This post was contributed to by a number of people.
The government is currently consulting on the Accessible Streets Regulatory Package, a bundle of rule changes designed to enhance the safety of people using footpaths, bikes, scooters and other active transport modes. The consultation closes at 5pm Wednesday.
One of the more interesting parts of the package is proposal 2, which establishes a national framework for the use of footpaths. We’ve covered this previously but to recap, this change essentially allows people on bikes careful use of the footpath provided they meet certain restrictions:
Our proposed change will allow cyclists to ride on the footpath if:
- they behave in a courteous and considerate manner
- travel in a way that is not dangerous for other people using the footpath
- they give way to pedestrians
- the cycle is less than 750mm wide
- they travel no faster than 15km/h.
In the current situation, the footpath is available for a number of different types of traveller, including: pedestrians, runners, prams, wheelchairs, mobility scooters, e-scooters, skateboards, and Paxster vehicles for postal delivery. When motorised, there are various power limits based on device type.
Currently, however, bicycles are explicitly disallowed except if delivering mail, or when their wheels are less than ~35cm in diameter – the intention of the original rule probably being to allow very young children to ride on the footpath. (Technically, that wheel size includes many adult folding bikes with small wheels, and disallows many bikes used by children far too young to ride on the road with traffic).
While most would agree that it is entirely reasonable to allow very young children the privilege of riding away from traffic, it seems less reasonable that the determinant for this should be whether your child fits a bike with sufficiently small wheels. Although children do enlarge over time, the rate at which they do so is not necessarily proportional to their ability to navigate traffic on our busy streets.
A change to this dangerous situation for young children would be welcome – but in addition to this, the other existing rules feel overdue for an overhaul: they’re arbitrary, dated and not very equitable.
It’s hard not to ask questions like: what’s the fundamental difference between a person on foot, or on a mobility scooter, or on a bicycle, or an e-scooter? How do they all affect other people who use the pavement? Is it fair to force some people onto the road to fend off cars and trucks, based on vehicle type or number of wheels (a powered mobility scooter is heavier, wider, and can go faster than a child on a bike), or their age or height?
Does the current state of our infrastructure allow the safe assignment of different categories of traveller to the appropriate part of the street?
Like many other examples of prohibitionism, is a hard-line approach to people on bikes on footpaths doing more harm than it helps?
While not perfect, the new rules proposed in the package feel like a fairer way of allowing access to the footpath, and they make existing, safety-seeking behaviour legal. Instead of banning almost all bikes from the footpath, the proposed rules recognise that there is not a dramatic difference between someone on a bike, someone on a scooter, someone on a mobility device, someone running, someone jogging with a pram – provided they keep their speed down and give way to pedestrians. The proposed rules recognise that people engaging in all forms of active transport deserve to be able to complete their journeys without having to risk injury or death playing chicken with cars and trucks.
Of course, the question arises, why are we still scrapping over the crumbs of footpath space?
There has been some opposition to these changes, usually preferring a black and white rule to prevent any bikes from being on footpaths.
In a perfect world, every street would have wide and separated space for light or slow travellers (walk, jog, wheelchair, tiny kids on wheels) cruising medium-weight journeys (bike, scoot, family groups, the faster and heavier kinds of mobility aids), and faster heavier traffic. Similar to swimming lanes.
While this sort of strict separation of modes is often ideal (especially with higher speeds and traffic volumes), the agencies charged with building this sort of safe infrastructure have shown themselves to be a very long way from being able to actually deliver. A prime example being Auckland Transport removing part of the Tamaki Drive COVID-19 popup cycling lanes at the most dangerous section, to favour the movement of trucks. If our transport professionals can’t yet bring themselves to make a bit of space for bikes and pedestrians on a six lane road to help stop the spread of a pandemic – we have a very long way to go.
There are very few who cycle who actually want to ride on the footpath. They’re lumpy, slow, and often blocked by parked cars or errant signage. Rather, they do so because it’s often the only safe place they feel safe to be while getting to from A to B – literally a life-hack given the lack of safe cycleways.
Data from NZTA says that there are 7780km of roads in Auckland (as of June 2018). Of this:
- 2942km are rural
- 4838km are urban
Information previously supplied to us by Auckland Transport indicates that the length of on-road, protected cycleways in the region is approximately 10km.
So Auckland has ~4838km of sealed urban streets, and only ~10km of that has protected/dedicated bike path. This means that currently the proportion of the road network that is safe enough for families to ride on without using the footpath is: just 0.2%
If you include painted lanes on the road, you maybe get 6.5% of the network where some space has been allocated – almost always alongside fast traffic and outside parked cars – for people on bikes. That’s not suitable for anyone but the most fearless. So, even in the most optimistic case we’re still talking about 93.5% of our city’s streets with no space set aside for all-ages biking or scooting, whatsoever. Why do people use footpaths again?
By all means, let’s keep advocating for pedestrian safety across the network. But until the remaining 99.8% of our streets are made safe enough for kids on bikes, legalising footpath cycling is a necessary, pragmatic and lifesaving measure. Opposing all footpath riding on principle is literally throwing families on bikes under the bus.