High-vis cyclists might look like aliens

MICHAEL FORBES AND SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 13:00 29/01/2014

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The Government has rejected a coroner's recommendations designed to save cyclists' lives and Nelson cyclists are happy about it.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse ruled out pursuing the suggestions of Wellington coroner Ian Smith when he called for an overhaul of cycle safety last February.

Mr Smith said all cyclists should have to wear high-visibility clothing at all times and there should be a mandatory one-metre gap between vehicles and cyclists.

He also suggested forcing cyclists to use cycle lanes, and for there to be more cycle safety education for those seeking their driver licences.

Between July 2007 and September 2013, 94 cyclists died in New Zealand - an average of 15 per year. Of the 59 cases involving motor vehicles, 34 were due to driver error.

Mr Smith said cycling legislation was too complex, "and in my view needs a more simplistic revamp".

"Turning to the issue of hi-vis clothing, it is in my view a no-brainer. It should be compulsory for cyclists to wear at all times when riding in public."

But in a letter to the coroner a few months later, Mr Woodhouse said making hi-vis vests compulsory could discourage people from cycling by over-emphasising the risk and adding extra cost.

Mr Woodhouse said mandating a one-metre gap was not practical either, as police would struggle to accurately judge the gap. The road code encouraged a 1.5m gap, and he was happy to keep it that way.

Making cycle lanes compulsory was a move Mr Woodhouse said he could support in future, but their quality would need to improve first. At present, some lanes were not maintained to the same high standard as roads and cyclists were exposed to hazards, such as opening car doors, he said.

Mr Smith's suggestions would be reconsidered during a NZ Transport Agency-led review of cycle safety beginning next month.

That review was launched in November on the advice of fellow coroner Gordon Matenga after he completed his own three-year inquest into cycle deaths since 2007. In his findings, Mr Matenga stopped short of recommending hi-vis be compulsory but said it was an issue that must be addressed.

Bicycle Nelson Bays co-ordinator John-Paul Pochin said Mr Smith's suggestions were unhelpful as he suggested cycle safety was up to the cyclist to determine.

Instead the new NZTA investigation prompted by Mr Matenga was likely to be much more productive as it had cyclist input.

While reflective gear was useful at night or when visibility was poor, there was no evidence to suggest it provided any protection to cyclists at other times.

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"Often accidents occur when motorists simply do not look for cyclists."

The wearing of high vis gear was seen by many as having a dehumanising effect.

"Suddenly cyclists become a race of brightly coloured aliens rather than mothers, doctors, sons and daughters."

In the case of compulsory use of cycle lanes, many lanes were inadequate, particularly for fast cyclists, he said.

They might not offer any increase in safety and might not offer the most efficient route.

"People need to remember that all lanes are cycle lanes and learn to share the road."

Forcing more compulsory rules on cyclists might undermine efforts to increase cycling numbers, like what had happened as a result of the compulsory helmet law.

He believed health problems and costs associated with inactivity far outweighed those from cycling accidents.

While it was great to see so much focus on cycle safety, efforts should be focused on lower speed zones, better cycling infrastructure such as protected cycle lanes, and better education for all road users.

"In Nelson we are fortunate that our council is putting a lot of effort into these areas but much more still needs to be done and our council needs our support in these areas."

Mr Pochin said Bicycle Nelson Bays supported the one-metre gap idea but agreed it would be hard to enforce.

But there were still situations, such as pinch points at crossings, where some motorists still tried to squeeze past cyclists rather than waiting.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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