Cycling deaths – I resign from Cycling Advocates Network

I’ve canned my membership of Cycling Advocates Network (CAN) because I think they may be doing more bad than good.

mangled bike

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 are passionate cyclists who hark back to halcyon days of the freedom and the wind in their hair. 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 I don’t own a car. I discovered in my forties, much to my surprise, that toe-clips and lycra 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.

Let me start the list of my problems with CAN with “dooring” (a cyclist hitting a car door as it’s being opened because the cyclist is too close). 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 disaffection with CAN started at the Grey Lynn festival in Auckland a few years ago where they 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 peson 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 the 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 handing out 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 by riding into car doors. The CAN response? Blame the person who has opened the door!! 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 so 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 very much 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, including the science on helmets. 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.”? The anti-hi-viz (love a double hyphen) crowd cite a study which says hi-viz made no difference to cars coming too close to cyclists. But the study is flawed. Some motorists see you quite clearly and STILL decide for their own vicious or ignorant reasons to come into your space. They don’t give a shit. A ten minute search on the internet will find these people (fortunately they are few and far between) who have an irrational and pathological hatred of cyclists.

So when CAN shows some sense on cycling safety issues, I really really would like to renew my membership.

quotes are from:

7 thoughts on “Cycling deaths – I resign from Cycling Advocates Network

  1. “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.”?”

    As opposed to:
    ‘I didn’t bother looking’; or
    ‘My eyesight is so poor I should not be driving’; or
    ‘I saw them, but thought I could just nip out / they would be able to stop’.

    Can’t imagine anyone’s lawyer suggesting these responses, sorry I didn’t see you is so much safer.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OK, I’ll bite (as an ex-CAN Committee member): Firstly, it sounds like most of your interactions have been with Cycle Action Auckland (Mark, Barb, etc), not CAN as such. It’s pretty hard for CAN (a national umbrella group of local advocacy organisations) to be able to control what every individual advocacy person says, although we do try to provide advice and best practice to local groups. Re dooring, I can certainly say that CAN’s own Bikeability cycle training (regularly presented by Patrick Morgan) is very clear on supporting NZ Cycle Training advice of staying outside the door zone. But CAN also strongly supports better cycleway design to minimise the chances of this problem and ongoing education for motorists of their obligations to check.

    CAN’s policy on mandatory helmets is to call for a review of the evidence in NZ – that’s evidence of the effects of the legislation. There’s a lot of research on the individual effects of wearing a helmet IF you have a crash; that’s quite different to the wider public health effects of making everyone wear one. See for clarification of what CAN is after – it is NOT saying go and burn your helmets tomorrow. It’s not actually a high priority policy with CAN and its members, because it exhausts too much effort trying to explain it and, as a volunteer group, CAN has better things to do with its meagre resources.

    Likewise, CAN did a lot of work in developing its policy on hi-vis clothing – see Again, like helmets, there is a difference between encouraging hi-vis and opposing MANDATORY hi-vis – it is possible to support both positions at the same time. The crunch though is the research evidence that has failed to demonstrate any strong relationship between wearing hi-vis and reducing crashes. This is scientific research, not the “common sense” that Joe Public (and a few Coroners) seem to think means that it’s “obvious” that wearing hi-vis must be better.

    CAN did support one of the Coroner’s recommendations; that was to look into legislation requiring a minimum gap when passing riders (you can argue the toss over 1m, 1.5m, etc). While better road user education about these interactions would be good too, if that doesn’t work on its own, the next step is whether the law needs to be beefed up.

    And CAN is fully supportive of the NZTA Expert Panel on cycle safety being convened very soon. This is a group of specialist practitioners and researchers who “get” cycling from all its different perspectives (engineering, human behaviour, legal, etc) and should be well-placed to make some recommendations to Govt that DO make sense.

    I hope that helps clarify a few things. As an organisation with one part-time staffer and a small handful of volunteers doing most of the legwork, it’s hard for CAN to be all things to all people. Please be mindful too that not everything you hear in the media is actually what was said by CAN or anyone else. Things get taken out of context all the time, and “sound-bites” don’t always capture the nuances and caveats.


  3. Thanks LennyBoy. I checked the link to CAN Policy on hi-vis and remain appalled. The whole think is biased against hi-vis. It says there is not enough evidence but then says NO – hardly a scientific attitude. If we waited for scientific certainty we would wait forever. The latest research on distances drivers left when they saw someone with hi-vis has been deliberately misinterpreted by the NO brigade. It’s a simple fact of life that some drivers deliberately don’t leave enough space. It’s also a simple fact of life that the chances of being seen when you wear hi vis are higher.


  4. As I understand the arguments, mandatory safety clothing for cyclists discourages day to day riding by adding a layer of inconvenience and perceived danger. Its worth noting that a bike with wheels under 355mm diameter allows you to legally ride on the footpath with no safety kit whatsoever. Perhaps this is why the kids are on scooters, not bikes.

    I agree with your assessment that riding 40-50kph in the door zone is irresponsible, for the same reason that driving in that space at that speed would be irresponsible. There is no need for new law here.

    What there is a need for is fast, direct, safe, separated infrastructure to carry riders with priority over side roads and design that avoids contact with vehicles, parked or otherwise.

    Echelon (diagonal) parking on the roadward side with cycletracks passing on the safer, inboard side avoids the existence of a door zone entirely.

    Auckland in particular has massively wide roadspaces, courtesy of the defunct tram network and generous allocations at the time of survey. Lets bump off some on-street parking and reallocate for a liveable city.


  5. Hi Kevin,
    I’m sorry to hear CAN has lost your support.
    I’d like a chance to discuss the issues you raise. What’s the best way to reach you?
    FYI, CAN’s policy on helmet compulsion is here
    “There is evidence that mandatory cycle helmet wearing legislation is not working as intended and should be reviewed. Priority needs to be given to other safety issues such as motorist behaviour and roading improvements.”
    In regard to dooring, CAN advises avoiding the door zone, in line with NZTA advice.
    High-vis: there’s no strong evidence I’m aware of to support compulsion.
    regards, Patrick


  6. No brainer. The cyclist always loses when something goes wrong. Always. No helmet they say? Weren´t for the helmet I´d be well and truly dead by now. All it takes is one idiot in a SUV to chuck a ui, hit you from behind and send you unconscious to Auckland Hospital. The helmet saved my life, the bump on the front of it bore witness of my forehead being in a collision path with the tarmac. Had I worn a motorcycle helmet I wouldn´t have to live with ridiculous scars on both my lips, a constant reminder of what happens when something goes wrong and you´re the cyclist. But I´m alive and cycling. Very carefully and as away from cars as possible. They always win. Wear a hel met. At all times.


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