Tragedies such as the cyclist run over by a truck on a busy Auckland intersection last week bring calls for at least two possible solutions. One is to step up the construction of dedicated cycleways, the other is to make greater efforts to educate motorists and cyclists to share the road. Both solutions are sensible in themselves but, as one regular cyclist pointed out in the Herald yesterday, they can be contradictory. "Creating segregation between cars, bike lanes and pedestrians doesn't really help," said Bruce Walton, "as it reinforces [the idea] that bikes shouldn't be on the roads."
Cycling's advocates and other road users need to think about this issue as plans for cycleways are further advanced. The more drivers see cycling being separated from motor traffic, the less tolerant they may be of bikes sharing the road. The promoters of cycle paths and dedicated lanes need to consider carefully the prospects of providing an adequate network of cycleways and ask if such a network was provided, would cyclists use it?
The evidence on roads such as Tamaki Drive is that where a cycleway can be provided on one side of a footpath, many cyclists will still prefer the road. Opposite Kelly Tarlton's aquarium, traffic engineers have bowed to cyclists' preference and put the lane on the road.
A road is wider, smoother and, but for impatient motorists, more pleasant than a cycleway. Cyclists who ride for exercise in a bunch need the room the road provides and will use it regardless of designated bike lanes or alternative paths. But if road sharing is cycling's preference to cycleways, the risks have to be confronted.
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Improved tolerance from many motorists is needed, but it will not prevent all accidents. The cyclist killed last week appears to have come down Parnell Rise and turned left into Stanley St. The driver of the truck coming through the intersection on a green light didn't see him.
It is obviously tempting to take a left turn against the lights on a bicycle. Legally, a cyclist can simply dismount and take the corner on foot but why bother when you can so easily slip around on two wheels? Cycle Action Auckland cites an Auckland Transport planner's view that red-light running by cyclists was infrequent and safe because it was done on left-hand turns or to get a head start on other vehicles for safety.
This week, the Herald has started a series aimed at enhancing road safety, reducing the risk to cyclists, and improving relations between motorists and riders. It is clear more has to be done to raise awareness of the rights and responsibilities of both groups. We must abandon a "them and us" attitude.
Cycling is becoming increasingly popular for exercise and for daily commuting. Auckland, like other congested cities in the world, must make reasonable provision for it - and there are many off-road cycleways planned.
The Government's Transport Agency expects to complete an $11 million, 1.9km route from Upper Queen St through Spaghetti Junction by the end of this year. The first 300m section opened in July. Auckland Transport is designing a $2.5 million cycleway along Beach Rd.
But, as we have reported in recent days, cycling advocates and Auckland Transport are at loggerheads over the pace of change. The Auckland Chamber of Commerce chimed in yesterday, urging faster work. "Over the past five years there have been too many cycle deaths, showing a need for a change of attitudes and behaviour by cyclists and other road users and reinforcing the case for faster progress to build a safe and efficient transport network."
Part of that work needs to ensure riders will be willing to use alternative cycleways. And we are all responsible for ensuring we are tolerant towards one another on shared routes.