Road safety: we're all responsible

The tragic death of another Dunedin cyclist has renewed debate about safety and the city's cycling infrastructure.

University of Otago dentistry senior lecturer Dr Li Hong He (34) died this week when he was run over by a stock truck outside Dunedin Hospital while cycling along Cumberland St. Police are investigating the incident, which follows a similar one which claim- ed the life of a retired Dunedin man who was hit by an empty logging truck at the intersection of Anzac Ave and Castle St last November. In both cases, the cyclists were using designated cycle lanes on the busy State Highway 1 routes through the city.

There have been other cyclist deaths - and many accidents, injuries and close calls. Only a week after the Anzac Ave fatality, a male cyclist was knocked off his bicycle after it was clipped by a container truck in Strathallan St.

And last month, a group of four cyclists riding single file on Wharf St were shaken after a close brush with a fully laden logging truck.

The New Zealand Transport Agency's (NZTA) Communities at Risk Register shows Dunedin City is ranked fourth in New Zealand in terms of the number of serious and fatal crashes involving cyclists in urban areas. Figures from the Ministry of Transport's Safer Journeys strategy show in recent years an average of 300 cyclists are hospitalised in New Zealand and 10 killed from crashes involving a vehicle. Cyclists were found to have primary responsibility in only 25% of such crashes. In urban areas, pedestrians and cyclists account for 30% of all road deaths.

It is important to remember behind the statistics are people who have lost their lives - and families and friends their loved ones - and that the accidents are traumatic for all involved. It is clear that safety for cyclists must be to the forefront as communities throughout New Zealand and the world move towards more sustainable transport and actively encourage cycling in urban environments.

Europe is leading the cycling renaissance and cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen are pioneers in terms of cycle-friendly urban planning and design, with bike-sharing programmes, a network of cycleways and an increased emphasis on routes which keep bicycles and motor vehicles physically separated. The United States, Canada and Asia are fast following in their tracks in terms of adopting such infrastructure.

There appears to be increased will at council and government level in New Zealand to provide for cyclists. The Safer Journeys strategy over the next 10 years aims to "achieve a safe road environment that encourages more people to walk and cycle, where vehicles travel at safe speeds and there is a culture of sharing the road".

Exciting initiatives are taking place in New Plymouth and Hastings, the country's first walking and cycling "Model Communities" - an NZTA-funded (to the tune of $7.3 million) pilot that encourages walking or cycling as the easiest and safest transport choices and helps councils integrate them into their planning and strategies.

In Dunedin, at grassroots level, the city council is involved in providing cycle skills training in schools, and similar training is available for adults. Sections of the Dunedin to Port Chalmers and Otago Peninsula shared pedestrian and cycleways are completed and being used by many. And design work on the $4.5 million southern commuter routes in the city's Strategic Cycling Network has begun, with physical work expected to start early next year.

The routes could feature a variety of dedicated cycle facilities such as cycle-only lanes, shared pathways, lower speed limits and cycle parking.

There will be an opportunity for public consultation before work begins and it is to be hoped the council and NZTA will consider public feedback, the recent tragic deaths and the international evidence, and will adopt best practice wherever possible in the infrastructure.

While it seems we are travelling in the right direction, it is also a fact that costs keep progress slow and impact on designs. Therefore, until the desired safer streets exist, it is incumbent on everyone to take responsibility for road safety - and examine their actions and attitudes towards our most vulnerable road users.