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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.

What’s Your opinion?


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54 Responses to
Why are Canberrans so unkind towards cyclists?
1
buzz819 8:48 am
26 Jan 17
#

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

2
bikhet 11:45 am
26 Jan 17
#

“Why are Canberrans so unkind towards cyclists?” We’re not. These views might be correct or incorrect, but they are not unique to Canberra.

The key do/don’t for cyclists/motorists/pedestrians/people in general is “Don’t be a d$&@head.”

3
Anne Treasure 1:24 pm
26 Jan 17
#

I totally agree with the body of your article, but the headline – Kim, no! Canberrans are a loving, kindly people who delight in the environmental, social and individual benefits of bike riding. Our socialist utopia embraces and respects people who ride, are happy to give them room on the roads and mostly understand that car rego fees don’t directly go to funding roads.

It’s just the loud few who ruin it for the rest of the ACT.

Hey speaking of Summernats, we need a multi-day bike festival in the same vein – burnouts on two wheels, what do you think?

4
wildturkeycanoe 3:39 pm
26 Jan 17
#

“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”
Unfortunately this is not the case. More often than not, the large groups of racing elite take up a whole lane [if not both lanes] of Cotter Road, Uriarra Road or Naas and Boboyan Roads. The times they use these roads [weekends] are also the times that a lot of Canberrans are looking to go to the Murrumbidgee River for a swim or picnic, or up to the mountains to fish or just get away from it all. Just as a family gets out of the stop/start of suburbia when they should be putting the cruise control on and shake off the week’s stresses, they are faced with 40km/h zones due to racing events, stop start traffic controllers and cyclists slowing cars to a crawl for kilometers at a time because there are no safe overtaking spots. In my opinion this is sheer selfishness, by bringing their disruptive hobbies onto public roads and choosing the roads that have the most unsafe conditions [80-100km/h zones with many blind corners and plenty of double white sections]. It is quite lucky that nobody has been killed during these events, when a car happens to come around a bend and be confronted with a group of cyclists three abreast doing 25km/h and another group coming the opposite way. Since when did our public roads become recreational facilities? I’d like to see them try this on the King’s Highway. Perhaps this is one reason why there is some animosity towards cyclists.
These antics aren’t exclusively used on the outlying roads either, as many drivers will attest to. Quite a few of the local single lane roads are used in a similar fashion, with large groups of riders holding up commuters in cars. Don’t say it doesn’t happen.
“All of this suggests that, where there’s high traffic, there should be separate bike paths.” Indeed there are, but the cyclists still won’t use them because of petty excuses like “There are too many potholes”, or “Too many pedestrians”. That entitled attitude doesn’t help their cause.
One thing you touched on but didn’t elaborate was cyclists disregard of the rules. It seems that pedestrian “Don’t walk” signs do not apply to most of them, nor do vehicular stop lights. Red to a cyclist seems to mean “the cars are stopped but, if there is nobody coming I can sneak half way at least”. It is either that or they then jump onto the footpath and become a pedestrian till they get to the other side. This switching through different modes of traffic is what irks me. If you are going to use the road, then stick to it and obey the rules. You can’t go from road to pedestrian crossing to bike path and visa versa to achieve the quickest possible outcome, because a driver should not have to anticipate every possibility in order to avoid a collision.
One point you haven’t mentioned is the incessant hounding of the government and A.C.T residents for more, more, more. No matter how many times we’ve made adjustments to the roads, to cycle paths, to footpaths and to the rules governing their use, cyclists aren’t happy. They will never be happy until they have all the roads and all the paths to themselves. Apparently their mission to get to work as fast as possible overrides everyone else’ rights to use our infrastructure. The cycling lobby continually tells drivers to use some patience when dealing with cyclists, but cyclists won’t wait for anything or anyone. If they have to stop for something, it is like their world is going to end. This latest call to have no pedestrians in their way and no dog walkers on “their” paths is affirmation of this concept. They are just plain selfish.
Just so as to not be hypocritical in my judgements, I have to add that I am a regular cyclist myself. I do not ride on the roads if I can avoid them and I make a point to give pedestrians a wide berth when on both footpaths and shared paths, because in my mind they have the first priority. I also stop and dismount for both major intersections and pedestrian crossings, for my own safety more than anything. I teach my children this same practice, so that they never get t-boned by a car that didn’t see them coming off the footpath onto the crossing. With some drivers in Canberra I’m almost afraid to drive around the streets let alone ride a motorcycle or a bike. Cyclists are vulnerable road users and they should start acting that way for their own good. Once you are dead there is no point in arguing over who had the right of way on the road/crossing/path etc.

