Cyclists debate in the Mercury

Starting with a hamfisted critique of bike riders in an Opinion piece by Wayne Crawford a week ago, the Letters to the Editor column has been bursting with rebuttals from riders.

Today Bicycle Network's Garry Bailey responds with another Opinion piece.  It is reproduced below and is available in the newspaper's online edition.  You will need to buy the paper to see the Letters, unfortunately.


There is no war between cyclists and drivers, most are suitably courteous


December 9, 2016 12:01am

MORE than half of Australian households have at least one bike. Bikes have outsold cars in Australia every year since 2000. That’s three million more bikes than cars sold in the past 15 years.

There are more bike events than ever. Pro tours, charity rides, mountain bike events, personal challenges like Peaks Challenge Cradle Mt.

That trend is revealed in the National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016 Implementation Report published last year, and it just scratches the surface.

That does not cover the millions spent on the clobber that goes with riding, including, as it happens, the purchase of the bike rack to go on top of, wait for it, the car. Yes, cyclists are car drivers too.

Riding a bike is a choice more Aussies are making, whether for sport, recreation, fitness, commuting, or for the sheer pleasure of it.

You would think, given the grumpiness from some drivers and riders about the behaviour of each other, that it is a war.

It is not. The overwhelming majority of vehicle drivers and cyclists do the right thing.

Drivers are patient, courteous and realise their responsibility to lessen the risk for vulnerable motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians. They know slowing behind a cyclist until safe to pass will add seconds, not minutes, to their journey and the consequences of impatience can be fatal.

Cyclists behave badly, just as drivers behave badly. Arguing the case for bikes with government can be hard when a minority of people you lobby for fail to exercise their responsibility as road users.

Cycling critics talk of the rights of drivers being eroded when their focus should be the responsibility of all users sharing our roads.

What the Tasmanian Government is doing in road safety and councils are doing building bike infrastructure is exercising their responsibility to protect road users so people feel safe whatever mode of transport they choose.

We will see more of this as the Government implements its Towards Zero Road Safety Strategy. To quote from the discussion paper: “The Safe Systems approach acknowledges that we are all human and we can all make mistakes on the road. Therefore, human frailty is placed at the centre of the system design, so that mistakes don’t result in serious injury or death.”

That is why we see the rebuilding of parts of the Midland Highway, with wire barriers separating traffic. It is why we see infrastructure separating cyclists from traffic, and why we see law changes and education campaigns where users have to share the roads and pathways.

The State Government has rolled out signs indicating the minimum distance drivers must give when passing cyclists and will codify the principle in law. It is a practice any competent driver should have been doing but laws are not made for the responsible but for the irresponsible.

What is needed as part of Towards Zero is a bigger commitment to fund full separation of bikes and cars in urban areas by filling in the gaps in the network. The RACT agrees a stand-alone bicycle infrastructure fund is needed to accomplish this. It is outlined in detail in its active transport policy.

The consequences for cyclists of poor behaviour by drivers are considerably greater than those of poor behaviour by cyclists. In fact, cyclists behaving badly usually come off second best.

Disturbingly, the behaviour of cyclists complained about recently is cyclists riding safely and legally. Clearly some need to brush up on the road rules.

Cyclists can pass on the left of traffic, provided cars are not indicating a left turn. They can advance to the front of the queue at traffic lights, a sensible behaviour reinforced by green bike boxes at some Hobart intersections.

There are complaints about riders being two abreast. The law allows it because it is safe. In a bunch of six to 10 riders, riding two abreast shortens by half the distance a driver needs to pass the group. Given the width of the carriageway, and the need to give 1m or 1.5m, that driver will have to cross the dividing line, which a recent law change allows, when safe, regardless of whether riders are in single file or two abreast. We are talking seconds here, not minutes. And if there is a rideable road verge competent cyclists will use that to allow traffic to pass.

It is legal to ride on a footpath unless indicated otherwise. Pedestrians have right of way.

The dilemma for riders, drivers and government is the fractured nature of bike infrastructure and trying to fit 21st century transport choice into century-old streets.

Calls for bike and rider registration ignore the fact it would cost more to implement and collect than it would raise. No policy wonk has yet come up with a way to chase down the millions of bikes to force them to register, let alone police 10-year-olds riding in the park. Good luck on the politics of that, and for taxing something that’s been free.

Let’s ensure all road users realise their rights and obligations.

Garry Bailey is an adviser with Bicycle Network in Tasmania.

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