Your feedback requested - Cyclist "Safety" Laws - Analysis and Action
"We don't want cyclists' money –that is not why we increased fines for high-risk and downright stupid behaviour. These changes are about changing behaviour and improving safety.”
– The Honourable Duncan Gay
It’s time to load our rifles and take aim at the state government.
Now that I’ve had a chance to read through the proposed changes to cycle laws enforceable as of 1st March, I thought I’d take an opportunity to construct a response to it with my own thoughts of the matter. I do so for two reasons:
(a) to share my thoughts and analysis of the matter encourage my brothers (and sisters) in cycling to take aim as well and
(b) to obtain feedback from others if my facts or views are incorrect and allow others to any additional ideas that I may have missed, as, in the words of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, “Nobody… is the suppository of all wisdom.”
For those who are unaware about what I am on about, on December 20th last year, an article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining how NSW’s esteemed minister for roads and transport, Duncan Gay, with the alleged motive of “improving cyclist safety,” has introduced a new set of laws with regards to bike riders.
These include the following:
1) Drivers must give a one metre margin when overtaking a cyclist and 1.5m if the speed limit exceeds 60km/h.
2) All cyclists over 18 are required to carry mandatory ID or risk a penalty of $106
3) Fines for cyclists not wearing a helmet will increase from $79 to $319.
4) Fines for cyclists running a red light will increase from $79 to $425 (in line with what drivers pay).
5) Holding a moving vehicle will increase from $71 to $319
6) Not stopping at children's/pedestrian crossing will increase from $71 to $425
7) Riding dangerously (whatever the hell that means) will increase from $71 to $425
Let’s go through each of these laws that aim to “improve cyclist safety” one by one in detail before we get to the real meat of the issue. Also check out a previous post for other nobmobber thoughts.
(1) Overtaking. I am sure I am not the only one here who has almost knocked off the road because someone overtakes me at too close range, and the prospect of having these dickheads facing a penalty for their dangerous actions is very appealing, and were it to come in on its own I welcome it wholeheartedly. However, aside from the question of how it will be possible to enforce this, and whether any action will even be taken if footage is recorded when drivers violate this (which seems highly unlikely unless an incident occurs), the primary concern is the fact that this seems to be the “bait” for cyclists to embrace this new package of laws – you know, it’s like some is hiding the fact that he’s robbed you $1,000 when he very publicly gives you a free chocolate bar and says they’re trying to help you.
(2) ID. Duncan Gay suggests that the concept of ID is rooted in his desire for cyclists to be identified in the case of an accident, as well as a way of catching them where they break the law. Now (although I don’t always do it, and probably should), the concept of being able to be identified were a cyclist to injured beyond their ability to communicate is great. And it is totally fair enough that one be held accountable were they to break the law – but really? Mandatory ID? So will jaywalking pedestrians also incur a greater penalty for their offence simply because they’re not carrying ID? And how will footage of a cyclist hurtling through a crowd of pedestrians make the cyclist any more identifiable if they have a driver’s license in their pocket? Essentially, the only time that ID will really help are in the instances where a cyclist is pulled over for an offence, and would otherwise conceal their identity by giving false details when asked (which can just as easily be forged on a license). Do we really need to penalize people $100 for that?
(3) Helmets. Let me be clear about this. I never leave home without one, have seen one potentially save someone’s life, would always advocate for my fellow riders to wear one and insist that were I to have children, that they always have one. But I think the concept of patrolling this and fining offenders with that outrageous fine is absurd, simply because it is the cyclist’s own problem and puts nobody at any greater risk in the case of an accident. If police are going enforce the road rules, should not the first priority be to cracking down on users whose conduct is putting other people at risk?
(4) Red lights. Let me be clear about this. Red means stop, and that includes all vehicles on the road, whether they have 2, 4 or 20 wheels. I will also freely agree that cyclists seem to think that they’re above the law with this on many occasions and too often run red lights just because they can’t be bothered to wait, on some occasions putting other people at risk in the process. But I have a number of qualms with simply jacking up the fine to the same level as car drivers:
• Firstly, any fine should be in proportion to severity of damage caused by the offence. The most likely impact of running a red light is a collision with oncoming traffic or pedestrians, and the damage caused is in proportion to the momentum of the moving object, so even if we grant, purely for argument’s sake, that a bike is travelling on average the same speed as a car (which is wrong), the impact is likely to be a 10th of what it would be if it were a 1 tonne car running a light.
• Secondly, if one actually gets on a bike and rides on a road, they will have on many occasions have been stuck there due to the light failing to trigger the bike’s arrival there. This puts the cyclist in the dilemma of having to wait at the light until a car comes along to trigger it (unless the bike then blocks the car from triggering it; which is often the case if the cyclist technically abides by the law), ride onto the footpath and around the intersection (which is usually illegal or dangerous), or to illegally run the red light.
This does not take into account the appalling conduct shown by car drivers to cyclists, who too regularly honk at cyclists for accelerating too slowly after a light turns green, as well as drivers overtaking cyclists whilst both attempt to turn right, often cutting the cyclist into the driver’s blind spot, which is almost always much more dangerous than a cyclist rolling through a red light when there is no oncoming traffic.
