Safer cycling has benefits for us all

Last updated 13:00 13/01/2014

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OPINION: As responses to a couple of news stories in the Mail last week illustrated, views vary widely on cycle safety.

District Health Board member Judy Crowe's call for the city council and NZ Transport Agency to take urgency on improving safety for both cyclists and pedestrians on Rocks Rd drew dozens of online comments. Typically of this largely anonymous forum, most views ranged from unsympathetic to feral, with some appearing to believe Ms Crowe had fallen two metres on to rocks as a publicity stunt.

That front page article was followed two days later by another about an 11-year-old girl whose cycle was damaged beyond repair by a "hit and run" accident with another cyclist.

Saturday feature The Goss sought public views on cycle safety. Comments ranged from acknowledgment that cycling can be "quite dangerous" to the belief cyclists are "the most arrogant bunch going" who "duck and dive and don't give a toss about anyone else". It is unfortunate an activity so suited to, and popular in, Nelson can be so polarising.

The pro-motorist/anti-cycling brigade might do well to reflect on the likelihood that an increase in bikes should equate with fewer vehicles on roads. Better, safer, facilities for cyclists should therefore be in everyone's interests.

As Crowe points out, Rocks Rd - part of State Highway 63 - is a difficult case and the authorities have a duty of care to its more vulnerable users. To that end, an investigation is currently looking into pedestrian and cyclist safety alongside heritage values. The iconic chains do provide a measure of protection for people using the footpath but, as Ms Crowe discovered, are also at a potentially dangerous height.

Among other factors, the road is narrow with little potential to widen it, parking is limited - especially in the vicinity of popular restaurants - and the number of logging trucks and other heavy vehicles is high. As the main link with Port Nelson to and from the south, that is to be expected.

The drive (or ride, or walk) features spectacular views, making it one of Nelson's greatest assets. The road is also jointly administered, which can only add to the decision-making process and potential for procrastination. The council-transport agency investigation will not be a fast-track to enhanced safety on Rocks Rd. In the meantime, cool heads and empathy for others are needed.

Drivers need to be aware of their responsibilities for the safety of more vulnerable road users; cyclists of their potential to cause frustration to motorists and alarm to pedestrians by swooping up unexpectedly; walkers that they should be alert to the likelihood of cyclists seeking the sanctuary of the footpath, whether they have the right to do so or not.

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Whatever the legal niceties, the first concern of all road users should be safety. As TV programme Hill Street Blues used to put it each week, "Hey, let's be careful out there". Cyclists, drivers, walkers - we're all in this together.

- Nelson

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