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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10 responses to “Why the traffic environment counts even when someone runs a red light

  1. I agree. Thank you Max for this thoughtful, well-informed post. You have made very good points. I think that Auckland will be a better place when more good cycling infrastructure is built.

  2. Under run protection will save many drivers as well and it should be compulsory!!

  3. Heres a idea that may fly, it will take a few people/groups working together for the common good of Auckland the result would be safer roads for all,less traffic ,fewer trucks on the road plus more profit for truck companys
    To start you ban trucks from the strand during the day heres how it works …..The port works 24/7 so why can’t the trucks pick up there loads at night ? At night there’s less traffic on the road’s so one truck could make a lot more trips from the port to there depot lets say its in penrose than it would during the day ,so you have fewer trucks doing more trips to and from the Port which is more profit for trucking companies.During the day they can on ship the stock from there yard across town in smaller trucks .Now so this would work we would have to change the lights on the strand,all the way to the motorway onramps .As trucks move along the strand the lights change to let the trucks carry on without stopping from Parnell Rise to the motorway (same as buses on some rds)this is better for the trucks, use less fuel and better for the enviroment with trucks not starting and stopping at lights some of which are on a hill.During the day traffic would flow more freely at parnell rise and the strand helping traffic flow all the way into the bottom of town .I know of one trucking company that picks up at night from the port and it makes economic sense for them ,with changing the lights at nights more companys would change to night pick ups .Its is easy do, no roading changes need to be made,could be done for very little cost, reprograming lights,and the equipment on the trucks to change the light as they approach the lights .Net results would be better traffic flow during the day, drivers would be less stressed so have better mind set which make safer drivers and safer for all

    1. “The port works 24/7 so why can’t the trucks pick up there loads at night ?” It’s BECAUSE the ports work day and night that trucks can’t just work night.

  4. Agree completely with the idea that the cycling environment needs to be more forgiving.

    It is worth pointing out that this idea is completely standard in general road safety and is a significant factor in the falling road toll in recent decades. Road have been engineered, *for cars*, to be safer with median barriers, rumble strips, new motorways and expressways, improvements to dangerous corners and intersections, better warning signs, etc.

    The same care needs to be given to our urban road networks with an eye to increased safety for bikes.

  5. Something else that I find partiularly annoying is that a cyclist riding up to a red light does not trigger a response. As a result, the light stays red for ages. It must be possible, with more modern image recognition technology to design intersections so the light controller register the presence of cyclists.

    1. I agree Michael,
      When I lived in Auckland until recently I made it a practice to obey the lights, with one exception, the Greenhithe Road, Albany Highway intersection . Since the motorway opened and the general traffic disappeared exiting Greenhithe Road right if you missed the odd car going in your direction to change the lights the other two phases could go backwards and forwards before another car came for your direction so I gave up in the end and went on the red with care.

      I eventually found by chance that because of the sweeping curve and wide lane the standard size detector loop hidden by resealing had been placed hard over to the central island to catch vehicles which naturally keep right on the curve. The lane is wide enough that it needs two loops or one double size.

      Why can’t the grab-rails common in the old North Shore City at lights be standard nationwide with a push button activator like the pedestrian ones?

    2. As far as I know most intersection are triggered by magnetic induction. At most of intersections I am able to trigger the lights by stopping my bike on one of the sawcuts with detector loop. I also have another bike with carbon wheels (steel frame) but it does not work at all. Does anyone have the same experience?

  6. I’m all for obeying the road rules, but the ones they made for cars don’t fit cyclists, and some are unsafe to obey. Maybe there should be an alternative Code, that might eventually be accepted by our Authorities. I’d hope it would include: Left turn on red light OK, provided you give way (works for cars in the US, lets us get ahead of traffic rather than being a sitting duck). OK to ride thru ped xing, provided you don’t impede peds in any way. OK to cross with peds on controlled ped xing. OK to use pavement when lanes blocked by cars. If the rules were sensible, we’d obey and motorists wouldn’t be peeved with us breaking abolished, nonsensical ones.

  7. Auckland can and will change to become more cycle-friendly, including better cycling infrastructure. It has to happen, the sooner the better. I am pleased that Cycle Action Auckland advocates for this – you are doing good work. Let’s keep it up and get this done!

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