This post was originally written almost exactly a year ago by several Greater Auckland writers, with a contribution from Jon Turner, the deputy chair of the Puketāpapa Local Board. We still often think of Levi James and his family, and how they were failed by Auckland Transport.
A person died this weekend, riding their bicycle on a typical Auckland street. Our hearts go out to their family and friends.
We don’t know details beyond what is in the public domain: a person on a bike was in a collision with a car on Saturday, on Manukau Road in Royal Oak, and tragically they died at the scene. Some headlines mention a truck, but photos show an ordinary people-mover parked in the median strip. There are suggestions that this may have been a “dooring” incident; we don’t know.
Quite simply, someone isn’t coming home, and that is heartbreaking.
What follows are thoughts sparked by the ordinariness of this awful event, in an attempt to answer a question we feel every time this happens on our roads: where do we put our fury and our grief?
Being doored is a clear and present danger on our streets. Anyone who gets around the city by bike is hyper-aware of the omnipresent threat of a suddenly opened car door. The fear is that we either hit that door or swerve into traffic. And the terror is that the driver of a following vehicle may be unable to stop in time.
Likewise, for anyone who gets around by car, there is the omnipresent worry that the simple act of opening a car door might cause this to happen to someone else.
It’s awful that we even have a name for this scenario. It’s awful that this ever-present danger – the “door zone” – is designed into so many of our streets. It’s awful that a decade ago, an incident along similar lines led to a coronial inquest and promises of change… and still, so little has been done in the years since to prevent doorings happening again, and again, and again.
So where do we put our fury and our grief?
This weekend’s fatality happened on a road that’s identified in AT’s Future Connect planning documents as a priority regional route on the strategic cycling network.
Here’s what the road currently looks like. Parking lane, driving lane, painted median, driving lane, bus stop/ parking lane.
Remember, AT’s own Parking Policy says street parking should be removed if it endangers people on bikes. And it’s not like there’s any shortage of off-road parking in this neighbourhood. Every shop is a few steps away from a parking space that doesn’t create a door-zone danger strip for people on bikes.
A person’s life has ended; their friends and family are bereft. Other people’s lives have been changed irrevocably in a split second, because the road design did not protect everyone on the street.
The ripples go outward and onward, and will do for years. Those directly involved, and their whānau and friends. Those who witnessed what happened. Those who helped. Those waiting at home for who helped. Those who will follow up in days and weeks ahead with the distressing details of a life lost. And on and on and on.
We’re already at 10 road deaths so far this year in Auckland, and we’re only just into the 10th week of the year. These thoughts apply to all of these tragedies. Let’s not forget that AT has adopted Vision Zero. In their own words, from their own website:
“Vision Zero, an ethics-based transport safety approach, was developed in Sweden in the late 1990s. It places responsibility on the people who design and operate the transport system to provide a safe system.”
Who from AT will front and take responsibility and be held accountable for this needless death?
What happened on the weekend is not what anyone planned or imagined when they set out on their day, on an ordinary Saturday morning in late summer in Auckland. But our unforgiving streets made it possible. You could even say they made it inevitable.
So where do we put our fury and our grief?
The broader location of this weekend’s fatality – the Royal Oak roundabout and its feeder roads – was the subject of a safety improvements consultation in late 2019. Public feedback called on AT to make the roads safer for bikes. In fact, it was the strongest feedback theme:
And yet, safety recommendations by cycling advocates were not acted on, even simple suggestions for tactical improvements:
And improvements recommended by an independent safety review were not implemented either.
The safety report in the release ⬆️ suggested lowering the speed limit on the approaches to the roundabout to 30kph, to increase safety of pedestrians & cyclists.
It also sets out a number of safety improvements for cyclists.
None of these were implemented. pic.twitter.com/2OffXcjaIe
— Megan (@_mharvey) March 5, 2022
What makes all of this so sad and frustrating for us is that time and time again advocates point out these issues – and are ignored. The Royal Oak roundabout consultation; the changes to Mt Roskill, or Ash and Rata St; year after year, the list goes on.
Auckland Transport even admits it puts less weight on some submissions in favour of safety for vulnerable modes on the road. Here’s an AT Board meeting from September 2021, at which this is discussed. About 16 minutes in, board member Kylie Clegg asks about the value of doing minor improvements to the likes of Royal Oak and Blockhouse Bay roundabouts, given AT may have to go back and do it again properly later:
We’re reviewing feedback around cycling…[and] I’m just interested in that, in terms of how we keep working on these projects to achieve our climate change, mode shift and safety goals. And interrelated, we have just below, the high-risk intersection programmes.
I’ll take an example: Royal Oak roundabout where you read the consultation feedback and just sort of balancing what we can do now, and needing to do a number of intersections, versus getting it really right. So I think in some of that consultation feedback there was quite a bit about “we need to do more”.
So I’m interested in your thinking around getting it as good as possible and doing it well once, rather than going back. That philosophy.
Executive General Manager of Stakeholder, Communities & Communication, Wally Thomas, responds:
Just in terms of the consultation, the Mt Albert projects as noted there, we received, and we generally receive, a lot of feedback from Bike Auckland or members of Bike Auckland regardless of where the project is. We weight those, you know, we take on board community views, and those from not within the community, and kind of weight those in terms of our feedback.
I think, in particular Mt Roskill – Mt Albert / Mt Roskill projects have been requested by the community for a long time, and are well supported by the Local Board, so I think that project will go through reasonably smoothly, um but – but we do weight representative groups and individuals in the community, in the neighbourhood. I hope that answers your question.
Our question, again, is: where do we put our fury and our grief?
Auckland Transport: “We don’t have the money to do that”
Commentary by Jon Turner, Deputy Chair of the Puketāpapa Local Board
It is becoming far too common. A tweet expressing concern about a crash. A bland message from Auckland Transport that a road has been closed. Speculation flying around the internet, followed by the sad confirmation that someone – a whanau member, a friend, a colleague – has lost their life while trying to get around on two wheels.
It’s close to home. A road I ride regularly – on the way to Cornwall Park, or to Greenwoods corner. The roundabout that everyone jokes about as being so dangerous it could kill you.
I, like everyone else, was happy to see Auckland Transport consulting on safety upgrades to the roundabout way back in 2019. Sure, the initial design wasn’t too special, but surely they would listen to consultation. After all, they listen to consultation when it is demanding that car parking spaces be kept.
Sure enough, when the feedback report came out, the key theme of the feedback was to make it better for cyclists.
The response from AT was, basically, “we don’t have the money to do that.”
They talked about “being a Vision Zero organisation.”
They described the project as being an “interim project to address safety at this intersection.”
They kept on-road parking right beside a gigantic private car park, as well as an underutilised council-owned car park.
They trumpeted a 647 million dollar surplus.
And someone didn’t come home from a Saturday ride.
It’s so hard to be working to get people biking, and seeing that work bear fruit, while knowing our road system is designed in a way that deaths like this will keep on happening. We have a goal to get 7% of Aucklanders cycling to work. Without safety for all users being a priority in any upgrade Auckland Transport makes, this won’t happen. If they won’t do it when the feedback overwhelmingly asks for it, where the safety reviews nearly demand it, and in town centres, how can we ever get there?
My partner tells me to ‘be safe’ every day when I leave on my bike. I usually laugh it off – I know the roads, I know how to ride safely. This morning, I hugged her extra tight.
A person died this weekend, riding their bicycle, past the local shops.
A person died this weekend, riding their bicycle, just down the road from a primary school. (What do we tell the children?)
A person died this weekend, riding their bicycle, on a typical Auckland street.
Where do we put our fury and our grief?