Why I should be able to ride on the roads – a female road cyclist’s perspective

Cycle SydneyThere’s been a lot of media space devoted to the issue of bike riders using the roads of late, so I thought I’d put my ‘two bobs worth’ forward.

You’ll note that I haven’t called this blog post ‘Cars v Bikes’ because I really don’t think that’s what it’s about. From my observation many drivers (and by no means all drivers) think that they are entitled to use the roads exclusively and that cyclists should vacate ‘their’ roads or at least pull over and let them pass.

As a road cyclist I think I’m pretty considerate. I do most of my riding early in the morning to avoid heavy traffic, I choose not to ride on major roads except where they can’t be avoided, I obey the road rules, I use front and rear lights early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and I travel at a speed where I rarely hold up a driver for more than a few seconds.

And yet, nearly every time I ride my bike I encounter an aggressive driver who either takes my right of way at a roundabout, comes up very fast behind me and then overtakes in a dangerous manner, and occasionally I’ve been beeped at, or yelled at by impatient people.

Those drivers are no more ‘entitled’ to be on the roads than I am. I’ve heard many drivers argue that they pay for registration which pays for the roads so they should have right of way. This is a flawed argument – the roads are paid for by government taxes, not car registration fees. Plus, I’m also a driver and I’ve been paying registration and license fees for many, many years, not to mention taxes.

A couple of years ago, my partner and I went on holidays to The Netherlands on a bike riding tour. It was a great seven day tour where we rode bikes on roads and bike paths for around 50 km per day. What an amazing contrast that was to riding in Australia. There are so many bike riders that drivers are easily outnumbered. There were plenty of excellent bike paths, but where there were no bike paths and we cycled on the road, the drivers were so considerate and went around us, or waited if necessary. I wasn’t beeped at once, and there wasn’t one time in those seven days where I thought a car came too close for comfort.

In Australia it’s a completely different story. We have some fantastic groups like the Amy Gillet Foundation working on this complex issue with their ‘metre matters’ campaign. They’ve even managed to have the ‘metre matters’ made into law in Queensland. It all has to help.

I read a great column in the Sydney Morning Herald last week by Elizabeth Farrelly. In short, Elizabeth says that what we need is a cultural shift on Australian roads. The issue is not that the majority of drivers feel they are being held up by cyclists, they feel they are entitled to the roads and cyclists just shouldn’t be there. And it really doesn’t help when the NSW Minister for Roads makes ridiculous statements about how ‘registration’ of cyclists will help curb accidents.

And speaking of holding up drivers, I had a look at the average speed of my own car before writing this blog post. In my car’s computer I’m able to look at the average speed and it’s a whopping 28.7 km. I drive mostly in peak hour traffic and I’m definitely not being held up by cyclists. The main thing that is holding me up is other drivers who are also driving to work (most of us just one person per car) and parents dropping their children at school. Incidentally when I was at school we all walked, rode bikes or caught public transport to school. Maybe Duncan Gay should get on that bandwagon instead.

So my fervent wish is that a few enraged drivers read this blog and try and see someone else’s point of view. It’s bloody scary when a person driving a one tonne car comes whizzing up behind me on my 8 kg bike in an attempt to intimidate. And yes, I am scared but it won’t stop me, and thousands of other riders from using the roads every day.

And I’m certainly not alone in being nervous on the roads. Cycling Australia released its survey results yesterday from a research project they conducted last year. One of the key findings was that feeling unsafe on the road is preventing Australian women from riding more regularly. I plan to write about the rest of the survey results in next week’s blog post so stay tuned…..

3 comments

  1. Tomorrow, bicyclists in hundreds of cities and towns around the world will take part in the 12th annual Ride of Silence. The purpose of this free memorial ride is to remember bicyclists who have been killed and injured in traffic crashes and to raise awareness about bicycle safety.

    For the 4th year in a row, there will be a Ride of Silence for Tampa and Hillsborough County. (See this MacDill Freewheelers page for details.) And, tragically, few areas in the world need a memorial bike ride more than here.

    According to official statistics for 2012 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, only 15 states had more bicyclist traffic fatalities that year than the 13 in Hillsborough County. And according to the NHTSA, from 1994 through 2012 (19 years), 180 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes within this county. Last year, at least 10 bicyclists were killed in traffic crashes here — 5 in Tampa, 1 in Plant City, and 4 in the unincorporated county.

    So far this year, at least 2 bicyclists have been killed in traffic crashes, both in the unincorporated county. If 8 more Hillsborough bicyclists were to get killed this year, it would bring the county’s 1994-2014 bike traffic fatality total to 200 — in just 21 years!

    This PDF includes the NHTSA’s horrible bike traffic fatality statistics for Hillsborough County going back to 1994 plus a detailed list of more than 40 bicyclists killed in traffic crashes here just since January 1, 2010. The listed crash locations are linked to Google Maps satellite images.

  2. I live in Melbourne and have never really experienced any aggression directed towards me personally from drivers which I thank my lucky stars for (which is not to say I haven’t been involved in situations where drivers have done the wrong thing or haven’t noticed me, but it wasn’t coming from an attitude of aggression, more from a place of ignorance)! However I am always on alert and riding home from work in the traffic, if I notice a car driving erratically or accelerating fast and I know I will keep leap-frogging them all the way up the road I will change my route just to get out of their way. I guess I am assuming that those are the sorts of drivers who would also have that attitude towards cyclists.

    I think there definitely needs to be more education from grass-roots level, built into the learners and driving tests, so drivers have no excuse for not knowing the rules. Further, the education needs to delve into why those are the rules – for example, cyclists riding two abreast or taking the lane – we do it to avoid cars squeezing past too close, forcing them to change lanes for our own safety. Without the logic behind the rules, the rule just seems unfair to drivers and makes them even more angry.

    PS I initially read the statement “two bobs worth” as “two boobs worth” – hahaha! Must have been my brain taking liberties from the post title mentioning the female cyclists perspective!

  3. I am a country rider though used to ride to uni and work in Sydney many years ago.

    My husband is a very keen cyclist and as I ride in the many described by Jacqui & he does not, we have had many animated discussions.

    I have become very interested in the work done in Europe (think Holland to Ukraine) & by WHO on “vulnerable road users” (or VRU’s..)

    Cyclist safety depends on many things, some of which are done very well in Australia – for instance, we have road rules & these are enforced well & reasonably impartially by world standards.

    However, the superb safety achieved in Holland is NOT put down to better driver behaviour by the investigators.

    They point to lower urban speed limits – down to 30km/hour in many urban areas – and separation of cars from vulnerable road users. They have graphs showing that the steepest part of the curve for increasing injuries & deaths is between about 36 & 50 km/hour.

    I have mentioned lowering the urban speed limit to 40 to a group of cyclists – the response? – “No-body would want to do that!”

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