Month: June 2014

In search of a cure for Stockholm Syndrome*.

‘Road Safety Week’ comes and goes. It is co-ordinated by the road safety charity ‘Brake‘, with support from Auckland Transport and the NZ Transport Agency. “New Zealand has higher rates of road deaths and injuries than many other developed countries”, apparently.

The campaigns “raise awareness of road safety. It’s about getting people to think more about their choices and actions on the roads. Being distracted behind the wheel can be deadly”.

So now you know. I guess the same campaigns are wheeled out every year and the box labelled ‘Road Safety’ will be given the ‘completed’ tick, once again. It’s pretty easy to be cynical about this kind of thing. You only have to venture out into the streets of this city to be able to validate the accuracy of the data about our ‘deadly streets’.

But that’s not all.

Brake chose to use the personal story of a pedestrian, hit by a motorist while crossing a busy Auckland street, as a part of the campaign. The incident has ‘had life-changing consequences for the victim’. A tragedy retold with the intention of generating action to make our streets safer? Think again.

If I had walked to the pedestrian crossing at the traffic lights I might have been late for work. Instead, I ventured to the centre line where I was struck by a right turning vehicle. Part of the healing process for me is saying to people to think before you ‘jay-walk’. Everybody’s too busy to go and walk that little bit further to get to the pedestrian crossing – but why take the risk?

The victim was run over while standing on the centre-line, opposite the pharmacy.

It’s called an arterial route. It’s used for moving cars. Lots of them. Quickly. Except when there are too many and they all go slowly.

The victim was trying to cross the road to get to the pharmacy. She was hit while standing on the centre line, outside the pharmacy. The pedestrian crossing that the victim refers to is not visible in the above street image. It is past the bend in the road.

At least this tragic tale gives us a pretty clear picture of where we are really at, in terms of making our cities safe for all road users. Stockholm Syndrome* is alive and well. ‘I’m sorry for getting run over. I will do better next time’ etc.

Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, people are standing up and demanding action to stop the killing and maiming.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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Do cars get priority over people in your city?

A city designed with people in mind will also be full of bicycles.

A city designed with people in mind will also be full of bicycles.

What is becoming increasingly apparent, is that from an international perspective, New Zealand is years behind in the way we plan our cities. Cities have changed rapidly over the decades, but the way we use our streets has become stuck in a time warp.

Our city’s streets need to be viewed as a valuable public space. But instead, they are being used as funnels to maximise traffic flows and store cars. Cities that are great, take care of their people. It’s people that bring life and vibrancy to a city. People need to feel welcome and safe to use the streets. And in the 21st Century, people and businesses are mobile; they can live and operate anywhere in the world.

It is no accident that the cities in which the needs of people are given priority are also full of bicycles; people using bicycles to get about their business. That can happen because those cities have provided infrastructure that makes riding a bicycle an attractive transport option. Providing infrastructure for riding bikes is a rational and practical thing to do because it makes financial sense. Riding a bicycle can be a quicker and easier way of commuting. It saves time and money and is healthy. In some cities, more people do their daily commute by bike, than by car.

Riding a bike is not only for recreational purposes. It is not only the domain of eco-warriors and sports-warriors, as it is often portrayed in New Zealand. People will choose to use a bicycle for transport purposes on a regular basis when good quality infrastructure and bike friendly policies are in place. Any city in the world, including Auckland, could cater for bicycles. Within 5 years, New York has added 640 km of bike lanes and created a public bike hire programme with over 10,000 bikes.

Of course there will be resistance to the process of catering for people on bicycles in the city. But it is time for the public to get used to the paradigm shift that is required. It is happening all around the world.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

Or, enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.