Glenn Becker was the car driver involved in Jane Bishop’s fatal crash in peak hour traffic on Tamaki Drive at 6.15pm at the end of a hot sunny day, on 17 November 2010. He was charged with careless use of a motor vehicle after he parked his car and opened his door shortly before cyclist, Jane Bishop, was crushed under a truck which was passing Glenn’s car at the time.
Judge Gittos dismissed the charge in the Auckland District Court last Wednesday, after a hearing lasting 2 and a half days. The decision has been widely reported in the all of the media. I attended the hearing as Spokesperson and Chair of Cycle Action Auckland, and was asked to comment on the Judge’s decision by TV 1 and TV 3, the Dominion Post and ‘Stuff’ outside the Court. In the subsequent 24 hours I responded to 10 other interview requests from print, radio and TV reporters.
Having attended the Court hearing, my key observations are –
- The Judge was correct to dismiss the charge,
- Glenn, the truck driver, the other witnesses and the friends, family members of these people and Jane Bishop have been through hell, and deserve our support.
- The Court case did not set out to find the cause of the Jane’s death. It simply had to rule on whether Glenn had been careless in opening his car door, causing Jane to brake suddenly and fall under the truck.
I regard the cause of the crash to be lethal road design which is particularly hazardous for cyclists. I refer to the well known cycling pinchpoint on a tight bend extended parking spaces on the Tamaki Drive headland, by Kelly Tarltons. The pinchpoint was created in 2005 by a new raised median and extended roadside parking spaces built by Auckland City Council. In April 2006 Cycle Action Auckland wrote to the Council’s Transport General Manager to report that the combination of the tight bend, raised median, narrow footpath, and extended parking spaces created ‘a very dangerous’ situation for cyclists. The Council could have easily removed the intrusive parking spaces, but it took no action.
I have received a large number of messages from cyclists and motorists who are upset by my comments and approach. Most of these people are keen to impress with their expert knowledge as cyclists or motorists . Most express sadness/frustration that I failed to criticize Judge Gittos’s decision. Others regard the behaviour of Glenn, the truck driver or Jane to be the cause of the crash.
I lead Cycle Action’s volunteer team which works up to 300 hours per week. Although Cycle Action has no staff, it is known to be effective in delivering innovative and vital cycling safety and promotion projects. Part of our work includes listening and responding to the road -using public, as well as our members.
I accept that all of the parties in this tragedy could have behaved differently. But the essential fact that concerns me is that the road design is at fault. Visibility is extremely poor because of the tight bend and the pinching of the traffic lane between the bus and car parking spaces on the road and the raised median. The hazard is elevated because every day, nose- to -tail, stop/start, traffic has to squeeze through this pinchpoint. This includes buses and trucks, as well as cars and cyclists. Judge Gittos’s decision accepted that the shared footpath is narrow and full of pedestrians at peak hours, with little or no space for cyclists. It is a cyclist’s nightmare.
Some people have told me that Glenn should have looked back over the road continually, (rather than twice), before he eased open his door. Others say he should not have opened his door at all, but used the front passenger’s door. Others say Jane should have not been riding on the left hand side of stalled traffic, and others say she should have been on the roadside shared path. Another person has taken issue with the fact the truck driver was too far left.
I consider these opinions ignore our right to safe roads, and the responsibility of road authorities to act quickly when serious hazards are identified. For the past year Cycle Action has been working with Auckland Transport (AT) to improve Tamaki Drive, but the gains have been slow, as road funds are too short even to provide for urgent, short term, low- cost quick fixes. AT is also a new body. Some departments tend to stay in their silos, working to rigid, inadequate road safety budgets and programmes, and fail to consult road user groups adequately before planning road changes. This bureaucratic approach also delays practical, rapid responses that are needed from time to time for safe road management.ay he should not have opened his door at all, but used the front passenger’s door. Others say Jane should have not been riding on the left hand side of stalled traffic, and others say she should have been on the roadside shared path. Another person has taken issue with the fact the truck driver was too far left.
Cycle Action’s 2006 report used the Kelly Tarlton headland pinchpoint to demonstrate ‘a city wide problem’. The problem remains throughout Auckland. These pinchpoints hazards will be exposed more often as traffic volumes increase on our City’s main road corridors. Cycle Action is committed to working with Auckland Council and Auckland Transport to overcome these, and other systemic flaws, in our road system and culture.