13 February 2019

Death of a cyclist: Some tolerance please

| Tim Gavel
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Blurry of Cyclists ride through lighted city.Background.

Why has the death of a cyclist prompted hatred and not awareness?

News that a cyclist had died after being hit by a truck on the Federal Highway sent a shudder through the cycling community once again. My thoughts are with the rider’s family and friends as they cope with this sudden loss of someone they loved.

The ride to Lake George and back is something we in the cycling community regard as reasonably safe even though cars, trucks and buses, at times, feel as though they are no more than centimetres away. It is a very popular cycle trip. The views are lovely, particularly around Lake George, and the road offers a good, even surface.

It is, after all, a dual carriageway with plenty of room for both cyclists and vehicles to co-exist.

There has been an outpouring of grief and sorrow among cyclists and many others in the community when the devastating news broke. I was shocked then, to discover via social media that responses to the death of the cyclist were not universally sympathetic.

A number of social media responders used this tragedy as a platform to attack the existence of cyclists on the roads.

Why does the death of a cyclist prompt such hatred towards one of the most vulnerable of road users?

Some of them are simply outright ignorant.

The assumption underpinning many social media contributors to this tragic incident is that roads have been built for one purpose: to get from one place to another, in a car, bus, motorbike or truck, in the fastest legal manner.

One social media respondent suggested cyclists should not be on the road because they don’t go the same speed as cars and present a hazard because they travel 20 kilometres under the speed limit. There was one post, which advocated for cyclists to be banned on roads unless they are travelling at 60 kilometres an hour.

There was further ignorance when another suggested that cyclists should be confined to bike paths. Another said cyclists should ride at velodromes instead of roads.

Not all cyclists do the right thing. Some don’t abide by the road rules. But does it justify the hostility displayed in these social media posts?

These posts, I have no doubt, reflect the views of a section of road users who despise the very existence of cyclists.

So instead of the death of a cyclist raising awareness of the need to look out for all road users, the anti-cycling community are using it to promote hatred towards cyclists.

Perhaps, disappointingly, it’s a reflection upon our society. Tolerance on our roadways towards all users might help us realise that getting to our destination a couple of minutes earlier doesn’t really make any difference at all.

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*Cyclists really need to determine if where they wish to travel, is safe logistically, before embarking on their trip. Last Sunday, we were travelling to Newcastle over Mt Sugarloaf, a particularly narrow, steep and windy road. We came across numerous cyclists, where we had to virtually stop, as we behind trailed them, because it was too dangerous pass. No shoulder, double lines, bends, straight up embankment on one side, a cliff on the other, oncoming traffic, or not being able to see if there was oncoming traffic, because of the bends. As cyclists are wont to tell us, we should be patient as we travel at 5 klms an hour behind them, while they struggle up the hill. The situation is, cars coming around a bend a normal speed having to put on their breaks suddenly to avoid hitting the slow car, or the cyclist. We were nearly rammed because of this situation, but the cyclist continued without missing a beat.

Capital Retro1:19 pm 28 Jul 19

I had a similar experience last week driving up the road at the tree museum. The lady on the bike in front of me was not up to the task and eventually fell off. Good thing I was patient and could see what was about to happen.

Bicycles: an interesting point of division

Maybe the focus should be on this; how and where can cyclists safely go. Too often I see cyclists not abiding by road rules or even finding ways around. I’ve personally never seen cyclists get stopped by police either.

One thing I want to point out is in other countries, not even motorcycles are allowed on the highway. They pose a risk to truck drivers also who can’t see them. Their blind spots are a lot bigger.

The main reason I think road users dislike cyclists is that we aren’t all confident and perfect drivers. We don’t want to hit someone on accident. Knowing that it’s a possibility stresses ppl out.

Rather than building lanes on the road for cyclists, I think we just need cyclist only pathways. Walk on them at your own risk. Cycling is mainly a hobby anyway and it’s good exercise. I’d be out cycling if there was a proper designated bike paths away from all kinds of traffic.

Hi whoaman, too often I see motorists not abiding by road rules or even finding ways around. If you haven’t personally seen a cyclist stopped by police you may not have been in Sydney recently however you can check the statistics on this and will find they are stopped by police as are motorists and anyone else found to be breaking road rules. In regards to your statement that “cycling is mainly a hobby anyway…” that may be the case for you but that doesn’t mean it applies to the rest of the population. People take many non-essential private motor car trips but are not penalised for this. Roads are there to be shared but there is a problem with some people who seem to think they own the roads.

whoaman wrote: “Cycling is mainly a hobby anyway”

Not when it is a main means of transport for many, as it was for me for much of my working life. It was how I mostly got to work. Now, on the weekends I was able to indulge my hobby vehicle, my car.
Bike was for serious commuting; the car was for recreation.

