What if you knew how to stop cycling deaths. Would you do anything?

Last April Auckland Transport received a report they had commissioned on Why do Cyclists run red lights?

A decommissioning the report was an excellent move by Auckland Transport.

Sadly the report is only available as a powerpoint presentation, but what we can see is excellent. They observed over 22,000 vehicle, pedestrian and cyclist movements across five key Auckland intersections and also interviewed cyclists.

What they found is that cyclists run red lights largely due to safety reasons, and most infractions are during the pedestrian phase of the lights (they call this the Barnes dance).

The yellow part of the charts below are cyclists crossing with pedestrians – an activity which I classify as safe if done with consideration and at the speed of the pedestrians. I, like it seems the cyclists surveyed, see this as often a lot safer than crossing with the cars, and it also helps motorists as it gets the people on bicycles out of the way.

Unfortunately this is not legal under current NZ law, and nor is it legal to ride on the footpath. The only legal thing to do is to walk the bike across.

The cyclists’ comments shown in the report are all about safety.

The report concluded that road conditions were such that cyclists have to choose between safety and being legal, and often (and correctly) chose safety. They authors suggested that we must fix this, and came up with four simple, cheap and effective recommendations.

So how have we done with those recommendations in the 9 months since the report was received? Sadly from what I can see – very little or nothing has changed. I stand to be corrected on this, and would welcome any evidence to the contrary. Let’s not be too hasty in pointing the finger at Auckland Transport either, as they have done some great work here, but most likely need more political clout and resolve to make this happen quickly.

Number 1: Sadly I don’t know of any cyclist-first intersections in downtown Auckland.

Number 2: The law still prevents safely turning left on a red light for cyclists.

Number 3: The law still prevents cyclists from legally crossing with pedestrians.

Number 4: I know of no changes to sensor locations or sensitivity. This is the hardest to evaluate and may well have happened, to be fair. It’s under Auckland Transport’s direct control and is the most likely to have changed. But I’m not seeing it so:

Two of the four, lights to clear cyclists and improve cyclist detection, are under the control of Auckland Transport (as far as I can tell).

The other two will likely require changes to national road rules, to allow cyclists to turn left, and to allow cyclists to cross with pedestrians at lights.  That’s up to the Ministry of Transport and NZTA and the national Government.

The proposed solutions are clear, cheap and high impact. Let’s do what we can to help Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and the government to prioritise these.

Published by Lance Wiggs


18 replies on “What if you knew how to stop cycling deaths. Would you do anything?”

  1. The only time I ride through a red light is a crossing of a road in Chch where the sensor does not trigger for cyclists (I even circle around to ride over the car sensor, but it’s not calibrated sensitively enough) – if I ride at a time with low car traffic and no car is waiting with me (thereby triggering the sensor) I don’t get a green cycle in the lights, and the only way I can get across the intersection is to ride through the red (although this is at low traffic times, and I can do this without any nearby vehicles). This is an issue of road construction and it must be remedied by NZTA or the local authorities responsible for the traffic signals.


    1. i set my wheels rite on top of the sensor strips that way it will trigger the sensor. It works for me every time unless you have carbon wheels on your bike which most times or not at all trigger the sensor.


  2. I also have the same problem – the lights stay red if you’re a cyclist, even if you ride over the sensors. I know other cyclists have the same problem. Your only choice is to ride on the pavement or run the red. It seems odd that the road system is designed like this, that they are forced to break the road law. I would like to presume either this is incompetence or the red lights don’t apply to cyclists.

    I’ve been hit by a car behind me after starting off from a red light, he just drove through me as if I wasn’t there. I’ve had a number of near misses as I’m sure most cyclists have. Getting off earlier than the traffic if possible or going with the pedestrians is again the only sure way to at least have some control over your own safety.


