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Why are Canberrans so unkind towards cyclists?

By Kim Huynh 26 January 2017 54

Cyclists

Kim Huynh considers why people are unkind towards cyclists and oppose bicycle infrastructure.

Recently Anne Treasure made a strong case for building separate bike paths as a way to boost the levels of safety, fun and efficiency on our busiest public thoroughfares.

There’s been a huge response to the article, much of it supportive. Many others (on Facebook in particular) have criticised cyclists and opposed moves to allocate more resources to them. Considerable vitriol has been directed at the aggressive or pretentious lycra-clad variety.

As a self-professed and somewhat self-conscious middle-aged man in lycra (MAMIL), I think it’s important to consider and address these criticisms.

A small detour first. I regularly hear well-travelled and visiting cyclists remark that Australians are strikingly unkind towards them.

If this true, I wonder again whether Australia’s post-1788 frontier history in part explains our tendency to esteem rugged silent types and decry more dainty fellows in loud tights.

And then there’s the fact that Canberra is a spread out city in a wide brown country that loves and needs cars. With Summernats having just passed, it’s worth asking to what extent this love and need breeds antagonism towards road cyclists.

So here’s the top four arguments against cyclists (focusing on the derided MAMILs) and separate cycling infrastructure, along with my response to them.

4. Cyclists are dangerous and unruly

The greatest criticism of dangerous and unruly cycling comes from fellow cyclists who understand that we’re a misunderstood minority in a sometimes hostile land. As a consequence, our negative actions tend to tar the entire group.

The main thing for competitive and aspirational cyclists is to confine big efforts to races, the open road and the trainer, and take it easy where there are other commuters around (in other words, be judicious when using Strava).

There’s no doubt that cyclists do the wrong thing and are stupid at times, but that’s largely because we’re human, not because we’re on two wheels rather than four. Only last week, police have described ACT motorist behaviour as ‘alarming’, ‘reckless’ and ‘beyond comprehension’.

What was missing from the many comments responding to Anne Treasure’s article were accounts of recklessness and intentional wrongdoing from motorists against cyclists – such as screaming obscenities, running us off the road and throwing garbage – all of which endangers our lives and blackens our days.

3. Cyclists should be registered

The argument goes that cyclists use the roads and therefore should be registered. Moreover registration fees can help pay for segregated infrastructure. Riders would also be more accountable and have insurance to pay for the accidents that they cause.

When it comes to cyclists paying their dues, I’d be grateful for more specific research on the costs and benefits of riding with respect to transportation and well-being. However, the environmental impact seems manifestly smaller than driving a car. And more cycling generally means fewer cars and less congestion for everyone. In addition, when good infrastructure is in place, cycling is surely a positive public health measure.

So unless cyclists have number plates on their helmets, I can’t see how registration would increase accountability and dissuade misbehaviour. If you see cyclists doing the wrong thing are you going to chase them down and demand their registration cards? The only thing that registration would dissuade is people getting on their bikes.

Of course, riders should be encouraged to carry id and have insurance (see Pedal Power ACT), but mandating it is excessive and counterproductive, which is why only last month the NSW government did an about-turn when it comes to requiring cyclists to carry id.

2. Cyclists are pretentious w@nkers

Cycling apparel can be indiscreet. It’s a bit like wearing swimmers or undies in public. For this reason, we should have frank and respectful discussions about how far cyclists can venture from their bikes while still wearing their kit (the office is probably too far).

However, donning lycra isn’t totally about ego. Spending hours in the saddle demands a good chamois. Tight but right fitting clothes militate against chafing. And garish attire helps you to be seen.

To be sure, many MAMILs also probably wear lycra for show. Sometimes there might not be much to show off. But little if any harm is done by their exhibitionism. And to the extent that the MAMIL phenomenon is a reflection of mid-life crises, it’s preferable to buying sports cars and having harmful affairs (although MAMILs can probably do those things too).

Finally, the best response to pretentiousness is to simply not care what people wear and judge them by more substantial measures.

1. Cyclists often don’t use cycle paths so why build more?

I suspect we have to take this criticism on a case-by-case basis, weighing up in different locations whether it’s better to have faster cyclists on paths with walkers, or on roads with cars.

