The killing roads: why our car culture is not sustainable.

Speed Kills

Suburban residents awoke to this scene.

A 14-year-old boy died when a car he was in crashed into a power pole on Te Atatu Peninsula. He died at the scene. The driver and front-seat passenger, both 16-years old, suffered moderate injuries and were taken to Auckland Hospital. Police said early indications were that speed was a factor. Enquiries were underway to determine whether alcohol was also involved, Sergeant Shaun Palmer of Waitakere police said.

“We now have a family who are devastated, they’ve received news this morning that will change their lives forever, and we have a community that is grieving.

“This is the awful reality of the combination of youth, cars and speed and our thoughts are with the boys’ family.”

And what’s even more tragic about this event is that it hasn’t prompted a widespread call to address the consequences of our deadly car-culture. It’s going to be impossible to create a civilised, cyclised, people-focussed city until we take this ugly car culture seriously. Cars are dangerous. They are a health hazard. They are like tobacco. Enough is enough. For everyone’s sake. This culture is not sustainable.

I fear that the crew at Bike Te Atatu are going to struggle to convince significant numbers of parents and their children to ditch the car in favour of walking and cycling. That’s for the simple reason that cars project an envelope of danger.

Just the thought or the sound of a speeding car is enough to put parents off letting their children ride to school independently.

Children don’t need to be taught how to ride a bicycle or how to wear a helmet. Experience tells me that that’s the easy part. But they do need to be protected from the danger of speeding cars. That’s where we, the adults, come in.

Arrogance of space: wide roads are invitation to speed.

Scene of the crash: all that space devoted to moving cars.

I would suggest that, in suburban environments like Te Atatu, addressing issues of speed need to take place before the introduction of cycle infrastructure. Or at least they need to happen in tandem. Because regardless of the quality of a cycle lane, it is the element of subjective safety that will determine whether individual members of the public will feel safe to use the infrastructure.

That’s why the ‘build it and they will come’ approach needs to be taken at face value. Any quality infrastructure needs to be matched with a high provision of subjective safety. A significant reduction in speed will go someway to addressing that.

Smoking used to be socially acceptable. Thankfully, that’s changed. But it didn’t change by accident. The way we view cars and the unsustainable culture that has developed over the decades also needs to change. That can start with strong community leadership, to gain support amongst the local community and in turn, put pressure on the local transport authorities and relevant agencies, to take this issue seriously.

After all, it’s an issue critical to all citizens, not just cyclists.

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

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