Biking should not be a life or death gamble
Free Thursday Newsletter. Please consider letting us make things safe enough that people we love stop getting killed
Another half second and she might have been dead, our daughter. How would the news story have described it? Probably: a young woman cyclist died today in the CBD in a collision with a tow truck.
Instead there was just a broken bike, and half a second made all the difference.
There was a tow truck, belting through the streets the way they do at haulaway rush hour.
There was a bike coming up the bike lane - that would be our daughter.
There was a gap in the traffic - if you don't count a young woman on a bike - and so the tow truck made his right turn swoop across the lanes of Symonds St. Maybe he spotted her before they hit, maybe he didn't. Either way there was a collision.
It was a glance to the front wheel, enough to throw her off and bust the wheel. But not enough to do greater harm, so that's a relief eh.
But also. One more revolution of the wheel and she would have been square in his path and what then? Agony more than you can bear, maybe.
Agony more than you can bear is what families in Auckland and Wellington have had brought to their door in recent days and months by collisions with vehicles. That is how the news stories phrase it, collision with a vehicle. Another way to report it might be, a family’s loved one was riding a bike when someone driving a car/ute/truck hit and killed them.
That's what we're dealing with when we drive. It might feel like a cosy armchair but it has lethal force.
Moving yourself around from home to work to the shops to school to the gym, to any of the places you go in your daily life should be a safe and simple thing. It should not be a matter of life or death.
Getting around on a bike should not be a life and death gamble, and it does not need to be.
All it takes is some money and some room.
That makes it sounds so simple, and here’s why:
because it really is that straightforward.
But sweet Jesus the angry noise if you try to make any of that happen.
You will be told it’s a wasteful indulgence.
You will be told that people prefer cars and we should get used to it.
You will be even told what conditions you - the person doing the actual riding - will be willing to ride in.
I’m mostly wanting to say just this: that it really doesn't take a lot of money to do this, a small fraction in the context of the budgets that go to roads and transport even when Auckland makes it gold-plated by throwing in all the other underground infrastructure and calling it all a cycle lane.
I'm also wanting to say: it really should appeal to anyone who drives, because this takes the bikes out of your lane, meaning you will never again be held up by someone on a bike taking the lane to avoid getting doored.
What do I mean by doored? This is what I mean.
So that’s all I’d really want to say: it won't cost much at all and it will get us out of your way. But it always feels as though you can never just stop there, you have to answer all the other objections. So off we go.
We can’t spare a lane, our cars need all the space we can get
You’d think that would be the solution to clogged roads, yes. But the exhaustively catalogued law of induced demand shows the truth: the more you build, the more you find you're needing to build, without end. Far better to provide other options, other modes of transport. You’d be amazed how much that can free up a choked motorway.
Which leads us to:
But most people prefer cars
It hasn't always been that way. Remember when you were a kid and the roads were so full of people on bikes the cars moved carefully and you were safe?
There were adults on bikes in big numbers too, once upon a time.
This was a time before motorways and mall car parks and cheap Japanese imports when the car did not dominate the way it does now. We have acquired the habit of driving not just long distances but very short ones too. Many of our trips are under 5 kms and many of those are easily done on foot or by bike.
Which leads us to:
Not everyone can do that!
That’s correct, not suggesting otherwise. But a great many can, that's all we're saying, which means a great many trips coud be made in a different way. And not just in flat places either thanks to the hill killing e-bikes. (Likewise some things are more easily delivered by truck than a cargo bike although again, you'd be bloody surprised what's possible)
Which leads us to:
Yeah but who can afford a fancy e-bike?
Fair question, if you're comparing the price to a push bike. But the fairer comparison is a car because it can replace one hell of a lot of car trips just as quickly and without the hassle of finding somewhere to park.
Agreed, this is not something everyone can afford. But the aim here is to move people out of cars where that is possible.
Also, an e-bike will never make you poor as effectively as a car does: all that pain of filling the tank, and the repairs, and the tyres, and the parking, and the monthly payments, you can say goodbye to it all as you glide through the streets with a happy smile on your face.
But look, don't take my word for it, objectors. Maybe try an e-bike for yourself and see what the fuss is about.
And if it’s not for you, fine.
But please at least consider letting us make things safe enough that people we love stop getting killed.
For our daughter on her first anniversary of getting hit by a tow truck. Love you.
I always head out on my bike with the awareness that one wrong move could get me killed. My experience has been that most people on bikes have the same outlook.
A sobering read and sound reasons to increase our vigilance when driving - assume there will be cycles in the cycle lanes; check the wing mirror before opening the door, etc. Meanwhile you are right about who used to cycle - a small excerpt from 'New Zealand by Design' - the observations of a German doctor visiting Christchurch just before the start of World War I:
"The streets boast of a lively traffic: electric trams, neat hansom cabs with good horses, motor-cars, farmers’ phaetons and carts pass by: and above all is the bicycle. Hundreds — thousands speed along. Everybody cycles in this ideally flat district: bishops, parsons, telegraph boys, letter-carriers, lamplighters, physicians, merchants, chimney-sweeps, clerks, shop girls and school children: mothers, who fasten their babies on in front with straps: butcher boys, who support their baskets on handle-bars — in short the world and his wife."