Lance Wiggs: Cycle safety needs to become a political issue

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The scene of an accident where a cyclist died after colliding with a truck. Photo / Richard Robinson
The scene of an accident where a cyclist died after colliding with a truck. Photo / Richard Robinson

On Tuesday I arrived very early on the scene of a cycle versus truck fatality in Auckland. 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.

For the family and friends of the deceased - utter devastation. For the witnesses, 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?

The accident was, like them all, 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 New Zealand 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 such as Transportblog.co.nz.

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. The cyclist in this case should have been able to turn from Parnell Rise into Stanley St while on a dedicated cycle lane, or should have had access to a completely separate network providing a safe and pleasant journey to his destination.

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 provide and widen cycle lanes, removing lanes of car traffic from Parnell Rise, removing carparks from Tamaki Drive (where another person was injured on Tuesday) 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 carparks 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.

Lance Wiggs is an independent consultant providing management, strategy, growth and valuation consulting to industrial, media and internet based businesses.

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- NZ Herald

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