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Australia the arse end of the world for cycling

May 5, 2014

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.

gold coast cycling selfi

Safe enough for a selfie, or reckless criminals? (c) Gold Coast Bulletin

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.

sara carrigan olympic gold

Olympic champion Sara Carrigan wants all cyclists to be like her. (c) aoc media

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.

scott emerson transport minister

Queensland Minister for Transport, Scott Emerson. The helmet law reputedly has saved this man’s noggin “many times”. (c) abc

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.


Queensland’s parliamentary review into cycling

Article from the Gold Coast Bulletin



From → Cycling Free

  1. Having spent my childhood overseas, it always strikes me that riding a bike is one of those things that Australia just doesn’t get. Practically everywhere else sees this as a normal, every day activity and as a convenient mode of transport. But we only see bikes as sport. Nothing wrong with riding a bike for sport, but if that’s the only “acceptable” aspect to it then legislation around it gets distorted.
    It’s like requiring car drivers to wear crash helmets and fireproof clothing because that’s what the guys in formula 1 do.

    • Australia used to ‘get it’ before helmet laws. In 1985/86, bicycle travel accounted for 3.9% of all trips in Australia, including 1.6% in Sydney and 5.0% in the rest of NSW. The same amount of cycling today (2.24 km per person per week, about 85% for transport purposes) would generate estimated health, environmental and other benefits of $2.4 billion per year. The NSW Household travel survey shows cycling currently accounts for 0.6% trips in Newcastle/Sydney/Wollongong
      Details: &
      Unlike Australia, New Zealand has conducted regular travel surveys, so we have a much better idea of the effect of helmet laws on safety. Injuries involving motor vehicles declined dramatically for pedestrians. Although injuries to cyclists have also declined, they have not enjoyed the same safety benefits as pedestrians, suggesting that helmet laws (and consequent reduced safety in numbers and risk compensation) have made cycling more dangerous.
      However, the big decrease in safety is due to the dramatic increase in cycling injuries not involving motor vehicles, which quadrupled in 15-19 year olds (from 11.6 to 45.9 injuries per million hours) and more than doubled for children (from 39.5 to 85.4 per million hours) and adults (from 15.9 to 32.3 per million hours)
      Clearly the authorities are incapable of ‘getting’ or understanding the statistics that helmet laws make cycling a lot more dangerous.

  2. slimbimjim permalink

    “like clearing a line of parked cars on some major streets for proper bike lanes as part of a major cycling network”

    Cairns did just the opposite in the CBD. Complete waste of money.

  3. troy permalink

    Perfect summary.
    I registered with the Australian Cyclists Party to put pressure on at at the state and federal levels. After a lot of hard work with councils, it becomes apparent many problems stem from this level. Vicroads will never approve an intersection that caters for bikes. Police happy to ticket you for no bell, but parking car in a bike lane, no problem. $9billion freeway tunnel with no transport funding committed to improving bicycle infrastructure. Etc., etc…
    Any like minded people can help them achieve party status in Vic –
    The rest of the world moves forward, while we jam it in reverse. Thanks for great article.

  4. Commuter cyclist permalink

    Great article. I agree with much of it, especially helmets, rego and helmets being a load of rubbish. But there are 2 fundamental things even you got wrong.
    1/ “They are merely people trying to get around that have been thrown onto roads because no suitable alternative has been provided for them.” – Wrong! We hadn’t been “thrown onto roads”, we were there first & it’s an important point to remember. Read – Bikes were on the roads first. The problem was that they didn’t build separated roads for cars originally to leave bikes, pedestrians & animals in peace. If anything bikes have been thrown off or scared off the roads by cars.
    2/ Vehicle – A conveyance; a device for carrying or transporting substances, objects or individuals. (Wiktionary) Bicycles clearly are vehicles both in definition and according to the Qld Road Rule definitions. Under Qld Road Rules bicycles are just as entitled to the lane as “motor vehicles”. The problem is that most motorists (& most cyclists) don’t actually know the rules and they think that cars rule. I totally agree though that bikes are a class of their own, don’t cause much damage and need to have the road rules modified to accept those differences & far lesser risk they pose to others.
    Judging by the rubbish the GC Bulletin printed, it’s no surprise you got a poor impression of Sara Carrigan. However she really is much more “town bike” friendly that the article makes out & she’s one of the few lycra cyclists I’ll defend. She has had comments taken completely out of context. (No surprise from the Bullie.) I’ve heard she does actually ride a cruiser too, not just her race bike. I was cycle bunch trained a long time ago in Sydney and I think most of the cycle bunches here are selfish, inconsiderate, hopelessly sloppy & all over the place. Her bunch is actually one of the best trained, neatest and disciplined groups I’ve seen on the coast other than GreenEdge. Expecting cyclists to be perfect little angels to gain “respect” is a load of naive garbage but if more of the cycle bunches rode like Sara’s group, they would make lycra cycling look better than many of them currently do.
    Rego – CARRS-Q estimated that 5% of Qld motor vehicles are unregistered &/or unlicenced. Those illegal drivers are also 2-3 times more likely to crash. Bikes are only 1% of traffic. So for every bike you see on the road there are 5 unregistered / unlicensed drivers who are far more likely than a bicycle rider to crash & kill other people. The police & government really should concentrate on cleaning up the motorists’ backyard before booking cyclists for not wearing helmets or not stopping at stop signs (that don’t meet the warrants and should actually be only “give way” signs.
    Helmets – what is the point in wearing a helmet on 60+ kmh roads? At those speeds a helmet is almost useless and most people will die from other injuries regardless of the helmet. Boris Johnson said in Melbourne that in 90% of London cyclist deaths, a helmet would have made no difference at all. Most head injuries in traffic crashes are incurred by car occupants. Monash Uni did a report years ago that found that helmets in cars would prevent a lot of head injury so it’s the car drivers who should be wearing helmets in their air conditioned cars where they won’t get sweaty hair.

