Wednesday's crash on The Parade is a perfect example of why vulnerable road users need to be separated from motor traffic.
Here's a few thoughts about Wednesday's crash on The Parade.
First of all, sympathies to all involved, especially those who had their cars dented. Thankfully there doesn't seem to have been any injuries reported.
The Police were in attendance so hopefully their investigation will determine exactly what happened and whether there was any negligence involved. What appears to have happened is that a car travelling south along The Parade between Tamar and Avon Streets has veered to the left for some reason and crashed into three parked cars. A bus has then tried to get around the crash site and scraped a car parked on the other side of the road. So six vehicles were involved in total but only two drivers (four of the vehicles were parked at the time).
Despite the fact that this crash only involved motor vehicles there was an immediate attempt on social media to once again blame the cycleway. The rationale seems to be that The Parade is now "too narrow" which makes it more prone to accidents. This is confirmation bias and not supported by the facts.
It's actually been a below average year for crashes on The Parade
Over the past 10 years there has been an average of six crashes on The Parade per year reported in NZTA's Crash Analysis System. However, up until June 30 this year there had been only two crashes reported. One was the February 25 crash at the Mersey Street intersection prior to the cycleway being finished. The other was a crash near the Medway Street intersection sometime around Queen's Birthday weekend (but this crash can't possibly be blamed on the cycleway because the cycleway doesn't continue through the shopping centre). Interestingly, another crash on June 13 which was widely reported in the media is not in CAS. The likely explanation for this is that Police did not actually attend the crash. Police did attend this latest crash so we can expect it to be added to CAS (although NZTA is no longer reporting non-injury crashes in CAS, so maybe not). If so, that would mean a total of three crashes reported in CAS for The Parade for 2016 so far. Even if the June 13 crash is added to the total that still makes 2016 a below average year for crashes on The Parade. Yes, there are probably a number of unreported crashes, but that's also true of any other year. There is no evidence to support the view that the cycleway has caused more crashes on The Parade, although I don't doubt that some people are now far more alert to crashes happening (but that's pretty much the definition of confirmation bias).
It's proven that narrower lanes are safer
There's also strong evidence that narrower lanes are safer because they reduce traffic speeds. The U.S. National Association of City Transportation Officials urban street design guide says "lane widths of 10 feet (3m) are appropriate in urban areas and have a positive impact on a street's safety without impacting traffic operations". A 2015 study presented to the Canadian Institute of Transportation also concluded that "given the empirical evidence that favours ‘narrower is safer’, the ‘wider is safer’ approach based on intuition should be discarded once and for all". The width of the traffic lanes on The Parade is still 3m, which is relatively generous by Wellington standards. In fact, you can't actually get to The Parade without driving on roads which are as narrow, or even narrower. A narrower carriageway also makes it much easier and safer for pedestrians to cross the road because they have a shorter distance to cover. Let's face it, if The Parade is really "too narrow" then the city council has a significant and very costly city-wide safety issue to deal with.
Cars are dangerous, not cycleways
The bottom line here is that cars are dangerous and when we drive a car we take on a significant responsibility. We are literally in charge of something that could kill another person. Despite this a 2015 Ministry of Transport review found that the average free-flow speed in urban 50km/h areas is consistently higher than 50km/h and 15% of cars travel faster than 55km/h.
That's a huge problem because according to NZTA's Road Safety Audit Procedures for Projects a pedestrian or cyclist hit by a car travelling at 50km/h has an 80% (approx.) chance of being killed, which is far higher than someone travelling by car. The good news is that Wellington City Council already has data that shows that average speeds along The Parade have dropped since the introduction of the cycleway and the associated removal of the flush median and "door zone" bike lanes (where they were actually marked).
Under the previous road layout the car that was the cause of this crash could have easily drifted into somebody riding a bike or a pedestrian waiting to cross the road. You really couldn't find a better example of why vulnerable users, such as pedestrians and people on bikes, need to be protected from motor vehicles, especially if we want to encourage uptake of active and sustainable transport modes. As pointed out in a post at Transport Blog crashes like this have a number of direct and indirect consequences. The direct consequence is that people can get hurt, needlessly. But the indirect consequence is that many people choose not to walk or bike at all, which is a rational response to a dangerous road environment. This consequence is just as serious because it eventually leads to health problems and premature deaths down the track as a result of physical inactivity.
This crash was the fault of the two drivers involved. Any knee-jerk attempt to blame the cycleway is just another example of the hypocrisy around cycleway safety that needs to stop. This is especially true if we are going to make fully-informed and unemotional decisions about road safety and how we make active and sustainable transport options viable for as many people as possible.
The long walk (and bike) to Free-dom
New Wellington Mayor Justin Lester recently announced portfolios for the new council. Incumbent councillor Sarah Free will take on the public transport portfolio, as well as cycling and walking, and new councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman will focus on transport strategy and operations. So what can we expect for cycling from our new transport overlords? The good news is that both scored pretty highly in our pre-election survey of bike-friendliness. Here are Chris and Sarah's responses from when they were questioned by Cycle Aware Wellington before the election.
