Australia the arse end of the world for cycling
05 May 2014
In virtually any other country in the world, the image below would be used in a tourism brochure to advertise a fun and safe holiday destination with good conditions for cycling. In Australia, it’s used to promote two reckless criminals, selfishly engaged in a momentously dangerous activity, endangering their lives and others.
The photo was taken on Queensland’s Gold Coast, just days after the state government enacted new “cycling safety” laws, and published in the Gold Coast Bulletin as part of an article headlined: “Forget Would you ‘like’ this? Bike riding pair’s selfish selfie on Gold Coast roads a picture of stupidity.”
Ignoring a newspaper’s tendency to sensationalise headlines for attention, the body of the article is far more disturbing, reflecting a culture in Australia fueling such headlines, with police saying: “It is outrageous to see behaviour like this still happening on our roads. The legislation has been changed to try to assist everyone in sharing the roads, and cyclists are still out doing this. Unfortunately, it is happening a lot on the Gold Coast and it is certainly something (we) will be on the lookout for these school holidays.”
This so-called legislation to “assist everyone” came after a parliamentary inquiry on behalf of the Queensland Transport Ministry, which, in a report called “A new direction for Queensland cycling”, returned these notable recommendations: 1) Motorists must provide at least 1 metre of clearance when overtaking a cyclist; 2) Fines for breaking road rules to be equalised with other “vehicles”; 3) The mandatory helmet law should be relaxed for certain riding, notably on paths and on roads with lower speed limits.
As consistent with the arse end of the world, only the equalisation of fines realised any quantifiable effect, with the department of transport – after receiving complaints from motorists the new laws would see cyclists escape “scot-free” – boasting of the record number of cyclists fined for trivial offences like not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, while in the those same few days after the law was enacted the number of motorists caught for cycling safety offences was zero. Police even went as far to set up stings near stop signs despite rolling stops being one of the committee’s recommendations!
Being allowed to left at a red light was also another liberating recommendation ignored. No motorist has been fined for the 1 metre rule, and the helmet law was never altered, not even for a trial. Ultimately, all Queensland did was follow Victoria’s backward stance of several years ago when they tripled helmet fines to $150 (now almost $200) – the same as a first level speeding motorist (how the two equate is mind boggling) – and equalised other fines. It didn’t do a thing for cycling safety, nor was there any problem to solve of helmet-law abuse and rising injury rates that needed such ridiculous increases. It was merely a ploy to encourage police to stop and fine riders.
This equalisation of fines is also apparently part of the broader goal of earning “respect” by motorists on the roads. If cyclists are to be treated as “vehicles” on the road, then you must behave like “vehicles”. Except, cyclists are not vehicles. They are no where near as fast, no where near as dangerous to others, and no where near as resource hungry. They are merely people trying to get around that have been thrown onto roads because no suitable alternative has been provided for them. Vehicles, by definition, provide their own power – like a car, truck, bus or tram. Anything human powered is closer to a pedestrian, or in its own class. Cyclists are no more a vehicle than a skateboarder or scooter rider is. Being forced to use roads does not change their nature.
If cyclists are vehicles, why is it that other laws don’t apply evenly? A vehicle should be entitled to an entire lane. A cyclist is not. If a car hits another car from behind, they are automatically at fault. If a car hits a cyclist from behind, it’s nothing. The recent “1 metre” law should not even be necessary if the laws were applied evenly across all vehicles. Clearly, the state does not recognise cyclists truly as “vehicles” except for when it suits them to raise revenue and target them for greater persecution.
If the persecution by state wasn’t enough, former Olympic champion Sara Carrigan, a confessed public vigilante by way of her self-described “bunch police” training group, further highlighted the abhorrent culture in this country: “When we hear of cycling accidents they are generally by people on town bikes who are riding on the wrong side of the road, or doing something stupid. When everyone hears ‘cyclist’, the first thing people picture is those in Lycra and on road bikes, so it is damaging our reputation.” She continued to say she felt a “bit disappointed” by the girls taking a selfie, adding “We have to respect the rules so cyclists have respect on the roads. This doesn’t bode well for cyclists.”
Not only does Carrigan engage in this “respect” drivel, she condescendingly engages in a class warfare between “town bikes” and “cyclists” – and by cyclists she snobbishly refers as “we”, or herself, the lyrca wearing road warriors that get a thrill out of racing about on busy roads like it’s confirmation of being a real cyclist. Except, these “cyclists”, especially the sub-class of MAMIL (middle aged man in lycra), are the ones primarily ending up dead or severely injured. These are the Cadel Evans wannabes that would even wear body armour if pro-riders started to wear it, and are almost totally fearless to all dangerous traffic and road conditions. Just check any news story of a cycling death or bad injury, it’s always a “cyclist”, and often on a busy or dangerous road.
The “town bikes”, which indeed may break the odd, incidental law, are actually the safe riders. They ride the slowest and most careful, with the laws broken mostly of a trivial nature that affects no one. Remember, a bike rider has one overwhelming deterrent to not break a law: their own safety. Hence, they won’t run brazonly through a red light like a car might. If bending a law, it’s only in a situation that safety is not compromised, like turning left at a red light after giving way to any cars, riding a small section on a footpath, doing a rolling stop at a stop sign, or even a selfie at walking pace on a quiet road on the Gold Coast. Such breaches are no different to the thousands upon thousands of j-walkers seen in a city centre all day. Except no one’s demanding they be tackled and fined, yet the cyclist (oops, town bike), is public enemy number one, even to a “cyclist”!
