What if you knew how to stop cycling deaths. Would you do anything?

Lance Wiggs

Last April Auckland Transport received a report they had commissioned on Why do Cyclists run red lights?

A decommissioning the report was an excellent move by Auckland Transport.

Sadly the report is only available as a powerpoint presentation, but what we can see is excellent. 

They observed over 22,000 vehicle, pedestrian and cyclist movements across five key Auckland intersections and also interviewed cyclists.

What they found is that cyclists run red lights largely due to safety reasons, and most infractions are during the pedestrian phase of the lights (they call this the Barnes dance).


 

The yellow part of the charts below are cyclists crossing with pedestrians – an activity which I classify as safe if done with consideration and at the speed of the pedestrians. I, like it seems the cyclists surveyed, see this as often a lot safer than crossing with the cars, and it also helps motorists as it gets the people on bicycles out of the way.

Unfortunately this is not legal under current NZ law, and nor is it legal to ride on the footpath. The only legal thing to do is to walk the bike across.

The cyclists’ comments shown in the report are all about safety.

The report concluded that road conditions were such that cyclists have to choose between safety and being legal, and often (and correctly) chose safety. They authors suggested that we must fix this, and came up with four simple, cheap and effective recommendations.

So how have we done with those recommendations in the 9 months since the report was received? Sadly from what I can see – very little or nothing has changed. I stand to be corrected on this, and would welcome any evidence to the contrary. Let’s not be too hasty in pointing the finger at Auckland Transport either, as they have done some great work here, but most likely need more political clout and resolve to make this happen quickly.

Number 1: Sadly I don’t know of any cyclist-first intersections in downtown Auckland.

Number 2: The law still prevents safely turning left on a red light for cyclists.

Number 3: The law still prevents cyclists from legally crossing with pedestrians.

Number 4: I know of no changes to sensor locations or sensitivity. This is the hardest to evaluate and may well have happened, to be fair. It’s under Auckland Transport’s direct control and is the most likely to have changed. But I’m not seeing it so:

Two of the four, lights to clear cyclists and improve cyclist detection, are under the control of Auckland Transport (as far as I can tell).

The other two will likely require changes to national road rules, to allow cyclists to turn left, and to allow cyclists to cross with pedestrians at lights.  That’s up to the Ministry of Transport and NZTA and the national Government.

The proposed solutions are clear, cheap and high impact. Let’s do what we can to help Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and the government to prioritise these.

Entrepreneur Lance Wiggs posts at LanceWiggs.com.

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21 Comments & Questions

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The recommendations were not implemented because they are stupid! If Wiggs thought through the feasibility of each one of the 4 recommendations, he may begin to understand how problematic the solution so called becomes. If you treat only the symptoms the disease is still there! There are enough road rules for both cars and cyclists to both safely use the roads. Nearly all of the cyclist deaths on the road can be attributed to the cyclist poor decision making!

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That's a big statement. Do you have a report that supports that?

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The recommended solutions simply introduce new dangers. Free turn on red....straight into the path of main stream traffic. Tom C is right,....the solutions are not solutions.

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Way to go with the generalised statements... I'm sure you are well read and will know that actually, cyclists are responsible for only 25% of the accidents they are in.

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Sorry Tom you're wrong. Most cyclist deaths are caused by drivers breaking the law - especially the one about failing to stop within the clear distance of road ahead. "Didn't see the bike" is not an excuse. It is caused by drivers looking only for other cars. If we had more people riding this would be less of a problem.
The recommendations are all good ones but AT is obviously not interested in cyclists' lives. The fact that some of these recommendations have been implemented elsewhere is confirmation - eg. Just go to Hamilton where they have bike lanes sealed in green with a green box at intersections ahead of where cars stop. Cyclists line up in the box and when the lights turn green they go first. It would cause much driver exasperation in Auckland as they would be held up for at least, gee let's see, say five seconds, so that's why that one won't come north.
Keep up the good work Lance and NBR. This whole area needs ongoing questioning and discussion.

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How many cyclists have been killed going through an intersection legally. If none or few then what will the suggested changes achieve in terms of number of deaths as the headline suggests. I would have thought the run the red going left would increase the number of deaths. Cyclists would probably not check if it was safe.

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I cannot agree with the statement that bikes running red lights do so for safety, the fatality on Stanley Street would corroborate my position

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Did you ask any pedestrians before stating that cyclists crossing with pedestrians is safe? I know that you clarified this by saying "if done with consideration and at the speed of the pedestrians" but since when was any cyclist on the road considerate or crossed at the speed of pedestrians?

As a pedestrian who has now been hit by three red-light running cyclists when crossing at lights (and the last one so hard that the carbon fibre of the bike broke the bike into two - luckily also breaking the cyclists leg so that he can no longer terrorise the roads); I say that these menaces need to be stopped and separated from pedestrians far more than they are already. Make cyclists register their bikes and display a number plate - at least then there may be some comeback to make our pavements and crossings safe from the menace of cyclists.

