sustainable safety

Slow Down

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

Speed kills (and may make you fearful of letting your children out of the house).

A long time ago, I drafted this blog post but never officially published it. It was a story I picked up from the local community newspaper. Two mothers were concerned that cars on the residential street they lived on, were traveling in excess of 80kph. The speed limit is 50kph and the street is in a school zone.

“They fly through here. I don’t let my girls play out the front – I won’t even let them go to the letter box”. The street is used as a ‘rat run’. The women were planning to approach Auckland Transport to see if there was anything that could be done. I think the street has had speed bumps installed since then. I wonder if that made a difference.

At the time of writing it initially, I was not confident enough in my convictions to publish it. That’s since changed. I think it is no longer heresy to suggest that it will be demand and traffic calming rather than design and bike lanes that will make the biggest contribution to getting more people riding bicycles. Below, is the remainder of the original post. I have left it as I originally wrote it (apart from the inclusion of a link to a recent Wheeled Pedestrian post). Why? Because I have being going through the site’s archives recently to see if I have strayed from my original intentions. And I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised to see that my original observations and beliefs still hold true. However, being confident in my convictions is one thing. Convincing others of the merit of these convictions is a completely different matter. When you are in a hurry, progress is a relative thing.

It went like this…

A similar scenario plays out throughout Auckland and the rest of New Zealand. The Death Star, revealed in all its glory. And in the context of promoting cycling as a serious transport form, it should be clear by now, that cycling will remain the preserve of the ‘brave and fearless’ while this dominant car culture remains unchallenged. These mothers won’t let their children out on the front lawn, let alone ride a bike.

So while quality separated cycle lanes is what’s required to get people riding bikes, it is not going to make any significant difference until the issues of speed, that these two mothers are concerned about, are addressed fully. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that addressing the 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. In The Netherlands, the ‘Stop the Child Murder’ Campaign was the precursor to the bicycle infrastructure and culture that the country is now renowned for. Until something similar happens in New Zealand, our dreams of a cycling revolution will remain only dreams. If cycle lanes are built, they will remain largely empty.

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

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The day I give up riding a bicycle just got a little bit closer.

I have a confession to make.

Everything I have written on this site about how wonderful riding a bicycle is, how easy and empowering it is…it’s all just been one big lie. It all seemed a good idea at the time. “Aspiration” is how I liked to think of it, phrase it. I realise now that the lie has gotten so big and complex that even I have started to believe it.

I thought I was doing myself and others a favour. What a quaint concept. It all began years ago, when I stopped riding like a warrior, like a two-wheeled motor vehicle. I learned to chose my routes carefully. I took the slow, indirect routes in order to avoid ‘space conflict’ with the more powerful, dominant road users. I deferred to these faster, dominant road users when it felt necessary to do so.

I’m now reassessing my options. It may be to find employment that is on a bus route, and reduce my riding to endless loops around the local park on weekends. Resort to ‘A to A’ cycling. Tie my bicycle to the back of the car and go somewhere that is car-free.

My faith in humanity has dipped. I feared for my life today. Actually. The motorist saw an obstacle on the road that was impeding her progress to the child care centre. I saw my life flashing before my eyes. I wasn’t doing anything different than what I have done everyday, for the last 10 years.

I was on a ‘designated’ cycle route. It’s a ‘rat-run’. Actually. It runs parallel to 8 fucking lanes of motorway. This is a story that, for the first time, have kept from my loved ones. I don’t want them to worry about me. I will just let slip one day that I have taken a new job…a change is as good as a break. You know.

If you see the driver of the Blue Toyota DNU62, tell her I’m doing ok. I’m just in the process of making some life changes.

Driven to distraction.

Distracted drivers

Distracted drivers kill

It is not widely known or accepted that the current approach to road safety takes place in a ‘shit happens/blame the victim’ kind of way.  So it would be nice if this latest local campaign was the beginning of a new era; to address the real issues of road safety.  A metaphorical first step in the process of coming to a general consensus around the negative consequences of cars; that road safety is a serious issue and deserves our undivided attention- pun intended.  So this kind of campaign could be the very beginnings of our first, tentative steps at starting that process.  Could be…

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour.

In terms of making a real difference, this kind of campaign is a ‘soft option’ and low level initiative but a necessary first step to any improvements.  Let me explain.  There is already a large number of drivers who understand the risks to themselves and other road users, and drive appropriately (given that the road infrastructure is designed in a way that is like an open invitation to drive too fast and unforgiving of errors).

There is also a large group of drivers who identify themselves as law abiding citizens but, due to a pervasive culture of casualness, do not take the issue of driving as seriously as it needs to be.  This is the group that this kind of campaign targets because they can be taught to drive slowly, safely and respectfully. It’s this group that can help shift the balance towards a social contract that makes that kind of behaviour normal.