This dubious notion of “respect” is crucifying cycling progress. The theory goes that if all cyclists obey every single and frivolous road rule, then motorists will start to love them, and give them plenty of room, and end their vendetta. Except, again dear Sara, the primary source of a motorist’s anguish and frustration are the “cyclists” hogging part of a lane or even entire roads. The town bike is rarely to be seen or inconveniencing anyone.
Since it is a legal right for cyclists to hog a lane, what do motorists want? Cyclists to be registered. While the road warrior “cyclists” might actually get a thrill out of that, it’s just another oppressive measure against “town bikes” and cycling in general. There’s no safety concern that exists that is solved by registration. Cycling impacts with cars are typically the car’s fault and the cyclist is doing nothing illegal.
The correlation to car registration is false regardless of the absurd definition bikes are also “vehicles”, because registration of cars and licensing of drivers is to ensure a lethal weapon can be controlled safely. A cyclist is not a lethal weapon. They pose no safety threat to any vehicle. Registration is not needed for police to fine a cyclist; police already do that regardless. As to paying for roads, much of that is from general tax revenue and council rates, and roads are there for everyone, regardless of which “vehicle” they use.
No, registration is simply a vindictive response by motorists out of jealousy and spite. It’s their way to somehow get even, possibly with an inclination to dob in a cyclist. Of course, if registration earns this mythical “respect”, it would not surprise that the nation’s peak cycling groups, typically run by “cyclists”, would approve it.
Speaking of oppression, the requirement to wear a helmet for any and all types of cycling was tackled by the committee despite it not being part of the “terms of reference”. Transport minister Scott Emerson admitted to this on ABC 7.30 QLD, proving that right from the start that the review was biased towards more regulation and punitive measures, not to real increases of safety and numbers of those riding bikes.
The committee’s recommendation was that anyone over 16 riding on a path or on a road with a speed limit of 60kph should be able to choose whether to wear a helmet without fear of the police prosecution, accepting that cycling is fundamentally a safe and healthy activity that should be encouraged. In response, Emerson went into overdrive with the fear-mongering and hysteria that maligns and suppresses in Australia, saying helmets “saved my noggin many times” and that helmets would stay. Saved his noggin many times? He’s either the most reckless rider ever, believes helmets have a mystical quality to prevent crashes, or a plain liar.
Even if anyone is gullible enough to believe Emerson’s exaggerated personal claim about helmets, why would any rational human engage in an activity that sees them suffering frequent impacts to the head? First, people are not dumb enough to believe these flimsy foam hats offer sufficient protection against major impacts anyhow. Second, there’ll still be an assortment of other injuries like broken collar-bones, legs and wrists, and even necks to be worried about, not to mention the psychological trauma of a car impact. Good grief.
Also, these dopey politicians still can’t differentiate between helmet law and helmet wearing. For some reason, mentioning the law connotes helmet wearing, and to repeal the helmet law means stop helmet wearing, as though there’s thousands of cyclists itching to throw away their helmets if the law allowed it. No, the idea of allowing a choice is to get thousands more people cycling, or to ride more often, without the burden, discomfort and inconvenience of the device, and without the oppression of the law. The existing cycling population would almost unanimously keep wearing helmets regardless of the law, while newer cyclists can make the distinction themselves between safe and dangerous that they need a helmet. Wise up.
The recommendation for helmet choice on paths was based on Darwin’s example – a city that has the most people cycling of all the capitals, and the best safety record in the country. The choice on roads of 60kph or less is again based on evidence that most serious crashes are on busy or high-speed roads. Also, such a reform of the law would liberate Brisbane’s bike share scheme – one of the two biggest duds in the world, the other being Melbourne’s. The committee recognised many submissions against helmet laws like reduced participation rates and associated health benefits, perception of danger, exaggerated sense of vulnerability, exaggerated level of protection, increase in risk taking, reduced demand for infrastructure, discomfort and inconvenience, the rarity and rejection of helmet laws almost everywhere else in the world, and general marginalisation of the activity. That all combined to raise concern the law had an adverse effect on cycling and the general health of the state.
While those recommendations were good, it’s unfortunate there were no expansive recommendations to help switch the culture in our cities – towards “town bikes”, because that’s the greatest room for exponential growth in cycling. Why even have a review? Just look to Europe for answers. They have it right with priority to cyclists (often even over pedestrians), separate paths and large scale amenities to facilitate bike use. There’s no “share the roads” nonsense pushed there. It’s about separation, infrastructure and rights for a particular class of transport. Some of this could be done easily in Australia, like clearing one side of parking spaces on selected major streets for proper bike lanes as part of a major cycling network, and a 30kph speed limit and full priority to cyclists and pedestrians on all local residential streets. Of course, anything that might inconvenience motorist in Australia, even to the slightest degree, could not be part of the “terms of reference” for a review into cycling. No surprise in the arse end of the world.