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Sunday, January 10, 2010

More about risking your neck cycling New Zealand roads

"A young German cyclist killed in a collision with a truck in New Zealand this week described aggressive truck drivers as "beasts" just days before her death.

Mia Susanne Pusch, 19, arrived in New Zealand in early October and had been cycling around the country until her death last Tuesday.

She died when she and a truck and trailer travelling the same direction collided in a passing zone about four kilometres north of Bulls, in Manawatu.

Pusch had written her last blog a few days earlier, lamenting the perils of cycling on New Zealand roads,..." More....

Gary comments:
I would not personally ride the route from Bulls to Whanganui. Nice road, scenic but hairy to say the least because of all the trucks and cars that hurtle along that stretch of highway. It is a road that is exposed to strong and gusty cross winds. In her defense, how could a German tourist have known just how dangerous that piece of road is? Or how crazy the traffic is?

The cycling photo above, used to promote New Zealand as a safe cycle touring destination, is misleading. Gosh - they are even riding two abreast! I am sure that many cycle tourists get a shock once a day or two into their tour of New Zealand. My, how things have changed!

In 1973 I cycled from Putaruru to Dunedin. The only thing the trip killed was my backside. In 1974, I was back on my bike, pedaling the entire circumference of the South Island, stopping in Christchurch along the way to watch my sister, Lorraine, compete in the Commonwealth Games 800m. In those days I could sit on the center line of the South's highways, only having to pull to the left every now and then to let a car go by. It was a safe and relaxing way to see New Zealand. I have done several other epic tours, here and overseas. I am reluctant nowadays to tour most New Zealand highways.

Back in those early days there were few cars and barely ever a truck. Everything large went by rail. With deregulation during the 1980's everything changed: Most goods, large and small, are delivered by trucks nowadays - large and small.

The trouble with trucks
Most of our roads are unsuitable for heavy trucks and certainly not for sharing the same spaces with vulnerable cyclists. Trucks produce sudden pressure waves and suction as they pass, depending on the strength and direction of any cross winds. If a truck passes a cyclist at high speed and too close, the cyclist risks either being blown off the road or sucked under the wheels of the truck. The latter is obviously more of a risk when being passed by a long truck and trailer unit.

So what's the solution?
I can't see drivers changing in a hurry the way they scream up and down the highways. The number of trucks and cars on our roads will continue to increase as the population swells. While there are ongoing improvements to our highways, this is only in response to growing volume and mostly on the basis of cost/benefit. Bikes and pedestrians are of little importance when new highways are designed; even the most basic of safety measures are still ignored, such as ensuring drainage grills are right angled rather than parallel to the direction of travel.

I think the best solution for cycle touring is to get the tourists off the highways. I say this with a good deal of reluctance and sadness because I think more people should be using bikes to get around, including holiday touring their way about the country with their families. Cyclists have every right to be on the road and motorists should respect this and show due care for these most vulnerable road users. But I am not about to be a sacrificial hero for the "Cause" and I don't expect anybody else to be one either. We need to offer a safer option.

National Cycle Ways
I am excited about plans now under way to create a national network of cycle routes. If things keep going to plan, then New Zealand will have a network of off road routes that can be cycled and walked the length and breadth of the country.

There are already many trails that are suitable for cycle touring, including the immensely popular Otago Rail Trail. The Rail Trail is really easy to ride, while most of New Zealand is hard grunt! Undulating terrain and wind make sure of that. Bearing this in mind, we should be promoting New Zealand s the place to come for riding off road trails. We should also be giving clear guidelines about road safety for foreign cyclist who want to stick to the roads, including the safest routes to follow. We certainly should not be giving tourists the false impression that they can safely hop off the plane in Auckland and ride the length of State Highway One.

My name is Tim de Jong, I am the person who took the photograph you have posted on your blog, as well as being the guide on the tour that the photo is from, the Operations Manager of Adventure South < > & the chairman of Cycle Tour Operators New Zealand < >

In all these roles I want to respond to your comment,...

