OPINION: I’ve been cycling to work for years now in Auckland, and have had zero incidents with motorists.
No-one’s punched me, or tried to run me off the road. No-one’s clipped me with their car-door, or even honked their horn at me.
In fact, my experience (touch wood!) is quite the opposite from the impression usually given of cycling in Auckland.
That’s just as well, because I view cycling as an investment in not having a car, and keeping more of the money I earn at work.
* Aucklanders suffering from cycleways and rate rise fatigue
* Cycling not as environmentally friendly as its looks
* Use less carbon and be happier, healthier and wealthier
* E-bikes now better, leaner, faster
Six months ago a woman I didn’t know cautioned me to get some more reflective gear to stay safe, telling me she “had an incident a week” while cycling in the city.
As risk/reward scenarios on investment go, weekly risk of death or injury would need to provide a reward of more than the money and time I’m saving by being car-free.
For that kind of risk, I would need the kind of danger money paid to movie stunt people.
Sometimes accidents do just happen without the cyclist having contributed to them, but I couldn’t help but think the woman must be doing things that put her so repeatedly at risk from motorised road-users.
My strategies to stay safe in a city widely acknowledged as being a car city, are fairly straightforward.
I use lights day and night. I cycle the same safe routes, mostly with cycle lanes, some of them very well separated from car lanes.
As I do my main routes roughly the same time most days, I have got to know the drivers, and I think, they have got to know me.
Route selection is a key part of staying safe. If my route to work was dangerous, I would find another route, or still be driving.
I wouldn’t, for example, ride along Broadway in Newmarket in rush hour.
I know I should be able to, but I consider it too risky.
The 2014 Safer Journeys for People Who Cycle report made it clear that road design is hugely important for cyclist safety.
I do not cycle while listening to music.
I know, madness, but I see it a lot.
Cyclists need ears to hear so they can pull over, if a driver is doing that ill-judged panicky thing of racing to overtake you before you reach that pinch point in the road.
I do not seek to maximise my speed.
I did an experiment in getting home as fast as I could one day a couple of year’s ago. I saved two and a bit minutes.
I play the game of risk identification.
I do see people in cars doing risky and silly things.
I win the game as long as I spot what they’re doing before it becomes a threat to me.
In my experience, the number one risk for cyclists on roads, apart from our own mistakes and the bemusingly high number of Auckland road potholes (only one third of on-road cycle crashes resulting in a hospital admission involves a motor vehicle), is cars turning out from a side-street.
Three-quarters of serious and fatal crashes involving cycles and motor vehicles involved a road junction of some kind.
My rule is, if I am not certain they’ve seen me, I stop.
My thinking is this: I may have right of way, but they are bigger than me.
Another rule I have is not to have buses to be behind me. I pull over and let them pass.
While travelling on buses I’ve seen more than enough to convince me not to trust bus drivers.
Passing parked cars needs to be treated seriously. A cyclist needs to leave at least a car door’s width and a bit when passing a parked car.
Special care needs to be taken around schools. In the morning haste often seems to be a higher priority than care, or stopping in sensible places.
When returning to cycle-commuting around four years’ ago, after my second daughter started school, I decided to try to be a courteous road-user.
This involves not running red lights, and avoiding showing my irritation with other road-users when they do silly/risky things. You know the kind of thing: a shake of the heads, a shout, pointed looks, etc.
It is, in fact, a good time to be a cyclist. Cyclist deaths are falling. The massacre on the roads of 1990 (27 cyclists killed in police-reported crashes) is history. NZTA said six cyclists were killed on the roads in 2016.
Injuries from crashes that need a day or more hospital care are well down as well.
In 2016, 104 cyclists were hospitalised for over one day due to injuries received from crashes involving motor vehicles on public roads in New Zealand.
The urban cyclist-commuter should understand not all deaths and injuries of cyclists on the road are cyclist-commuters.
A fifth of those killed were children at play, and half of those injured/killed were on major urban roads, as opposed to minor ones.
And just under one in ten were on rural roads, so presumably that was recreational cycling as opposed to commuting.
According to on study of ACC claims published in 2015, cycling to work is safer than a whole bunch of other ordinary activities Kiwis love to do, like DIY and rugby.
So, don’t fret about getting on your bike, but take all the precautions you can not to become a statistic.