Cyclists should be prudent and consider others when deciding to go on the path or on road. Perhaps we should choose the path more often, put up with the bumps, sacrifice a few minutes so that we can enjoy the ride, and endure the minor weight penalty of affixing a bell to our handlebars to warn others.

It follows that motorists should be mindful of treating bikes like cars, not overtaking unless it’s safe, and refraining from beeping that horn unless there’s good reason to do so.

All of this suggests that, where there’s high traffic, there should be separate bike paths. When it comes to commuting, the best way to promote harmony is to keep us apart.

Where do you sit when it comes to lycra wearing and bicycle infrastructure? What are some key dos and don’ts when it comes to cycling in Canberra and beyond?

Kim Huynh is a RiotACT columnist, lectures international relations at the ANU and has been riding Canberra’s paths since he was a wee lad.

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54 Responses to
Why are Canberrans so unkind towards cyclists?
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Tenpoints 7:07 pm 08 Feb 17

tim_c said :

Short answer: No, but I would qualify that by pointing out that it is illegal to unreasonably obstruct other traffic, so if a group of cyclists are slogging it out at ~20km/h up a steep hill on a single lane road with a 100km/h speed limit, they are breaking the law if they are not doing all they can to enable faster traffic to overtake (ie. riding single file for instance). It is legal for cyclists to ride two or more abreast and occupy an entire lane on a road with more than one lane in their direction of travel, but not if there is only one lane in that direction.

From Transport Canberra (https://www.transport.act.gov.au/getting-around/active-travel/active-travel-for-the-community/cycling/road-rules)
Unreasonably Obstructing Traffic:
The keyword is “unreasonably”, which you have applied incorrectly in this context. Cyclists are similar to farm equipment, heavy vehicles or construction vehicles which may travel significantly under the posted speed limit. It is reasonable for these vehicles to travel at a lower speed and therefore obstruct traffic because they have limited power to do so.
See: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_reg/rr2014104/s125.html

Riding Two Abreast:
“It is legal to ride two abreast in the ACT. This includes situations where one rider may be inside and the other outside of a dedicated bike lane; and instances where there are no bike lanes and both riders are in the regular lane of traffic. When riding two abreast, riders must not be more than 1.5 metres apart and should exercise consideration and courtesy for other road users.”

Riding two abreast on single lane roads may be illegal in other states, but not relevant to the roads we are discussing.

A bunch of cyclists riding two abreast is easier to pass because the length of the bunch is halved compared to single file. If you find yourself behind a group of cyclists, it is NOT safe to shimmy alongside them in the same lane. You need to keep a 1.5-metre buffer for speed limits above 60km/h. Whether the cyclists are single file or two abreast this almost certainly means you will be moving to the opposing lane to overtake, therefore you should wait until there is no oncoming traffic.

I also wanted to +1 the assertion that parts of the Marcus Clarke street bicycle infrastructure are a dog’s breakfast, notably at the bus stop outside the childcare centre where it disappears completely, and the THREE stage crossing on Rimmer Street, which is not synchronised for the volume of pedestrian and cycle traffic through there. Beyond that, it’s a lot better than riding on footpaths with all the street furniture. You’d be hard pressed to call it under-utilised. Still gotta watch the left hooks though.

Now I know a lot of hardened cyclists hate separated cycle infrastructure because they don’t give you the same amount of flexibility and speed as on-road lanes do. Sometimes if I’m in a rush I’ll take Northbourne avenue because I can get a good clip going and get through the lights. On-road lanes aren’t particularly safe though, especially when they are less than an adequate width, adjacent to parked cars of just full of debris. Aside from that the fact that cars still pass you closely and if anything goes wrong you have nowhere to take evasive action. You’re pancaked.

Most of the time I just feel like relaxing and taking the separated paths where I don’t feel pressured to ride hard and keep up with the cars.

My partner has started riding to work, and while she loves the shared paths and separated infrastructure, she won’t set wheels on the on-road cycle lanes; the proximity and the speed differential is more than she wants to endure on the morning commute.

Conflicts arise when two vehicles with large speed differentials pass each other. This applies not only to cyclists vs motor vehicles, but also pedestrians vs cyclists. The ideal solution with the least conflict is to have a separate space for each of the transport modes.

wildturkeycanoe 6:31 am 08 Feb 17

dungfungus said :

I’m sure if you phone Access Canberra they will arrange for that mess to be cleaned up.