5
Kim Huynh 9:20 pm
26 Jan 17
#

Anne Treasure said :

I totally agree with the body of your article, but the headline – Kim, no! Canberrans are a loving, kindly people who delight in the environmental, social and individual benefits of bike riding. Our socialist utopia embraces and respects people who ride, are happy to give them room on the roads and mostly understand that car rego fees don’t directly go to funding roads.

It’s just the loud few who ruin it for the rest of the ACT.

Hey speaking of Summernats, we need a multi-day bike festival in the same vein – burnouts on two wheels, what do you think?

I hope you’re right AT about the good people of Canberra. Maybe the headline should be “Why are some Canberrans…”? I’d go to the Cyclenats for sure (along with the Summernats). I also wouldn’t mind seeing a hillclimbing street event in and around the ACT or maybe series of events. Would like to see it in an urban environment, but off the top of my head am nominating the end of Wallaroo Rd. I would watch rather than participate. K.

6
pete23 8:55 am
27 Jan 17
#

@wildturkeycanoe Roads became recreational facilities when people started using them to drive to places like the Murrumbidgee to walk or picnic or fish or just chill out. Also, since when has putting cruise control in been a form of shaking of the weeks stresses?

7
Rollersk8r 9:48 am
27 Jan 17
#

I liked a quote from James May: “In most cases you’ll find cyclists are just normal people using bikes”.

8
crackerpants 11:52 am
27 Jan 17
#

“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).”

That right there ^^. If that thing happens, with due care around others who might not be “commuting” (walkers, runners, those pesky children that really should be kept indoors until they’re able to dodge bikes without slowing cyclists down) – all else will fall into place.

I got in about 15k yesterday, mostly on footpaths and verges, but on the bike path stretches I was left thinking “why are cyclists so unkind to runners?” Two abreast, they eyeballed me, I eyeballed them, I still had to leave the path – several pairs/groups of cyclists in a 1k stretch. I don’t actually care, I’m a trail runner, running on grass is nothing, but the arrogance and lack of courtesy is disappointing.

As for the Cotter Rd, I’ve had a peleton get angry with me because I wouldn’t overtake when they waved me past. Double white lines, no view of oncoming traffic, baby in the back seat, yet they thought I should make safe driving decisions based on their say-so.

I train with cyclists and try to be positive in my interactions with cyclists when I’m out and about, walking, running, driving. But unfortunately Kim, whilst it may be the minority, so many cyclists seem to trip over their own arrogance to then cry “why are they so mean?”

Why is that?

9
dungfungus 4:04 pm
27 Jan 17
#

Rollersk8r said :

I liked a quote from James May: “In most cases you’ll find cyclists are just normal people using bikes”.

The guy who regularly pilots an electric mountain bike at over 70kph (in a 50kph zone) at Bugden Avenue in Fadden is not “a normal person”.

Two nights ago I was trying to coax two large kangaroos off the road and out of nowhere the idiot appeared silently, totally oblivious to what could have happened.

I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.

10
wildturkeycanoe 7:51 pm
27 Jan 17
#

pete23 said :

@wildturkeycanoe Roads became recreational facilities when people started using them to drive to places like the Murrumbidgee to walk or picnic or fish or just chill out. Also, since when has putting cruise control in been a form of shaking of the weeks stresses?

There is nothing recreational about driving on a road, if you have restrictions on speed, limits on how much of the road you can use and laws preventing you from using it “recreationally”. In my opinion, recreational use of a road would be if you could open up the throttle and let the engine roar, without needing to check the speedo. Recreation is using the whole width of a corner to get the most exit speed and not worrying about another car coming the other way. Otherwise, you are simply commuting from your place of residence to your relaxing destination.
Cruise control, or even simply driving at a constant speed is much more relaxing than having to constantly adjust speed, stop, start, brake and make decisions on whether or not it is safe to overtake. These things take your attention away from the pleasure of browsing the beautiful surroundings that the Cotter area has to offer. Cycle events demand you concentrate on avoiding obstacles which prevent you from admiring the rolling hills, valleys and plant life. Having to slow down from 100km/h to 30km/h or less on an open country road because of a group of self absorbed cyclists does nothing more to many motorists than make their blood boil. Of course your counter argument will be that driving at the same speed as the cyclists will allow more time to enjoy the place, but not every driver who is banking up behind you is thinking the same way. Some may be eager to get to their destination to set up camp. Some may be towing a trailer or caravan and getting slowed down by cyclists just before a hill will wipe off any run up they had. This inconvenience causes more wear and tear on a car’s brakes and increases fuel consumption by the need to accelerate again after passing. The cyclists might feel they are participating in a social atmosphere, but some drivers are far from feeling sociable. Motorcyclists also go out there for the wide open, usually quiet roads. They also won’t appreciate feeling like they are navigating Northbourne on a Friday morning.