  3. The answer is relatively straight forward, it’s the acceptability of the solution to the motoring public and politicians that’s the problem. Essentially, without significant investment in infrastructure to separate cars from bikes the only way to stop cycling death’s is to adopt a European approach to the issue where legal liability for any bike v car accident lies automatically with the driver and it is their responsibility to prove fault lies with the cyclist if this is the case.
    See this blog

    comparing the death of a school boy in the US versus a similar incident in the Netherlands.

    The issue I don’t get with the motorist side of the car v bike debate is that while both sides point the finger at each other, only one side (cyclist) is the answer to the problem. If more people rode bikes, there would be less cars on the road which means less congestion. This is encapsulated by the expression “I am stuck in traffic” no, you ARE traffic. I drive to work most days because my job requires me to have access to a vehicle, I am in sales and need to make customer visits. Every school holidays I enjoy the lack of traffic in the morning, sure there are many parents taking leave to be with their children but the primary reason for the reduction in vehicles on the road is the fact that kids are not being dropped off at school. Imagine a world where we could let our son’s and daughter’s (mine’s 7 and he loves his bike) ride to school every day safely. Most motorists/parents when asked why they don’t let their kids ride to school won’t say its because they fear peloton’s of nine year old’s running red lights and causing traffic chaos. They will say its because the roads are too dangerous, and that danger is solely down to the poor skills and attitudes of their fellow motorists.


  4. Just as a clarification – this wasn’t commissioned by Auckland Transport, it was a presentation that Mr Newcombe gave at a transport conference, on the research he’d done himself.
    However, he did raise some excellent points and hopefully Auckland Transport and NZTA look into them a bit further.


  5. I fully agree with rec’s 1,3 and 4 but I’m not convinced by the recommendation to allow cyclists to turn left at red lights. Yes this separates cyclists from other cars turning left but it allows them to join with other traffic and (as noted in the slides) may lead to an increase in collisions with pedestrians. I’d prefer the status quo where cyclists may choose to turn left against the red light but must stop and look and be sure that the way is safe as they are technically breaking the law.


  6. Hi Lance. I haven’t read any of the other comments and this may have been suggested, but it struck me that a simple solution to the matter of cyclists running red lights (illegally) would be for the traffic lights to be re-programmed to introduce an amber-before-green option. This would allow cyclists (only) to proceed and thus clear the intersection before cars, trucks, buses etc. were allowed to proceed when the lights turn green (maybe 5 or so seconds later). No engineering needed, no new equipment just a few lines of programming. Do-able? http://kutarere.com/2014/01/13/bikes-vs-cars-and-other-driving-things/


  7. Excellent work in promoting this (already tabled) report. Obviously (& ironically) the accident rate would be much higher if cyclists don’t run red lights. That is a catch 22.

    I doubt that we will ever see anything like the roundabout in this Dutch post http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/spectacular-new-floating-cycle-roundabout/ but it is another way of solving the major intersection dramas. What is not readily apparent is that if cycling you can head clockwise or anti-clockwise depending on the most direct route to your exit.

    People will argue about the costs ( of roundabout) but there is another post over here – http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024324/terminal-velocity/a-brief-history-of-bike-superhighways#7
    which includes a series of stories on bike “superhighways”. What caught my eye there was the closing paragraph about a cycle project in Copenhagen.

    “Yet even though each mile of Copenhagen’s superhighway will cost the city in the ballpark of $1 million, it will save the health care system an estimated $60 million a year. Officials have estimated that 15,000 people will ultimately switch from driving to biking on Copenhagen’s superhighway, saving gas, reducing car congestion, and improving people’s health along the way.”

    The trade-off between special cycling pathways and the health system is one that should be investigated.


    1. And if someone speeds, talks or texts while driving, jaywalks, pays tax late, gets drunk, doesn’t vote then do they also deserve to die? I’m sure you don’t mean that people who make mistakes or break rules deserve to die but that exactly what you are proposing. What people, on bicycles or not, deserve is an environment that is safe and pleasant.


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