Given we can’t all up and move to the Netherlands, improving on-road safety for Australian cyclists is a complicated issue. With decades of cultural inertia and car-focussed infrastructure to be overcome, there is no silver bullet. No one thing will solve all the problems; certainly not one that can be implemented quickly and inexpensively in any case. Anyone out there who suggests there is has, in my view, been sniffing way too much carbon paste or WD40.
That said, the one overarching thing that could make a very big difference is greater respect and empathy; from all sides. Far easier said than done, of course.
As a motorcyclist and an ex-advertising industry person, the situation reminded me of this ad campaign run by the TAC a few years back. Not dissimilar to the whole “motorists vs cyclists” debate, it focussed on trying to change attitudes between motorbike riders and motorists. Not quite the same, but not entirely different either.
I didn’t work on the campaign, but the strategy is pretty clear. It’s all about humanising the debate, and showing each of the warring parties the other side’s perspective – because when you’re cocooned away in your car, or under your motorbike helmet, it’s pretty easy to be become rather self-absorbed and insular out there on the road. Anyone who gets in your way or disagrees with you is a #$%^%*wit.
I have no idea how successful the TAC campaign was (if you do, please let us know). But on the surface it seems like a pretty relevant and compelling way to go about a problem that, just like ours, is potentially lethal.
Wouldn’t it be great if governments (beyond just local councils and interest groups with their well-meaning but pop-gun budgets) treated cycling safety with similar importance to issues like speeding and drinking driving? High profile campaigns with powerful messages, bolstered by adequate media spend to ensure that message gets heard. Loud and clear.
Like I said, it won’t solve some of the fundamental structural issues that need to be addressed. But it’s a lot cheaper and faster to get an ad campaign off the ground than it is to build 100s of kilometres of dedicated cycleways where, often, there isn’t much space to begin with. That needs to be done too. But it takes time. And sadly, there are riders amongst us who don’t have time. They’ll be injured, paralysed and even dead by this time next year.
Maybe lobbying Governments for campaigns that drive real awareness of the issues at play for cyclists and motorists is something we should all be doing? Right now.
Just a thought.