Barbara Cuthbert: Safe cycling and driving messages require review

My mother is a feisty 88-year-old who is still working to change the world. She often reminds me that Kate Sheppard was her great-aunt, so she has a proud tradition to maintain.

For the past fortnight she has regaled me with her friends' reports about the hazards of fast-travelling lycra-clad cyclists. I suspect she's hoping Cycle Action Auckland (CAN) can change their behaviour.

My mother's generation grew up in a different world. They are now confronted with lycra, traffic congestion, impatient drivers and endless talk about unhealthy lifestyles and obesity.

Like many people they are aware of the five-day toll of five people killed while cycling and the shocking circumstances which killed a young woman cycling home along Tamaki Drive.

This public awareness was reflected in thoughtful editorials in the NZ Herald and the Christchurch Press on November 22, and in the NZ Listener. Other media comments were less considered, suggesting that cycling should be prohibited on busy roads.

I am impressed that Auckland Transport acted swiftly to remove the hazardous parking spaces on Tamaki Drive, and plans to remedy other Tamaki Drive cycling blackspots. Auckland Council's Transport Committee, led by chairman Mike Lee, also flagged practical safety improvements.

I am asked frequently why people cycle on Tamaki Drive at all, why they don't use the shared path, why cyclists are freeloading on the national transport budget and what can be done to improve cycling safety.

Here's my response: Tamaki Drive is a stunning panoramic road used by pedestrians, joggers, people cycling and car drivers, and is the most direct link between the waterfront suburbs and the CBD.

Small wonder it is used each year by 350,000 people cycling for transport and recreation. Some people choose not to cycle on the narrow shared footpath because it is often used by elderly pedestrians, wide baby buggies and dog walkers.

Other people dislike cycling on the path because it is easily obstructed by car passenger doors opened without warning or left open during lunch stops, unloading children and so on. The path also has broken glass, is used for traffic signs and is rutted by tree roots.

The costs of local roads like Tamaki Drive are met by councils and the national transport budget (about a 50/50 split). People who cycle help meet these costs as they pay rates, ACC levies and taxes. They also own cars, so incur petrol taxes.

People using bicycles instead of a car have virtually no impact on road wear and tear, and occupy only a sixth of the space. Cycles carry only one person, as do many car trips.

The net result is that cycle trips help reduce traffic congestion and related air pollution.

In the wider picture, cycling leads to fitter, healthier bodies and a sense of well-being and joy - these are valuable to a national health budget straining to meet the costs of obesity and mental health problems.

What can be done to improve cycling safety? The recent deaths and rising injury rates are a national issue.

Cycle Action is working with Bike NZ and CAN to obtain a fairer allocation of the national transport budget for walking and cycling.

At present they receive less than 1 per cent of the budget yet account for 18 per cent of all trips. About 30 per cent of Kiwis own bikes, and more of us are cycling - this year's Auckland Regional Transport Authority cycle count recorded a 27 per cent increase in people cycling. The additional cycling funds are urgently needed for these safety priorities:

* Continuous arterial road cycle lanes in cities and shoulders on key rural roads.

* Cycle training in schools and for adults who want to cycle for transport.

* A road safety campaign with fresh and specific messages for safe cycling and driving.

A public rally to promote safer cycling will be held at 11am to noon this Sunday, December 5, on Queens Wharf on the downtown Auckland waterfront. Everyone who wants improved safety for cycling family members and friends, those who would cycle if it was safer and easier, and those who cycle now are invited to join the gathering.

Barbara Cuthbert is spokeswoman of Cycle Action Auckland