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.