Were Duncan Gay really serious about making cyclists take equal accountability for following road rules, he would ensure that cyclists were rewarded – not punished – for following them.
(5-7) I won’t go into too much detail here, other than to note that (5) is exceedingly vague, and it feels like this refers to everything else listed, and like (4) just seem to be excessive.
This brings me onto the crux of the matter, which is that Duncan Gay is using the one metre rule to camouflage his real motive, which is to get cyclists off the road. Associations such as Bicycle NSW have painstakingly outlined what one could do to make cycling safer around a busy city and if this dickhead had an ounce of common sense he would have taken at least one of the following points into account:
1) Driver Accountability. According to a survey*, in 79% of the cases involving a driver and a cyclist, the driver was solely at fault. That’s basically 4 in 5. That indicates that 79% of the problem is drivers, so the primary focus should be patrolling – and heavily fining – drivers that put cyclists' lives at risk. This includes, but is not restricted to:
• Car dooring. A cyclist has been killed due to this (where the driver was simply fined), and has the potential to cause severe injury if a cyclist collides with the door at an excess of 30km/h. The fact that many roads are painted such that the marked bike lanes feed directly into the firing line of car doors forcing them into the main lane (and then pissing off other impatient drivers, who often hurl abuse at them for not being in the bike lane) to protect their lives. I personally will yell at any driver who does this to me, and encourage other cyclists to do the same, but were there better publicity of this, hopefully this wouldn’t need to be done so much.
• Road rage. Despite exercising my legal right, I am sure I am not the only rider who has been yelled at when taking up a full lane where there is on safe place to be overtaken, along with being on the road at all. Clear education needs to be given to drivers what cyclists are entitled to and this type of abuse (which is not only rude but dangerous when it gives riders a fright) should be cracked down on.
• Turning in front of cyclists.
• Overtaking. The one metre rule is a good start, however, once again needs to be enforced. And as mentioned, overtaking on intersections is extremely dangerous and is an absolute no brainer, yet many drivers do it.
2) Infrastructure. If there is any one thing that has failed NSW cyclists, it is the infrastructure that is made (or rather not made) for them. Without even bringing up the (late) College St Cycleway, all around the city, one can find 1-metre-wide bike lanes (often right in the firing line of car doors) that are built to go through potholes, gravel and all types of debris, cycle paths and bike lanes that go for five hundred metres before ending and forcing cyclists onto major busy roads, seemingly with nary a thought to the fact that cyclists may actually want to get somewhere on these routes. (I could draw up a map of the existing bike lanes to show how few of them actually connect.) At the very least, the NSW Government should work with bicycle lobby groups to identify safe routes for bikes on quiet streets that actually link major centres, signpost them and mark them on maps (which is currently done to some extent, but seems grossly incomplete to me).
3) Modifying traffic lights to be better recipients of bikes. If there were simply a box painted on the pavement of where the trigger is, it would prevent cyclists (and cars behind them) from being stuck there indefinitely, which seems much more sensible than jacking up the red light fine by five times.
4) The best (but most complex) solution, however would be construct cordoned off cycleways that actually link places together, potentially parallel to existing major corridors. The M7 cycleway is a great example of a safe, long distance route that is signposted, and is given all the access points that a cycleway needs. However, its major flaw is that it doesn’t really link up anything – it passes through no major centres so can be used by very few people to actually commute. Were cycleways built next to all the railway lines with access points at every station, which has the potential for the quickest means of travel to the CBD to be via bike in peak hours. This would get cyclists off the poorly built roads (which are often the main reason that cyclists hold up drivers), as well as get more people to get places via bike rather than car (not that he could care less about that, but it would make the roads just that little bit less congested).
5) At the very least, channel the greatly increased money collected by cyclists’ fines into improving the facilities for cyclists as some sort of compensation for the outrageous sums of money some will obviously be made (fairly or not) through the implementation and enforcement of these laws, rather than just put it into revenue for roads in general. The SMH article anticipates this is likely to be in excess of $1.5 million; surely it is only fair that this is set aside to fund bike safety if it is allegedly obtained by that purpose.
Ultimately, these new laws do nothing to make me think anything of the Government’s concern for cyclists but just even more highlight my and many other cyclists’ view that Duncan Gay is an imbecile who either doesn’t get it or doesn’t care that to protect cyclists, laws need to be made for them, rather than against them.
Anyway, correct, add, or criticize anything I’ve written as I want to be the most comprehensive, balanced voice I can. I hope to send this to Matt Kean soon (with some of the strong language edited out), and potentially with Mike Baird if I can find a means to do so – as the leader of the government, I see him as responsible for the mess and hence he is the one to be held accountable for it. We’re all in this together so I hope that others will be prepared to speak up to their local members/Mike Baird as well. All I can say is I am reminded why I didn’t vote for the Coalition and why I never intend to as long as Mr. Gay is there…
And if we don't have a bit of a laugh about it, we'd just end up crying:
*Could someone please refresh my memory what survey this was?