- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 20 March 2014
What was most shocking about the dooring incident on Monday night in which a female cyclist was knocked down by a passenger exiting a taxi in Melbourne was that the passenger didn’t help the fallen cyclist, refused to provide their details and turned to insulting the cyclist. Cyclists are second-class road users; they are more vulnerable in a collision, their rights on the road are often uncertain and, as a motoring nation, cyclists are not exactly welcome on the roads.
In the dooring incident on Collins Street in Melbourne, the Victorian police confirmed that the cyclist was riding legally and was allowed to pass the stationary cars on the left. The taxi wasn’t parked and it is has been noted that the taxi driver intended to pull-over further ahead to drop off the passengers. It can be fiercely debated whether the driver or the passenger is accountable in this situation however this collision highlights a lack of awareness of cyclists and the rights of cyclists.
Thanks to the bicycle camera footage and significant social media, newspaper and television coverage, wealthy businessman Jeff Hunter came forward and apologised for his behavior. Whether there are any consequences is a matter left to the police and the cyclist who was hit.
Returning to the actual collision, neither the taxi driver nor the passengers anticipated the cyclist and this is a common theme in dooring. In other collisions where the driver sees the cyclist, but proceeds to cut them off maliciously or carelessly, the vulnerability of cyclists is not taken into account. Motorists are safe inside modern vehicles that have been designed to protect the driver in a crash whereas a cyclist will always comes off second best in a collision.
In the ‘Motorist verses Cyclist‘ debate, the crux of the issue is that cyclists want to be safe using the roads however are seen as an inconvenience by some motorists. A peaceful coexistence can be achieved however is hindered by the lack of infrastructure, road user education, consistent law enforcement as well as the perception of cycling in our society.
Improved and sensible cycling infrastructure serves all road users, cyclists are better separated from motor traffic which means less inconvenience for motorists and increased safety for bicycle riders. The Federal government demonstrated in their 2013 report (Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport) how valuable cycling can be for the economy and for society. That is all well and good but all levels of governments need to think long-term and invest and that often contradicts the short-term Government cycles and short-term goals for the political party holding office. A handful of local governments such as the City of Sydney and Mayor Clover Moore are taking cycling infrastructure and facilities seriously. The proposed 284km Inner Sydney Regional Bike Network which extends on the City of Sydney bicycle network has the opportunity to unite 14 surrounding council areas but is up to the Federal Government who are ‘considering’ it.
Page from the Federal Government Report: Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport
Road user education begins with children and continues through to drivers license tests and beyond with road safety campaigns. If we think about the confusion surrounding laws pertaining to roundabouts, it suggests that the authorities need more effective strategies for road user education. And this education also needs to extends to cyclist who also have a responsibility to obey the law and set a good example. The Amy Gillet Foundation has taken on the road user education challenge as one of the most prominent advocacy groups in Australia. They are seeking improve cyclists safety and in addition to the current ‘a metre matters’ petition to lobby politicians for a mandatory 1 metre (minimum) passing distance for cyclist, they recently launched a road safety campaign targeting both cyclists and motorists.
Targeted Cyclist and Motorist educational campaigns from the Amy Gillett Foundation
Law enforcement is important for cycling safety as a deterrent however has a number challenges. A cyclist on the road is treated as a vehicle although without the protection of the motor vehicle, any collision, let alone near miss is far more frightening and far more life threatening than for a motorist. The police however are reluctant to take action for a near miss or dangerous or illegal behavior unless there is a collision. And if there is a collision, the penalties for the at-fault motorist often appear disproportionate or inconsistent, this isn’t helped by different laws in each state and even different practices between police stations. The Australian Cyclists Party is an endeavor to represent cyclists rights in politics and along with the Cycling Promotion Fund, seek to get cycling issues into the political agenda.
Cyclists in traffic on Sydney roads
Traditionally, Australia’s infrastructure has hardly taken cycling into account, ‘The Car’ is ingrained into our culture. Changing the perceptions of cycling is however a slow process. Through infrastructure, laws and education, the place of cycling as part of our culture and society can be improved. Tabloid media regularly inflames the “Motorist verses Cyclist” debate however it is not a war although it should be lot better. In 2013, 45 cyclists were killed on Australian roads. It needs to become a second nature to check for cyclists and also be considerate towards cyclists who are more vunerable.
As cyclists we need to take a stronger interest in our rights on the road, the most effective way is to choose and support a cycling advocacy organisation. By uniting to make progress in each of the facets that influence cycling safety and cyclist awareness, we can help create conditions that make many of these collisions avoidable.