Let’s make downtown Auckland safe

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.

Taken bike

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.

Accountability

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?

About Lance Wiggs

@lancewiggs
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11 Responses to Let’s make downtown Auckland safe

  1. Patrick Kerr says:

    Lance, how come your emails don’t fit to the page? Hopefully you know how to change your settings. Have you sent the NZ Bus image to them? Also your 2nd image didn’t come out….
    Good luck with finding your bike.

    Patrick Kerr
    1/3 Birdwood Cres Parnell Auckland 1052
    M: +64 21 56 00 18
    E: Patrick.kerr@capitala5.com
    Skype: patrickk8888

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  2. Damian Funnell says:

    Good post Lance.

    I’ve also thought a lot about a start-up that develops inexpensive, movable smart cameras that could be attached to power poles and used to protect us from ourselves. How often is it that we see motorists (or cyclists) run a red light or speed down a bus lane during rush hour?

    It would be relatively easy to make these cameras smart enough to determine when someone has run a red light, when a car is speeding or even if the driver is on their mobile and to store video (and other information) accordingly.

    Councils and the Police would be able to buy, install and use these devices for a fraction of the cost of current fixed and mobile solutions, allowing them to deploy hundreds (or thousands) of them around cities the size of Auckland or Wellington.

    Unfortunately I doubt there would be sufficient political will to support such an initiative, as Kiwi’s would decry it as a revenue gathering exercise.

    I suspect we’ll have to wait for self-driving cars!

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    • rockcartel says:

      I like the idea of protect us from ourselves, but the cameras concern me. I don’t like my privacy slowly being eroded, I’ve read too much sci-fi to imagine where that will (is) taking us.
      I’d like to see penalties scale for repeat offenders, zero tolerance and a campaign advertising these.

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  3. Lindsey says:

    The NZ Bus vehicles outside Victoria Park are there because the Link buses change drivers there. The relief driver takes the car to the area by the bus stop, and when they change over, the other bus driver takes the car back to the depot. They won’t get ticketed there as it is part of the operation of the bus route.

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    • Lance Wiggs says:

      Their cars are not buses, and while buses are not the only vehicles that have the right to use that route (bikes can), I fail t see any signs or laws that allow any cars to park there. I am tired of exposing myself and my family to danger. The drivers resting in the cars have generally moved on when I point at the baby in the trike stuck behind them.

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    • rockcartel says:

      The idea of a transit lane is so vehicles are not stopped in it. So you are saying the process they have implemented routinely has a vehicle stopped in it?

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  4. Donald says:

    Lets make downtown great again. We need to build walls and Hamilton will pay for them.

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  5. Daniel says:

    I think you’ve accurately identified the crux of the matter here when you state: “What people do is driven by their values, and also to some extend by what they feel they can get away with.”.

    (I think it’s the same thing; what people feel they can get away with is driven by their values.)

    As a culture, I feel our values are slowly slipping.
    While we have people who misuse parking spaces reserved for disabled people, throw litter from their car windows, wear their pajamas to the store, leave their dog’s droppings on their neighbour’s lawn, etc., no amount of government initiative around cyclist and pedestrian safety will make much of a difference.
    Conversely, if we followed the golden rule and did unto others as we would have the do unto us, or even considered other better than ourselves, then we’d barely need anyone mandating and policing what we should or shouldn’t do.

    Your egg incident and bicycle theft really incensed me, especially on top of the fact that five of our fellow Aucklanders recently ram-raided my local superette. Not only did they steal what they were after, they went out of their way to trash the rest of the store.

    Some people are beyond indifferent, and are leaning further towards outright malice.

    Legislation may go some way to curbing the manifestations of our slipping values, but it goes no way towards restoring them.

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  6. Richard says:

    Great comments Lance and more support needs to come from the ‘man in the street’.

    Technology aside, perhaps simple promotion of the importance of courtesy in the community. Nothing soft and fluffy but clear, directed and personal. What might the personal cost be of unloading a tray of eggs on a cyclist? Why do you think you have the right to not use an indicator or park inconveniently? Or, and lets go way out on a limb here, what are the rules of the road (ref: Australian Road Safety TV campaign from the 60s/70s “So you think you’re a good driver”).

    Add a little bit of technology in the form of a spot, record and educate website to give the ‘man in the street’ a voice and who knows what positive social change could happen?

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