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More action needed to keep Sydney cyclists safe

Submitted by on May 11, 2010 – 1:58 pm5 Comments
Image of bicycle trafic light in Sydney

A bicycle traffic light in Sydney. Source: Helen K: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/helenk/ / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The death of a cyclist in the M4 shoulder lane last month made it clear that the State government needs to take more action to improve road safety for cyclists and work with the Roads and Traffic Authority to change motorists attitudes to bike riders.

In February, Premier Kristina Keneally set an “ambitious target” of bicycles accounting for five per cent of all travel across Sydney by 2016. But Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on modes of transport revealed that so far across Australia bicycles only accounted for 1.5 per cent of usual trips to work or full-time study in 2009.

But the Premier’s target will only be achieved if the government concentrates on building more bike paths on existing main roads across the city, instead of merely “incorporating shared cycling/walking paths whenever possible when new roads are built,” as Keneally describes it.

A 2009 survey conducted by the City of Sydney Council found that only 19 per cent of bike riders feel safe riding in Sydney traffic, with 54 per cent of irregular bike riders saying they are not comfortable riding in shoulder lanes near parked cars. The availability of separate bikeways and dedicated bike lanes were the main measures that would encourage 50 per cent of respondents to cycle more.

“If the infrastructure is there, you can get people to and from jobs in a much more efficient way,” explains Graham Jones, Board Member and Financial Director of Cycling NSW. The RTA consulted Jones and other members of the organisation regarding the safety of cyclists riding in groups. “The key to it all is having bikeways that are separate to the main road,” he said.

In a welcome move, the City of Sydney Council has allocated $76 million over the next four years to build a 200-kilometre cycle network across the city. However, the state government needs to work with more local councils to help fund similar infrastructure in suburban areas. Driver education is another crucial factor in protecting cyclists on our roads.

The state government needs to work with the RTA to improve new and existing motorists’ understanding of sharing the road with cyclists. “I don’t think many people really understand the road rules, particularly motorists don’t understand what rights cyclists have,” explains Jones.

Changing the attitude of motorists is fundamental if we are to make the roads safer for cyclists. “There’s certainly an aggressive culture towards cyclists by drivers and that comes back to education,” Jones said. If only for the heath benefits the government should do more to encourage people to use bicycles as a transport option.

According to the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, cycling to work reduces air pollution, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, eases traffic congestion and incorporates exercise.

In order to make cycling a safe and viable transport option in Sydney, separated bikeways are needed. The state government needs to work with the RTA to change the negative attitude that many motorists have towards cyclists through education that targets all road users.

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  • Sarah Manson says:

    I agree that more action needs to be taken to encourage and protect cyclists. However, the problem being inherently with the drivers themselves I think makes it more difficult to come up with a solution as I am unsure how willing drivers will be to submit themselves to an education program.
    An interesting step which has been taken by the city of Sydney is their goal of a car-free George Street, which although still has a lot of steps to get through to be approved, is a very interesting initiative. I think it demonstrates the right approach, that instead of just targeting the drivers you need to change the whole environment if you want to see a real impact.

  • Seraphin Petin says:

    The beginning of your article underlines an interesting problem: how can sane individuals working for the Australian government, let cyclists using motorways? I am really chocked by the contradiction of asking for more separated cycleways on dangerous and busy roads and permitting cyclists on roads where cars and trucks reach 110km/h. In Europe, this is just unimaginable.

    Can you imagine bring your child riding as a recreational practice on … a motorway or even in the CBD where drivers are often in a hurry and do not pay attention to anything except themselves? This is just ridiculously dangerous!

    You are right when you suggest that the State Government needs to reinforce its cycling policy. The City of Sydney is also trying to implement its $76 million plan over four years to build a comprehensive network including 200km of bicycle paths and 55km of separated cycleways.
    These two different plans highlight the fact that cycling in Australia is a local matter rather than a national preoccupation. Indeed, on the $76 million actually spend by the City of Sydney, the Federal Government has announced a limited contribution of $1.79 million. This is a major problem underlined by the study ‘Cycle down under’ published by three academics including one Sydney University professor: Dr. Greaves.

    Here is the link: http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/PucherGarrardGreaves2010.pdf

    In addition, this is true that drivers’ education has to be changed as the issue number one preventing cycling is safety and you’ve correctly showed that with the 2009 survey. Improving infrastructure to enhance cycling safety is a positive step that has been taken by both the state and the local plans. More cyclists on the road means that they are more visible and thus less likely to be hit by drivers with poor driving skills.

    However, road warriors have also to obey road rules and review their education. Sharing roads involve a mutual understanding of both groups.

    • Andrew Wilson says:

      Thanks for your comment Seraphin. I agree, cyclists using motorways is extremely dangerous which is why we need more separated cycleways on these roads. In Sydney, motorways are crucial arteries for transporting people around the city and cyclists have been riding on these for a long time. The law permits cyclists to ride in the shoulder lane of these busy roads.

      Banning bike riders from using them is not the solution. Cyclists use these roads because in most cases there is no alternative road to get where they are going. Building more separated cycleways, such as the M7 bike path, is what is needed. This effectively separates cars and bike riders, allowing cyclists to travel in a safer environment whilst still using the motorway.

      The majority of people riding on motorways and in the CBD are experienced and confident cyclists. It would be highly unlikely that someone would ride with a child on a motorway in Sydney, and this is not the issue at hand. The issue is that cyclists, who have the legal right to ride on motorways and in the CBD, could be safer if the State government worked with local councils to fund the creation of more separated cycleways.

      I agree with your point that sharing the road involves a mutual understanding of both groups and that some cyclists do not understand the road rules. But, there is an evident culture in Australia of drivers being aggressive towards cyclists. This is a major problem that needs to be addressed. Unlike European cities such as Amsterdam and Berlin, where cyclists are accepted as legitimate road users by the majority of motorists, a large number of Australian motorists do not have a positive attitude towards cyclists and this needs to be addressed through improved driver education.

  • Marianna Thomson says:

    You raise some good points but for the professional guys who race, cycle paths and bike lanes don’t cut it, they need to train on the roads.

    As for the M7 bike path, there have been sightings of wire strung across the path to catch out cyclists so some cyclists aren’t too keen to train on there.

    I think drivers and the Government need to realise that cyclists need somewhere to train or even ride recreationally and once that is done then hopefully there will be no more deaths.

  • Paula Comandari Andueza says:

    Good work Andrew!!
    When I just arrived in Sydney I was surprise about the lack of cycleway in this city. It seems that the Government is more worried about cars and other initiatives than in transport alternatives like cycling, which actually is safer and cleaner than other options.
    If you go to Europe, cities such as Barcelona and Paris have been designed considering that biking is one option that many people choose not just for having a relaxing experience but also as a way of transportation. Authorities in Sydney should check European experiences, incorporating this issue in its next public policies.

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