The cycling photo above, used to promote New Zealand as a safe cycle touring destination, is misleading. Gosh - they are even riding two abreast!

They are cycling two abreast because they are on the private Tekapo Canal road in November, when there is very little traffic. The photo is not misleading as New Zealand is still a reasonably safe place to cycle tour on the road ( I say reasonably as cycling on the road always has an element of risk), if you take the appropriate measures,...

  • wear high visibility clothing (I would venture to guess that the poor German girl who died recently was not wearing high vis gear. If she was, she would be the exception as Germans are notorious for cycling in browns, grays & blacks.)
  • plan your trip to avoid busy main roads, there are quiet back roads & if not, use public transport to avoid busy sections. One of our guides saw 5 people cycling on SH1 between Palmerston & Timaru yesterday, there are alternative side road options for most of this route.
  • avoid popular scenic routes at peak seasons e.g. Coromandel & Northland in January, & unfortunately this may possibly extend in the future to SH6 on the West Coast in January as traffic volumes increase
  • if you have to cycle on busy roads - cycle single file, keep well to the left & pull over if holding up traffic

One of the ways is to cycle on a tour with a reputable operator, CTONZ members have implemented several safety measures including protocols with Bus & Coach Association & the NZ Road Transport Forum (trucks) that outline behaviors for drivers of these vehicles as well as cycle tour groups (CTONZ fully recognise that Share the Road goes both ways). You can see details on these on the CTONZ website.

Here at Adventure South we are proud of our safety record (to date no vehicle/cyclist accidents), our bikes have collapsible side safety flags for busier roads & high vis 3D reflectors, we offer high vis clothing to clients, vehicles have “cyclist on the road” signs & we give clients a thorough safety briefing on cycle safety on the roads. We also ask for extensive feedback from clients & get almost zero comments about busy roads & the cycling being unsafe.

Tour operators also have local knowledge as to which routes are suitable and are continually refining routes as traffic volumes increase, e.g. in the last two years Adventure South have pulled out of the Fairlie to Tekapo Road & this year the Lindis Pass as the traffic volumes are just getting too much. To date we have been able to find alternative routes but there limited of options as New Zealand only has so many roads. Along with independent cyclists, cycle tour operators are very much looking forward to increased options for safe cycling routes with the implementation of the national cycle trail network.

I agree with you fully that it is not the same as it was back in the day, when cycling on NZ roads was a quiet experience,... population has increased as have traffic volumes and the roads have not improved to allow for this. The sad reality is that most of these roads will probably not improve (for the most part a good shoulder is all that is needed) due to lack of funding. As you say, the future growth of NZ cycling will in a large part be based around the new cycle trail network, but with careful planning & good timing there is still some great road cycling to be had in New Zealand, especially if traveling on a guided tour. The fact is that the tragic deaths of independent touring cyclists on main roads end up damaging the reputation of New Zealand as a cycling destination, there is no doubt that it is not as safe as it used to be on our roads but with careful planning & safe cycling procedures there is still plenty of safe cycling to be found on our roads.

Tim de Jong
Operations Manager .......\<,
Adventure South Ltd ....( )/ ( )...
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Wayne said...

if you dont want cycling your highways to be such a life trheatening activity, lobby your local MP and the Minister of transport for action, find out which political parties will have cycle friendly polocies and let the govt know you will vote for the party that does.

Anonymous said...

I currently live in the Netherlands (after growing up in Australia). Drivers here take care to look out for cyclists because they are forced to by law. They always hold at least partial responsibility if they hit a cyclist even if they are not at fault.

Unfortunately, without putting something like this in place (and enforcing it) nothing will change. In fact I'm sure things will only get worse. Motor vehicle drivers need to realize that they are not the only street legal vehicle on the road. Perhaps removals of ones license for people who don't understand this might be a start.