Ha, ha, ha! I just saw a street “sweeper” yesterday doing the rounds. It wasn’t picking anything up from the gutters, but instead was piling it up into bigger obstacles. It didn’t pick up any sticks or tree branches, leaving many in the path of an unwary cyclist. This actually prompted me to pay a little more attention to the gutters and what had been left behind, which opened my eyes to another interesting fact. The join between concrete and asphalt has become a breeding ground for plant life, which also got left behind by the noisy vacuum cleaner. I think another round of weed spraying wouldn’t go astray.

Ezy 7:30 pm 06 Feb 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

“….Please, for the love of God, stop with the finger pointing and whinging and just live with it….

Hmm… “Just live with it”. Now take this onboard next time you get hot under the collar on your next drive. Love it, or in your case – hate it. Cyclists are here to stay with you on our roads. Cycling is as much a part of every day life throughout the world as walking, running and driving – you better “just live with it”.

TinyTank 4:35 pm 06 Feb 17

tim_c said :

TinyTank said :

dungfungus said :

I’m glad I have a bull bar on my old 4WD but I must get a dash-cam to record what is likely to happen.

By the way, I’m insured but he isn’t.

Regardless, your CTP insurance will pay for all of his medical bills and I’m sure the scratch in your bulbar will polish out….

dungfungus’ CTP will only pay for the [motor]cyclist’s medical bills if dungfungus is at fault – In the ACT, if the [motor]cyclist is at fault, he’s on his own (unless he has his own third-party insurance, which is unlikely is his vehicle is not even registered).

Whilst you are correct that the CTP scheme in the ACT is fault based, the first $5,000 of medical bills are paid without prejudice. Further, we now have ‘lifetime care’ for at-fault catastrophic injuries.

If you read through some ACT Supreme Court judgements, liability is rarely in issue (occasionally contrib-neg is debated). It is highly unlikely that a cyclist would be found at-fault for an accident with a motor vehicle unless they were: wearing black, riding at midnight, without lights or reflecters, drunk, without any regard to road rules or their own safety, proceeding directly into the path of the vehicle that was keeping a proper lookout and had no ability to take evasive action. The onus is on the driver of a car to keep a proper look out and where an accident involves a vulnerable road user- pedestrian or cyclist, it is very hard to deny liability on a CTP claim.

Not ACT, but this case highlights my point- http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/heroin-addict-at-fault-but-wins-400000-compensation-over-car-crash-20141223-12dbbp.html

wildturkeycanoe 2:38 pm 05 Feb 17

Dr_Hoon said :

All the people in this thread having a whinge about slowing down from 100km/h (??? lol where in the ACT?) to be a considerate road user aren’t in danger of being seriously injured or killed because of another person’s stupidity. Even where there are bike lanes, broken bottles are enough to knock a bicycle wheel and throw a cyclists into the path of a vehicle.

