The cy­cle of fear

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS -

You’d be hard pressed to find a bet­ter topic to ig­nite de­bate than a dis­cus­sion about the pros and cons of bi­cy­cles and the thrillseek­ers, com­muters and sports lovers who ride them. Ev­ery pedes­trian, car and truck driver has a story about some dimwit­ted or in­con­sid­er­ate or reck­less fool in or out of Ly­cra who made them as mad a hell. And ev­ery cy­clist has a story about some blind or drunk or stupid (or all three) nut be­hind a wheel who al­most killed them. And in one in­fa­mous Ade­laide lawyer’s case he did kill one of them and just kept driv­ing.

My wife cy­cles to and from work in the city and was al­most killed last sum­mer. She was run off the road by a par­ent rac­ing to pick up their child from the day­care cen­tre on East Ter­race. The driver be­hind the wheel in this case blurted out an apol­ogy about the sun be­ing in their eyes. My wife ended up badly shaken and sprawled on the foot­path. If the in­ci­dent had in­volved two cars there al­most cer­tainly would have been a col­li­sion. It would have meant a trip to the crash re­pair­ers. If the car had hit my wife on her bike that evening it could have been a trip to the hospi­tal or even the morgue.

The state gov­ern­ment last year signed up to a na­tional strat­egy that aims to dou­ble the num­ber of peo­ple cy­cling in Aus­tralia over the next five years. This would re­duce pol­lu­tion, make us fit­ter and, given most opt for the car over pub­lic trans­port, it would slash traf­fic on our roads. But you have to won­der just how se­ri­ous the gov­ern­ment is about dou­bling the num­ber of peo­ple cy­cling. Bil­lions of dol­lars are be­ing spent on projects like the South Road up­grade and the South­ern Ex­press­way and only a few mil­lion has been al­lo­cated to im­prov­ing the lot of the cy­clist. To para­phrase Ge­orge Or­well’s An­i­mal Farm, it seems “four wheels good two wheels bad”.

I have a friend who’s rid­den a mo­tor­bike for 40 years and never had an ac­ci­dent. But he’s seen plenty of his mo­tor­cy­clist mates die. I was cu­ri­ous to find out his se­cret for sur­viv­ing for so long. He says he sees ev­ery other driver on the road as a po­ten­tial killer. He al­ways as­sumes the cars and trucks can’t see him. He ex­pects them to cut him off, to drift into his lane and to drive as if he’s not there. If he’d been in my wife’s po­si­tion last sum­mer he would have looked at that car and an­tic­i­pated it cut­ting him off as if he were in­vis­i­ble.

Some cy­clists say the an­swer is to cre­ate ded­i­cated bike ways, sep­a­rated from the main traf­fic flow, and even sug­gest all bikes are rid­den on the foot­path. Oth­ers say we need to re­spect each other and learn to share the road.

I ride to work oc­ca­sion­ally, out of ne­ces­sity rather than choice, and I am not happy about the so-called bike lane on my route. It’s not much bet­ter than rid­ing in the gut­ter. It’s too nar­row, oc­ca­sion­ally it just dis­ap­pears and you’ll of­ten find a car or a truck parked in it and that forces you back into the car lanes.

The ques­tion I have for our politi­cians and road en­gi­neers is this: Have you done a 20-minute bike ride to and from the city in peak hour from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent direc­tions? Here’s a more spe­cific ques­tion, as I know both Pat Con­lon and Jack Snelling, who signed up to the plan to dou­ble the num­ber of cy­clists, have chil­dren of bike rid­ing ages. Would they feel safe let­ting their chil­dren ride in and out of Ade­laide on a reg­u­lar ba­sis? If the an­swer is yes then I’ll join them, and so will thou­sands of oth­ers. Ian Hen­schke hosts the Morn­ing Show on ABC 891.

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