“The main reason I think road users dislike cyclists is that we aren’t all confident and perfect drivers. We don’t want to hit someone on accident. Knowing that it’s a possibility stresses ppl out.”

That’s not a valid excuse!! If someone is not confident they can keep within the marked lanes, they shouldn’t be permitted to drive a car on public roads – if you might accidentally hit a cyclist on a huge shoulder on a freeway, you’re probably just as likely to hit someone waiting to cross a suburban road…

A good well-considered piece by Tim that I hope people read and have regard to.
In Australia we generally admire people who are having a go and increasing their physical well being unless they are riding a bicycle. The intense dislike of bicycles in the ACT is something of legendary status. On my first visit to the ACT on the Australia Day weekend in 1980 I unloaded my trusty bicycle from the train after a few days in the Snowy Mountains and was squeezed towards the gutter on Wentworth Avenue by some greying middle aged male driving his near new Kingswood station wagon who then proceeded to provide an abusive dialogue about why bicycles should not be on the road. When I returned to live in Canberra a few years later I discovered this antipathy is actually a deep seated cultural issue I doubt I will ever understand. I used to report the more serious altercations to the police until I realised that was an exercise in futility.

Surely it is not that hard to just ease of the right pedal a bit when around a cyclist and just admire the effort they are putting in.

I don’t know the facts surrounding this death and until it goes to court i doubt that anyone else does either but I assume the truck driver did not deliberately run the cyclist down. That leaves a long list of other possibilities that cyclists need to consider as risks when riding on roads. Why do cyclists need to consider these risks and not the vehicle driver? Because the cyclist is the one who is vulnerable. Governments can make drivers responsible in law but that is really just spitting into the wind. They don’t put air bags, crumple zones, seat belts, etc in cars for fun. Cars are engineered for the unexpected but inevitable because drivers are human.

Similarly, those nice wide road shoulders on the highways weren’t put there for cyclists, they are there for vehicles that need to get off the road urgently because traffic engineers know that slow vehicles are a danger to themselves and to other road users.

And I just remind readers and those who claim Europe as some kind of ideal cycling environment that Amy Gillett didn’t die on an Australian road. Her highly visible group of riders was hit on a European road by a European car driven by a European.

We already have existing laws that cover the penalties for encouraging or threatening violence or harm against others.

The big question that needs to be answered is why these incidents are never investigated.

If a person were to post suggesting that people should attack a woman because of the clothes she was wearing, imagine the outrage. But suggest others run in to a cyclist for merely riding on a road? Nothing. Crickets.

The laws are already there. We already have laws that cover this very thing, clearly, explicitly, without question.

And they’re not being enforced.

There is no logic to haters hate, except they don’t want bikes to exist in any sense, on roads, on bike paths, nowhere. They say bikes should not be on roads, then say no money should be ‘wasted’ on paths.

I have had a car driver shout at me to get off the road. I was on a bike path at the time some distance from the road. With that logic, I conclude there are some very sick mentally ill people out there, and worryingly, they are allowed to drive cars.

rationalobserver10:28 am 25 Feb 19

To be fair, there is no logic to a lot of the pro cycling argument either.

Contrast bikes to any other inanimate object that has the capacity to kill if used incorrectly, like firearms.

To own a firearm, the owner needs to complete formal safety training, be specially licensed (which includes proving that they have somewhere appropriate to shoot), and have police permission before buying each firearm. Safe storage is regularly inspected by police as part of a comprehensive compliance regime. All in the name of the public interest.

Anyone can buy a bike and hit the road when ever and pretty much where ever they like. There is no need to prove even the most basic awareness of riding competency or knowledge of the road rules, and there is very little compliance.

In both cases, a few bad apples spoil it for the bulk of participants who do the right thing, but if the same logic applied to both bikes and firearms, cyclists would need to belong to a cycling club, undergo formal rider training and be restricted as to where and when they can ride, and what they can ride.

All in the public interest of course!

Yes, roads are fundamentally about getting people from A to B in the fastest manner possible.

Road users travelling significantly different speeds from the mean traffic speed, create significant risk of accident for themselves and other road users.

Cyclists are particularly vulnerable in an accident to injury and death.

All of this leads to only one conclusion, Cyclists should not be allowed on the road, at least not any significant road that has a speed limit significantly higher than can be achieved by most cyclists.

These accidents are a predictable and forseeable outcome of not dealing with reality.

The wrong comment at the wrong time – but great job on proving the point of the article. Perhaps read the words and let them sink in.

Matthew Cousins3:48 pm 15 Feb 19

Out of interest, where do you think bike riders should ride? Most Canberra roads are between 60-80km/h which is significantly higher than can be achieved by most cyclists.

