Why the traffic environment counts even when someone runs a red light

Jan 12, 2014
Why the traffic environment counts even when someone runs a red light


Stanley_Street_Beach_Road_Intersection…because people do not deserve to die for stupid or careless mistakes.

A lot of the way the fatal cycle crash last Tuesday happened still remains unknown, but yes, it seems clear that the fault lies with, or primarily with, the cyclist here. But does this mean we should let this simply slide – or worse, bury it under a heap of “he got what he deserved” comments”?

No. That is a “dog eat dog” world in which we do not want to live – or have to live.

And a lot of things COULD have been different. Here are a few ways in which this could potentially have gone better, if just one factor had been different:

  • Not running red lights – Only too true. But remember the spirit of this NZTA ad. People make mistakes – that doesn’t mean they deserve to die for it if we can avoid it. Work to make cyclists obey red lights better – there’s been some good pointers at the end of this study on how. Studies from Auckland and Melbourne (see Section 3.2) show that overall red light running among cyclists is about 4% to 7% (some individual intersections, it can admittedly be a lot higher, and it would be interesting to find out why). In other words, almost 19 of 20 cyclists obey the law. This gets lost quickly when internet tempers flare.
  • Fewer trucks – Trucks are wider, less able to swerve, less able to see their sides and rear. The dead man was a newbie cyclist based on the media reporting, and maybe he was unaware of HOW dangerous trucks can be to cyclists. So do we need trucks in such numbers crossing a main inner city area / walk and cycle route? The answer in the short term is of course “yes”. They need to get to the port. But in the longer run, we may need to change the way they get there. If we have a motorway-style road going ALMOST to the port, then maybe, big sigh, it needs to go that way all the way (with lots of good pedestrian and cycling overbridges).
  • Better trucks – this is likely the most speculative in terms of whether it did contribute to THIS crash, but trucks should have mandatory under-run protection. This is basically a “crash barrier” along the side of the truck (good photo here), which dramatically reduces the risk of a cyclist or pedestrian being dragged under the wheels. Some victims of crashes with trucks could be at home nursing a few scrapes to the arm from being punted aside to the pavement, instead of being buried.
  • Slower traffic – Slower speeds mean more reaction time for everyone, and less trauma if an accident happens. This part of Stanley Street / The Strand is well known for drivers speeding during off-peak times, as they want to beat the lights, and feel that they are already / still on the motorway (note that we are NOT implying the specific truck involved in the incident was speeding). Would it be appropriate to reduce speeds here, say to at least 40 km/h? Certainly not in the mind of the trucking industry. But I think it would not be inappropriate, until we get that separation of truck traffic from those key walking & cycling movements between Parnell and the City Centre. This is such a short distance between two important areas, so bad that driving is the safest way to cross it.
  • Cycle facilities – if there had been a cycle lane, or a shared path to turn left onto, this incident would quite possibly not have happened at all. Especially if that cycle lane had some physical protection, such as a kerbed barrier.

So there you have it. New Zealand has three times the cycle fatality rate of the Netherlands. We can change that – but not by arguing for a heartless form of Darwinism.

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