NZ doesn’t feel safe

Just had an interesting conversation with friends here about riding a bike in NZ.

One German girl commented that she has ridden a bicycle back home for decades, since she was 7, only taking the car on extremely rainy days and twice in her life walking when it was too icy to ride. Then she came to NZ, where she hasn’t been on a bike at all because it’s “far too dangerous.”

More effort into safer streets please New Zealand. Thank you.

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.

Finally, some good news!

Not from me exactly (I still haven’t been on a bike since the incident a few months ago) but down in the capital, Wellington, there’s a rational new mayor:

The capital’s new mayor… jumped on her bike to ride to the Wellington City Council building when the election results were announced this week.

As a councillor, Ms Wade-Brown rarely claimed travel expenses because of her commitment to commuting by bicycle. She said she hoped to still cycle to work when practical. “I’ve always stood for good transport choices.”

From here.

The new Wellington mayor, Celia Wade-Brown (2nd from left)

Hero of the month: Sue Abbott

Heady Freedom as Judge Agrees Helmet Laws are Unnecessary.

”Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger,” the judge told Ms Abbott after she had spelt out her case against the laws that exist in few countries other than Australia and New Zealand.

”I frankly don’t think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet – and it seems to me that it’s one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice.”

He found Ms Abbott had ”an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists”…

From this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald. Via Cycling Health New Zealand.

Very well done, Sue!

New Zealand – first impressions

For a supposedly quiet and civilised and clean country, a large number of people here drive their cars astonishingly dangerously and this appears to be tolerated. I was shocked witless a few days ago when a speeding black car almost knocked me and my girlfriend down (we were crossing the street on foot) at well over double the safe speed for a town centre. Something similar happens about every three days – this was just the scariest.

This town, Palmerston North, has swathes of car parking everywhere. Around half of all urban space appears to have been given to parking spaces. Car dealerships, petrol [gas] stations and motor lodges outnumber make up a large proportion of local businesses.

On the positive side, there are also a surprising number of bicyclists! Sadly, almost 100% of them speed around on style-free mountain bikes, slouched over the handlebars as if positioning their flimsy polystyrene helmets for a direct hit. Sad. Sports shorts and “Look at me, I’m weird” hi-viz jackets are pretty much ubiquitous. I’ve seen very few non-sports bike users at all. (With the fabulous exception of one beautifully stylish lady in Wellington who definitely got the whole looking good on two wheels thing.)


There are quite a few teenagers without helmets, often safely on the pavements [sidewalks] away from the crazy high number of aggressive drivers who rev loudly along the streets. Drivers have clearly been dangerously oversold on how protective helmets are, and who largely don’t slow down around people on bicycles, nor give them a safe amount of room when overtaking.

(Much slower speed limits are needed in town please.)

As for the people wearing helmets, I’d hazard that 50% or more are being worn incorrectly: loose chin straps, lopsided, too far back, or (sensibly, as it’s winter now) with warm hats underneath. I would dare conjecture this is due not to a lack of care for their safety, more to realising helmets are pretty ineffective in all but the most minor falls – but they have to be seen to be complying with that absurd and patronising law.

Also to avoid the hassle of that law, which for some reason only applies to (2-wheeled) bicycles (clearly discriminatory, sorry), a significant minority of people have turned to skateboards, flimsy 2-wheeled kick-scooters and, delightfully, unicycles.

image from

The best bike shop in New Zealand?

Nosing through the in-flight magazine on the way here, I came across an advert for this fabulous new second-hand bike shop in the capital, Wellington. I haven’t had a chance to visit yet, but I’m certainly planning to, especially as I’m now studying in Welly. Most bike shops here appear to offer 99% chunky mountain bikes, so this place is a true breath of fresh air for ‘windy Wellington’!

We’ve sourced second-hand, upright bicycles directly from Japan in order to recycle them back onto New Zealand’s roads, just as kiwis have been doing with used cars for the past few decades. …

Our bicycles are not sports-machines, rather, they are a chic way of getting about your daily life, suit, skirt, heels and all. (also on Facebook, with a lot of happy customers)

Final weekend in Seoul [fully updated]

I’m happy to report that in Seoul the number of people getting around on bicycles is edging up.

