It was obviously disappointing to read in yesterday's Dominion Post about an incident at the Mersey Street intersection on Thursday. My thoughts are with the rider of the bike and I hope he makes a speedy recovery. I also hope that the city council and police are looking into the circumstances of the incident in order to determine exactly what happened.
I am very familiar with the spot where the incident occurred (marked with an X on the map) because it is where I usually enter The Parade when driving or riding. There is absolutely no question that the visibility when you are entering The Parade from the eastern side of Mersey Street has been greatly improved since the cycleway was implemented. Cars used to park directly outside 213 and 215 The Parade (Point A on the map) making it very difficult to see north when pulling out. The closest car parks are now outside 209 The Parade (Point B on the map), which is 30 metres further north, creating significant additional visibility whether exiting Mersey Street from the east or travelling southbound along The Parade.
The photo shows the visibility looking north along the cycleway from the drivers seat of a car waiting at the Stop sign. Note that the car parked closest to the pedestrian crossing is in a hatched area and shouldn't actually be there. Despite this the visibility is good, and much better than previously. That said, it could be improved even more if the telephone pole was moved slightly.
The rider of the bike is quoted as saying "he believed the cycleway was an improvement on the previous road layout, but for those who rode at speed, it made it harder for cars to see them". It has been a real point of contention with the cycleway that some people who prefer to ride their bikes faster don't like the new cycleway.
Of course, the cycleway is not targeted at that type of cyclist, it is targeted at those who don't ride at the moment but would like to if it was safer and more comfortable. That type of rider will typically not be riding at more than 20 kph. Is it fair that we ask faster riders to slow down when they are on the cycleway for the greater good? I think so. I am a commuter cyclist and I have no problem whatsoever with slowing down a bit if it means that more people might start riding bikes, especially kids. The difference between riding the entire length of the 1.5 km cycleway at 15 kph and 30 kph is no more than a few minutes and its not like there aren't often obstructions and delays for cyclists out on the road anyway. To be fair to this particular rider his comment that "he believed the cycleway was an improvement on the previous road layout" does seem to acknowledge that there is trade-off to be made between the needs of different types of cyclist.
I think the key thing to remember here is that no transport infrastructure is completely risk free. This particular incident is very unfortunate but this type of incident was just as likely to occur with the old road layout which had significantly worse visibility at this intersection. The old layout also encouraged the few people on bikes who were keen to take on the challenge to ride much faster.
Something else worth remembering is that safety isn't an absolute concept, it's relative. That means that the safety of the cycleway can only be properly assessed in comparison to a) what was there before, and b) other aspects of our transport infrastructure. While the new cycleway still has some risk the likelihood and consequences of an accident are much lower than when riding a bike on the road. Simply separating people on bikes from motorised traffic for most of their journey along The Parade makes a massive difference. We also shouldn't judge the cycleway to a higher standard than we are prepared to accept in the rest of the environment. It is a simple fact that the risks created by cars, trucks and buses weighing up to 12 tonnes and travelling at 50 kph through our community far outweigh any of the risks associated with the cycleway. It we are prepared to mitigate, manage and ultimately accept the risks associated with motorised traffic, then we can definitely make the transition to a protected cycleway. Humans are remarkably resilient and adaptable and it should not take long to adjust to the new layout as long as we are all willing.
- As mentioned in the story the cycleway is still not finished. Among other things there is still green paint to be applied, which would have helped in this case.
- It's not correct that the Mersey Street intersection has Give Way signs. It has been a Stop controlled intersection for some time.
- The council is yet to publish any education material about the cycleway. This should help to make all users more aware of how to get the best out of the new road layout.