6 May 2024

On yer bike! Canberra's got a long ride ahead before we become a 'cycle city'

| Tim Gavel
Join the conversation
Bike path at Tuggeranong

Cyclists and walkers can co-exist … sometimes. Photo: David Murtagh.

I remember a number of years ago doing talkback on the ABC. There was always a certain amount of trepidation when you opened up the lines on one particular topic.

It wasn’t the state of the city’s healthcare or the lack of sports facilities that created a virtual tsunami of hatred from talkback callers. No, it was a simple suggestion that Canberra’s drivers needed to be more considerate of cyclists, an issue close to my heart at the time as I was then an avid cyclist.

The decision to open up the issue on talkback wasn’t made on the spur of the moment but followed a number of incidents on the city’s roads and in popular cycling areas, such as the Cotter.

cyclists and pedestrians

Cycling is a major part of our city, but not all people are happy with cyclists on the roads, alongside roads or on cycleways. Photo: File.

An overwhelming number of callers were critical of cyclists, saying they didn’t obey road roads, and there was a lack of courtesy from cyclists on walking/cycling paths around the Lake, especially on weekends when the ‘warriors’ hopped on their bikes.

Other callers said cyclists shouldn’t be on the roads because they don’t pay registration fees.

Listen on other platforms:

Callers also conflated their views on cyclists with electric scooters. Anger was aimed at the behaviour of those on scooters. This added to the general ‘pile on’ towards anybody not in a car, ute or truck, or walking in the specified spaces.

Yes, even the behaviour of runners on footpaths fell under the same umbrella as cyclists and scooter riders.

And this is the dilemma. It’s so easy to become distracted by related issues such as scooters rather than focusing on respect for cyclists on the city’s roads.

READ ALSO For the Raiders, milestone games are too often the ones they’d rather forget

So I raise this issue again with a certain amount of trepidation after coming across a rally on the weekend calling for one of three lanes on Northbourne Avenue to be devoted to cyclists.

Probably not a good time to open talkback lines!

While I can see the merit, I can also see it as a lightning rod towards cyclists, the majority of whom are simply riding to work, using a bike for transport, or engaging in riding as a healthy lifestyle choice.

I can imagine the callers now.

“There were hardly any cyclists in the dedicated cycling lane when I went down Northbourne.”

“Why should cyclists have a dedicated lane? They don’t pay registration fees.”

Or “It’s dangerous having too many cyclists on the roads. They should stick to footpaths.”

I’ve got to say, I’m not a fan of scooter riders on footpaths either, especially on crowded footpaths.

two scooter riders next to the lake

When discussing push bikes, scooters seem to always enter into the conversation. Photo: Supplied.

I remember naively suggesting that while cyclists don’t pay registration fees, many own cars and pay taxes, and the impact on the road surface from a push bike is minimal. It helps reduce the impact of climate change by keeping more cars off the road, and because cyclists are generally healthier, it has a beneficial effect on the public health care system.

It did little to placate our callers. If anything, it appeared to intensify their hatred towards cyclists on our roads.

READ ALSO New EV charger added to summer’s busiest highway

The backlash against cyclists in Canberra still surprises me. In a progressive city where a healthy lifestyle is a selling point, cycling, and cycling paths should be seen as part of our city’s attributes.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me, though, as I’ve experienced rubbish being thrown at me while cycling and vehicles running me off the road.

It’s probably why I don’t do it as much today.

It also shows we still have a long way to go before we can declare ourselves a cycle-friendly city.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Sharing is always a 2-way street, whether on the road or the shared path: Stay in your lane, be predictable and don’t obstruct faster moving traffic (and accept that the faster moving traffic may sometimes have to wait for a safe opportunity to overtake).
Instead we have hypocrites blocking supposedly shared paths, refusing to let people pass unless they “say the magic word…” [Ding], while being consistent and sounding your warning device before overtaking a slower vehicle on the road is likely to elicit all sorts of verbal complaints, such as you’d only get if you DIDN’T do the same on a shared path.

I am all for building more, safe bike paths, away from the road meant for cars. The existing bike paths aren’t even properly maintained. We should not waste billions of dollars on Light Rail Stage 2B!

Society pays a massive price for car commuting: acres of prime public space reserved for parking, massive healthcare burden from heart disease and obesity from sedentary lifestyles as well as air pollution, massive individual financial burden on the poorest members of society as you are required to own a car to be a participating member of society, as well as all the infrastructure to make motor vehicle driving safe. Encouraging bike use saves individuals and society money on all of these points.

Most bike riders would prefer bike paths that go nowhere near the road but because of gaps in the infrastructure are left riding on the road in many circumstances. Both drivers and bikers want nothing to do with each other but this can only happen with investment in separated infrastructure.

Thomas Cameron10:00 am 06 May 24

Cyclists are one of the biggest problems on our roads. A large portion are dangerous, don’t obey road rules, cause accidents and then blame motorists, ride sise by side blocking traffic on purpose etc etc etc. They should be paying registration and insurance for accountability, and that would help build cycling paths to get these fools off the roads.

If I was stuck in a car for 30 seconds longer than I needed and paying thousands of dollars a year to keep it going because I drove it literally everywhere I’d be completely unreasonable too.

HiddenDragon8:08 pm 05 May 24

“The backlash against cyclists in Canberra still surprises me. In a progressive city where a healthy lifestyle is a selling point….”

It’s only a surprise if you assume that the majority of Canberrans, who reliably (some would say relentlessly) vote for parties and candidates of the Left are doing so because they embrace the full “progressive” agenda, rather than because they know what side their bread is buttered on, and parties of the Left typically deliver more public sector jobs and funding for Canberra – which tends to benefit all, including those who derive their incomes from the private sector.

