Reflections on a hell of a week for cycling in Auckland

Jan 10, 2014
Reflections on a hell of a week for cycling in Auckland


This a much longer blog than we usually write, but we ask you please to put time aside to read it. We need to look beyond the horror event of this week, and join forces again to build a stronger and smarter cycling city. 

It’s a relief to reach Friday, to end what has been a maelstrom of a week for cycling in Auckland.

On Monday I wrote a blog to review the year to come, and the opportunities that lay before us to make Auckland a safer and more pleasant city for cycling. Next day the cycling community was brought together in shock as we learnt of John Tangiia’s death at the intersection of Parnell Rise, The Strand and Stanley St.

Thanks to The Herald’s story in today’s paper we  now know our city has lost a person described by his brother as a character, a joker and a hard worker who always strived to provide for his family. Like many of Auckland’s cyclists, he was ‘techy’, an IT  engineer, who had taken up cycling to improve his fitness. He also loved sports cars, has 3 daughters from a previous relationship in Australia, as well as a partner and 11 year disabled son in Auckland. From the Herald’s stories over the holidays on the changing face of our community, you could say he represents the diversity that is the new Auckland. We are grateful to The Herald for giving John the human face he deserves, and for allowing us to know more about his family who are having to come to terms with his loss. We pass on our deep sympathy for the hurt and grief, and our respect for the loss of a man who will clearly be desperately missed.

John’s crash has unleashed a tumultuous storm of on-line comment on this website, on the Transport Blog’s stories about cycling and on the Herald’s various articles. As with all cycling publicity, it brings out the ranting, irrational  ‘haters’ of those of us who get around the city on bikes for transport, fitness and pleasure. These ranters will always be with us on all sorts of subjects, and do not interest me at this time, as I want to look at the wider landscape of those who have made a positive contribution to help us deal with this issue.

We acknowledge our Transport Blog friends, as their blog has a far larger readership than ours. They deserve our accolades for their dedication and  professional approach. It can be a lonely business working in the Auckland NGO (non-governmental) transport field, so we highly value their collaborative and collegial approach in working with Generation Zero and Cycle Action. We also acknowledge the editorial staff at The Herald who have followed the story of the crash to report on the impact on some of the observers, our response and filled in the personal story of the cyclist.

The missing details in the story so far relate to the driver of the truck, those who were near the scene of the crash and their family, workmates and friends who will be called on to support those traumatised by the incident. While we don’t know personal details of most of these people, we can only imagine how shocked and shaken they were by the crash, and how it will live in their minds. The truck driver, in particular, deserves a great deal of sympathy and to be held in our thoughts with respect. Like those involved in Jane Bishop’s death on Tamaki Drive, we know this event will have major repercussions and cause personal stress for years to come, as official inquiries and processes take their slow and careful course.

The crash raises important issues for us to consider and reflect on. These include:

