Pedestrian, cyclist deaths and injuries disproportionate in Wellington

7:51 pm on 8 March 2021

Official figures show pedestrians and cyclists are disproportionately injured and killed on Wellington's roads.

Two cyclists with protective equipment are approaching an intersection in a busy part of the city towards the setting sun.

Photo: 123RF

The data from Wellington City Council showed nearly half of all serious injuries involve someone on foot or on a bike.

Despite its hilly topography and clustered street layout, more people walk or bike in Wellington than anywhere else in the country.

A survey by the Ministry of Transport Te Manatū Waka showed just under a quarter of all trips are taken by pedestrians or cyclists, compared with a national average of 18 percent.

There have been more than 4000 crashes causing injury in Te Whanganui-a-Tara over the past 10 years, and cyclists and pedestrians made up nearly a third of all minor injuries, nearly half of all serious injuries, and 38 percent of all deaths.

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Photo: RNZ/ Vinay Ranchhod

"We need to do a lot more," cycling advocate Patrick Morgan said. "Our council needs to do more to make our streets safe for people on bikes, and on foot.

"We need a network of protected cycleways throughout the city, and extending into the suburbs, and we also need safer speeds."

The danger weighs on the mind of many cyclists around Wellington.

"I try to be vigilant," said one cyclist, Marcio. "I'm not one of those that jump a red light, or go against traffic, I try to maintain my course.

"But you never know, I've had a few cases where buses or vans have taken a corner a bit too close and if I wasn't paying attention I could have been taken out of the road."

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Photo: RNZ/ Vinay Ranchhod

Paul, a triathlete, and someone who said he cycles everywhere across town, was aware of the danger.

"It's a city of tight streets, that have been turned into one-way death traps. I'd like to see an Amsterdam-isation of Wellington."

Such a project may seem utopian for a city surrounded by hills, but it was something deputy mayor Sarah Free agreed with.

"Yes, we have challenges but so does every city and on the plus side we've got a city that is compact, that's very stimulating to cycle in, that's got amazing views.

"The tightness of our streets is a challenge: that's why we will have to be creative, we will have to look at things like removing car parking if we're going to get that space.

"Sometimes we'll just have to look at alternative ways to do things too: slow streets, safer speeds, quiet streets, off-road sometimes where we can do it."

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Photo: RNZ/ Vinay Ranchhod

The council is consulting on its Long-Term Plan, which includes a proposed $108 million investment in cycleways, but an option to spend double the amount agreed on was shot down at a council meeting two and a half weeks ago.

Morgan said the council needed to be ambitious to have any impact.

"It means the full investment in the protected network of cycleways, and we've been waiting decades for this.

"The money from the government's there, this is a great investment for the council, and it's the right thing to do.

"Transitioning to a more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly city is something all towns and cities should be striving for."

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Photo: RNZ/ Vinay Ranchhod

The Climate Change Commission said for New Zealand to meet its climate objectives, it needed to cut down on private car use and ramp up active modes of transport.

"If we can encourage people to use their bikes, use their feet," commissioner and Victoria University of Wellington professor James Renwick said, "and have convenient ways of, maybe you pop your bike on a rack on the bus, or on a ferry for instance - if we can just join the dots together better, then more people will find it convenient."

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