…most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.

It’s how the anti-smoking lobby has worked so effectively. It’s about using peer pressure to change behaviour. Being smoke-free is presented as something that is normal and desirable.  And get celebrities to start supporting the cause.  (Let’s clarify something first; hands-free car phones are not safe like Kerre suggests).  But of course, I hear ya… a media campaign alone will never be enough.  It needs to followed up by intense police intervention and enforcement.  The police need to be ready and able to counter the inevitable backlash of ‘waging a war on motorists’ and just focused on revenue gathering.  This is not a victory to be won over night.  Backlash should be expected.

And of course, policies and laws such as reduced speed limits and tougher driving tests need to be introduced and most importantly, roads need to be re-engineered to physically discourage speeding.  Good public transport that is inexpensive, fast and efficient also needs to be provided as an alternative to driving.  Cycling and walking needs to be made safe and accessible to all.  It is a massive issue and change needs  to be made systematically and strategically.  There is too much at stake.

There is a third category of drivers that unfortunately, will be harder to shift.  It is that minority of drivers who don’t respond to normal behavioural cues.  The industries of big tobacco, big oil and big car have done their job so well.  Seriously.

I am becoming increasingly convinced that I can see the future.  I am going to predict the effectiveness of this campaign based on the experience of the last one.  I hope my prediction is wrong.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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Submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ draft report.



Back in 2014 I made a submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ consultation. This blog post reflects what I tried to convey in my submission. It still represents my view on how I think we need to approach the task of getting more people using bicycles as a form of transport – equal measures of infrastructure, policy and marketing. How are we doing since then, I wonder?

I support the draft recommendations proposed by the Cycling Safety Panel and its desire to achieve a transport landscape that allows for the safe movement of people on bicycles. I am encouraged by the panel’s acknowledgement and understanding of the benefits that cycling brings and the barriers to making that happen, as detailed below:-

1. Participation in cycling and cycling safety are inextricably linked.
2. Increases in cycling participation will bring safety benefits to individuals and to the wider community alike.
3. Economic and societal benefits of investing in cycling are irrefutable.
4. Riding a bicycle is inherently safe and the prevention of crashes with motor vehicles is the issue that needs to be addressed.

However, I am concerned that the panel’s recommendations lack the necessary clarity and boldness. Without any clearly stated cycling mode share targets set, there is a risk that the reports recommendations will not achieve its stated goals.


In New Zealand’s current transport landscape, cyclists are catered for as though they are two-wheeled motor vehicles. This is problematic because cycling is more akin to walking than driving. If we are to be successful in encouraging more people to cycle, this reality needs to be addressed. In New Zealand we rely on campaigns such as ‘Share the road’ which suggest that all road users have equal responsibility to stay safe. Whereas the Dutch have set the standard for best practice in this area. It is called ‘Sustainable Safety‘. As the draft report acknowledges, riding a bicycle is inherently safe. It is being hit by a fast moving vehicle that makes it unsafe. The current environment is far from equal.

Quality infrastructure is the critical factor in creating a transport environment that encourages people to choose to ride a bicycle on a daily basis for transport purposes. This infrastructure comes in a variety of forms. The creation of  ‘mobility environments‘ has changed the way road transport is approached. Infrastructure is designed to cater for all road users. Safety is designed into the infrastructure.

A well designed transport/mobility environment:-

  • makes cycling irresistible,
  • is built for the 99% who aren’t cycling now but who could be cycling,
  • follows ‘desire lines’ and goes where people want to go,
  • recognises cyclists are just fast-moving pedestrians and does not try to treat them as cars,
  • has infrastructure that will take cyclists to common destinations such as jobs, shops, businesses and schools.


Creating a cyclised city will not happen in isolation. Transport policies that promote cars ahead of other forms of transport will make it less likely for people to choose to switch to riding a bicycle. The way a city is designed will impact on the rate of cycling uptake. Instead of encouraging sprawl, housing needs to be built around transport hubs and multi-modal transport needs to be encouraged and supported.

A well designed city is one in which people live in an environment that allows them to work and play in close proximity. It’s about reducing travel demand and creating opportunities for short journeys to be achieved by bicycle. Minimum car parking requirements need to be removed from city planning laws to enable this transition to alternative transport to happen.

Cities that have high rates of everyday cycling also have the following features in common:-

  • reduced speed limits,
  • well developed road behaviour social contracts,
  • freedom to choose to wear a bicycle helmet,
  • bike share programmes.


The ‘normalised’ culture of cycling that we need does not come about by accident. It comes about as a result of a range of deliberate strategic interventions. The need for quality infrastructure and supportive transport policies have already been mentioned. But there is also a role for high quality marketing that promotes the value of everyday cycling. The value of cycling needs to be ‘sold’ to the public in order to build the political will that is essential to encourage a shift away from our present car-centric transport policies towards socially and economically sustainable transport options.

