Do we vote for stupid?

Cars rule Albury

Cars rule: kerbs bar crossing roads by bike, pram and walking frame, even in the retail area. #Albury

Do we really get the governments we deserve? If true, we’re not looking too bright, based on the latest ideas from politicians about bikes and roads.

Leading from a font of ignorance of late, they’ve promised to get bikes off roads, suggested dangerous riding and confirmed a look at registration, while finding billions of dollars (during a ‘budget emergency’) for roads that will simply fill with cars. We’ve known for a long time that building roads to fix congestion doesn’t address the cause. Even Ford acknowledges this.

So the answer to more cars is simply not to have more roads. When America began moving west, we didn’t add more wagon trains, we built railroads. – Bill Ford, 2011 

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The tackinators

Melbourne is a great place to ride a bike – mild climate, agreeable topography (yes easties, we hear you), two international velodromes, a long and picturesque bayside training route, and mountains, rail trails and excellent mountain biking an hour in every direction.

IMAG1237-002There’s also imperfect shared paths but they’re welcome refuge from local drivers.

It’s the cycling tribes that really make it though – the mountain bikers, crossers, roadies, commuters, tourers, trackies, hipsters, shoppers, bmxers, path-dwellers, advocates and the kids getting to school. Many tick several boxes, ‘enthusiast’ above all.

I know people from all those tribes and I never cease to be amazed at their diversity and willingness to help others. They are professionals, creatives, IT (lots of IT), retail, tradies, bus drivers, media, mums, granddads, whatever. They do stuff. These are the people who build trails, fix your bike, run events, share knowledge, write about cool stuff (from their races to their sewing projects), help newbies buy a bike and answer questions at parties. They’re also the designated office ‘bike dude/dudette’, explaining the road rules and copping the complaints. Maybe your state has the same, but ours are awesome.

I was reminded of this as the tribes gathered last weekend at Brunswick velodrome – the local home of cyclocross – for another riotous display of skillz and laughter. And by a local forum thread on the ‘tacking’ of a popular and safe training route on the city fringe – Yarra Boulevard in Kew, aka ‘the bouli’. Here we have a 12 km undulating loop with parks, city views and no through-traffic. It’s generally hassle-free commuting and training.Cycling Melbourne

But since mid February, riders on the bouli have suffered hundreds of punctures, plus crashes, due to repeated drops of tacks and other objects. Beyond cyclists, it’s affected runners and dogs. It’s culpably stupid. There’s been some dodgy reporting and some good reporting.

Road authorities have swept the area a few times but the tacks return. Police have stepped up patrols but sporting body Cycling Victoria has taken the unusual step of hiring investigators. Whether that’s to pressure local police for more action, a vote of no confidence or simply a necessary outsourcing of resources to make it stop, I’m not sure.

But I am sure that the riding community’s response makes me really proud to share the roads with Melbourne cyclists. Three riders have built magnet arrays to trawl the bouli to remove tacks. The IT crowd is smashing old hard drives to source magnets for mega arrays. Riders are reporting tackings to VicRoads and Boroondara council to help target new hot spots. And many continue to ride the bouli in defiance of the tackers (but I understand others going elsewhere for the duration too).

It’s so heart-warming it might see me through another Melbourne winter. Thank you all.

Road toll down, for most

The western calendar marks a reset point for most people. Time to review and renew, to do a little better.

It’s also time to reset a marker that’s a media staple on the slow news days between Christmas Eve and the Times Square ball drop. Yet it’s one to which we seem inured most of the year.

It’s the road toll, that disturbing metric of our love affair with the car. Our seductively comfortable, convenient, well marketed cars.

Victoria’s provisional road toll for 2013 was a record low 242 – down from 282 in 2012 and down for the sixth year in a row. Cyclist fatalities were thankfully so low that they didn’t rate a mention in the police media release.

We’re doing better thanks partly to safer roads and cars, better policing and education/behaviour change programs. But overall, it’s better than lousy if you take a wide view.

In 2011, Australia’s leading cause of death was heart disease which claimed over 21,000 lives while drowning [PDF] accounted for 315 and Afghanistan 11. The national road toll that year was, by comparison, a large 1277.

Nationally, road deaths to November 2013 [PDF] were down 9 per cent overall to 1086 and down in all main categories of road user – drivers, passengers, pedestrians and motorbikes.

But one category was up nationally, and up a massive 16 per cent, and that’s cyclists. To the end of November, 43 cyclists had died on Australian roads. NSW and Queensland were hard hit. There were at least six more in December so that number will go higher.

The equation goes More cyclists = safer because drivers learn to deal with riders and such critical mass can’t be ignored in allocating scarce road space. Clearly we’re not there yet.

Nor is our attitude to driving looking good when the pre-Christmas blitz racked up 15,000 driving offences in two weeks in Victoria alone. Top of the list were speeding (7124), driving an unregistered vehicle (2109), driving while using a mobile phone (1930) and disobeying traffic signals (1360). Handy stats next time you’re accosted at a party about scofflaw cyclists. Let alone Saturday’s reported rampage on Beach Road.

Traffic offences speak volumes about our attitudes when we’re effectively in charge of a lethal weapon. But they flag an even higher price tag to society.

What we don’t reset with the road toll each year are the costs of road funding, resource use, air pollution and injuries, nor the opportunity cost of failing to mode switch to active/public transport. And this is where cycling can make a real difference.

Cycling has the potential to deliver an enormous bottom line, freeing up road space for cars and trucks that really need it, busting obesity and nudging heart disease, improving air quality and individual mobility. Let alone getting to work on time. More careful driving is safer for drivers, passengers and pedestrians and putting people back on streets makes communities safer. It’s win/win/win/win/win …

And then there’s the fun and freedom of utility cycling, which are priceless. Only cyclists take the long way home.

But many potential riders don’t take the next step because the roads don’t feel safe. In effect, our driving constrains the potential payoff.

The Pulitzer Centre estimates 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads each year and lauds Australia’s success in curbing road deaths, so we shouldn’t sell the 2013 result short. But if we assess cars as safer than cycling, it’s time to rethink the breadth of the community costs we’re including in the risk assessment.

And then imagine the compliance we’d get from cars at intersection bike boxes if we adopted the Brazilian approach to pedestrian crossing enforcement:

Have a great, safe 2014.

Edit: The Age has some useful stats here, and the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics runs the Australian Road Deaths Database here.

John and Penny play nice

Does anyone remember the John and Betty readers?
John can jump.
Betty can jump.

Boroondara Council in Melbourne’s east is using the same idea in a trial of signage to improve behaviour on shared paths. We grizzle about uncontrolled dogs, walkers bark about speeding cyclists sort of thing.

Even cyclists complain about some of the commuter behaviour on the busy Gardiner’s Creek trail – overtaking on blind corners, PB speed etc – while walkers four abreast and unrestrained canines are the other side of the coin. I had one suggest Lassie wouldn’t bite but had no idea I was more worried about my collarbones. On sunny weekends, it’s safer on the road.

So council installed three multi-panel ‘stories’ aimed at both protagonists on the trail in October and asked its 1000-strong sounding board, the community panel, for feedback. We haven’t heard back yet.

I’m not sure what to make of it. I didn’t like the first one when I went to have a look and alternative captions sprang to mind. It struck me as anti-cyclist.

But the next one aimed at walkers seemed to even the score a bit. And given the food chain that has cars giving way to cyclists (we wish) giving way to walkers, maybe it’s fair enough that the trial aims two stories at bikes.

It shouldn’t be needed but more rules and signs won’t help. So maybe it’s worth a try. I’d be interested in what people think.

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