“Where” do you ask can people drive 100km/h in the A.C.T.? Cotter Road, Brindabella Road, Uriarra Road, Tidbinbilla Road, Monaro Highway, Majura Road, The Tuggeranong Parkway, Barton Highway and Federal Highway. To a lesser extent you could include Gungahlin Drive which is 90km/h though traffic tends to move at 100 anyway.
Now, as for a glass bottle sweeping a cyclist off their “feet” and going under the car being driven by stupid people, are you serious? Is it not the responsibility of the cyclist to be watching the conditions of the road directly ahead of them and avoiding obstacles that may cause an accident? Neglecting that, to me, with the consequences being possibly life threatening is the definition of stupidity. This issue of rubbish and glass on the verge and cycle paths is yet another example of how cyclists’ self righteousness puts the blame for everything on somebody else. There aren’t enough off-road paths, there are too many potholes, there aren’t enough on-road paths, the cars are going by too closely, it’s too rough for our skinny little tires, there’s too much rubbish, there’s too many pedestrians and dogs and kids and slow riders……..Please, for the love of God, stop with the finger pointing and whinging and just live with it. Nobody is forcing you to endanger your life when you take to the road on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon just for the “sport” of it, or the health benefits. We all have to make allowances for other people and imperfect things in our lives.
If your precious velodrome tyres [probably not designed for use on rough chip seal asphalt by the way] can’t cope with Australian road conditions, then get a bike that has decent treads. I used to ride a 10 speed racer on the verge of highways, on rural country roads, forestry tracks and paths such as the Hume and Hovell walking trail, plus any manner of rocky terrains, grassy open fields and blackberry infested shorelines in order to get to the lakeside of our local dam. Sure I got the occasional puncture and there was gravel and potholes everywhere, but I wasn’t expecting the world to make every surface clean and free of debris. There are footpaths with worse surfaces than those of Canberra’s roads, what do cyclists expect? Apparently nothing less than gold plated, smooth finishes with leading and trailing edges of imperfections not exceeding 0.5mm. If they get their wish and all paths are smoothed out, they will be complaining how dangerous and slippery they are in the wet. How can we win?
The proposed answer to the litter on the bike paths, of having street sweepers clear them up, is not going to be practical. The sheer number of kilometers and limited capacity of the department responsible won’t allow it to be financially viable. It is hard enough to get the roadwork crews to sweep up the debris from their rushed patch jobs, let alone tidying every other road in the territory. What about the debris that is regularly deposited naturally from overhanging trees? What of the rubber pieces ejected from truck and car tyres? Are Canberra motorists going to be held responsible for these too? What about all the rural roads where a street sweeper just wouldn’t work? You would need a massive fleet working 24/7 to keep roads spotless for our precious cyclists. Then there will be more complaints from both sides of the dividing line, because of all the slow moving cleaning trucks. I can just imagine the rage of having all traffic slowed to 10km/h as the noisy vacuum sucks up our daily litter from the most used commuter roads.
The simple solution to the rubbish and punctures problem for recreational riders is this – take the purpose-built racing bikes off the unsuitable roads and ride them on a race track where they belong and won’t have to worry about running over broken glass or loose stones. Either that or get a bike that can handle the odd bump or tree branch.

dungfungus 11:07 am 04 Feb 17

Dr_Hoon said :

The amount of rubbish and broken glass on the side of the road clearly indicates that some road users do not consider cyclists. I want the road safety implications of litter on the side of roads to be reflected in legislation. All the people in this thread having a whinge about slowing down from 100km/h (??? lol where in the ACT?) to be a considerate road user aren’t in danger of being seriously injured or killed because of another person’s stupidity. Even where there are bike lanes, broken bottles are enough to knock a bicycle wheel and throw a cyclists into the path of a vehicle.

The ACT government has a mechanised mobile vacuum sweeper (they used to be called “sparrow starvers”).

I’m sure if you phone Access Canberra they will arrange for that mess to be cleaned up.

Dr_Hoon 9:58 am 04 Feb 17

The amount of rubbish and broken glass on the side of the road clearly indicates that some road users do not consider cyclists. I want the road safety implications of litter on the side of roads to be reflected in legislation. All the people in this thread having a whinge about slowing down from 100km/h (??? lol where in the ACT?) to be a considerate road user aren’t in danger of being seriously injured or killed because of another person’s stupidity. Even where there are bike lanes, broken bottles are enough to knock a bicycle wheel and throw a cyclists into the path of a vehicle.

Maya123 8:47 am 04 Feb 17

wildturkeycanoe said :

tim_c said :

Short answer: No, but I would qualify that by pointing out that it is illegal to unreasonably obstruct other traffic, so if a group of cyclists are slogging it out at ~20km/h up a steep hill on a single lane road with a 100km/h speed limit, they are breaking the law if they are not doing all they can to enable faster traffic to overtake (ie. riding single file for instance).

This is what I want cyclists to adhere to and for the police to enforce. This rule and the cyclists’ complete disregard for is what makes my blood boil. Any car that did the exact same thing would be fined, so why do those elite groups in their aerodynamic attire break this rule every time they hit the road? I would love for the police to pull them over and start writing tickets, one by one. Only, the next day there would be a front page article in the Canberra Times, on how cyclists are being unfairly persecuted. Then there would be support from the cycling community and yet another push to have the rules changed so that cyclists can do whatever they want and get away with it.

