Seems like a good time to repost this story from last year. Still agree with everything in it. Fewer stereotypes and greater tolerance/awareness hold the key to a safer and more harmonious future on Australian roads. For all road users.
Apologies for having a little rant here everyone. But with the new cycling laws coming into effect for NSW next Tuesday – and yet another high profile, low intelligence Police blitz on cyclists across Sydney this morning – I wanted to say a few things.
Yes, I’m a ‘bloody cyclist’, and perhaps you’re not. But like you I’m also a motorist. And a tax payer. And a father. And a son. I ride for a wide variety of reasons – health, transport, sport and recreation. I love it and, despite recent crashes, have no doubt it’s added years to my life (and life to my years) and made me a much better person in general. For sure, I’ve never been fitter. In my body or my mind.
Of course, just as when I’m behind the wheel of my car I’m far from perfect out there on the bike. I get aggravated. I make mistakes. I get into situations that, in hindsight, I perhaps wish I hadn’t. Occasionally I’ve even broken the law – something I fully accept that, if caught, I should expect to be penalised for just as if I was caught speeding in my car, or perhaps trying to scoot too late through a changing set of traffic lights.
But despite the sad fact my life has been endangered on many occasions over the years by errant motorists, I never do any of these things – legal or otherwise – to intentionally annoy or delay or antagonise. Sometimes I do it because, well, just like you I’m a fallible human being. Importantly, there are also times when I do it because it makes me feel safer. For example, intentionally riding in the middle of the lane when I know it’s far too dangerous for a car to safely pass me, or perhaps because I’m avoiding a ‘door zone’ to the left – one of a cyclist’s greatest fears is being wiped out by a door being opened on them, it can be lethal.
Sure there will always be a small minority of people who knowingly ride recklessly with flagrant disregard for the laws of the land. (Contrary to popular belief lazy phrases like “all cyclists run red lights” are about as accurate as “all drivers run red lights”. They don’t, we’re just programmed to better remember the bad things we see and ignore the good – ever wondered why the nightly news is mostly bad news?) Just like the small minority of soccer fans who light flares and ruin a match for everyone else. Throw the book at these people I say. A few drink drivers don’t represent every motorist, nor do these irresponsible fools represent me or 99% of cyclists out there. We may look the same. But we are nothing alike.
The way I see things, far too much of the anger and hostility out there stems from nothing more than stereotypes like this, fuelled by gross generalisations. By riders. By drivers. By the media. And especially by politicians who consistently seem to fail in their responsibility to consider the long game in all of this, preferring to focus on knee-jerk micro matters that achieve very little other than to paint cyclists as some kind of two-wheeled villains, as opposed to the bigger picture which will achieve lasting and positive societal change. Too much stick, not enough carrot.
Writing an article last year for Bicycling Australia magazine, I uncovered a pretty incredible piece of research commissioned by Ausroads for the Australian Government called the National Cycling Participation Survey.
It found the net health benefit for every kilometer ridden by Australian cyclists – even when adjusted for the cost of cycling-related injuries – is 75 cents. In other words each time I click over 1,000km (and I rode over 8,000km in 2015) I’ve effectively saved the health system $750. Just think about that for a moment. At a time when governments keep talking about fiscal black holes, here is one way to save a bundle of public money for years to come! Surely they should be finding ways to encourage all of us to ride more (e.g. better infrastructure and community education programs), not create obstacles and fear that ultimately deter us (e.g. massively lop-sided fine structures and money-raising/media-sating police blitzes)?
I’m no free-spirited hippy child who dreams of a car-free utopian Australia. I love my CO2 producing car as much as you love yours. But I do wholeheartedly believe things are way out of alignment with reality right now, especially here in NSW. A more cycling-friendly Australia where people are actively encouraged to feel safer, more accepted and more respected for their choice to ride a bike will be a far healthier and happier Australia. It will be a more energy efficient Australia. And, whether you choose to ride yourself or not, it will be a better Australia.
Sure, bike riders are not perfect. But who is?
Please, give us all a bit more space and consideration out there. And we’ll all get home in one piece.
Oh, and watch this video too…