With voting very much in the news at the moment, an article caught our eye over the weekend… not about Brexit – about those who aren’t old enough to vote yet, but who have strong opinions and equally important rights.

According to a new study by Erica Hinckson of  AUT, reported in the Sunday Star-Times, kids much prefer getting to school under their own steam: 96% of the kids Erica spoke to in focus groups were adamant on this point. Biking, walking, scootering – they really really want to be out in the fresh air, doing their thing independently, traveling actively with friends or with family.

Instead, 55% are delivered to school by car, a number that’s almost doubled in the last 25 years, while walking and biking have correspondingly plummeted.

Here’s what that looks like (data from this NZTA report):

bike-to-school-percentages

The graphic above comes from Jo Clendon, a Wellington mum and everyday cyclist who has started a petition to allow kids (and their accompanying adults, plus those 65+ and disabled cyclists) to use the footpaths where that feels safer to them. Check out her website on the subject. 

It’s a reasonable proposition: while we continue to work for more connected protected cycleways and quiet safe streets in every town and city across the country, can we also work with what we have?

And after all, plenty of small New Zealanders and their parents are already voting with their feet on this one. And, across the Tasman, footpath cycling is legal in all states (in Victoria and NSW, it’s limited to kids 12 and under and their accompanying grown-ups).

We do know that kids are at risk on the footpath from people backing out of driveways, which is why footpath cycling has mediocre safety stats. But we also know kids choose to cycle on the footpath (and parents with them), as they absolutely love cycling and their parents won’t let them ride on road. Parents need to really emphasise those sneaky driveways when they cycle on footpaths with their kids, just as drivers need to be alert to footpath traffic of all kinds – walkers, joggers, people with pushchairs, people in wheelchairs, dashing dogs, trotting cats, and all kinds of little folk on all kinds of wheels.

Of course, the overall goal is still for better separated, fully connected cycle routes that work for ages 8 (or less) to 80 (or more) – and give-way laws that allow kids to connect across intersections while riding on footpaths.

In the meantime, legalising footpath cycling for kids and slower/older riders as Jo suggests, strikes us as a fully pragmatic interim option.

You may have seen Jo on TVNZ news, or heard her making sense on RNZ. Here she is below, in her own words.

(The petition will be presented to parliament on Thursday 30 June, so if you feel moved to sign and share, hop to it!)

Do you cycle with kids? Do you sometimes let them ride on the footpath? Perhaps you’ve seen or heard in the news about my campaign to make cycling on the footpaths legal for children, their accompanying adults, seniors and the disabled. If not, you can watch or read about it here.

This is a topic that has sparked some great debate. For me, as a parent, it is about keeping our kids safe. I’ve included the seniors and disabled in there too, because I can see a need there also. I hope to engage them (or their advocates) to speak on their own behalf and represent their needs. I know people have some real concerns about whether the footpath is the right place for kids on bikes. I can understand that. I just feel it is a better place for kids than the road. I explain the reasons why and address some of the concerns and objections in this YouTube video presentation.

If this is a topic that interests you, you can follow our progress on Facebook. If you would like to understand more in detail, including the research I reference, then I’m happy to share links to that information with you. This is democracy in action – there will be people who support this, and those who don’t; that’s all good. If you do support it, please sign the petition at change.org.


PS The header photo comes from Jo’s website. Check out her A to Z of cycling with kids, too – ‘H is for Humour’, perfect!

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12 responses to “The kids are all right… cycling on the footpath?

  1. 55% are delivered to school by car — a sad statistic indeed. Advantage #1 of living in Auckland and not in Chernobyl: you can get out and about without needing protective gear. We have to stop squandering that advantage for kids.

    The driveway issue will be solved after we teach people to not back out of their driveways at 15 kph, and that there is some probability that there’s actually someone walking (or cycling) on the footpath.

    (talking of protective gear, I wonder how many people drive an SUV instead of a smaller car because they feel safer in an SUV)

  2. As I understand it, you’re completely legal on the footpath if you ride a ‘wheeled recreational vehicle’ with wheels of 355mm diameter or less. That’s just under 14″, the standard size of wheel for bikes for kids up to about 6 years and also covers skates, skateboards, scooters, hoverboards, and kett cars.

    Like some other issues in the Road Code, it’s not as simple as a quick read might suggest.

    Is that 355mm the rim diameter, opening up options for extremely high profile tyres?

    Is it the total diameter of wheel & tyre, by which measure only the very smallest of toddler bikes with 12″ wheels will qualify?

    If your tyre is overinflated beyond 355mm total diameter, would you be incurring an infringement?

    With no helmet requirement, superb folding portability and near zero maintenance, you can see why kids and an increasing number of adults prefer scooters…

  3. Everyone should be allowed to ride on the footpath so long as they are respectful and considerate.

  4. This: “footpath cycling has mediocre safety stats”. On the streets where I live you can see exactly why this is the case: steep driveways, front berms, and tall fences. Many also have power poles between the footpath and the berm, so if you ride on the footpath, you would naturally tend to ride close to the fence. Many houses have no turning tees, so people reverse out. The streets are hilly, so anyone (especially children) scootering or riding a bike downhill is going fast. Recipe for disaster?

