I’ve canned my membership of Cycling Action Network (CAN) because I think they may be doing more harm than good. It pains me to say so, but that’s the truth. Their actions are dangerous. I think their actions are short-sighted and they seem unresponsive to alternative views. They also give their consent to dangerous painted death traps. They are passionate cyclists who hark back to halcyon days of cycling freedom and the wind in their hair. I support this ethos too, but unfortunately with current road conditions in New Zealand, those days are yet to reappear. It’s this point, and a concern with the practicalities which CAN attitudes fail to grasp.
I’m a 53 year old male. I’ve been riding bikes as transport since I was four years old and I don’t own a car. I discovered in my forties, much to my surprise. that clipless pedals, lycra and padded nix were useful and that it was quite possible to commute 20 km each way on a modern efficient bike. Now my commute is more like 10 km each way, but you get the idea.
My problems with CAN start with “dooring” – a cyclist riding into a car door as it’s being opened because the cyclist is too close and riding in the door zone. 20% of cycling accidents are caused by cyclists riding in the door zone.
I was nearly doored at the age of 14. I learnt my lesson. I now occupy my lane with confidence when I judge it’s unsafe for me and a motorised vehicle to share the same lane. That’s in the Road Code and most motorists are aware of it and aware of the recommendation to keep 1.5 metres away from cyclists. Unfortunately many cyclists don’t follow the recommendation themselves and cycle in the door zone. Equally unfortunate is that CAN seems to make little effort to educate the cycling public on the issue.
My unhappiness with CAN started at the Grey Lynn festival in Auckland a few years ago where CAN had a stall. I went over for a yarn. To my horror the CAN person told me that they rode in the door zone because they could look ahead and see if anyone was in the car. They could tell if the person in the car was about to open a door. Wow, I thought. Superman! X-Ray vision! Reflexes faster than a speeding bullet! Can defy the laws of physics. ESP. I gently tried to talk around the issues with Superman. That didn’t work. I gently pointed out that the Road Code actually encourages cyclists to occupy their lane when they need to. That didn’t work. Oh well, I thought, I’ve met a dud one.
So I got in touch with CAN HQ, hoping that they, like me, would be horrified that one of their number was giving DANGEROUS advice. Hmmm, the response I got from Mark Bracey was “If you have an interest in providing a resource and training on this issue, i would be happy to forward it to the committee members for their consideration.” Yeah, right. I had seen that sort of response in my bureaucratic career.
The years go by, and more cyclists are killed and maimed by riding into car doors. The CAN response? Blame the person who has opened the door! Call for punitive legislation. No Guys. Blame the cyclist who doesn’t know the Road Code. Kids can open car doors. A moment of inattention even by me, might mean I open a car door without looking. Heck, I might even look but a fast cyclist might ride into my door anyway! And remember a competent cyclist can easily travel at 40-50 km per hour and I would have to be Superman too to be able to look back and see them coming. The simple physics and risk mean the onus MUST be on the cyclist to keep out of the door zone. It should be illegal for cyclists to ride in the door zone.
It’s a no brainer. Sorry about the head injury joke, but someone close rode into a car door, spent weeks in hospital and now lives with a brain injury.
I tried to explain this to Barbara Cuthbert after the death of the doctor recently in Dunedin in a door related incident. Barbara is well aware of my campaign to make it illegal for cyclists to be in the door zone. I went to far as to suggest to Barbara that CAN had a share of responsibility for the doctor’s death. And given their dangerous advice and their refusal to do anything about it, I stand by my comment. Barbara took it personally and hung up in my ear.
Next we get to Patrick Morgan from CAN advocating for no helmets. His arguments reminded me of global warming deniers. The helmet deniers find one or two studies among hundreds which support their view and refuse to listen to anything else. Another no brainer. Patrick had to pull his head in and say it was his personal view, not CAN’s.
So it goes until today. Now we get CAN criticising the Coroner’s Report into the death of Steve Fitzgerald. The Coroner recommends cyclists wear hi-viz gear. And what does CAN say? ‘Oh, Steve Fitzgerald was wearing hi-viz gear when he was run down by the truck. Therefore hi-viz gear doesn’t work.’ Great logic guys. The brilliant Pippa Coom says “I wear skirts on my bike, I wear high heels, and motorists definitely notice me. Far more than if I was wearing a high-vis jacket and lycra.” Ah, no, Pippa.
Patrick Morgan says “There’s really no evidence that forcing people to wear high-vis all the time, on the waterfront or cycle trails, is an effective road safety improvement”. Patrick, that’s what hi-vis is for. So people can see you. Tell me Patrick, how many times have you seen an accident report where the driver who has collided with a cyclist has said “I just didn’t see them.”?
So when CAN shows some sense on cycling safety issues, I really really would like to renew my membership.