OPINION: The appallingly high number of cyclists killed on New Zealand roads in the last few weeks might prove to be a statistical blip, but the probability is that it signals a trend.
That is the consequence of a deadly equation: more cyclists on the roads and roads ill-equipped to accommodate them safely.
New Zealanders have had a love-hate relationship with the bicycle since the machines became freely available in the 1890s. They provided transport unencumbered by the bothersome horse or the expensive motorcar, and they provided it free. But the bicycle was also the target of resentment, for providing a scandalous freedom of movement for women and an inconvenience to vehicles and pedestrians.
This ambivalence has waxed and waned according to circumstance. As the cities grew and workers and school children found the bike vital to their coming and going, acceptance grew; as the motorcar came within the reach of every family and public transport expanded, bicycles went out of fashion.
That disfavour is now fast changing. The improvement in the machines' technology, the recognition of the fitness biking brings and concern about oil-based transport mean that New Zealanders are getting back on their bikes.
The trend is welcome. It increases health and betters the environment and it reduces the number of motor vehicles. Roading costs and congestion thereby decline, as do health bills; community wellbeing is enhanced.
It is unfortunate that no government has fully recognised these advantages by making the investment that would significantly increase the number of people cycling and make them safer.
Plans have been put in place to work towards those desirable goals but they are being slowly implemented. The result is that New Zealand is far less cyclist-friendly than many European countries.
The present Government shows no sign of reversing this. It has moved funding away from urban cycleways and its keenness for road building seems to exclude cycles as an important part of the transport system.
John Key's pet enthusiasm for a national network of cycleways through the countryside is expensive and does nothing to address the main cycling need – better facilities for cyclists in the cities.
Not that improved infrastructure would make cycling absolutely safe or see it taken up as a majority means of transport. It would be prohibitively expensive to separate cycles and vehicles at all points and many people are physically incapable of or temperamentally unwilling to get on a bike. But better facilities would reduce accidents and encourage more people.
At some stage the growing cycling lobby and the sense of their arguments will produce a greater investment in cycleways separated from city streets, terminals where bikes can be safely stored and the provision of inner-city free machines and drop-off points.
Until then, New Zealanders will have to do better in sharing their roads between cycles and vehicles. That requires greater care and greater courtesy.
From The Press