Bouff a crash story - when we don't return home safely from a walk

Going for a walk has become the great outing in these last few weeks, eagerly anticipated by many as the highlight of the day. We expect to head out and return safely having had a pleasant experience. Seeing the sights, nodding to people as we 2-metre-pass, and getting our essential physical activity in. We will need to keep the 2 metre distance for some time so will expect footpaths to remain safe and clear for walking. Our footpaths and parks will need to support the Covid19 walk.

However returning home safely does not always happen. This story was shared with us by filmmaker Dame Gaylene Preston. An all too similar story to others we have heard, from people who do not find it safe out there on our footpaths and in our parks.

Both national and local government need to make it safe for all people to get out from home and enjoy our public spaces, whether on the streets or in our parks. Submissions to the proposed Accessible Streets road rule package need to highlight safety for all users, and oppose those changes that make it less safe and pleasant to walk, like on cycling on footpaths. Let’s keep footpaths for pedestrians.

In her own words,

Dame Gaylene Preston’s story of Bouff!

There is something about the human brain that changes around wheels. We invented them, and the world changed. Wheels have liberated us entirely. We ride them and it’s refreshing, exhilarating, ridiculously invigorating and devastatingly dangerous.

It was a beautiful, drop dead gorgeous Saturday afternoon in January 2019. The 12th. My ‘before’ and ‘after’ date. I was taking some international visitors for a quick stroll up Mt Victoria while our steamed sweet corn cooled. I live just around the corner from the Pirie St playground at the base of the Mt Vic tracks. The swings and slides were full that day. Under a windless clear blue sky, kids were sliding, screaming, hanging upside down, running, chasing. The little four-year-old gave a delighted cry, ‘swings!’ she yelled as she ran off to join the melee. Hardly a second later, I heard a squeal of skidding brakes behind me. Rubber hit tarmac then - BOUFF!

Whatever hit me (and I never saw him) fell to earth with a solid thud sending me flying through the air like a little pinball onto a stone path two and a half meters away where I landed on my head. When I came to, I opened my eyes and closed them immediately. The world was no longer still. It felt like being in the middle of a zip pan. Zip pans were very fashionable in the eighties action movies. They didn’t cut between shots; they just moved the camera very fast, from one to another. A zip pan. Well now I was in the middle of one of those. As I lay on the ground, I realised I had missed some action. I’d been knocked out apparently. There was now a small crowd around me up there.

I risked a peek of the spinning world. A young man, haloed by the ridiculously blue sky behind him, was talking about ‘bad design,’ and another about how I was ‘lucky,’ because the boy who hit me usually came down there faster, but yesterday he broke his wrist, so was slower than usual. In my zip-panned state, with my eyes tightly shut again I shouted from where I lay. “I’m not lucky!” They didn’t appear to hear me. The little girl I was with was lucky. Very. He was a big boy. Flying through the air like a speeding missile he must have had considerable force to bouff me a couple of metres like that. Having raced down the vertical bike path through the bush from above the bus tunnel, he landed on the basketball court, saw us, jammed on the brakes (no bell) went over the handlebars and landed exactly where she had been standing. Her father who saw the whole thing still has nightmares.

An ambulance was called – thank you Wellington Free Ambulance – I was in hospital for five days with a suspected skull fracture, concussion, and a chipped hip. Awesome care all round at the expense of the NZ Health Service - brain scans, 24 hour care, x-rays, physio, etc etc - discharged into the care of ACC – courtesy of the NZ Tax payer (thank you Norman Kirk). Daily carers came to help me bathe, drivers drove me to endless medical appointments, all on the tax payer tab. Wonderful care by underpaid people.

There it is. 1 year three months later, I am still on an ACC ‘back to work plan.’ I’m not quite the woman I was. Now I avoid foyers. Too noisy. I pace myself and steer clear of many of the things filmmakers have to do in order to get them made. Treatment is ongoing. Again, thank you ACC and the NZ health system. I reckon that little piece of ‘bad track design’ has cost me my livelihood for the moment, and New Zealand at least a six-figure sum and still growing. If I lived in the States, I’d probably be knee deep in court cases trying to claw back some of it.

Thankfully I live in this country, and I think we really need to pull ourselves together on how we deal with this feet/ wheels sharing space thing.

We need to factor in that new technology has enhanced what used to be non-motorised travel. And it won’t stop. It will continue to make bikes and skateboards and scooters faster and more powerful. Add smaller and smaller powerful electric motors, on lighter vehicles and it can be carnage for everyone as we hurry, hurry, faster, faster. Let’s note here that not everyone walking is necessarily going somewhere. We might need to be just wandering. Ancient. Good for the health. Great for conversation. Now when I am down Lambton Quay or Courtenay Place, I look both ways before I just change direction to look in a shop window. We are in danger of turning our footpaths into small wheel stressful motorways. Life is demanding enough.

From the street below, the mountain looks pretty empty, but it’s usually full. I don’t know how many people were up there on the 12th January 2019. Probably several hundred. Walking, jogging, sunbathing, cross fitting, riding. Some of them were babies in pushchairs. When current rules were put in place, there was less foot traffic and mountain biking was for an elite few who could afford them. I know so many people my age who just won’t walk the paths anymore because of the fear of a silent speeding figure above them appearing as if from nowhere.

The green belt is Wellington’s Central Park. We need to accommodate everyone. There’s a whole lot of Mt Vic by the less populated quarry that could be brilliant for a state of the art bike park. But consented vertical recreational bike paths sharing with tourists looking for Lord Of The Rings trees, joggers on their daily run, city dwellers walking to work, families walking the dog, and people like me rehabilitating on a mental health wander, do not go together. Madness for everyone. Including the big boy with the broken wrist who bouffed me.

And while I’m at it - walking downtown without dodging scooters, and bike riders would be nice. Like the old days. You could hop skip and jump around the promenade at Oriental Bay - chase little kids without worrying they might cross the pink line into mortal danger and on the mountain you could wander about in a daydream, breath in the day, dawdle, listen to the birds, recite the Ancient Mariner at the top of your lungs, without worrying about the silent speeding figure that arrives unheralded from above you with a screech of brakes and no bell.

Stay safe everyone.

Dame Gaylene Preston. DNZM

April 2020