Voices

Cars and bicycles, why can’t we get along?

Cyclist deaths and injuries continue to increase on Australian roads, unlike the rest of the world where they are reducing. What are we doing wrong, asks Paul Murrell.

While the rest of the developing world reports falls in bike rider fatalities, Australia’s toll continues to rise.

It’s a vexing issue, clouded by the often irrational dislike shown by drivers to cyclists (and vice versa). With thousands of cyclists taking to city streets and country roads in South Australia ahead of the Tour Down Under, there is no better time to assess the current situation.

European cycling experts suggest the removal of bull bars, reduced speed limits (of course) and cycle-specific traffic lights as a range of initiatives Australia should consider. Needless to say, all of these initiatives call for action and changes of behaviour by motorists, rather than cyclists.

There is little doubt that Australian motorists can be aggressive towards cyclists, or apathetic. The European Cycling Federation suggests “Cyclists are part of the road now. For us (Europeans) the three most important things for cycling safety are infrastructures, vehicles and human behaviour.”

In its latest report, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) found only Australia and Canada (of the 27 member countries) recorded an increase in cycling deaths between 2000 and 2011. New Zealand, Germany and France recorded falls in fatalities of up to 53 per cent.

This increase in cyclist fatalities in Australia is in marked contrast to car occupant deaths which have fallen 34 per cent, although motorcyclists are dying at a greater rate (up 6 per cent).

According to the Motor Accident Commission, cycling casualties have surged more than 20 per cent in South Australia since 2000 and now cost the compulsory insurance fund $26 million annually. Since bicycles are unregistered and uninsured, a constant bone of contention among other road-using vehicle owners, this would appear to support the argument for bicycle registration.

European Cycling Federation spokesman Ceri Woolsgrove pointedly ignores any responsibility by cyclists for the rising toll. “Making roads safer for cyclists doesn’t have to be expensive,” he suggests. “Reducing speed limits on some roads to below 30km/h, as has been done in the Netherlands, meant governments did not have to spend money on separate cycling lanes.”

Other suggestions include contraflow cycling (allowing bikes to travel on dedicated lanes towards oncoming traffic) and Green Wave traffic lights (which work like “bus only” signals at traffic intersections).

“But for us,” concludes Bike SA chief executive Christian Haag “it’s about ‘must haves’ and this includes lowering the speed limits on local area networks – which is council roads – to 40km/h. This acts as a traffic calming measure for local residents and greatly improves cycling.”

Notice there is no mention of cyclists paying for any of this, and that all measures incur additional expense and added inconvenience for motorists. Such blinkered attitudes will see the antipathy between cyclists and motorists become even more entrenched, and that isn’t good for either group.


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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober