Friday, 20 March, 2015

Cycling is kinda contentious. Cyclists are kinda contentious. I’m reminded of this at least once a week when I open up the newspaper (in Google Chrome – sorry, print media) and see something that pits drivers against cyclists. You know, because it’s a zero sum game. The two are completely separate species, fated to be forever at war. Montagues and Capulets, cats and dogs, Bloods and Crips. The story goes that if you’re part of one group, you hate the other, considering them dangerous and selfish. It is, of course, not exclusively the fault of the media, but stories that encourage an “us and them” viewpoint really don’t help.

Firstly, cyclists and drivers aren’t mutually exclusive beings. Sure, it’s difficult to drive a car and cycle at the same time, but the majority of adult cyclists drive at least some of the time. I have a driver’s license and had a car for a number of years, giving it up when I realised that where I lived and worked meant it was easier and cheaper to get around by bike. Knowing both ways of getting around is a good thing. When I cycle, I know the road rules well and what drivers expect from their environment. When I drive, I know to look out for cyclists and avoid things like passing them too closely.

It’s also not a zero sum game out there on the roads. If a road is narrowed at some point to create a safe and attractive bike path, that doesn’t necessarily mean gridlock for cars. A good case in point is the bike lane on Princes Bridge, which only marginally increased travel time for cars going into the city due to the fact that they were getting stuck at a bottleneck at Flinders Street anyway. The fact is that cycling (along with walking) is a much more efficient use of space than driving,  especially in busy places like the CBD where you can get more people through and ease congestion by encouraging modes like cycling.

What I’m really saying is that an attitude of mutual respect would be great, and would make roads safer and more pleasant for everybody. I suspect much of the antagonism is due to the fact that cycling is currently a marginal but quickly growing mode of transport in many Australian cities, and change always takes time. A good place to start would be to stop acting as if people were at war based on how they get around.