11
54-11 8:28 pm
27 Jan 17
#

This post should read: “Why are cyclists so unkind towards Canberrans?”. As a regular pedestrian, I am often buzzed by these lycra-clad monsters who have no regard whatsoever for other users.

They DEMAND respect from car/bus/truck drivers, yet totally disregard the rights of other users. I know this is a generalisation, but my observations show that most cyclists don’t give a s$&t about walkers, children and other pedestrians.

12
Maya123 10:04 am
28 Jan 17
#

dungfungus said :

Rollersk8r said :

I liked a quote from James May: “In most cases you’ll find cyclists are just normal people using bikes”.

The guy who regularly pilots an electric mountain bike at over 70kph (in a 50kph zone) at Bugden Avenue in Fadden is not “a normal person”.

Two nights ago I was trying to coax two large kangaroos off the road and out of nowhere the idiot appeared silently, totally oblivious to what could have happened.

I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.

dungfungus wrote: “I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.”
In the sense of, I am sure someone must know who he is. Pedal Power members are just ordinary members of society, so yes, someone out there must know who he is, but they might or might not be members of Pedal Power. I don’t know why you think members of Pedal Power might have insider information. Do you think NRMA members have more insider information than non members when a car speeds?
The speeds you say this person is going, indicates they have an illegally overpowered motor on their bike.

13
dungfungus 10:29 am
28 Jan 17
#

dungfungus said :

Rollersk8r said :

I liked a quote from James May: “In most cases you’ll find cyclists are just normal people using bikes”.

The guy who regularly pilots an electric mountain bike at over 70kph (in a 50kph zone) at Bugden Avenue in Fadden is not “a normal person”.

Two nights ago I was trying to coax two large kangaroos off the road and out of nowhere the idiot appeared silently, totally oblivious to what could have happened.

I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.

Another thrill-seeker at it this morning, resplendent in his pixie suit, over a shared path at speed and then onto Bugden Avenue where he looked around and then flattened it out at a much higher speed through the 50kph zone.
Obviously, they are legal because one idiot is understandable, but two?
The bike looked something like this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35wyy96JB0w

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.

14
dungfungus 10:40 am
28 Jan 17
#

An arrogant rider and a high powered electric bike on shared paths and main raods are a recipe for disaster as the idiot in Western Sydney demonstrates:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEdETIjfngo

15
dungfungus 1:46 pm
28 Jan 17
#

Maya123 said :

dungfungus said :

Rollersk8r said :

I liked a quote from James May: “In most cases you’ll find cyclists are just normal people using bikes”.

The guy who regularly pilots an electric mountain bike at over 70kph (in a 50kph zone) at Bugden Avenue in Fadden is not “a normal person”.

Two nights ago I was trying to coax two large kangaroos off the road and out of nowhere the idiot appeared silently, totally oblivious to what could have happened.

I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.

dungfungus wrote: “I am sure some of Pedal Power people would no who he is so why not have a chat to him while he is still alive.”
In the sense of, I am sure someone must know who he is. Pedal Power members are just ordinary members of society, so yes, someone out there must know who he is, but they might or might not be members of Pedal Power. I don’t know why you think members of Pedal Power might have insider information. Do you think NRMA members have more insider information than non members when a car speeds?
The speeds you say this person is going, indicates they have an illegally overpowered motor on their bike.

Err, I suggested Pedal Power as all their members ride bicycles besides being “ordinary members of society”.

The “ordinary members of society” probably don’t all ride bicycles.
The only way NRMA could get involved in this issue is if they are the ones asked to send a tow truck to clean up the carnage.

Obviously the bikes are illegally overpowered in which case one would expect Pedal Power to make an announcement as to whether they support them or otherwise. There are two chances of that happening, Buckley’s and none.

Have you looked at the video links I posted?

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