Hard News by Russell Brown


Neither fish nor fowl

This Herald story about Australian research into cyclists flouting red lights at intersections is interesting. But what really caught my eye was this sentence about halfway down: "In addition, some cyclists infringed when they were riding across the pedestrian crossing, as they would cross as a pedestrian, effectively jay-cycling."

Now, I'm not saying I've never slipped through a left turn against a red light at an empty intersection. But I really don't make a habit of it.

On the other hand, I frequently join Auckland's Northwestern cycleway into the city at St Lukes Road. That means a right turn at the lights by Motat, and a little push up the overbridge. The overbridge has high kerbs and is thus not very cyclist-friendly, especially in traffic. So I'll always try to come up to the front of a queue at the lights and put on a little sprint to get up to the lights on the other side.

Again, if necessary, I'll look to weave through the stationary cars to pole position. When the lights change, I'm ready to slip over a three-metre marked pedestrian crossing to join the cycleway. I'll be looking at the left-turning traffic coming up the motorway off-ramp, to determine whether they're keen on stopping for me. Most are, and when they do, I always, always acknowledge their courtesy.

The one thing I don't do is get off my bike. That would be irksome, it might hold up traffic and it might even be dangerous. It would thus break my Main Rule of Cycling:

Don't die.

But that, my well-wheeled friends assure me, is an infringement of the Road Code. I should dismount in traffic and wheel my bike over an island and across the crossing to a dual-use path. Yes, the crossing is legally, speaking, solely for walkers, but it spans a public road and a path for both walkers and cyclists.

Yes, there is an abysmally-marked dual-use path on the left of the overbridge, but to use it, a truly observant rider on my route would have to dismount repeatedly at short crossings to join the cycleway -- and mind out for pedestrians using the same space.

Also, the cycleway breaks at St Luke's Road. There is (thanks!) a cycle-walk signal for riders heading both west and east, but to reach the request buttons for this dual-use crossing, an observant cyclist would have to first dismount to get across a short pedestrian crossing to the island where the pillar to which the button is affixed is. The main thing to be said about this is:

No one does this.

On another thoroughfare near me, Carrington Road, a full-scale crossing over a busy dual carriageway is sometimes the safest way to cross over to Unitec and either join the westbound northwestern cycleway or head up the dual-use path to Avondale. I will wait, but not dismount if I do this.

I really, really appreciate that pedestrians need to be safe -- I share space with them every time I go on a cycleway -- but there's normally not one anywhere near. My cycling friends advise that the chief benefit of dismounting for crossings is to not make angry drivers angry. It seems to me that especially where a crossing is a continuation of a cycleway, or leads from a road to a dual-use space, there is a strong case for a dual-use crossing.

But let's be honest: I learned to ride in cities with London cycle couriers, and briefly as one. I would not recommend that anyone ride the way we did for work, but the key principle of the style is that momentum is your friend -- it gives you options. And if you're going to sit squeezed in queues of cars, breathing in exhaust fumes, why are you even riding a bike?

For the same reasons, I also do sometimes do something else that's not strictly legal -- proceed carefully in accordance with pedestrian signals at intersections controlled by traffic lights. I might be faster than walkers, but I'm no less vulnerable when it comes to it, and I have the same interest in staying clear of motor vehicles in confined spaces.

For the same reasons, I'll also sometimes duck up onto the footpath to avoid traffic. I know, I know: not allowed. But I take the view that I'm neither fish nor fowl: I'm officially a piloting a vehicle, but I'm as vulnerable as a pedestrian. I'll do what's best.

In a city where shared use is working in various settings -- even allowing cars and walkers to peacefully co-exist -- it seems to me there's a case for sensibly allowing shared use of some of the painted spaces on the road. I know there has been plenty of thinking done on this and I'll leave y'all to quote it ...

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