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.

Manukau Road is on Auckland Transport’s Regional Cycle Network plan. AT map shared by Nicholas Lee on Twitter.

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:

Improving the road for people on bikes was the strongest theme in public feedback when AT recently consulted on upgrades to the roundabout in Royal Oak. (Image via Alec Tang on Twitter)

And yet, safety recommendations by cycling advocates were not acted on, even simple suggestions for tactical improvements:

A tactical treatment for Royal Oak roundabout as suggested by Bike Auckland in late 2019.

And improvements recommended by an independent safety review were not implemented either.

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 ignored the safety review. 

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?

Community members placed flowers on the footpath near the site of the crash. Image via Alessandra Francoia.
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  1. I think of this incident often as l cycle,walk,drive,be driven around the local streets.l attended the ride in honor of Levi,and have been affected since, as l wait for” my turn”. So far l have had 5 car /bike interactions,in Auckland,1 resulting in medical treatment,this is over a 15 year period, either l am unlucky, a “dangerous rider”, or am invisible.
    I keep riding,walking locally, because,in spite of all the hazards, it gives me a sense of satisfaction, that l give the local community an opportunity to become more people focused , besides it is far quicker to bike around Onehunga, than it is to drive.
    Onehunga was,once again gridlock, last night (Harry Styles),multiple reports of locals taking hours to get home from work.
    Along with the appalling road safety statistics,the city’s inability to cope with anything slightly out of the ordinary,should be “embarrassing for our officials.
    Levi’s passing can never be forgotten, all council meetings should have the first item on their agenda,all accidents on council owned property, since last meeting, and what has been done,to alleviate such is how business’s do it,and they would find themselves in court,if they didn’t. Why do we treat road incidents as an acceptable part of doing business?, any other business organization that did this would end up with their directors in jail.

  2. It particularly striking as the accepted “vision zero” is ostensibly nothing but lip service, as no real action is taken to work towards this goal.
    Or does “vision zero” only apply to cars?

    In the Netherlands a similar (similar to Vision Zero) national traffic safety program called “Duurzaam Veilig (Verkeer)”, or “Sustainable (Road) Safety” has had a major influence on the road network, where clear functional distinctions between motorways (highways), roads, and streets were introduced in the 1990s. These measures were aimed at increasing safety, traffic flow, and cost-effectiveness, while also having the effect of reducing car dependency, increasing walkability, cyclability, and general livability.

    The main vision of their safety program is to realise the human as the standard measure: it is the understanding that humans are fragile, make mistakes and sometimes do not follow the traffic rules. This means that the infrastructure needs to be shaped in such a way that there are no severe traffic accidents – and if there are accidents, the outcome should be of limited severity.
    They have an approach of eliminate, minimise and mitigate.

    Eliminate: Ideally, dangerous situations are made physically impossible so that people do not come into contact with these situations.
    Minimize: choices for dangerous situations or modes of transport are made unattractive, so that people are exposed to risks as little as possible.
    Mitigate: where people are exposed to risks, the consequences are minimized by targeted measures.

    This has ultimately resulted in massive traffic calming across the nation, more than half the roads in the country have had their speed reduced from 50km/h to 30km/h – any time vulnerable road users (cyclists) share the road with cars, the speed is 30km/h. Only when separated by a segregated cycleway can traffic be sped up to 50km/h.

    It wish we had a government with some conviction and vision to implement this – without giving up the minute some vocal minority feels slighted.

  3. I may be slightly of key and out of the area , but after seeing this at Rotokauri on Friday night there were 2 young men trying to have a Death Wish the Te Huia at 8pm .
    To see them in action go to the 40+second mark and if the smaller slipped he would not be here now , ;-

  4. That round-about needs to be replaced by a set of traffic lights, no doubt traffic deading and tactic design elements would help, imho the whole intersection totally needs replacing.

  5. There are two unsolved problems covered by this post and the discussion.
    Firstly, the tragedy of cycling between heavy traffic and parking without protection – present on Manukau Rd and many, many other places that does not engage the will of Councillors and the public sufficiently to fund and accept the solutions, despite the continuing harm. Progress on this is too slow and faces too much opposition from those who will not understand and support Vision Zero/ Road to Zero and accept the need for change.
    Secondly, the problem of Royal Oak. Far too much freight traffic uses Manukau Rd, Mt Albert Rd and Mt Smart Rd. Can it be moved onto other routes, apart from local deliveries? Manukau Rd south of Royal Oak has low network value for general vehicle traffic. North of Royal Oak, it could use Pah Rd. How would the network cope with freight redirected and a bus-only gate on Manukau Rd north of Royal Oak? Might this reduce the traffic demand sufficiently to baeable improve the roundabout and the approaches to make them fully safe?

  6. 1) We need a mandatory Safe System transport corridor design standard in NZ & an audit of all existing corridors against that standard.

    2) Sign off from the standard only by exception with liability attached.

    1. Wouldn’t necessarily fix this. It would not apply retroactively. They’d just leave things that don’t comply untouched. And we already have tons of “mandatory” standards. At the end of the day, the departures still get signed off, and the road safety audit tables still have “No action” in far too many items.

      We need an active culture of improving safety (and not shying away from reducing car capacity at the same time if needed). But we are decades away from that (he says, after nearly 2 decades in the professional space). Right now we are actively going backwards, due to political push-back, and due to “climate change adaptation” (fixing broken roads by, among other things, moving more money to that).

      1. I don’t agree.

        My international experience includes working in an environment where a near Safe System design standard exists. The road safety outcomes far surpass those in NZ.

        There is no reason that NZ cant adopt a single nationwide Safe System design standard for new roadings and roading improvements (NZTA, RCAs, Developers).

        The issue of the existing road network will always be more complex as funding is always limited.

        Some of this will be addressed through the standard process of crash reduction (elimination) works in the worst parts of the network first.

        However, as we work closer to Zero, there will be a greater and greater need to implement the Safe System design standard over more and more parts of the existing road network.

        1. You miss my point. I’m not saying “It can’t be done.” I am saying “It won’t be done (in a way that makes compliance mandatory).”

          You’re overseas, based on your name. I’m here. My experience is that neither the decisionmakers or politicians care enough. Like with the just-released High Court decision declaring that the GPS is basically just aspirational words, the NZ tradition is to treat safety policies as important until they make things difficult.

          That’s a cynical take, yes, but the last 2 decades have mostly born it out. Have things improved? Yes Have they improved enough? Not even close. Has reality in road safety ever matched the policy claims and goals? Not even close.

  7. His poor family and friends. A whole year. Does anyone know, has Auckland Transport done anything at all to fix this location and others like it?

    We need action and answers because it just goes on and on. This week a small child was hit by a car while crossing New North Road. Miraculously they survived.

    That story didn’t even make the news, but it should have because NNR is one of the four safety-focused projects that AT put on pause after the local body elections. They had hundreds of projects to pick from, and chose to stop the ones that make streets easier to cross, and safer to bike or scoot.

    Safety delayed is safety denied, and children are paying the price.

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