Do you ride a bike: what for (recreation, commuting, trips to the shop, etc), and how often?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: I ride bikes mainly for recreation. I have an electric bike. Up until 2013 when I lived in west London I rode almost daily, and taught my young son to ride confidently in traffic. Now in Wellington, the cycling conditions are not as conducive, as the traffic speeds tend to be much higher but I enjoy riding recreationally just the same.
Sarah Free: Yes, commuting about once or twice a week, recreation once a week.
What best describes your attitude to riding a bike: “strong and fearless”, “enthused and confident”, “interested but concerned”, or “no way no how”?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Enthused and confident.
Sarah Free: Enthused and confident
Should we encourage more bike trips as part of Wellington’s transport network?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Absolutely.
Sarah Free: Definitely!
What should WCC’s annual cycling budget be (excluding central government funding)? $5 million, $10 million, $20 million?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Probably about $10 million annually. However I’m aware there is considerable central government funding available including for the Great Harbour Way between Miramar and the central city. I would want to see a lineup of schemes in design before I committed to an annual budget as I believe the consultation problems that beset the Island Bay cycleway illustrates the problem of having an annual budget and pressure to deliver from it within a single year.
Sarah Free: $10 million in the short term (at least 5 years) while we build the main cycle network, dropping to $5 million as we do more minor works and maintenance.
Do you support slower speeds in the Wellington CBD?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Speeds on the Golden Mile have already been reduced. While lower speed limits are a useful reminder to some drivers, many take their cue from the prevailing road conditions. There are ways of altering these “cues” such as lane narrowing and of course traffic calming, depending on circumstances. If a blanket reduction in speed limits is set it needs to be enforced.
Sarah Free: Yes, apart from the main through-routes which I think should stay at 50 Km/hr.
Do you support removal of parking if necessary to provide cycleways, for example on the Hutt Road cyclepath?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Yes, where necessary and practical. Free parking for businesses should be secondary to road safety and the provision of good quality cycling infrastructure. There are often creative ways of dealing with residential parking, for example making provision for displaced car parking on side roads. Wherever possible we should look for a win-win as otherwise the removal of parking can simply inflame anti-cyclist tensions.
Sarah Free: Yes, but other parking solutions should be found.
What is your preferred solution for the Island Bay cycleway?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: That’s a difficult one. I think it was well-intentioned but ill-advised as the carriageway width is just slightly too narrow for what was implemented. I don’t believe it’s seriously deficient as a design, but it falls short of best-practice. My main concern is that if faster cyclists prefer to stay on the main carriageway they can be abused by drivers. I believe the council should have taken a more in-depth look at the parking demand – much of it probably comes from commuters, not locals, so displacing some of this parking would not necessarily have been problematic. The solution might be to remove parking from one side of the road and spread everything else out, although I appreciate this would be expensive and untidy and could further inflame local tensions. The main lesson to learn is to undertake more in-depth planning and consultation before embarking on such projects.
Sarah Free: First, I’d like to see some adjustments made to the existing design to reduce the cycleway width slightly on both sides and make the width consistent for the whole length, which would allow more space in the carriageway for vehicle traffic and buses. Also cats-eyes or some other treatment on the edge of the cycleway so people don’t park over the lines. But if the community comes up with an alternative idea that has widespread buy-in I’d be happy to support it.
What do you see as the three most important cycling projects to implement in the next year?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: 1. The Cobham Drive/Evans Bay Parade section of the Great Harbour Way, as a protected cycleway. This will probably be a 2-4 year project but designs must commence soon. There’s no reason why the Cobham Drive section can’t be built this summer, as it’s not problematic. 2. The Hutt Road cycleway, provided it isn’t compromised by the retention of footway parking. 3. Planning for a high quality cycle route at both ends of the proposed second Mt Victoria traffic tunnel, with a proper segregated route through the eventual tunnel itself of course.
Sarah Free: Hutt Cycleway, Miramar cutting to Waitangi Park around the Bays route, Uphill route on Brooklyn Road
Do you think electric assist bikes are a good way to encourage more cycling?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Definitely.
Sarah Free: Yes, they will be transformational.
Do you have any other comments on cycling in Wellington?
Chris Calvi-Freeman: Providing safe infrastructure is a real challenge with Wellington’s narrow and hilly streets. But as Mandela said, it was only impossible until it was done!
Sarah Free: We’ve actually come a long way in three years…. Who would have thought we’d be talking about a cycling budget of $37 million!! But we need to keep talking to all sorts of people and explain the WHY of getting a better and safer cycling network. Although people who cycle often wish we could move faster, I personally believe we need to make haste slowly and build a widespread groundswell of support- this will come as kids take up bikes in schools, retired people buy eBikes and school kids start to ride to school and sport.
Chris wrote extensively about his policies on wider transport issues on his website prior to the election. Sarah also wrote a few words about her new role here.
They have a tough job ahead of them on the long walk (and bike) to Free-dom so good luck to them both!
Here's Bob Mould singing Husker Du's "In a Free Land" with J Mascis and Lou Barlow from Dinosaur Jr because why not?