Ten days on two wheels

By Martin Johnston, Mathew Dearnaley

As rush-hour traffic slows to a crawl, hopping on a bike looks more attractive - except for the constant risk to life and limb. Weekend Herald reporter Martin Johnston strapped a camera to his helmet to compile a video diary of the obstacles cyclists face while transport reporter Mathew Dearnaley asks officials what they plan to do about them


Mean streets

On my first day as a commuting cycle cameraman, a car slices far too close to my right leg.

The 10 days of filming are scattered with events like this, that have become all-too-ordinary: a couple of car-door incidents, an earful of abuse and a smattering of dawdling pedestrians.

But strapping on the cams somehow forces me to ride with new eyes, resetting my intolerance for dodgy driving and bad road design.

My normal workday route takes me along the lovely, safe cycleway beside the Northwestern Motorway, but I throw in a few additional road rides to sample the risks posed to cyclists in the ring of suburbs from Pt Chevalier to Mt Roskill.

Friday, April 12: Day one as bike-cam-man has me pedalling along Great North Rd from the lights at St Lukes Rd towards Chinamans Hill and Grey Lynn.

I'm uncertain as I approach the nasty pinch-point of the Bullock Track intersection. Should I stay in the narrow, left-turning lane and get awkwardly stuck inside turning cars, or ride fast on the white dividing line between the two lanes.

I choose the latter. The traffic is light. As I near the ill-placed Bullock Track traffic island, which forces me to move right, a car zooms past on my right with what feels like little more than half a metre's clearance, although I'm measuring the distance only by my instinctive reactions. I'm frightened and swear to myself.

Sunday, April 14: Sundays are usually an easy ride because of the light traffic. Not today though. A festival at Mt Albert's Rocket Park makes my choice of route, New North Rd, a bad one. The left lane is jammed with parked cars and the right is halted by a car trying to park. It's an obstacle course. I manoeuvre, wobbling at slow speed, around the blockage.

The traffic thins out for the climb to Kingsland, fortunately, because a parked car's door swings open just as I come alongside the vehicle. I get a hell of a fright because I hadn't seen the driver in the car, although I am probably in no danger as the parking lane is wide, so I'm well away from the door and there are no cars coming from behind as I swerve slightly to the right. "Oi! Watch out," I call to the driver as I ride past.

"F*** off," she yells back.

Thursday, April 18: Dominion Rd at 8.30 on a Thursday evening is surprisingly busy. I swing wide around parking cars and bumpy old stormwater grilles that stick out into the cycle lane.

I stop for the right-turn red light at Balmoral Rd. I feel vulnerable from behind and keep checking my tail light is flashing its bright red warning.

The traffic lights don't recognise bikes - an intensely frustrating fault of many traffic signals at night - so I nip over to the pedestrian crossing to wait for the green man.

On Balmoral Rd, I pedal hard to speed ahead of the next group of cars, currently held up at the lights. I detest this piece of road. The left lane - which is no-parking - is too narrow and the threat of cars from behind keeps you riding too close to the stormwater grates.

Friday, April 19: Upper Queen St, 5.30pm. I'm grinding up the steep bridge over the motorways to turn right into Ian McKinnon Drive.

This intersection is dangerous for cyclists, which is ridiculous considering it's the start and finish of the Northwestern Cycleway. I'm going so slowly I have to use the left-turn lane, which will annoy left-turning car drivers.

I cross the intersection and hover out of the way, until all the cars are through, then make my dash before the orange light, only to have a pedestrian leap out illegally in front of me. I glare, pointlessly.

Monday, April 22: It's 11.45am and I'm in Pitt St heading to work and turn right into Vincent St, behind a bus. The bus pulls to the left and stops. I pass it, in the left lane. A pedestrian, head down, ambles across from the right. I glance behind, no cars, and swerve around him and into the right lane, giving him an "oi, look out" - with my bell - but there's no reaction. He's in the pedestrian crossing of his mind, where there are no bikes.


52 - my age
44 - years cycling
2 - moderately serious crashes
7.5km - distance from work

The dangers

• About 10 cyclists die every year in crashes with cars and other vehicles on public roads.

• Cyclists suffered 171 serious and 623 minor injuries after collisions with cars in the 12 months to October 31.

• In January, Ironman entrant Glen Cornwell needed back surgery after his bike was hit from behind when he was riding in the Waitakere Ranges.

• In February, another Ironman entrant, Alasdair Slade, 49, gave a ute driver the finger for driving too close to him near Taupo. The driver allegedly turned back and pushed him off his bike, causing pelvic injuries and a broken collarbone.

• Last month, Auckland mother-of-two Jane Farrelly, 50, died after she was knocked off her bike and under a passing truck near Taupo.


Spokes in the safety wheel

Auckland Transport promises a full investigation of safety shortcomings in its patchwork of often-disjointed cycling routes through 275km of the Super City.

It has begun preparing the self-described deficiency audit with Cycle Action Auckland, which claims the partly-completed network, inherited from the city's various councils, is full of pitfalls for growing numbers of cyclists.

"Cycle lanes generally stop short of intersections, which is where cyclists most need them, or they are narrowed to form pinch-points where the councils decided roadside parking was more important," group chairwoman Barbara Cuthbert said in response to findings from the Herald's cycling video diary, which held no surprises for her. "We are not blaming Auckland Transport, because they have inherited a legacy of really bad pragmatic decision-making, but we need to go back to first principles. What's on the ground is unsafe, we need to fix this fast."

A map of a proposed 1000km network purported to be 28 per cent complete looked like "a two-year-old has gone and striped lines right across the region," she says.

Although Auckland Transport recorded 86,233 cycling movements across nine automatically monitored sites in March - a 16.3 per cent increase from a year earlier - and a 24.1 per cent rise during the 7am-9am morning commuting period, Cuthbert says only 21 per cent of people surveyed by the organisation believed it was safe to ride in the city.

Traffic operations manager Randhir Karma confirmed it had begun a "deficiency audit" so it could prioritise safety improvements to existing cycle lanes while continuing to extend the network and fill in gaps between disjointed sections.

Some "quick wins" were likely to include attention to stormwater drains obstructing cycle lanes - a safety threat identified in the video diary - and Auckland Transport was already involved with Cuthbert's group in designing improvements to intersections along New North Rd.

That was likely to include removing some parking bays on the "downstream" sides of intersections, where cyclists taking off on green lights risked being squeezed by traffic in the competition for limited space.

Auckland Transport walking and cycling programme manager Melanie Alexander said it was also planning a joint project with the Auckland Motorway Alliance on improving cycling safety around motorway interchanges. Although her organisation has only $30 million for walking and cycling improvements over the next three years from an overall capital works budget of $1.8 billion, the Government agency is spending $10 million on a 1.9km extension of the North-western Cycleway through Grafton Gully, which it has started building with an aim for completion by about this time next year.

It has allocated $8 million to AT to connect the Southwestern Cycleway to the Northwestern at Waterview, as a condition of its tunnels project. The council is adding $2.6 million for work on the link over the next three years.

- NZ Herald

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