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Drivers main deterrant for cyclists

Published: 6:36PM Monday June 08, 2009 Source: ONE News

More than a million people own bikes in New Zealand, so why is it only a fraction of those people bike to work?

An Otago University study reveals those behind the wheel are the main deterrant.

"I've got a titanium plate in my jaw, I've lost seven teeth, had 65 stitches in my face, had three ribs shattered, my sternum shattered, my lung filled with blood," says Ben Wooliscroft, Otago University Marketing lecturer and keen cyclist.

But he did not let that put him off.

"After that I decided I really wanted to cycle more!" he says.

But others are put off and over much less.

Wooliscroft then decided to combine his two passions and investigate why 1.3 million people own bikes in this country but do not bike to work.

"We saw petrol being important, workplace facilities, cycle lanes are important as well, but the biggest barrier to people cycling was their fear, essentially, of drivers," says Wooliscroft.

The study asked respondents to rate the main reasons they did not bike. They included the availability of cycle lanes and work place facilities, the price of petrol but the biggest worry by far was driver attitudes.

"We seem to have a whole generation that haven't cycled to school that are now driving. And of course, now that they're driving on the road with a sense of entitlement to the road, without any empathy for cyclists, we're getting a lot of issues there," says Wooliscroft.

Some drivers say those cycling in packs take over the whole road, while others say visibility is also a factor at night.

The New Zealand Transport Agency is well aware of the animosity between many road users.

"It's important to remember when you're behind the wheel that the person on the bike has a right to be there. And it's equally important to remember when you're on a bike, that you're governed by the same road rules as the person in the car," says Andy Knackste of the NZ Transport Agency.

Cyclists are actually allowed to ride two abreast, providing they do not impede the flow of traffic. But that is where the differences end. Otherwise, the normal road rules apply, including the use of lights when the sun goes down and the give-way rules.

However cyclists are not blame-free.

"With 81% growth in recreational cycling, there's a lot of new people into the sport. But we still lack, I guess, structure, training, development around the country," says Kieran Turner, Bike NZ.

Bike NZ is developing school-age cycle programmes.

"We've seen a real drop off in the last 15 years in the number of youth cycling, certainly the distance. It's 25% what it was 15 years ago," says Turner.