Getting kids on their bikes is a win for health, congestion, the environment and long term driver skills. Enabling legal use of the footpath by children on bikes can help address the dramatic decline in children cycling to school, and improve children’s physical activity habits. Using the footpath will not decrease safety for pedestrians, but it will give parents and school travel planners useful options when identifying safe routes to school. Allowing children to legally ride on the footpath will encourage riding by reducing perceived risk and providing access to pedestrian only routes (shortcuts).
Current New Zealand law prohibits bikes from the footpath based on wheel size, effectively banning most schoolage children from riding on the footpath. Although their bikes are too big for the footpath at age 5, experts recommend that children do not cycle on the road until age 10 (or older). Where should they ride?
NZ has secondworst child cyclist fatality rate among OECD countries. The road is not a safe place for kids to cycle; they are not developmentally ready. Nationally we are seeking to improve children’s physical activity levels and use of active transport. Promotional campaigns such as ‘MovinMarch’, school travel planning and cycling education encourage children to use active transport to get to school. Ideally all children would have access to dedicated infrastructure, but not every child can have a bike path leading seamlessly from their front door to their destination. In reality, for children who do cycle, most are using footpaths rather than cyclingonroad. They should be able to do so without breaking the law.
Parents want to teach their kids to obey the law; not to pick and choose which ones they think they should obey and which they shouldn’t. Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their children’s safety and teaching them to be lawabiding citizens.
The proposed change aligns with laws in Australia where, at a minimum, all states permit cycling on the footpath by children to age 12. In Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory it is legal for adults to ride a bicycle on the footpath. The Australian Bicycle Network are campaigning for the age limit to be raised to 16 in remaining states.
Using the footpath will not significantly decrease pedestrian safety. Evidence from Australia (and elsewhere) demonstrates low risk to pedestrians and that we can share and we can s hare with care. A s a society we need to demonstrate the belief that our children are capable of developing the skills and attitudes we value and which will create a safe sharing environment. Fostering a culture of calm and tolerance, together with existing inschool cycle skills training, will help keep all footpath users safe and help make these children safer future drivers.
Driveway safety is already a concern for all footpath users, and for users of dedicated cycling facilities: safer driver behaviour is needed. However, compared to the road, vehicles enter and exit driveways at much lower speeds, significantly reducing the severity of any crash.
Increasing footpath user numbers to include kids on bikes would require drivers to become more aware of footpath traffic when maneuvering their vehicles. It would also give cyclists using footpaths legal protection to make complaints when motorists exiting driveways fail to give way. Issues of poor visibility at driveways need to be addressed via design and behavioural change.
Education for children, parents and drivers is essential for creating a safe sharing environment. Currently, cycle instructors are limited to teaching children that they cannot cycle on the footpath. Once it is legal they can teach children how to safely ‘share with care’. Improving awareness and behaviour of drivers entering and exiting driveways will benefit all path users as well as cyclists on the road.
Footpath cycling is not a substitute for teaching safe road riding, rather it provides a safe place to learn and practice riding skills until they are developmentally ready for sharing the road with cars. Nor is it an alternative to providing safe and connected infrastructure and creating a safer environment. It is complementary to the Safe Systems Approach and the recommendations of the Cycling Safety Panel in 2014. Senior and disabled riders can also benefit from the added protection of cycling on the footpath.
To facilitate safe sharing bells should be mandatory for any bicycle used on footpaths or shared use paths. Bell use may help eliminate the surprise factor when approaching pedestrians from behind. For the purposes of managing conflict in high use zones, local bodies should be able to restrict footpath cycling when necessary.
Whilst a child cycling on the footpath poses a very low risk to a pedestrian, the same cannot be said for the risk that motor vehicles pose to children riding bikes on the road. Parents know this, and restrict children from cycling because of it. We are growing a generation of children who have no personal experience of active transport, and who grow up thinking private vehicles are the only travel option. The benefits in terms of physical activity, healthy habit formation and children’s cycling participation outweigh the associated risks, which are minimal and manageable.
Please change the law and make it okay for children, accompanying caregivers, seniors and the disabled to cycle safely and considerately on the footpath.
To read the full submission please follow this link
To view the text of my oral submission please click here: oral submission to transport and industrial relations select committee