Death puts spotlight on bicycle safety

BLAKE CRAYTON-BROWN AND CHARLIE MITCHELL
Last updated 14:31 03/04/2014
Injured cyclist
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

AT THE SCENE: A seriously injured cyclist is treated by an ambulance crew who were passing by on SH2.

Bike trapped under truck
Daniel Tobin Zoom
TRAPPED: The bicycle became wedged under the truck.

Cyclist

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The death of a student nurse killed biking to work in Christchurch has prompted pleas to urgently make city streets safer for cyclists nationwide.

Sharla Phyllis Haerewa, 22, was hit by a truck in busy Lincoln Rd about 6.40am yesterday as she pedalled to Christchurch Hospital.

Haerewa had a reflective cover and flashing light on her backpack and working lights at the front and back of her bike. She was riding on a painted cycleway when a truck turned directly into her path. It knocked her off her bike and dragged the cycle nearly 40 metres.

Police are considering whether charges will be laid against the truck driver, a man in his 70s.

Friends are mourning a woman they described as fun-loving and a high achiever.

Meanwhile, in Wellington, an injured cyclist in his 50s was being assessed in Wellington Hospital's emergency department this afternoon after an ambulance crew came across him on State Highway 2 in the Hutt Valley this morning.

It wasn't clear what had happened to him, but his bicycle was badly damaged.

Ninety-three cyclists have been killed on New Zealand roads since January 2006, despite continued efforts to improve the relationship between motorists and cyclists.

Keith Turner, chairman of cycling lobby group Spokes Canterbury, said any crash in which someone died or was seriously injured was a tragedy.

"It [the accident] reinforces the need for as many separated cycleways as quickly as we can possibly have them because it makes it safer," Turner said.

For Cycling Advocates Network spokesman Patrick Morgan, educating drivers was not enough. The introduction of lower speed limits needed be considered.

Morgan favours 30kmh inner-city speed zones such as a proposal being considered by the Wellington City Council.

"Having safer speeds on residential and shopping streets is a really cost-effective way to improve road safety, not just for people on bikes but for everyone," Morgan said.

The network was frustrated that less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's transport budget was spent on cycling.

"Unless that changes, nothing else will change," he said.

"With 1-1/2 million people riding bikes in New Zealand, really there's pressure on our councils and government to lift their game."

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said speed did not appear to have been a factor in yesterday's crash. Urban cycling safety wasn't all about speed.

On the Wellington streets that the council plans to lower the limit from 50kmh, only one serious injury crash had occurred at a speed above 30kmh in five years, Noon said.

"What we very often see with cyclist safety is errors being made on both sides.

"It could well be that the calls the AA are making in terms of having totally separated cycle lanes is really the answer to improve safety."

If cyclists and other road users were put together on high-speed roads, the outcomes of a simple mistake could be extremely tragic for cyclists.

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"This is why you don't normally have cyclists on motorways."

Introducing separated cycleways could be as simple as putting the cycle lane inside a line of parked cars on streets with parking.

Cycling is the second most dangerous form of transport by time spent travelling, distantly behind motorcycling. Ten cyclists die a year on average with almost 300 cyclists hospitalised for their injuries.

The Government has convened an expert cycling panel to address issues around cyclist safety.

The panel, chaired by BikeNZ's Richard Leggat, includes Olympic gold medallist Sarah Ulmer.

Recommendations from the panel are expected by the end of September.

University of Canterbury senior lecturer Glen Koorey investigated 84 deaths of people cycling between January 2006 and December 2012 for the chief coroner.

He found that:

 

● Sixty-six fatalities involved a motor vehicle. In nearly 50 per cent of those cases, the driver of the vehicle was primarily responsible for the crash. Most of these drivers did not see the cyclist before the crash, even when the cyclist wore high-visibility clothing.

● The average age of the victims was 47. The average age of all cyclists on the road is 33.

● Speed is the most common factor in open road crashes.

● Only 6 per cent of crashes directly involve buses and trucks.

● Nearly 50 per cent of cycling fatalities occur on high-speed roads (more than 80kmh), though only one-third of cycle travel occurs on those roads.

● More than half of the 84 fatalities occurred in 50kmh zones.

- Fairfax Media

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