It feels wrong to be reflecting on road safety as a consequence of reading stories in the media about people being killed. To the families of these recent victims, please excuse my lack of sensitivity.
A young man on a bicycle is killed by a motorist in Auckland. The motorist drives off. A ‘hit and run’.
A young woman is run over by a truck in Melbourne. The driver fails to stop. A ‘hit and run’.
And what about the two people killed by a bus in Auckland. An eyewitness says he “heard a long honk before the moment of impact”. Does that not suggest the driver had time to stop?
Roads are designed for motor vehicles. For maximum speed and volume. These young people were victims of poor road design. Tragedies like this would be avoided if roads were designed appropriately and with the needs of soft human beings as a priority. Infrastructure is the answer. It’s simple. Build it and we will all be safe.
But sadly, the questions that will lead to that answer (beyond a handful of informed experts and advocates) are not actually even being asked yet. The uncomfortable truth is this: the ‘why’ has to come before the ‘how’. First and foremost, there needs to be an engagement in conversations and actions that will develop a universal intolerance for the killing and maiming that is currently taking place on our roads. Without a consensus that we need to stop the killing and to value life, progress towards improving the built environment will be slow and piecemeal. The ends will determine the means. Not the other way around.
The reality is that we are dealing with a human problem of the most pernicious kind. Any discussion about the role of infrastructure at this point is futile. Examples abound in the media. For example, the police and the coroner reinforce the status quo every time they issue a statement cautioning cyclists to make themselves visible. Biases run deep and they are extremely difficult to counter. It’s not the Dutch bike infrastructure that amazes me the most. It’s how they managed to build a social contract that made it possible to build that infrastructure. Bottle that!
Infrastructure is tangible. A social contract is not. But it is the social contract that will be the foundation on which the infrastructure will be built. Building a social contract requires different skills. It can be done though. That’s the part of the Dutch cycling revolution that has been overlooked. A social contract comes from the grassroots and is built up. Invest in that, I say. Now is good.
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.