    • Thrown onto the roads is an expression, mainly regarding the law in some states that ban children from riding on footpaths once they turn 12, so they are thrown onto the road. I’ll tidy the language when I get a moment.

      We’ll disagree about vehicles. A conveyance is still something that transports you from one place to another under its own power. Once you’re forced to propel it, it becomes something else. The more relevant point is the use under law, and the blatant abuse of it towards cyclists, and the discrimination and hypocrisy of it.

      I’m with you on helmets. I’ve made other blogs specifically about them (check cycling free category) so wanted to dedicate this one to a general overview of the culture.

      Thanks for your feedback.

    • Simon Lownsborough permalink

      @Commuter cyclist Well said. I think what we lack is a balanced, honest, educated mature response to the differences between human-powered vehicles and motor-powered. Where the heck are the leaders that have these qualities? I don’t care what sort of bike people ride, they have a right to feel safe on our roads. In general, the Police and decision makers should be ashamed of their stance on cycling.

  5. Matt permalink

    I’m a cyclist but you lost me at; “… and a 30kph speed limit … in all residential streets.” 😉

    • That’s the European approach. Residential we are talking smaller streets that already have a default of 50kph (as if 10kph matters much from normal default of 60) and already are at 20kph complete with speed humps. The purpose is to create awareness and shift the culture. In practical terms most people already drive these streets rarely over 40kph and police don’t target even the 20kph streets for speeding. 40kph might be a compromise in Australia. It’s already well accepted at school zones, and residential streets are similar in that sense. At least recommend something proper, not useless tokenism.

  6. Commuter Cyclist permalink

    Matt, while it might feel so slow when driving, reducing speeds by 10kmh or even 20kmh on residential streets makes little difference to travel times. Most of the time you end up wasting much the gain stuck behind cars at the next set of lights anyway. But if you do the maths you’ll find it doesn’t really make much difference. In traffic engineering it’s known that lower speeds actually achieve greater road capacity since lower speeds smooth the traffic flow and reduces the stop-start caused by racing to the next set of red lights only to have to slam the brakes on. Since you are a cyclist try this – time how long it takes you to drive somewhere in the city or town & calculate your average speed. Then do the same for the bike. Even though the cars maximum speed can be much higher, the bike is able to maintain a more steady speed and doesn’t waste time particularly in peak hour city traffic.

    Even the 10kmh makes a huge difference to reaction distance, braking distance and impact speed. According to the World Health Organisation, at 30kmh or below, a pedestrian hit by a car has a 95% chance of survival. It then curves up & then flattens (S-curve) to level off. At 40kmh it’s about 50% chance of survival if I remember correctly. At 60kmh it’s only a 5% chance of survival. After 70kmh, you’ve got Buckley’s.
    Reducing speed limits would achieve 3 main things.
    1/ Make everyone safer. Dropping speed limits does have a much greater impact on reducing crashes & injury. Also if people are not so scared of cars then they are more likely to be willing to walk or cycle on the streets instead of resort to car usage so there would be less cars and more bikes leading to greater “safety in numbers”.
    2/ Reduce the speed differential between cars & bikes so bikes will not be “so slow”. Although many people still won’t realise it. Drivers sit in city traffic that averages anywhere from 14 to 30 kmh in some places yet they think bikes are slow. My average commute speed is 30kmh.
    3/ Reduce air & noise pollution. Big issue in the EU & UK at the moment.

    FormerCommuterCyclist – great data.

  7. Olli Pottonen permalink

    Like Commuter cyclist I agree with much of this article, but not all.
    As a European, I disagree about looking for Europe for answers. Sure, look for Denmark or the Netherlands for answers, but remember that they are a small part of a large continent. Some other parts of Europe look like this:
    As for cycles not being vehicles by definition, at least the Oxford Dictionary of English disagrees. Of course you are free to make your own definition which excludes cycles, but that begs the question. Regarding cyclists being close to pedestrians, Queensland to a large extent treats then that way: they are allowed to use footpaths. Does this result in cycling being safe and popular? Should we go further and prohibit cycling on the streets, only allowing it on footpaths and cycle paths? No. Also some European countries tried treating cyclists more or less the same as pedestrians, with limited success.

  8. Nat permalink

    So much talk (above) !!!
    Has ANY of it been directed at the decision makers?

    • The minister for transport was included in the tweet. Politicians don’t really listen, and rarely much happens from these parliamentary reviews. They selectively pick one or two things they like that fit their agenda.

  9. Bruce Hunt permalink

    It’s not a helmet Scott Emerson needs – it’s a set of trainer wheels!

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