It's the ones I can't see that I worry about. It's an ugly feeling knowing that had I been a half a metre further to the right, or made the turn I was signalling a couple of seconds sooner, that I'd have been cleaned up, probably killed, by the recklessly speeding driver behind me. The shock sets in an hour, maybe even a day, later.
I suspect the poor man on a bike who was killed, allegedly by a drink driver, on Queen St on Saturday night never saw it coming. Maybe he heard something before the impact. That's often the best you can do, and I think people who ride in traffic with earbuds in are fools. Your ears are your eyes in the back of your head, you know.
The two or three times riding that I've felt my family was close to not having a dad were all like that: what might have been a stolen car suddenly swerving across into my lane, two commercial vehicles racing each other and crossing the centre line to go around me as I was turning, a similar situation when a car crossed double yellow lines. All in daylight, all on local roads where the speed limit was, in theory 50km/h.
Not all cycle accidents are the result of that kind of driver recklessness. Sometimes we – drivers and riders – just make mistakes. Ironically, one of the things I like about riding a bike is that when you're trying to not to screw up and to anticipate the other guy making a mistake (honestly, I probably knew you were going to make that bad turn before you did), you have to be fully present. There's no room in your head for that silly thing that's been bugging you when you're concentrating on not being dead.
But I've been riding regularly for years, even more often since I made the middle-age upgrade to an e-bike. That's not the case for everyone who's got on a bike in the past three or four years. It's quite a big ask for someone who's not confident or experienced to venture into traffic. And yet, we are: according to Auckland's Transport's 2018 Active Modes survey, 38 per cent of Aucklanders hop on a bike at least occasionally and one in four ride at least monthly.
It's a certainty those survey numbers will be up again this year, because we can already see it. I'm lucky enough to live near the northwestern cycleway, the magnificent (well, mostly) path that extends west from the central city. Cycle numbers on the route have been increasing about 20 per cent a year but this year they've jagged upwards. It looks like at least 25 per cent this year.
And it's the same everywhere there's a safe cycle route. Remember the stories about how the Nelson St cycleway was a failure because it hadn't hit its 10-year target in its first year of operation? That target has been reached – seven years ahead of schedule.
A safe cycle route isn't risk-free. Rush-hour on the northwestern gets a little hairy these days, and wherever you ride, you can still fall off, or, as Jesse Mulligan recently did, collide with a stationary object. But had it been a moving vehicle and not a wheelie bin that Jesse encountered, things would have been more serious. When we give people on bikes a protected space, we vastly lower the stakes of anyone's mistake.
That's why it's hard not to get angry when the usual suspects reflexively rail against every little bit of progress. There were supposed to be protected bike lanes near me on Meola Rd by now – a handy arterial where every parked car is a hazard forcing riders out in front of any cars coming up behind them – but that plan was "paused" after the Occupy Garnet Rd protesters spooked AT.
New design for Harbour Bridge shared path announced
There was an accident that didn't make headlines last week on Surrey Cres, at the centre of the "bikelash" against protected lanes. It involved a bike, but in this case it wasn't being ridden. A mother and son were using the pedestrian crossing by Grey Lynn school, him walking his bike, and a car ploughed into them. The same, painfully delayed safety plan would turn that crossing into a raised table with build-outs to slow traffic. Maybe a mother wouldn't have been in hospital if that was there last week.
There are all kinds of community advantages to riding and among them is that it makes us better drivers. It's easier to see vulnerable road users when you've been one. It makes more sense to drive slower when you know how unnerving it is to have a double-cab ute roar past on a narrow street.
There's also the personal joy. If you haven't glided home under the warm sodium lights of the northwestern after a night in town, you haven't lived. So let's, as a matter of urgency, pay attention to what the numbers say and make it so more people do live to enjoy that peaceful, easy feeling.