#SafetyforLife: Cycling safely into the future
In late 2014, I partnered with my colleagues in leading an exciting new collaboration between AECOM, Auckland Transport and Rongomai Primary School — a low-income school in South Auckland, New Zealand. The Rongomai Cycle Programme is aimed at educating children about cycle safety and promoting active, healthy lifestyles.
AECOM staff donated a fleet of brand new BMX bikes to the school, and we teach cycle skills to the Year 5 and 6 students on an ongoing basis. This programme is the first of its kind in New Zealand and gives children the opportunity to participate in monthly cycling skills and exercise programmes. Given the declining trends in cycling, beginning at an early age to teach children that cycling can be both fun and safe is extremely important — especially the part about safety.
You might remember in 1994 when it became law to wear a bike helmet in New Zealand. The hope was to reduce the number of serious cycling injuries and fatalities. At the time, an average of 21 people every year were dying on our roads.
While the next 10 years after 1994 saw a 50-percent drop in cyclist deaths, New Zealanders also cycled 50 percent less; effectively, fatality rates were unchanged. From this, it’s reasonable to conclude that the helmet law didn’t actually help reduce the risk, but rather only served to discourage the use of bicycles.
Should this be any surprise to those who understand safety factors? Helmets are just Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) after all — the last line of defence in any safety system. Just like a hard hat worn by a construction worker, the only guaranteed way to protect the worker is to eliminate or isolate the worker from the hazard in the first instance.
So what is the solution in the context of cycling? Some people blame cyclists, some blame drivers, some blame roads, and some blame all three! Some might like to argue that the only way to reach zero cyclist fatalities is to have zero cyclists on the road but, interestingly, New York City achieved zero fatalities by doing just the opposite.
In 2013, when New York City had an average of 20 cycling-related fatalities per year, the decision was made to make 6,000 bikes available to New Yorkers at 300 stations around the city. Soon enough, the number of trips taken by cyclists had tripled, and the number of fatality rates had dropped to zero. More cyclists meant everyone had to get used to sharing the road.
New York’s experience is just one of the reasons why cities and countries around the world are encouraging more cycling, not less. A city with a large population of regular cyclists is proving to be healthier, community minded, more efficient, more economically viable, more environmentally responsible, and, surprisingly, safer for all residents. Personally, I love riding my cycle into work along Auckland’s waterfront on the shared cycle path. Yes, it’s beautiful, and the exercise and freedom are a definite bonus, but it’s the cost I like the best. If I ride my bike, I don’t have to pay for public transport or parking (AECOM even provides free bike cages, lockers and showers), and I don’t have to find time or money for exercise classes.
Sadly, when I tell people I cycle to work, I get the same response: “You are so brave!” It is a stark reminder that the number one barrier to cycling is safety. But whose responsibility is it to ensure my safety as I cycle on public transport routes alongside other commuters and drivers heading to their jobs?
This is why the Rongomai Cycle Programme is a great way to teach our children the importance of cycle safety, while promoting the benefits of cycling as well. The more awareness that is brought to our future and current cyclists, the more likely we will be accepting of them on our roads.
Set to be in force in late 2015, the Health and Safety Reform Bill is poised to change the face of safety and make the responsibilities far more wide-reaching and all encompassing. Under the proposed act, all Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) will have an obligation for the health and safety of those affected by their activities — including cyclists. This obligation will extend to all New Zealand employers, contractors, designers, manufacturers, importers, construction companies, truck drivers and government agencies.
So what does this mean? Car manufacturers may develop alarm sensors to detect the presence of people on the road. Transport trucks may be fitted with mirror extensions and side guards. And where PCBUs don’t act, it means the regulators can step in. London is already proposing a full ban on all trucks that are not equipped with this basic safety equipment.
Fortunately, we have already started on this journey. Transport agencies, construction companies and integrated infrastructure firms like AECOM are already starting to consider people who cycle and provide comprehensive cycling infrastructure, including purpose-built cycleways in their urban-design and transport-planning work.
Auckland’s first urban cycleway is nearly complete and will connect the downtown to the Northwest Cycleway via the newly constructed Grafton Gully Cycleway. Further up the cycleway, the Causeway Alliance (upgrade to Highway 16 in Auckland) has committed to maintaining unimpeded access for cyclists during construction.
Local councils and businesses are exploring options like the bike-share programmes that AECOM has sponsored in Christchurch and San Francisco, and many have embraced the role they can play in changing behaviours and connecting communities in our cities, providing education opportunities for the public and businesses.
Efforts such as the Rongomai Cycle Programme help to build the confidence and skills these young cyclists need, and also prepare them to be responsible road users in the future. Recent studies have even shown that students who cycle have better road awareness and success rates when they take their drivers test.
In New Zealand today, only 1 percent of our commuting is done on a bicycle, but 46 percent of standard travel commutes are less than 5 kilometers long — a perfect distance for a bicycle. The number one barrier is safety, but I believe that is poised to change for the better.
Comment below to share your thoughts on the importance of cycle safety. Be sure to use the #SafetyforLife hashtag when you share this post on Twitter, Google+ or Facebook.
Wendi Croft is an AECOM safety, health & environment manager based in Auckland, New Zealand. Originally from Canada, Wendi lives in Auckland with her husband and three children. When she isn’t working, she enjoys hiking, camping, kayaking and exploring New Zealand with her family.
LinkedIn: Wendi Croft
Predicting Accident Rates for Cyclists and Pedestrians, 2006, NZTA http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/research/reports/289/docs/289.pdf
Lorries without cycle safety equipment to be banned from London. 2014. https://www.london.gov.uk/media/mayor-press-releases/2014/01/lorries-without-cycle-safety-equipment-to-be-banned-from-london
City of Portland – violation study. http://blog.oregonlive.com/commuting/2009/04/so_you_think_cyclists_are_the.html
Harbour Sport Study. http://www.stuff.co.nz/auckland/local-news/north-shore-times/10273067/Cyclists-make-better-drivers