The number one reason NZ is so shit for bicycles

(and the helmet law isn’t it!*)

Mikael over at is fond of the ‘bull in a china shop‘ analogy for motor vehicles in urban areas. Rightly so. But isn’t it easy to forget those china plates are people?

Study the following picture. Actually feel yourself in there. Your heart racing. Fear high in your throat. One eye on the danger, the other casting about for an escape route. …

Running of the Bulls, San Fermin

What would you want to change in order to feel safe there? A kevlar vest? New Nikes?

Personally I’d be happiest with an effective barrier between me and them. With separation between the bulls and humans, anyone can take part – your girlfriend, your kids, your grandma – without risk.

Indeed, most people (not unwisely) do exactly that at a Running of the Bulls: there are safety barricades to keep people safe. (And anyone who wants to run with the bulls – athletic and risk-seeking young men, basically – can do as they please.)

Safely separated from the bulls @ San Fermin

Consider the bulls as cars, as per Copenhagenize. Consider the people as… people. In particular as people on bicycles (the pit canaries of the street, another great bicycle blogger once said).

Ever wondered why almost everyone on a bike in NZ (and Australia, and America, etc) is youngish, male and sporty, while in the Netherlands every man, woman, child and their dog cycles? Think of bulls. It’s separation.

A visual explanation from (as far as I can tell) NZ’s official traffic engineering manual. (Can you spot the danger points?)

NZ cycle lane standards

Here you get motor vehicles hurtling by on your right, others pulling across your path to get into and out of the parking spaces (or bus stop, which is a similar layout), and frequent pinch points along the way, thanks to built-out curbs and masses of parking. With nothing to prevent any of them hitting you. (Note that the photo depicts a large gap between parked cars and bike lane – this is rarely the case.)

End result, riding a bike simply doesn’t feel at all safe.

Isn’t it easy to see why you get people on bikes saying motorists drive too close and too fast, and people in cars bemoaning getting stuck behind cyclists? The two simply shouldn’t be forced into the same space. They need separating. Separated lanes are a proven way to increase the numbers of people using a bike to get round town (to the shops, to work, to see friends) by making riding a bicycle safe (and even easier).

So why do we get the infrastructure we get – world class or otherwise?

National traffic engineering standards.

New Zealand’s (and Australia and the US, etc’s) basic standards for street design need updating to protect (rather than endanger) vulnerable road users. The old standards are a relic of old assumptions and old paradigms. The world has changed – did you miss the memo?

To finish with a dab of photoshopping (cycle lane now follows pedestrian pavement/sidewalk):


Takes up the same space. Has same or very similar construction costs – or rebuild costs after roading work.

Moreover, it suddenly doesn’t matter how discourteous or impatient the motorists are here (and they are), or how ‘silly‘ the cyclists are (that was the clueless PM talking – see Auckland Cycle Chic for more on him), the two don’t have to deal with each other any more.

The traffic engineers need their textbooks updating. (David Hembrow, if/when the Netherlands Cycling Embassy gets up and rolling, can I volunteer NZ as a high priority for a kick in the safety engineering?)

Edit: It is traditional in NZ to begin with a Maori greeting. I will end with a Maori proverb: Ka pu te ruha ka hao te rangatahi. (As an old net withers another is remade.)

*The helmet law is a giant shamble in the wrong direction. If you disagree, be kind enough to read and digest this and this before you argue back.

6 thoughts on “The number one reason NZ is so shit for bicycles

  1. Pingback: Izquieta pleads guilty in OC drugged hit-and-run death; Jay Slater elected chair of BAC « BikingInLA

  2. I like your re-arranged cycle lane diagram. It captures very well the essential difference between how things are done in most places vs. over here. Consistency is important, of course, and it needs to remain like this, no matter how long your cycle journey is.

    BTW, you don’t have to wait for the cycling embassy to get going properly. We’ve been doing Study Tours, mainly consisting of getting out there on a bike and seeing how well it works for yourself, since 2006.

  3. David,

    The most appealing aspect of the NL cycling embassy for me is its authority. People like me only have nag power (and maybe the power of images and quotes from elsewhere) and tend to get little more than token concessions thrown their way. Having experts come over and tell it like it is and detail clearly what needs to be done instead (such as Jan Gehl did of central Auckland last year) actually gets things moving.

  4. Separation, yes, yes, yes!! But bulls still don’t belong in China shops.

    One of my favourite concepts along this line is the idea of getting old highways restored to their former glory – uninterupted nicely paved, big, shaded, tree lined roads, dotted with quaint rest houses and accomodation, that actually connect cities and towns without traffic lights, cars, interruption or danger.

    Things like this, once they exist, will make people realize what the “good life” is all about: not money, just peace of mind. There are dotted pockets of places like this remaining around the world, but where they do exist they are often ruined by their own popularity, and the tourist brochures forget to show the big parking lot out the back and clogged highway getting there…

    A simple highway of this kind, for people (not cars), going from city-centre to city-centre, is a closed-end loop – it could be both the destination and the means of getting there, and it would be a real beacon for what an automobile-free normal everyday living environment is really like.

  5. Without a big change in attitude and infrastructure and people will never venture out on a bike. I live in Rotterdam, a city with about 600.000 inhabitants, and most of the time I feel perfectly safe in traffic, even in the unseparated zones, and so do other cyclists. And I’m not an extra careful cyclist, I hog the road in narrow streets if there’s really no room to pass and most motorists are pretty considerate about it. It’s basically give and take, without the war-like atmosphere other countries seem to have.

    • Yes, this is the most important thing. The bulls need to be tamed. By all means create some special places for bulls to run riot without harming cyclists, pedestrians, people (motorways, bypasses, etc), but don’t fence in the people. The second photograph in the article says it all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s