Scratch below the surface of many in what might be called middle Canberra, and you will find that the ostensible commitment to progressive values comes to an abrupt halt when it runs into self interest – at that point, there will either be vigorous push-back (as here), deflection, or variations on the theme of “do as I say, not as I do” (i.e. I would love to do something about this progressive issue, but my circumstances are special and different, so I can’t do anything about it – much as I would love to, one day…….).

Good on you Tim for bringing this up. If only some people respected others to do as they wish a bit more. Some of the attitude shown in these comments is either flippant or disturbingly threatening. Which is why when I’m cycling and not in my car or on the motorbike, I don’t ride on fast or busy roads anymore. Life is too good.

GrumpyGrandpa6:36 pm 05 May 24

Whether we are car drivers or bike riders, I think everyone has a story.

Yesterday (Saturday), the wife and I were walking on a shared off-road pathway. As we typically do, we were walking on the left-hand side of the pathway. Without any warning – bell or voice, some idiot on a mountain-bike, overtook us at speed on the left hand side on the edge of the grass, not the right hand side. He then cut back in front of us and rode off.

Needless to say, we both were startled. The wife said that had she heard him coming, she would have instinctively moved to the left, to allow him to pass, effectively pushing us into his path!

At the pace he was riding, I have no doubt that had he hit us, it would have been serious.

That incident, was the 2nd occasion that day where we had been overtaken by a rider, who had failed to warn us of their approach.

The mum, dad and kids are no trouble. They ride at a more leisurely speed, make their intentions clear and there is always a polite wave or hello exchanged. I’m sorry, but our experience has been that many others, simply find pedestrians a nuisance and just zip around us with no consideration for our welfare.

I used to be a bike rider before I found out just how thoughtless and selfish Canberra drivers are. I was just another bike rider attempting to do the right thing, get fit and reduce congestion on our roads. My bike is currently collecting dust in the garage because of a selfish Canberra driver who almost took me out.

I would gladly pay a registration fee on top of my car registration to ride my bike safely in Canberra!

Victor Bilow4:20 pm 05 May 24

The cycle path on Northbourne was borrowed from the 3 original motor vehicle lanes and they are now three illegal width lanes as trucks, buses and other vehicles are larger than the lane width. The ACT government is culpable with road and parking width and need a swift kick in the behind. Cycling through Lyneham, O’Connor and Turner is much safer than Northbourne, to get to the city. Northbourne is now a mosh pit with empty trams to keep you company.

Rohan Thomas2:02 pm 05 May 24

There is nothing more entitled in Canberra than a resident with a car.

I’m an avid car owner and MTBer.

Some areas road riders go just aren’t safe to ride.

The ACT government has spent millions of on little used bike paths because of poor planning.

The path along beside majura parkway is very underutilised and I see lots of people using the bike lane on the parkway.

The new bike path on Kurringa Dive off the Barton Hwy is a road to no where. Spent months in construction with a sophisticated retaining wall.

Complete waste of money.

I’m cool if the government want to develop cycling infrastructure however it’s got to be we thought out..

kaleen_calous12:59 pm 05 May 24

A major part of the problem is with the ACT government – lots of words but not a lot of putting money where their mouth is. Green paint (fading) instead of traffic separation, virtually no maintenance of existing cycling infrastructure and no new infrastructure where and when it is needed. Like I say talk is cheap.

eGaz “eGaz” TheFirstAustralian12:41 pm 05 May 24

The difficulty understanding the issue with cyclist’s using roads is highlighted even here in this piece. That is everyone is a rate-payer and rates pay for our local roads. Please, we must understand this one simple conncept and then we can say, cyclists have rights to use roads, not only as taxpayers but as rate-payers.

Rego is based on the vehicle and, for the purposes of this conversation, is about roadworthiness. And yes, bicycles (and their variants) that are using the public roads (and perhaps even public shared paths) should be roadworthy – brakes, lights etc.
But what I want to focus on here is licencing. Licencing is about the competence of the vehicle operator. I am of the opinion that anyone cycling on the public roads should have the appropriate bicycle endorsement on their licence, meaning that they have been tested and confirmed that the know the rules and how to cycle safely. Just like car drivers must. And if someone wants to cycle on the public roads, they should carry their licence with them – just like car drivers must.
Bicycles are vehicles, and thus should be allowed to share the public roads like all other vehicles (include horse and cart) – but they should do it on an equitable footing. And not be their own worst enemy (c.f. that idiot cyclist on Northbourne Avenue cycle lane who decided to overtake two cyclists abreast – one cyclist was overtaking the other – and cut straight in front of my car while I was doing 60k/h. Luckily it was a quiet morning and I could swerve otherwise there would have been a critically injured cyclist on the road.)

Leon Arundell8:13 am 05 May 24

Northbourne Avenue is wide enough for a separated cycleway AND three general traffic lanes. When on-road bicycle lanes were marked in 2004, the middle and right lanes were each 3 metres wide. The left lane was 3.3 metres wide, to accommodate buses. Buses have been replaced by light rail. We can fit a barrier in the spare 0.3 metres, to separate the cycle lane from the general traffic lanes.

You’re brave opening this can of worms. Based on the past you are probably right and those predictable comments will end up here. However, I’ve also noticed that since the 1 metre law came in drivers are generally, although not all, pretty careful. Particularly most of the truck drivers. So I think there’s definitely some level of live-and-let-live out there. Of course, I’d be more than happy never to have something thrown at me again.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.