The word ‘cycling’ needs to become synonymous with meaning ‘short trips in normal clothes on a comfortable bike for people between the age of 8-80, male or female’.

The dominant perception of cycling at the moment is that it is for sports and recreational purposes; for the fit, brave or foolhardy. That’s a massive barrier to overcome, if we are to get the 99% of people who aren’t cycling now, to consider giving cycling a go. Like issues of real safety are dealt with by building quality infrastructure, issues of perceived safety need to be taken seriously too and addressed by implementing quality marketing.

Currently, cycling promotion focuses on safety by making it look dangerous. It focuses on the wearing of helmets and hi-viz. This kind of scare mongering plays into the fears of non-cyclists by reinforcing their current misplaced beliefs. Even the word ‘cycling’ creates misconceptions. That is why you will see the phrase ‘wheeled pedestrian cycling’ or ‘riding a bicycle’ now being used instead.

The full implementation of the above key strategies of infrastructure, policy and marketing will be needed to bring about the success that the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ report says that it desires. Underpinning this success will be a sufficient level of funding. A level of funding that reflects the value and contribution a city full of people on bicycles brings.

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

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Our cities don’t need more cyclists, they need more wheeled pedestrians.

via Amsterdamize

I don’t see cyclists, I see wheeled pedestrians. Image via Amsterdamize

My work colleagues regale me occasionally with their encounters with cyclists. These unsolicited monologues all tend to have a ‘please explain’ overtone. I guess I’m viewed as a suitable target because I am one of ‘them’. It’s easy for motorists to lump us all together and believe we all exhibit the same bad behaviours. It’s easy to do so because cycling is such a rare commodity. Similarly, members of the public ‘advise’ me regularly to wear a helmet when they see me riding slowly through the park on my bicycle. My hope is that these same people are also reminding motorists to stop using a cell phone while driving. It’s an important distinction because one of those activities has the potential to do some serious harm.

The responses that my colleagues tend to prefer are ones of contrition; apologies on behalf of the cycling fraternity. Occasionally I try my luck with a response that presents a bigger picture – that there are a growing number of cities around the world where priority is given to the moving people over the moving of cars. In those cities, motorists are not at the top of the food chain. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Pedestrians, people on bicycles, people on public transport – in that order, are all prioritised over motorists. The sums have been done. The research shows clearly that getting people out of cars and into active modes of transport is a win-win situation. It makes for a healthier and wealthier community and economy. That is what we need to be aspiring to.

Cities with high numbers of people cycling will have a lot of what I like to refer to as, ‘wheeled pedestrian’ cyclists. That is, people riding bicycles that emphasise comfort and utility, over speed. The bicycles feature things like mudguards, chain guards and facilities for carrying things (including children). They are perfect for doing short, local trips. Lycra, helmets and other specialised equipment are the preserve of sports cyclists. Park and Ride facilities around public transport hubs cater for bicycles, not cars.

These cities are also endowed with a network of wide and separated cycle paths. These paths are great because they make cycling safer and more appealing to a larger group of people. Motorists also benefit because they gain from the increased level of predictability. Cyclists are allocated a space for cycling. Motorists know to expect cyclists and know where they will be. It’s the stuff that would make my work colleagues happy.

But there’s more to it. The approach to road design by the transport authorities in cities with high rates of wheeled pedestrian cycling is completely different. Instead of being focused on funnelling as many motor vehicles through the city as quickly as possible, cities that have high rates of everyday cycling focus on what is called ‘sustainable safety’. The purpose of sustainable safety is to take the ‘sh*t happens’, out of road travel. Speed reduction and street design that caters for human error feature highly in these cities.

Getting people out of cars doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires well planned and strategic input. Viable transport alternatives to the car need to be provided of course but efforts in making the bicycle a cool and appealing form of transport also need to be undertaken. (I always marvel at how the tobacco industry managed to make a deadly habit into a socially acceptable practice). Our civic leaders need to take the lead in developing a strong social contract that puts the safety of all road users as the top priority. Driving needs to be viewed as a public health issue in the same way that tobacco has become. It will take time so it needs to start sooner than later.

It is my days spent in a classroom with a bunch of exuberant 5 year olds that tells me that change is possible. These children are naturally inclined to be kind and caring to one another. They want to work together towards a common goal even though they are all unique individuals. My job is simply to let that culture come to the fore. I do the foundation work, establishing a supportive environment and providing positive models. It’s hard to find the words to describe the magic that unfolds. The success I experience in my classroom tells me that a significant improvement in our transport culture could be achieved as well. If we set our minds and hearts to it.

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

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