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.