“I haven’t had any sexual harassment, but have been called a c*** more than once – while obeying road rules,” says cyclist Susanne Gardiner.
In Australia we’d like to think that our streets are safe for riding bikes, but a different story emerges upon speaking to women who ride on Canberra roads.
“I’ve ridden bikes for commuting in Germany, London, Shanghai and here, and whilst you get overlooked and cut off everywhere, I’ve only had the name-calling here [in Australia],” Ms Gardiner says.
Canberra has the highest proportion of women bike riders of any city in Australia. Pedal Power ACT, the largest cycling organisation in the territory, confirms this fact with nearly half (46%) of members identifying as female.
International cycling participation studies indicate that cities with higher rates of cycling participation by women have higher rates overall. Making female cyclist feel safe and welcome on the roads is therefore extremely important.
A recent article from the US has described the abuse that women cyclists experience while cycling on Philadelphia streets. They are often forced to choose between putting up with harassment and abuse, or breaking the law and running red lights to escape catcalls and invective.
Canberran Megan Baker-Goldsmith, who describes herself as a “very confident and experienced cyclist”, uses a helmet-mounted camera in an attempt to insure herself against aggressive behaviour while cycling on Canberra roads.
“I work to correct the behaviour,” Ms Baker-Goldsmith said. “If it’s a professional driver or someone in a company car I report them to their employer. If it’s just a regular person, I show them that being aggressive and nasty won’t get them what they want.”
“If someone abuses me at a red light for being a cyclist, or a woman or not having a model-like physique, I point out my helmet mounted camera, and suggest they smile for it. You’re on camera so if you escalate the behaviours good luck in court.”
Most drivers agree that people who ride bikes should be treated like any other road user. And yet, bike riders are often threatened by the greater weight and speed of other vehicles on the road.
Canberrans enjoy living in a modern city that embraces active and healthy modes of transport like cycling. The fact that Canberra is known as a bike-loving city speaks to our self-regard as a youthful, energetic and progressive place to live.
But to maintain our city’s reputation as a dynamic city in which cycling is easy, safe and fun, we each have to facilitate this every time we encounter cyclists while driving on Canberra roads.
Pedal Power ACT is holding an Election Forum on September 27 for Canberrans to put questions about cycling in the ACT to politicians and candidates. Everyone is welcome to come along and let our potential new Government know that cycling and active travel is important.
Anne Treasure is a communications consultant living in Canberra. She is currently working with Pedal Power ACT and Capital Cycling.