I was riding with a group (social group of mixed ages, not racing group), single line along the edge of the bitumen in a country area, when a police car pulled up and the policeman told us to get off the bitumen and ride in the dirt beside that. Most of us had road tyres and this would have been dangerous in the slippery gravel. We could have slipped over and fallen under a passing car. The policeman accused us of holding up the traffic. Considering that the traffic was also banked up in front of us (how was it we were holding up traffic in front of us?) this was a weird accusation. But some people just hate people on bikes. This happened a few years ago, but if it happened now, I would be tempted to report that policeman for his actions. Telling us to ride on road tyres in the slippery gravel was dangerous.
Fortunately I have never been inconvenienced by bikes on the road in front of my car. Inconvenience is often just a mindset.

wildturkeycanoe 6:41 am 04 Feb 17

tim_c said :

Short answer: No, but I would qualify that by pointing out that it is illegal to unreasonably obstruct other traffic, so if a group of cyclists are slogging it out at ~20km/h up a steep hill on a single lane road with a 100km/h speed limit, they are breaking the law if they are not doing all they can to enable faster traffic to overtake (ie. riding single file for instance).

This is what I want cyclists to adhere to and for the police to enforce. This rule and the cyclists’ complete disregard for is what makes my blood boil. Any car that did the exact same thing would be fined, so why do those elite groups in their aerodynamic attire break this rule every time they hit the road? I would love for the police to pull them over and start writing tickets, one by one. Only, the next day there would be a front page article in the Canberra Times, on how cyclists are being unfairly persecuted. Then there would be support from the cycling community and yet another push to have the rules changed so that cyclists can do whatever they want and get away with it.

dungfungus 10:32 pm 03 Feb 17

tim_c said :

dungfungus said :

Postalgeek said :

Electric bikes over 250w that use throttle control on shared paths are not only illegal, but irrelevant to cycle threads as they are classed as motor vehicles, not bicycles. You might as well also complain about petrol trail bikes in national parks to mountain bikers.

If you have an issue with them, take it up with motorcyclists and rangers.

They are “bikes” not motorcycles….

A bicycle with a motor is not a motorcycle?! Then what is a motorcycle???

My understanding is that while the laws say an electric bike with a motor over 250W is classed as a motorbike it cannot be automatically registered as one.

So, riding one on a road is also illegal it would seem.

tim_c 3:49 pm 03 Feb 17

And for the record (as someone who commutes by bike about 50% of the time, 45% by car and 5% by bus), I have to say that the vast majority of Canberra road users are certainly not unkind towards cyclists – in fact I think I’d have to say generally most are more courteous to me when I’m on my bike than when I’m driving my car!

tim_c 3:35 pm 03 Feb 17

Queanbeyanite said :

I’m a cyclist but the Marcus Clarke street bike paths are the second most scandalous waste of ratepayers money in Canberra. For the sake of two white lines and regular policing, booking BOTH cyclists and drivers, there wouldn’t be a problem.

Finally, someone with the guts to say it! I don’t work in the City so it wasn’t until the last Christmas break that I tried them – they might be okay if you’re out for a Sunday afternoon ride with the kids, but for actually getting where you want to go they’re nothing more than an expensive gimmick.

tim_c 3:29 pm 03 Feb 17

TinyTank said :

dungfungus said :

I’m glad I have a bull bar on my old 4WD but I must get a dash-cam to record what is likely to happen.

By the way, I’m insured but he isn’t.

Regardless, your CTP insurance will pay for all of his medical bills and I’m sure the scratch in your bulbar will polish out….

dungfungus’ CTP will only pay for the [motor]cyclist’s medical bills if dungfungus is at fault – In the ACT, if the [motor]cyclist is at fault, he’s on his own (unless he has his own third-party insurance, which is unlikely is his vehicle is not even registered).

tim_c 3:23 pm 03 Feb 17

dungfungus said :

Postalgeek said :

Electric bikes over 250w that use throttle control on shared paths are not only illegal, but irrelevant to cycle threads as they are classed as motor vehicles, not bicycles. You might as well also complain about petrol trail bikes in national parks to mountain bikers.

If you have an issue with them, take it up with motorcyclists and rangers.

They are “bikes” not motorcycles….

A bicycle with a motor is not a motorcycle?! Then what is a motorcycle???

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