Today someone in a van full of workers threw egg at me, while I was cycling to work. He was a lousy tosser, and the egg ended up on the street. It was as I was waiting to turn right into Commerce St from Quay St.
I chased the van down, much to their surprise, and the driver stonewalled and denied everything. I suspect I could have got more empathy out of the rolled up carpet in the front seat next to him – it was pretty obvious that someone in the van had thrown the egg.
I didn’t call the police – there was no time, and is it worthwhile to call 111 for assault with an egg? I didn’t even get a photo of the van, but here are the eggy remains after I returned from chasing the van.
Last week somebody stole my bicycle – it was locked up right in front of the ATEED, NZTE and Callaghan office building – and taken while I was inside NZTE’s offices assisting them help a number of high growth companies.
I got a lot of kind offers to help, including from someone inside ATEED. But there is no video track record of the bike’s last movements and the chances of recovery are slender. Do look out for those copper pedals though – they are quite distinctive.
Yesterday I was riding our tricycle down a temporary short one-lane road by Victoria park – put in place for the Auckland marathon. The driver of this NZ Bus car, which I caught up to later, wasn’t content with waiting a few seconds and honked and honked from behind me, even though there was no place safe for me to go. The trike normally carries our wee baby – this time it was just a trolley’s worth of groceries at risk.
These NZ Bus cars, by the way, are constantly illegally parked in the bus lane on Victoria Street West, opposite the park. I’ve yet to see one ticketed.
The day before this numpty driving a truck decided to do a multipoint turn in the middle of Quay St during the pedestrian phase of the lights in a weekend that saw a cruise ship in town.
None of these incidents were reported officially. Our family has tried that before. The worst incident was where a woman driving a car deliberately went through a stop sign, hitting and almost killing my wife who was on a bicycle. The driver was not charged with anything, despite a traumatic visit to the police station and provision of plenty of evidence. While the woman who was driving made a mistake, it was one that almost resulted in death and the onus was on the police to handle this with the correct emphasis. They did not.
I see plenty of other bad behaviour when I’m on my motorcycle, driving my car or walking.
Riding a motorbike has long been accepted as a risky endeavour and we all know that riders need to be constantly vigilant. We know that drivers will turn on front of us, even deliberately try to move towards us, and the recent spate of distracted phone watching drivers are a nightmare to navigate. Motorcyclists can spot lousy and distracted drivers within a second or two – and so can the police. They are not fooling anyone, including themselves.
People in cars, meanwhile, are well protected by infrastructure that favours them and strong safety systems in cars. Have a crash an you will almost certainly walk away, at least at city speeds.
But there is no protection for people walking across intersections when drivers of cars or trucks choose to run the red lights. There is increasing but still little protection for cyclists, who have far greater exposure to be hit by those cars. There is no mandate for side-protection on trucks to prevent tragedies that result in death. The distracted driving rules still allow for touching phones – whereas in NSW the far more effective rule is that you can only do so when passing it to someone else.
What people do is driven by their values, and also to some extend by what they feel they can get away with. New Zealand has worked hard on changing the values associated with drink-driving, and backed it up with testing campaigns that are seen positively. However it’s still too easy to get away with distracted driving, red light running in Auckland (and really only Auckland) and driving dangerously near people cycling and walking.
And of course the few egg tossers are unaccountable for their actions.
I’m a big boy and able to cope with a lot, but we are talking here about potential and actual fatalities. We talking about children, babies (including ours), grandparents and commuters. We are talking about people walking to work, cycling in a new country and trying to get fit. It’s not funny to swoop near cyclists, to run red lights while tourists are crossing the street, to steal or to an egg tosser.
What can we do.
First – let’s keep installing infrastructure that separates vehicles and humans, and that encourages slower traffic. The shared spaces in Auckland are working extraordinarily well, and the physically separated bike lanes are encouraging a broad mix of people to add cycling to their mix of transport.
Secondly – let’s get serious about the magnitude of offences that are likely to cause fatalities and enforce them. Distracted driving in a downtown area feels, as a pedestrian or cyclist, a lot more dangerous than speeding, so why not elevate it to the level of dangerous driving?
Why not introduce the NSW rule about touching phones? Shouldn’t running red lights downtown with hundreds of pedestrians around be classified dangerous driving as well?
Shouldn’t we place the burden of guilt for injury of a person walking or cycling on the person driving the motor vehicle?
Thirdly – let’s use existing and new tools to change behaviour. Auckland is covered in connected cameras, and it should be relatively simply to turn on functionality that allows red light runners to be automatically caught, to review footage to follow up on egg tossers and dangerous drivers, and to provide that information to the Police.
Let’s also put in place processes where transport police are actively capturing evidence provided by members of the public over the internet – whether through a website or picked up from social media.
Finally let’s put in place processes to make sure that every incident results in an action, triaged by severity based on the level of hazard created. If this needs dedicated police then sobeit – but it will be a far more effective use of time than random driving.
We can do this. I was living in Melbourne when the introduction of speed cameras dropped the average speeds on major roads by 20-30 kph overnight. Nobody liked it, but less people died.
I am not advocating for a Police state – nor a constant citizen watch state. I am advocating for moving the needle so that we can reduce the most dangerous activities and help change behaviour before too many people die. We have a great opportunity to do this in downtown Auckland – so why not start there?