Editorial: Keep cycling on a roll with safer routes

21:36, Feb 11 2014
Gillian Ansell, left, and Helene PohL
BIKE FUEL: Lea O’Sullivan of Tahunanui gets a bite to eat on her way to work on Wednesday morning, served up on Rutherford St by R&R Sport deputy manager Steve Earle on Go By Bike Day.

Even without the incentive of a free Go By Bike Day breakfast this morning, the move to two wheels is picking up pace around the country.

Long the neglected, underfunded transport option in New Zealand, cycling is on a roll.

Increasing petrol prices, slowly improving bike infrastructure and the Government's national cycle trail projects have helped to lift the profile and, anecdotally, the numbers of those getting on their bikes.

The trail projects, including this region's Great Taste Trail, have helped to fuel an upsurge of recreational cyclists from here and overseas enjoying picturesque slices of our great outdoors.

But a move to a commuter cycling culture in the cities still faces a number of obstacles before more people consider leaving their cars at home.

At the top of the list is the need for safe cycleways.


Experienced cyclists tell of near-misses, even on the region's relatively benign roads, often caused by unwary drivers failing to give cyclists enough room while passing or turning, or opening doors without looking.

The prospect of such conflict with cars and trucks travelling at 50kmh or more is a large disincentive to novice cyclists.

The best answer is to build off-road cycle lanes, such as the well-used network to Atawhai.

The planned cycleway in St Vincent St, where a buffer zone and parallel car parks will separate the two-way cycleway from traffic, is an elegantly simple precedent for safe city routes.

That should be the desired standard and the subject of increased funding.

In areas where that separation is not practical or affordable, other measures could help cyclists and motorists better share the road.

The long-awaited cycle and pedestrian study for Rocks Rd will be a real test of innovative solutions for both cyclists and motorists on a narrow carriageway.

But one of the biggest improvements needed is in attitude, a greater tolerance by motorists and cyclists of each other's place on the road.

The Automobile Association recognises this, urging an end to the "them and us" mentality between drivers and cyclists, which often spills into the blame game on public forums over road behaviour.

NZ Transport Agency figures tell their own story - from 2008 to 2012, an average of 121 cyclists were seriously injured and nine cyclists were killed each year in crashes involving a car. In 75 per cent of all cyclist-vehicle crashes where a cyclist was hospitalised, car drivers were found to have primary responsibility for the crash.

For their part, cyclists can make themselves and their signals clear, and be considerate to faster traffic.

The Kiwi love affair with the car is a formidable habit to loosen, let alone break. But, particularly in friendly terrain like central Nelson, cycling should be promoted for all it's worth, because there are no downsides.