Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Response to Helen Dobson of Island Bay, Dominion Post, Letter to the Editor 31 October 2014

In response to Helen Dobson's letter to the editor, Dominion Post, 31 October 2014 (link and text below) where she ended by saying "It's about time that cyclists had to pay to use the road like I do, stick to the rules and stop blaming the motorists for their unfair lot".

It appears from Helens suggestion, that she assumes that cyclists don't pay for the roads?

Helen says "I saved for a number of years to get the money for my car. I pay for road user charges, insurance, warrant of fitness, registration and petrol. I obey the road code." So her assertion here is that cyclists don't do these things? I do not know what percentage of cyclists also own cars, but I would guess the number is fairly high, and while cyclists are actually cycling they are not using their cars, but are still paying for costs associated with owning a car. So maybe in a very high percentage of cases cyclists are actually already paying for their use of the roads?

In my case I own two cars, which I saved up for and I pay all the charges and I also obey the road code. But I choose also to ride my bike to work each day, 20km per day, because it is lower cost than operating a car, it does not require parking and most of all it is good for my health. In fact studies have  concluded "On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport." (1) So maybe in fact cyclists should receive some road user charge credit for their lower burden on the health system, road congestion and the environment?

The one group that definitely do not pay for roads are children, and apparently their use of roads for cycling is dropping significantly, as reported by the NZ Herald, Mar. 13, 2014 (2), the Green Party claim that "The number of children walking and cycling to primary and intermediate schools has dropped from more than 50 per cent in 1989 to 30 per cent." In the same article the following was stated as the reason for this drop, "Studies had found that the main reason for the fall in cycling rates was the belief that biking to school was dangerous."

I agree with Helen that some cyclists behaviour on the roads is unacceptable. But equally, and certainly numerically higher, are the number of incidences of unacceptable car driver behaviour. Unfortunately not all drivers are as impeciable as Helen and as a result the "belief that biking to school (I think biking at any time by anyone) was dangerous." has grown momentum. The perception is that cycling has got more dangerous, and I would agree because on my commute I see cars running red lights, drivers texting while driving and incidences of driver impatience and excess speed on a daily basis.

The key difference with bad driver behaviour is that it injuries and kills cyclists. The "Cyclists crash statistics for the year ended 31December 2012" published by the Ministry of Transport (3) reports that "Between 2008 and 2012, over 1,500 cyclists required hospitalisation due to injuries received from crashes involving motor vehicles on public roads in New Zealand. An average of over 300 cyclists per year required hospitalisation. In the same 2008-2012 period, 45 cyclists died in crashes involving motor vehicles on public roads. On average, nine cyclists die each year."

There are number of possible solutions to Helen's "problem", I will briefly discuss one possible solution. That is to improve cycling infrastructure to separate cyclists and cars in high traffic areas, this would have two benefits. First, it would reduce the perception of danger and increase the number of cyclist which would in turn reduce the number of cars - this is win-win in terms of safety, health benefits, congestion and long term roading costs. However this appears to be lost on Helen's fellow Island Bay residents many of whom have been opposing the Wellington City Councils moves to create a safer cycling route from Island Bay to the City. The second benefit arises when more New Zealanders choose to cycle then the "culture" and experience of cycling increases and overall the driving population becomes more understanding of other road users. Anyone who has cycled in Western Europe, where cycling is more a part of everyday life and where cycling infrastructure is significantly more developed than in New Zealand, will understand this.

My wife and I have cycle toured about 15,000km in Western Europe and we had zero incidences with vehicles, the experience was pleasurable because drivers were considerate, patient and understanding of sharing the roads with cyclists. We have also cycled about the same distance in New Zealand on cycling holidays where we have been hit by cars, knocked off our bike by a truck, had people verbally abuse us and had objects thrown at us from moving vehicles. Unfortunately that is a very sad comparison. The most concerning  aspect of this is that everyone we met while cycling in New Zealand assumed we were foreign tourists (because not many kiwis cycle tour around New Zealand), so if that was our experience - what do foreign cycle tourists experience? - bearing in mind that tourism is our 2nd biggest industry!

So there is an alternative way to look at Helen Dobson's assertions - cyclist do already pay for the roads and if there were more cyclist then the overall costs of roading would be lower. There are bad behaving cyclists but there are many more car users who do not stick to the rules and unfortunately the consequences of bad driver behaviour is often tragic. And finally, cyclists are seeking appropriate means to improve "their lot" - but unfortunately, if the Island Bay cycle route is an example, it seems that some people are very selfish and shortsighted and are unable to see the greater good that cycling, as a form of transport, offers a society.

Helen Dobson's letter follows;

Make the cyclists pay for roads

OPINION: I saved for a number of years to get the money for my car.

I pay for road user charges, insurance, warrant of fitness, registration and petrol. I obey the road code.

I do not undertake, I do not run red lights, I am observant and watch out for drivers indicating that they are turning. All so I can drive my car to my destination in good time.

So why do I have to tolerate cyclists hogging the road so I have to drive at their speed, cyclists running red lights, undertaking me, not watching for my turn signals and using my car to steady or propel themselves when I am at a stop?

It's about time that cyclists had to pay to use the road like I do, stick to the rules and stop blaming the motorists for their unfair lot.

Island Bay