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In Melbourne there is a 50 km stretch of road running down the coastline of Port Phillip Bay that brings out 10,000 cyclists every Saturday and Sunday. Wall-to-Wall cyclists. They occupy the entire left-hand lane. You should see them. 90% of the idiots wear black-lycra. They rarely travel in single file. Often there are 4 abreast. If one of them is wearing while or yellow-lycra, you can guarantee the one in the light colour will be on the inside and the ones in black on the outside. Very difficult to see even on a bright sunny day. You would be lucky to come across one in 1000 wearing hi-visibility flouro gear.

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You're saying that you can't see a person wearing black?

If your eyesight is that bad, you shouldn't be driving.

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Anon, you are being silly. A small profile in black with sunstrike is very hard to see. Think.

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Some of these comments are absurd. The name calling and "us and them" mentality is childish and reeks of bigotry. Somehow if a person puts on lycra and decides to enjoy a day of exercise and fresh air on their bicycle, they become no longer human. Some weird group of people who look different and should be mocked? Grow up. Cyclists are your neighbours who also own cars. We all pay the same taxes and drive just like everyone else.

Cyclists running red lights is a non-issue (aside from irritating drivers who shouldn't be concerned as it doesn't inconvenience them one bit). No sane cyclist will cross an intersection when unsafe-they know they will ALWAYS come out on the loosing end when crashing with a vehicle.

More of the issue is speeds on open roads with little or no shoulder. Cyclists shouldn't ride two abreast, but riding in groups has become self defence. A school of small fish swim together to create a more intimidating presence. Same with cyclists. A solo or small group of cyclists does the same. As a vulnerable user of the road, we need to make our presence 'felt' and sometimes this means being a slight annoyance causing a driver to slow as they pass. There is no disrespect meant, but I will always choose to be seen as a slight annoyance as long as it means I'll be SEEN. It's much better than being dead.

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Cyclists running red lights is only a non-issue if you want to ignore the fact that pedestrians have a very short amount of time to cross already and that having to dodge fast moving bikes isn't the easiest thing to do when you are halfway across the road and focused on making it across before your light turns red.

But yes, of course bikes should have total priority over pedestrians - it isn't like we are important and who cares about pedestrian safety - it is our own fault when cyclists can't be bothered to see us!

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All drivers should be made to ride a bike round Auckland for a period of time. Speaking from experience, it makes us, as drivers, wiser and more aware.

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I agree totally. I recently bought a commuter bike and my perspective of the road and driving my car on it has completely changed as a result.

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I agree the us and them needs to stop.
I have been a cyclist and I do drive. For me the discussion when driving always comes down to one simple comparison: If I let a cyclist have priority on the road then I may be delayed for 10 maybe 15 seconds; If I try and cut the cyclist off or get in front of them I could kill them.

For me the choice about driving technique is a simple one.

Similarly when cycling - should I be delayed by a few moments and work harder to get back up to speed or put the driver of that car in the position where he could kill me.

For me the choice when cycling in a simple one too.

The discussion needs to start from these points rather than who owns the road or who has priority. The question is really - How can we, as a group of people, save our fellow man from dying? It absolutely isn't a discussion about convenience, right of way or time delays which is what is amounts to currently from the majority on both sides.

For me the suggestions here seem like a good start. What would be the harm in trialling them?

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That is probably the single most succinct and considered opinion I've read on this matter over the past couple of weeks. It's that sort of comment from cyclists that will win motorists' support, not the sort of divisive and confrontational things being written by the media.

If more people thought like this then in one swoop you'd stop cyclists going through red lights and stop motorists being impatient at intersections.

Well said!

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I am intrigued by the fact that comments on NBR's cyclist stories show that extreme, highly emotional positions and dogmatic discussion is not simply limited to NBR reader comments on political issues (as I had previously thought). Does this tell us something about NBR reader demographics or the contemporary reality of any issues discussion?

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Hey Lance, I ride a motorcycle. I am also concerned about not being seen by other road users and about being hit by buses or trucks. Sometimes the lights don't activate when I am waiting there. According to your logic, it should be ok for me to make a left on a red and to cross an intersection against the red lights during the pedestrian phase. This would be much safer for me as I would clear the traffic. Since the proposed solutions are clear, cheap and high impact and will prevent motorcycle crashes, it should be ok to do this as well, right?

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In answer to the question, no I do not run red lights and don't usually feel any more unsafe waiting at a light controlled intersection than other parts of the journey. Pinch points and approaching narrow small roundabouts are my problem. But I do believe bad riding behaviour from those on bikes is largely misunderstood by those in a vehicle who haven't ridden a mile in the shoes of a biker and have no idea just how badly our roads are designed for sharing. This debate is long overdue , Godspeed it into some action at last !!!

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Drivers who get impatient with waiting for cyclists need to stop and ask themselves..."how often on this trip was i held up waiting for vehicles as opposed to cyclists?"...and then it might dawn on them that the more cyclists on the road, the quicker the car trip will be.

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