October 30, 2009 – 6:30AM
As a keen recreational cyclists who often rides more than 250 kilometres a week, mostly on the roads of the lower north shore and the northern beaches, I would like to say “thank you” to the motorists of Sydney.
Anyone who is now expecting sarcasm or irony is going to be disappointed, because I mean it.
I would estimate that more than 95 per cent of the motorists who drive past me give me the courtesy and consideration that any legitimate road user should expect.
Most of them, I would hope, do so as a matter of course. Many, I am sure, look after my safety even though my presence on the roads might annoy them. On the flip side, some motorists are so painstakingly careful that I often think, “please go past, you have plenty of space, you won’t kill me”.
Then, sadly, there’s the small percentage who are the true haters. This means that once an hour, on average, I find myself being attacked for no reason. I’ve been hooted at, verbally abused, deliberately cut off, swerved towards, spat on and had items thrown at me. I’ve been targeted with firecrackers on two recent occasions.
But again, this is from the absolute minority.
It’s also fair to say that there are aggressive cyclists on the road, although it’s a bit harder to threaten people’s lives on a 10-kilogram bicycle.
Almost all of this aggression is reactive, and stems from frustration and fear. Frustration at hourly incidents of cowardly harassment, with little chance of redress; fear through the knowledge that a bad encounter with a car means a trip to the panel-beaters for the driver, but a trip to the hospital – or the morgue – for the cyclist.
So why do we do it? In truth, cycling never used to appeal to me. I ran, I played basketball, I spent my weekends rock climbing; then my knees went bung. Swimming along a black line did my head in, so it was either get lardy on the couch or buy a bike.
And now, as I cycle around Church Point on a sunny Saturday afternoon, or up Military Road on a traffic-clogged Monday morning, I realise that so many cyclists are just like me; ordinary blokes on the wrong side of 30 trying to keep fit and healthy, or commuters striving to sidestep our deeply flawed and failing transport network.
Lately, however – and especially after last week’s T-Way incident – we are being vilified, especially in the media and those lightning rods for the loony brigade, online forums. No matter that on several occasions in the past few months, cyclists have been killed by cars, with at least two of those being hit-and-run incidents. One alleged scuffle between a bus driver and a cyclist, and two-wheelers have become the brownshirts of the road.
In the midst of it all, several furphys are being propagated. The best one is the notion that making cyclists pay a registration fee or display a licence plate will curb the occasional disregard some cyclists show towards road rules.
Every day I see drivers who are speeding, running red lights, talking on the phone or texting. They pay rego, their cars have plates and they’re getting away with it. Anyone who thinks that phoning the police to report a number-plated cyclist for a traffic infringement would result in a conviction is displaying a touching but deeply naive understanding of how our legal system works.
So what is the solution? It’s quite simple – tolerance, and the gradual erosion of that reactionary few per cent.
I recently spent a week cycling around Paris, a city whose famed boulevards turn into parking lots several times a day.
People who think Sydney cyclists are lawless need to visit the City of Light to see the true meaning of laissez-faire. Yet what was most apparent to me was the lack of animosity; a seeming realisation by motorists that it’s the traffic lights and other cars that cause gridlock, not bicycles as they filter through the chaos.
Just think – if a bicycle slows you down a bit, you get to spend less time staring at the car in front of you at the next traffic light. And the one after that. Meanwhile, the bicycle you just avoided means one less car on the road. Rather than hate cyclists when their passage seems speedier than yours, try joining them.
The old RTA slogan is right: the road is there to share. It might not always be the best road, but in this city we nevertheless like to think of as one of the finest in the world, that shouldn’t have to stop us. If the majority of road users continue to stay courteous and calm, we can go on sharing the road, and hopefully the haters and the ranters will join us in the end.