Campus Cycling Issues

An article published in the ODT on 27 March, 2013 covered the current University of Otago Position on Campus “Cycle Lanes”.  The full text of my letter to the ODT after I was asked for a response is shown below – Prof Hank Weiss

Thank you for seeking out my comments regarding campus cycling issues as both a cycle advocate and as a safety professional. First let me address something that might lead to some confusion. Your questions centred on “cycle lanes”; which are commonly defined as paths dedicated to cyclists. That to me is a longer-term issue.

I think one of the most urgent actions after Chris (Li Hong) He’s death, four months ago now, is about quick wins; one of which is encouraging more equitable sharing of existing space so people who cycle (or want to cycle) feel they have inviting alternatives to the one-ways. So while I hope and trust the responsible University officials will begin to think more about cycle lanes and improved cycle access to and through Campus in longer range facilities and sustainability planning, it is probably not the most urgent issue. We ought first to address the risks that come about from decades of discouraging cycling through campus; especially along  Leith St and the Leith walk with its narrow chicanes, narrow bridges, blind corners, and unaccommodating speed bumps.

The reality is that the one-ways have experienced two-dozen police reported cyclist/car crashes over the last 13 years. This includes three fatalities; all members or former members of the campus community. A comprehensive campus safety perspective would advise that those recognised dangers be considered alongside manageable safety concerns over freer flowing and inviting shared spaces for campus cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, skateboarders and other vehicles.

The “cycle ban” arose from an incident more than a quarter-century ago (1986) in which a lecturer (Prof. Peter Wilson, Anthropology*) was seriously injured after colliding with a cyclist as he emerged around a blind corner. With today’s perspective, that incident would properly be viewed as related to poor path design, not the “fault” of either the cyclist or the pedestrian. In modern injury prevention science, we find very strong evidence that focusing on environmental design and less assignment of blame, is the more effective approach to harm reduction.

A Typical Otago Campus Scene

A Typical Otago Campus Scene

Blaming all cyclists and treating students, staff and campus guests who choose to cycle like second class citizens through absolute restrictions and unwelcoming routes is not the best answer. We are daily left with the peculiar situation that two-ton motorised vehicles are sharing campus pedestrian areas where cyclists are banned.

I hope the broader campus community weighs into these issues and strives for improved cycling policies and path designs that encourages reasonable and welcoming campus alternatives and less use of the one-ways for now.

*[Editors note: Emeritus Professor PETER WILSON taught Anthropology at Otago University for 27 years before he retired in 1998. He moved away from Dunedin on retirement but carried on with research and writing until his death in 2005, almost 20 years after the incident in question that led to the cycling restrictions. The incident left him with chronic problems, though he was never wheelchair bound. If you wish to learn more about his productive life, the Royal Society of New Zealand has a nice obituary you can visit.]

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