The cycle of fear
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.