    I dislike anecdotal evidence, and generalising from the particular, but.. here’s my own experience. I drive out of my steep uphill driveway frontwards, and painfully slowly. In the last three or four years, I’ve had one person cycling and two children on scooters crash into the uphill side of the car, because they couldn’t stop in time. No injuries thankfully, some tears for sure (and for that matter it’s very unsettling to see a child disappear below the front of the car, knowing that if I had been driving perhaps 5 km/h faster they’d have been under the wheels), and in the case of the adult on a bike, who ended up across my windscreen, a $ 1,000+ bill from my car insurer.

    So, *no* I can’t support this initiative carte blanche.

    On the other hand, there are streets all over Auckland that have back berms (or front and back), low fences / hedges (or no fences / hedges), and that are flat and where cycling on the footpath would appear to be substantially risk-free, compared to cycling on the road.

    But at the end of the day, the problem is that the road is not safe. From the first chart above, the major issue there appears to be a combination of the number of cars.. and the lack of bikes on the streets. Now assuming we can’t build appropriately protected infrastructure quickly enough, what options do we have? Cycling on some footpaths maybe, but not all perhaps? How would that work?

    What about slowing the traffic down, as the Greens have proposed?
    https://www.greens.org.nz/news/article/green-party-launches-new-plan-make-it-safe-walk-and-bike-school

    Or better still, why don’t we simply ban cars near schools (with exceptions) as has been done in Edinburgh, with general support. http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14193314.Car_ban_on_streets_around_Edinburgh_schools_to_be_extended/

    1. It appears neither road nor footpath is safe for those not driving.

      Since pedestrians, ‘wheeled recreational vehicles’ and delivery bikes have every right to proceed along the footpath, it’s up to drivers crossing the footpath to make sure they do so safely.

      In order to make that easier for drivers, perhaps we should be looking to clear driveway sight-lines.

      This could mean losing fences, hedges, shrubs and trees that exceed wheel height where the drive is level with the footpath. For driveways rising to the path, it might be necessary to clear the full boundary to the ground. Driveways not made compliant could be blocked by enforcement.

      On street parking is suddenly given a new premium, expect residents parking zones to proliferate.

      Alternatively the fence line moves back a car length, to allow drivers exiting to see what they’re doing and pause in their own bay when necessary. Angle back to meet the original fence line no less than 10 metres from either side of the driveway (about 2.5 seconds of travel for someone doing 15kph,or 3 times walking speed, on a bike or scooter). Fences adjacent to driveways on a neighbouring property would have to follow the same profile. Fences along a boundary less than 10m each side would have to be moved back in their entirety. If you don’t have enough driveway left to park your car, no fence.

      In summary, put the problems caused by driving back where they belong, with drivers.

    2. The main reason for the mediocre safety stats on footpaths is because most urban cycle crashes happen at intersections and driveways (~2/3); neither of which is improved by riding on the footpath instead of the road. Many people get very worried about a car hitting them from behind, hence the desire to get away from the roadway, but in urban areas your greater risk by far is from vehicles in FRONT of you (e.g. crossing you at an intersection). A classic case of the mis-alignment between perception and reality. So allowing footpath cycling may greatly increase the take-up of cycling but don’t expect it to do wonders for cycle safety.

    3. The Hamilton School reinforces my point. It’s not that the school is unique but that the suburb has been designed with a pretty decent network of safe streets and alley ways. Simple stuff that gets ignored. (Drat, has nested into wrong part of thread)

  5. The sad part about this is that Auckland Transport have done virtually nothing (travelwise stats are flawed) to enable kids to cycle to school. AT’s expectation is that kids will cycle illegally on footpaths. That’s it. The only real progress is being doe via local boards and good on them. The brand new promotional material is also adult exclusive, as per normal. There is no plan.

    1. I expect AT would acknowledge they could do more, but everyone has a role to play: parents, schools, local boards. BUt at the same time, we can make a difference, however well (or otherwise) the local / national government agencies provide for cycling to schools. As evidenced by the contrast between these two schools and their peers.

      http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/77228882/The-school-that-cycles-and-the-school-that-bans-bikes
      https://www.bikeauckland.org.nz/kids-school-travel-bikes-walking/

      The story isn’t about Hamilton being a great place to cycle to school and Auckland an awful place; it’s about how one school community took positive steps and another did the reverse.

  6. It is more likely a cyclist would be hit by a car riding on footpaths than on the street, cars backing out of driveways arent expecting some kid to be ripping up the footpath. Also where are pedestrians going to be able to safely walk, cyclists dont ride with any common sense or with any thought to safety on the street among cars, they will show no respect for pedestrians and accidents will happen, but I guess thats what ACC is for.

    1. I’d agree that many riders show a lack of consideration on shared paths and when illegally riding a footpath. I hate close passes from motorists, so my blood boils a little when I see riders giving pedestrians the same treatment.

      Even so, the potential for harm to pedestrians from riders is considerably less than that from motorists, even if you are walking on a footpath or crossing. In the end, a pedestrian is more likely to be killed or seriously injured by a *car* on the footpath than by a bike.

      If you’re hit by a bike, ACC will likely be able to solve your problems. If my son gets hit by a car, we’ll need a funeral director or lifetime care for disability.

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