By that logic fatal collisions between a private motor vehicle and a truck mean that private motor vehicles should not be on the roads that trucks drive on.


Words like this?

“Some of them are simply outright ignorant.
The assumption underpinning many social media contributors to this tragic incident is that roads have been built for one purpose: to get from one place to another, in a car, bus, motorbike or truck, in the fastest legal manner.”

The article is using the death of this cyclist to do the exact thing its arguing against.

Unfortunately, pointing out logical facts is not ignorant in any sense of the word.

I havent attacked the cyclist in question, nor even mentioned the specific incident because it hasn’t been fully investigated yet.

Doesn’t stop me from being correct, cyclists do not belong on major roads unless they are physically separated from the roadway with specific cycling infrastructure.

Being in the right as a cyclist doesnt help you if you’re injured or die.

The only suitable place is the massive amount of bike paths we have around the ACT.

Without dedicated, separated bike infrastructure on major roads, they shouldn’t be there.

No it doesnt in the slightest, did you read my comment?

Travelling significantly different speeds from the road median is a large risk factor for accidents.

Cars can travel the same speed as trucks, bikes cant travel the same as cars on these roads.

Cyclists are particularly vulnerable to injury and death in an accident with a car. Cars have significant safety features and usually upwards of a tonne of metal in an accident with a truck. The risk is nowhere near comparable.

Cyclists struggle to maintain visibility on roads, the vast majority of Cars dont due to their size and lighting.

Chew14, yes I read your comment. You were trying to equate the speed of the vehicle with its right to be on the road. This is not in accord with road rules and for a good reason. Cars and trucks travel at different speeds and have different rules and registration processes. What many people are saying is that there appears to be an attitude amongst some road users that some other road users should not be on the road and they behave illegally on the road due to this mistaken belief. Thankfully our road use legislation is not set down by shock jocks and their bogan followers.

Nor does it help if you are a motorist and you’re injured or die through the results of another motorist’s negligence. However that is not a reason to ban PMVs from public roads.

Cars and trucks do not travel significantly different speeds.

I’ll say this slowly again, travelling significantly different speeds than the median road speed is a major risk factor for accidents. Maximum bike speeds of ~40km/hr are nothing like the differences of cars and trucks.

Cyclists are particularly vulnerable to injury and deaths in those accidents.

No matter how much you want to ignore reality, those are facts

rationalobserver10:36 am 25 Feb 19

The risks to cyclists caused by other traffic are well known and documented.
Cyclists know this.
Cyclists accept this risk each time they decide to ride on the road.
Own it.
No different to taking illegal pills at a festival.

Sure and i’ll say slowly again – trucks and motor cars are very different vehicles – different speeds, different parking conditions, different licenses required, different registration…need I go on? These are the facts of different road vehicles both operating on the same road. If a motorist is in a small sedan and collides with a semi-trailer the driver doesn’t come out of it all that well. Therefore by this argument, neither private motor vehicles nor cycles should be on the same road as a truck. Good for the goose, good for the gander as the old saying goes…

Thinking that cyclists are too vulnerable on high speed roads does not indicate that drivers ‘despise’ riders and shows empathy for road death victims. Transferring liability to drivers to maintain 1 meter and painted lines don’t stop accidents when cyclists are travelling so slowly, so hard to see and so vulnerable. That’s before we get to the cyclists who disobey road laws and deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. As a motorbike rider I know how hard it is for cars to see me despite being able to maintain their speed, lights on, much larger vehicle and protective clothing we are still disproportionateley KILLED on the roads.. it’s often about empathy, not hate, at seeing people killed on the roads.. Transferring liability onto cars is irritating many drivers, and has given some riders a licence to play chicken. No other pursuit has it’s liability transferred to others like this activity, holding drivers accountable for hard to see cyclists does seem unfair.

Well said Tim. This accident restarted the same argument I always have with my non-cycling friends, who say bikes shouldn’t be on the road, especially not on the highway. I have ridden that section of the highway hundreds of times – and I’m far more comfortable on wide shoulder (and on the old Federal Highway) than I am on Northbourne Avenue or Adelaide Avenue bike lanes.

I accept that riding a bike comes with the risk of being hit by a car. And I will not ride on thin suburban roads like Heydon Drive, William Slim Drive and Ellenborough Street. I don’t even like riding in the Cotter/Uriarra area alone. However I will keep riding on the highway because you should be a lot more visible out there than in traffic; and there are no traffic lights, intersections, driveways or side streets out there for cars to suddenly change their mind over.

On a separate tangent – we seem to have evolved to a point where it is no longer acceptable to insult anyone over their race, gender or sexuality; but it’s still ok to universally hate anyone who chooses to use a bike. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been abused over the years from passing cars; many of these when I wasn’t even on the road…

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