This is disappointingly despite the city government rather than because of it. A year ago, the papers were awash with the mayor’s promises to improve bicycle routes and build more bike lanes. This doesn’t appear to have come to much. A small number of heavily-bicycled areas have been repaved and are more comfortable to ride, but there is a palpable sense of a missed opportunity.

There are however definitely more bicycles about. And a good few stylistas on them too.

Most investment seems to have gone into the lengthy leisure trails along the river to appease the activism of sports cycling groups. The parks are popular places to ride a bike at the weekend too, with easy bike rental. Oddly, the surfaces are already worryingly cracked and bumpy in many places (though the wickedly cold winter can’t have helped).

Built to last?

Not built to last is my impression. And they don’t go anywhere!

On the other hand, those people – young and old, male and female – who are actually going somewhere by bike benefit only from the city-wide normalcy of riding on the pavements [sidewalks]. This can be frustratingly slow (due to the overwhelming number of pedestrians at all hours who, unlike the ordered keep-left-ism of Japan, seem to walk mainly in zigzags) and the pavements are often remarkably uneven and umcomfortable to ride on (due largely to the masses of motor vehicles which destroy the pavements by routinely use them for parking).

The very few bike lanes on the roads are best avoided. They offer no protection from traffic (many cars, vans and taxis park in the lanes or use them to overtake slow traffic).

Indeed the only thing that makes riding on the road bearable is the incredibly heavy traffic, which generally keeps average (and often top) vehicle speeds low. And the high number of people walking, cycling, and generally moving about at the roadside keeps drivers alert for bicycles.

On a positive note, there is one major positive development and that’s the road eating happening downtown. Not done for bicycles per se, but it does dissuade a lot of drivers from using that street and slows those that do. That’s road diets.


1) The easiest thing the city government here could do to make life better for pedestrians and bicyclists and public transport user alike is to crack down heavily on illegal and antisocial parking. Cars do it, as do taxis and vans. Pavement parking, for example.


all parked

And parking in cycle lanes.




And parking in bus lanes. And parking on pedestrian crossings.


And parking obstructing lowered bicycle/wheelchair kerbs. (The police are as guilty of illegal and unecessarily antisocial parking as anyone.)


Crack down hard on it and send a message to drivers that they can’t just leave their heavy property damaging and obstructing public space. Stop turning a blind eye.

parked - vehicle clearly obstructing whole pavement; police ignored it

2) Another no-brainer policy is to stop allowing the police to recalibrate the traffic lights at peak traffic times – as a pedestrian, I’ve waited a full 7 minutes at times to cross a single road. It does next to nothing for the traffic – indeed, probably encourages more – and inconveniences pedestrians to the extent many get visibly irate.)

3) Yet another obvious and cost-effective action would be to put in some real, quality, segregated cycle lanes on main roads (separated by a line of bushes or trees or the like). Most main roads in Seoul are obscenely bloated – between 4 and 10 lanes wide.

central Seoul - why so many cars?

wide roads encourage private car use - central Seoul

Giving a lane each way to a bike lane and row of shrubs isn’t going to inconvenience anyone and will make the city much more cycle friendly.

protect bicycle lanes from motor vehicles, something like this

(This will probably also require a bikes-go-first traffic light policy to make junctions safer.) And when you mix bus stops with cycle lanes, this is incredibly dangerous

bus suddenly pulls into cycle lane

whereas this is safe.

cycle lane round a bus stop in the Netherlands

4) Raise the standards of finish on pavements and the joins between pavement and road. Even most brand new edges have a bump of between 1cm and 3cm, which can make for an uncomfortable ride. And in the worst cases this can be 5 or 6cm. A ‘no bumps’ policy would be welcome. From this

painfully uneven surfaces

and this

lip too high from road to pavement for bicycles and wheelchairs - here 5cm

to this.

no bumps! - NL, Japan... Korea soon?

5) And enforce (even extend) the car-free areas. These are increasingly being ignored.