycle in urban traffic.

    • Now that I’m no longer as frustrated with your callous lack of sympathy for a very unfortunate situation (regardless of fault), and your unfounded sense of entitlement, I’ll be more constructive by suggesting you dispel a few of your (and those of most motorists-who-don’t-cycle) misconceptions by reading this:

    • Rob King says:

      “generalising commuter cyclists, treat traffic lights and other road rules with contempt”

      Utter bullshit.

      Of the dozens of commuter cyclists I ride with every day, I see maybe ONE do this. And I can assure you they are treated with contempt by all the others.

  2. When the mindset is as per demonstrated in the comment above, it’s difficult to achieve change. Unfortunately, I know that those who can make decisions for Auckland hold similar views. However, the solution is not to give up pushing for solutions to be implemented but to carry on advocating for them. Great article. Thanks you!

  3. Pingback: We Are Treating it Very Seriously |

  4. Rose Ryan says:

    I totally agree with your comment about the need for dedicated cycle lanes. In my 20s I was a keen cyclist, but as I have got older I have got much more cautious. In Wellington, my cycling was very much limited to the recreational, and I was too scared to ride to work because of the traffic and aggressive drivers. Six months ago I moved to Sydney – and I cycle here more than I ever have done in the past because of the plethora of cycle lanes. If I can feel safe cycling here in Sydney because the infrastructure is there to keep cyclists safe, then its a bit absurd that it can’t be done in NZ.

  5. Winn Renison says:

    Go to ” get cyclists off the summit road” facebook page and youll see how wrong you are. Let them pay ruc, tax, licence, fines and rego …. For the bike NOT the car in the garage …. Then let them loose on the streets ……

    • LennyBoy says:

      Complete red herring; people who cycle already pay sufficient rates, taxes and ACC for the meagre provision for cycling in NZ; see

    • Rob King says:

      I pay all of that and still ride my bike.

      • Winn Renison says:

        You do NOT pay that on your bike …. You also do not have a number plate or identifier on your bike IF / Should you drive like an idiot to report you to police ….

    • taffyjonah says:

      Oh dear Winn… Cyclists do have rules to obey, as all road users do – it’s called the road code. The same old “cyclists do this and that” argument takes us nowhere fast. All road users need to show leadership, and we all need to consider our actions before we perform a manoeuvre in a car, on a bike or walking.

      The metric that most car drivers use that because they have the biggest and fastest vehicle gives them more rights is just false. Globally there is a movement away from motorised vehicles as a form of transport. NZ needs to cut the apron strings to the car-centric mindset.

      Interesting checking out your Facebook group – mainly young, skank smoking, drifting, “car enthusiasts” that seem to like using the Summit Road as their own playground. Perhaps as an elder statesmen there you could show some leadership to the group before more people get killed.

  6. aspielawyer says:

    And allowing bikes on the trains. I am not a cyclist, but these needless deaths are pissing me off. As a driver I am careful about bikes, but sometimes they try to provoke motorists. However, that is not a reason to play with their lives in return.

  7. Recognise that most cyclists are motorists, too (I own 2 cars, but cycle commute daily by choice). I understand the motorist perspective because I am one, but many motorists (who don’t cycle) have no useful perspective on cycling – their jingoistic generalisation of the odd bad cycling behaviour is simplistic in the extreme – they are inevitably inconsistent in applying similar generalisations to motorists. Remember: the bad cyclists you see (they stand out because there are so few cyclists in general) are just as bad drivers. I’d rather their impact was minimised by being on bikes where it’s their safety at stake rather than that of innocent cyclists and motorists (which would be the case when they’re behind the wheel).

    There’s a solution to this impasse: the police must *actively enforce the road rules* for ALL road users. At present they don’t at all – they only attempt to enforce speed. Many road users (in cars, trucks, on bikes, etc.) brazenly flout the road rules. They fail to adhere either for their own convenience, out of laziness or ignorance. Their callous disregard is an unacceptable imposition on all road users (and a breach of the social contract, but that’s another issue). If they were held to account, our abhorent road culture would soon change. All road users need to demand traffic policing that enforces the road rules.

