Allowing children up to the age of 12 to cycle on footpaths with an accompanying adult "has merit", a new report by the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has concluded.
It has been released as Parliament considers a petition by Lower Hutt woman Joanne Clendon which says under-14-year-olds, their guardians, over-65-year-olds and disabled people should be able to cycle on footpaths without falling foul of the law.
Parliament's transport select committee has agreed to take a look at the petition, and is hearing submissions from the public.
It is illegal to ride on the footpath in New Zealand unless you are a delivering mail, or unless your wheels have a diameter of less than 355mm - a rule which effectively excludes nearly all bicycles.
NZTA has been researching the issue and presented the results today.
You don't solve a problem by creating another one
Simon Kennett, NZTA senior project manager, said the report recommends children up to the age of 12 and an accompanying adult should be able to ride on the footpath.
Kennett said the NZTA believes children cycle at a lower speed than teenagers and adults, and are typically more obedient of the rules. Changing the law would also enable children to be educated about safe cycling on the footpath.
New Zealand crash statistics cited in the report show footpath cycling crashes accounted for about 10 per cent of the reported cycle crashes in New Zealand in the past 10 years. The number of footpath cycling crashes involving a pedestrian was less than 2 per cent of all footpath crashes.
The NZTA report looked at overseas research, and found the risk associated with footpath cycling varied greatly between cities - in some areas it was safer than on the road, in others it was not.
Overall, there seemed to be a higher risk of a crash on a footpath, but a lower risk of a fatal crash.
In Australia, all states allow children under 12 and an accompanying adult to cycle on the footpath. In Germany, children up to 8 must cycle on the footpath, and those aged 9 and 10 have the choice to.
The NZTA report notes: "Because traffic volumes have increased over the last half century with relatively modest road improvements for cycling amenity, cycling as a legitimate transport mode has been marginalised to a point where, without footpath cycling, there is often no feasible place to cycle".
However, allowing children and accompanying adults to cycle on footpaths has raised safety concerns.
Neil Jarvis, the Blind Foundation's general manager of strategic relations, appeared before MPs today and said he had great sympathy for the petitioners.
However, the foundation opposed a law change because "you don't solve a problem by creating another one".
"You can't deal with a very real issue by...simply moving the risk to others," Jarvis said, saying it was better to address the underlying problem - how to ensure the safety of all users of roads and footpaths.
Jarvis said allowing more bikes on the footpath would not just affect the blind, but anybody who has more difficulty than others navigating obstacles.
He asked MPs to imagine how scary it could be to suddenly hear a skateboard or scooter approaching at speed. That would be much worse if it was a bike.
"When crossing roads I have been more often nearly hit by cyclists than motorists. through no fault of the cyclist or myself. It's just the nature of the beast. That will happen a lot more if cyclists are allowed on pavements...people will stop going out so much."
Labour MP Sue Moroney asked Jarvis about the fact that many children already rode bicycles on the footpath, despite that being illegal. Jarvis said it wasn't good practice to change the law simply because it wasn't widely known or being ignored.
Cycling rates in New Zealand have plummeted from around 12 per cent for primary school students in the 1980s to 2 per cent in 2014, partly because of busier roads and safety concerns.