  •  Red light running by all road users. This is a highly political subject, as it attracts the ire of many car drivers when they see cyclists running red lights. Cyclists also see motorists doing the same and are equally angered. We know why many cyclists chose to ride against a red light, particularly on a left turn. We and many cyclists do it from time to time, particularly when the road conditions are quiet and the road loops fail to register that our bike has been stalled at a red light for many light cycles (overall, studies from Auckland and Melbourne (see Section 3.2) show that red light running among cyclists is about 4% to 7%). To put the record straight, we do not support crossing against a red light by any party – be it cyclist, pedestrian or motor vehicle. It is unlawful and increases the risk of injury and death.  When it is done by cyclists it also makes the Cycle Action’s work unpopular and harder, as it reduces the respect for all who cycle. At the same time we need to keep our feet on the ground to state that, while we want it to stop, we have to accept that our road network needs to be designed and managed to provide efficient and safe connectivity. This is vital to avoid the frustrations and traffic delays that play a role in contributing to red light running and its related injury, death and public and private costs.
  • This brings us to the issue of our cycling infrastructure. In the past week we have referred to the quality and pace of Auckland Transport’s cycle infrastructure planning and delivery. Some have questioned the validity of our doing this, including our colleagues at AT. They are frustrated that, despite their recent public education programme on red light running, it appears to be a major contributing factor in this terrible crash. They are hurt and upset that AT is being blamed that its infrastructure contributed to the crash and that the debate has been widened to focus on AT’s cycling infrastructure delivery.
  • We see the crash as occuring on a highly dangerous part of the road network where truck and trailer units are accessing the Port, and cyclists are making the most efficient connection between Tamaki Drive (the busiest cycle route in Auckland and the country) and Parnell. The background to the crash is our numerous efforts by writing to and meeting AT staff to express serious concerns that many of AT’s cycling projects are delayed or stalled in the planning stage of design, while publicly the organisation reports progress with these projects . These plans include studies, reports and plans for the Stanley Street –  The Strand access corridor to the Port. We welcome the plans, but plans alone do not provide cycling safety.
  • AT’s goals for cycling include providing a connected cycle network. This aligns exactly with Cycle Action’s goal and those of the public of Auckland who want to choose to ride for transport. The problem is that the pace  and funding levels for Auckland cycling projects is is too slow and low to form more than a series of largely disconnected cycling improvements. The public sees these as still not allowing them to undertake even short cycle rides with confidence and in safety. This is why we are focusing on action.
  • In response to our criticisms, AT has identified problems of working in a constricted road space littered with existing service cables and pipes, land purchase,  the need to co-ordinate with larger scale projects. We accept these exist, but consider in year 4 of its existence it needs to move urgently to streamline its management approach and develop leadership for cycling to resolve these issues, and to work more closely on a ‘One Network’ basis with the NZTA.
  • While AT is largely the public face for cycling delivery in Auckland, our comments need to be balanced with well deserved accolades for the quality and commitment of many of its staff. We place very high value on our relationship with AT. We unreservedly admire the dedication, professionalism and efficiency of many AT staff with whom we work on a day to day basis. We regularly take opportunities to praise their initiative and collaborative skills to their managers, and from time to time in our blogs and Facebook comments.
  • We do not want our comments about infrastructure delivery to detract from our gratitude and full support for other AT cycling work, particularly programmes to expand cycling uptake by its school, workplace and community cycle training. But we ask for the organisation’s management to recognise Auckland cannot be a cycling city until the rate of infrastructure improvements catches up with the impressive rate of teaching and encouragement to get more people to cycle for transport. In this context we acknowledge that AT can only do what it is funded to do by Auckland Council. We also accept that the Council sets the high level priorities for transport spending.
  • This brings us to our last point – Auckland Council. Lance Wiggs’s excellent article in yesterday’s Herald says it all (thanks again, Herald). The Mayor and Councillors in the first term of the Supercity focused their attention on investing on public transport improvements. They have demonstrated virtually no interest in the important  role cycling could play in making public transport and local shops etc, more accessible and popular by connecting neighbourhoods and public transport. This means residents resort to cars for short trips around the suburbs and inner city. National politicians similarly demonstrated relentless and misinformed disregard for cycling and walking, apart from those few photo opportunities when the former minister of transport showed up to cut ribbons on new projects.
  • Lance rightly challenges Council and Government politicians to step up for what the public of Auckland have consistently voted for – a far wider range of easy and convenient public transport, walking and cycling opportunities so they can avoid peak hour traffic conditions, and lead healthier, happier lives.
  • The crash on Tuesday occurred, in part, because one of Auckland’s valued citizens chose to use a bike to get fitter, rather than one of the sport cars we learnt today that he loved. Cycle Action has been asked to organise a memorial cycle ride next week to pay tribute to John and those many other people whose lives have been badly scared by the crash. We hope you will come, and encourage your friends, workmates and family to join us for this tribute ride. We will try to use as safe and quiet a route as possible to reach the crash site. But as we have been saying all week, the area has poor safe cycling access.

Join us

Bike Auckland is the non-profit organisation working to improve things for people on bikes. We’re a people-powered movement for a better city. We speak up for you – and the more of us there are, the stronger our voice!

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