Safe? Suitable? Strategic? Sensible?

Is letting kids cycle on the footpath a good idea?

The safety debate

The petition and subsequent media coverage have drawn a lot of attention to the issue.  Some parents are admitting that they knowingly yet reluctantly break the law.  And others did not even know it was illegal for kids to ride on the footpath.  This topic has also sparked some debate and opposition.  Opponents are concerned about the safety of pedestrians, and in some cases, the convenience of car users who don’t want to have to worry about kids using bikes on the footpath.  There have also been concerns raised that allowing cycling on the footpath will divert attention from the need for safe, separated cycle facilities.  In her submission to parliament, Jo Clendon addressed these issues in detail, citing research from New Zealand and overseas.   

Pedestrian Safety:

Evidence indicates having kids cycle on the footpath is a very low risk to pedestrians.  A stark contrast to the very real risks to children cycling on the road.

  • QLD: An observational study of more than 4500 cyclists, 2010 and 2012, Brisbane CBD.  1.7% conflict but NO collisions despite a quarter of the cyclists riding on the footpath had one or more pedestrians within 1 metre and an additional quarter of the cyclists had one or more pedestrians within 1 – 5 metres.
  • NSW: ~2011 study 672 observation hours at 10 shared path locations in Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong were carried out observing 51,031 pedestrians and 12,319 bicyclists, concluded that the perception of danger is much greater than the actual risks of bicyclists and pedestrians on shared paths. They observed only five near miss incidents and no actual contact between bicyclists and pedestrians”
  • ACC Data: 72% of injuries to over 65 year olds occur at home, 27% elsewhere, 1% on footpath.  Of all foothpath injuries most are caused by environment/built factors: injuries involving cycles = 1%. (same as trees and buses, less than animals which is 2%).

Driveway safety:

Will kids be any safer on the footpath given driver behaviour when exiting and entering driveways?  It is likely they will be safer than on the road: At 50 kmph >80% chance of fatality.  At 5 kmph this drops to around 5%.

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Lower speeds reduce risk of injury

Queensland data based on cycling accident hospital admissions for kids under 14 in the 2005 – 2009 period showed that.

  • A collision is three times more likely on the road than the footpath
  • Two thirds of resuscitation cases (the most serious, after death) involved roads, and 75% of those involved motor vehicles

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source: Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit response to Data Request Submitted to QISU’s Website. Reference # 1671

Dr Ruth Barker, Emergency Paediatrician and Director, Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit has provided the following statement to accompany her report:

“In allowing young children to ride on the footpath one needs to be mindful of shifting rather than solving the injury issue. Any transition from one traffic rule to another involves a learning period for road users.

The risk of young children riding on the road is that, despite even the best parental supervision, an unexpected wobble or aberrant driver behaviour can result in a child falling into the path of a car.

Where children are allowed to ride on the footpath, there is potential for them to be hit by cars coming out of/ into driveways (frontwise or reversing) however, this risk is mitigated by adult supervision. The impact speed (and subsequent injury) might be less than an impact occurring on the road.

There is also a risk of pedestrians being hit. Again, this can be mitigated by adult supervision.

Adult supervision, cycling speed and behaviour change with age of the cyclist and these factors would need to be considered before any regulatory amendment”

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Footpaths are for people

We need to remind drivers that footpaths are for people.  There are already users of footpath who are travelling at faster than walking speed, e.g. kick scooters, mobility scooters, etc.  We need to keep all footpath users safe: there is safety in numbers: we see what we expect to see (or are used to seeing), and some drivers are so used to empty footpaths they don’t even look anymore.  Driveway safety is an existing problem requiring a solution: including better: Design, Education, Enforcement

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Complementary to Cycle Infrastructure Investment

Is this a distraction from bigger and better solutions for cycling? No, it is Complementary to bike infrastructure development: Bike paths are the ideal safe place for kids to cycle.  But how many kids have a cycle path connecting their house to their destination?

Kids learn by doing.  Skill development requires lots of practice.  This won’t happen if we have to load their bikes on the car and transport them to the local bike track or park.

In Australia, cycling on the footpath is legal and it hasn’t stopped the building of on and off road cycle facilities, especially Brisbane where footpath cycling is legal for all ages.  Cyclists don’t prefer the footpath, so demand for safe separated cycling facilities doesn’t go away.

In fact, it Helps build the market for cycling infrastructure.  Because today’s kids are tomorrow’s adult riders.

A school travel planner stated:

“I am hoping in the future that there will be more cycle ways which will enable cyclists to ride off the road. In the meantime if the parents and children feel it is  safer cycling on the footpath to get to a cycle way, then it should be their decision.”

Further Information

Not every family have time to write a submission, so signing the petition at change.org is an alternative way for them to show their support for changing the law.

Links:

Select Committee’s Request for submissions

Information on making a submission

How Big is That?

Petition to Parliament Wording

Current Law:

Current NZ law prohibits cycling on the footpath or adjacent berm with two exceptions:

You are only allowed to cycle on the footpath if you are:

  • delivering newspapers or mail, or
  • you are riding a small wheeled recreational device that has a wheel diameter of less than 355 millimetres (typically tricycles or small children’s bicycles).

A standard mountain bike tyre is 660 mm (26”), with children’s bike tyres ranging 406 mm – 660 mm (16” – 26”).

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