  8. Sean Arnold says:

    I’m not fully aware of the area where the accident happened but what changes could have been made to prevent this? It sounds to me from what I’ve read that the cyclist turned infront of the truck. It sounds like human error more than anything. Unfortunate as it is there will forever be accidents, and people will die. In this case a cyclist will always come out worse off than a truck. Could we realistically make changes that would have prevented this accident 100%?

    Forgive me if I sound ignorant as I have no knowledge of the area. Work does have to be done because in general NZ roads are a mess, but I do wonder whether an accident like this could have been prevented through infrastructure changes, or it was a case of human error.

    • Lance Wiggs says:

      The short answer is yes – several things could be done. Three answers in this case:
      1: Traffic calming mechanisms and lane reduction to slow the speed of traffic descending the hill. This would lower the incentive for cyclists and cars to build up speed and try to make the lights”. This could be done with paint initially.
      2: A completely separate bike lane all of the way down Parnell Rise and another up The Strand/Stanley Street. In this circumstance the lights would have no meaning and the cyclist could have continued safely. This could be done with paint and plant boxes initially.
      3: An alternative and physically separated, often isolated, route for cyclists that removes them from the area and provides safe and pleasant ways to get from A to B, for the most popular As and Bs. This is the correct approach.

      The key to removing hazards is to think how we might remove the possibility of the incident ever happening again. It generally comes back to the design of the work, area or in this case road.

  9. George Webb says:

    I feel very sad for the the family of the deceased and the truck driver. No one ever wants to see people get killed. Please be careful out there, no matter what type of road user you are.

  10. My wife and I arrived shortly after this terrible incident and share your grief, despair, anger and empathy with the family and friends of the deceased. This morning we laid a bunch of flowers on our way to work, me still on my bicycle, but increasingly nervous about having to confront the ridiculous lack of provision for cyclists. Some of the comments here appear to reflect the entitled ‘we own the road’ attitude of anyone that has more than two wheels. For a progressive country, the lack of cycle lanes in central Auckland is a disgrace and this poor man’s death was sadly inevitable. ‘There but for the grace of God.’ Thoughts and prayers go out to the man’s family.

  11. I work about 500m from the accident site and commute by bicycle (30 years experience) or motorbike. I NEVER ride my bicycle through that intersection or along Stanley street as the road is, IMO, hazardous to bicycles as there is a large and fast moving traffic volume and insufficient room for bicycles, particularly with all the large trucks. Instead I cut through Carlaw park road and ride up the foot path to get to the Grafton cycle lane. At this stage the public don’t know exactly how the accident happened. Did the cyclist get clipped or lose control and go under the truck (which would implicate poor road design), or did they do something risky like run a red light? There is a new cycleway under construction going down Grafton Gully, exiting at Beach road which will give a safe(r) route to the eastern waterfront area, due for completion in April 2014 I can’t wait…

  12. davidinnz says:

    Skateboards, roller-blades, Segways, mobility scooters, joggers… Will each of these require their own lane, too? Or are they prepared to share? And give way to each other, as needed?

  13. Ben Thomas says:

    A novel answer would be for road users to observe red lights.

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  15. Mel Rowsell says:

    Oh man Lance, that sucks. Sending you some positive vibes and wishing you a good night’s sleep after what must have been a pretty shit day for you, not to mention the loved ones of the poor cyclist.

  16. sudster5 says:

    I recently started cycling to work as my car needed a repair that would leave me without a car for two weeks. I am a surgical doctor that deals with trauma on a daily basis so I am very familiar with what happens when it all goes wrong. Having swapped to suddenly cycling in Auckland from being a motorist was an incredible eye opener to me. Motor vehicles are largely tolerant but it only takes one angry irresponsible person behind the wheel to cause serious harm to cyclists. Auckland’s infrastructure I have to say is simply not designed to accommodate the urban cyclist safely. We are supposedly a developed country with a clean green image (we like to portray internationally anyway), but countries like the Netherlands and even New York dwarf our cycling infrastructure. Time for change New Zealand.

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