Cycleways needed to protect riders - expert

A cycling expert is calling on the Government to provide dedicated cycleways with curbing channels to protect cyclists from traffic.

Professor Simon Kingham from Canterbury University said there was a perception cycling was unsafe compared with other forms of transport, but the overall risk was actually lower when the health benefits of exercise were taken into account.

"The main barrier to people cycling is that they don't feel safe - it's absolutely clear and we've done some research in Christchurch on that about three years ago."

Dr Kingham said more people would cycle to and from work if it was seen to be safer.

"It's people's perceptions of what is safe, and what people have made very clear is they want to be separated from traffic. They don't want to be cycling on a road with nothing but a painted white line between them and a car.

"They want some sort of physical barrier whether it be a curb, a fence, a hedge or some planters, or a cycleway that's completely away."

Internationally, there was a lot of evidence that building dedicated cycleways would encourage people to ride more often.

"You build good infrastructure and people get on their bikes and use it, so infrastructure becomes a key thing."

Dr Kingham said there needed to be "bold political leadership" and road planning experts needed to start thinking more about cycling safety when planning upgrades to roads.

He pointed to the huge opportunities in Christchurch, where the Government will invest $2.2 billion in rebuilding the city's quake-damaged infrastructure - a large part of which was roading.

"Easily the cheapest way to put in good cycle infrastructure is when you're fixing up roads."

Earlier this year, a coroner asked if cyclists should legally have to use cycle lanes where they are provided.

In 2010, there were 10 cycling deaths, 149 serious injuries and 695 minor injuries.

Cycling Advocates Network Patrick Morgan has backed the call for dedicated cycleways, saying cycling could be made safer through education and enforcement, but the best way was through engineering.

"That's the most effective tool in the toolkit for getting more people cycling more often. If you look at places that have a lot of people riding bikes, that's how they've achieved it - they've created attractive cycling environments."

Mr Morgan said it was clear from Dr Kingham's research, a first for New Zealand, that cyclists wanted separated cycleways.

The difficulties with establishing dedicated cycleways were only political, not geographical, and they could work in any city in the world - as they had done in the old cities of Europe.

Mr Morgan said it was cheaper to build cycleways than to not because of savings in other areas.

More cyclists freed up road space and car parks, lowered the costs of road building and made for massive savings in the health budget.

Dr Kingham's call for dedicated cycleways comes ahead of his public lecture on bike safety tomorrow as part of Canterbury University's Eco Week.