Cyclists’ liberation struggle

Cyclists are an oppressed minority.

Car drivers resent cyclists on the road, and pedestrians resent us on the footpaths, even when they’re designated cycleways as well.  On the same ride I’ve been told aggressively to get off the road and use the footpath by a car driver, and to get off the path and use the road by a pedestrian!  I’ve even had full drink bottles thrown at me by passing hoons in cars. And yet I’m a very law-abiding cyclist who always keeps to the left and am very aware of and respectful of other road/path users.

The extreme version of this hostility/disregard towards cyclists was the collision in Germany in 2005 that killed Amy Gillet and maimed other members of the Australian cycling team, not to mention the “hit and run” dickhead who somehow avoided killing anyone only a few weeks ago near Sydney.  However, even casual cyclists like me get subjected to lesser versions of this sort of ignorant, dangerous treatment on a daily basis.  Drivers either don’t see cyclists or assume that they have an unfettered right to drive their car into a traffic lane or turn left or right across a cyclist’s bows and that you will somehow manage to get out of their way.

Somehow or other public attitudes to cycling need to change urgently.  Petrol prices can only keep rising over time irrespective of global warming or emissions permits, simply because of the impending “peak oil” and growing demand from China and India.  Inducing many more people to use bikes for transport much more frequently will be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce our oil consumption. 

I’m sure people would do it now if the option was made safer, more accessible and attractive to a wider range of users.  Jen and I both cycle just about everywhere in Darwin.  We own two cars but seldom use them, so petrol prices don’t really bother us.  We’re lucky in a sense, because Darwin is fairly flat and well endowed with cycle paths, and we both work close enough to home to make cycle commuting an attractive option.  We even ride into the city to restaurants, movies and theatre, and carry home all our shopping on the handlebars.   It makes us healthier, contains middle-aged spread as well as saving money, and we never have parking problems because we can always chain up our bikes right outside our destination.

There’s no reason why governments couldn’t make cycling much more attractive in many other cities as well.  Despite that, big cities like Melbourne and Sydney make little effort to accommodate cyclists. 


A few excessively narrow cycle lanes on main roads which require you to take your life in your hands to use them in peak hours is about the extent of it, though Melbourne has a modest network of off-road cycle paths if you know where to find them.   However, moving in the opposite direction of what’s needed, Melbourne recently put restrictions on cyclists taking their bikes on trains during peak hours.

Here are a few relatively simple ideas that could make cycling a more attractive option for just about everyone:

  • Create many more separate cycle paths so people from every part of a city can cycle to work, either completely off road or at least separated from the vehicular carriageway by substantial concrete ripple strips to deter car drivers from simply ignoring them and mowing down any cyclists in their way
  • Every bus should have a cycle rack at front and rear, and every suburban/commuter train should have a cycle rack in every single carriage.  Commuting through a combination of cycling and public transport is often potentially far quicker and more convenient than either car or public transport alone, and would help to alleviate traffic congestion caused by people currently virtually forced to commute by car because their destination is too indirectly served by public transport.
  • Governments should provide modest subsidies for pensioners and other older or less fit people to buy bikes with supplementary electric motors (to help them get up steeper hills).
  • They could even have snowfields-style T-bar tows on the steepest commuter hills (like Spit Hill on Sydney’s north shore) to encourage more people to cycle to work without needing to be super-fit or arrive exhausted.
  • Governments should mount ongoing PR campaigns, both promoting the advantages of cycling and warning other road users that cyclists have every right to use the roads and must be treated with respect and consideration.
  • Lastly, police should aggressively enforce the road rules against drivers who treat cyclists as if they aren’t even there, and against the few cyclists (mostly bike couriers) who equally treat the rules with contempt.

Whatever happens with global warming and emissions permits, I predict that traffic in urban Australia is going to look a lot more like Asian cities within a few years, with a much higher proportion of our population commuting by bike.  What’s more we’ll all be better off as a result.    

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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69 Responses to Cyclists’ liberation struggle

  1. NPOV says:

    Absolutely with you on the buses needing to able to carry bikes. I wrote to National Bus about this but they seemed…well…uninterested, to say the least.

    As far as trains carrying bikes in Victoria, there was a actually some success in getting this absurd ban repealed.

    It’s hard understand exactly why it is that governments in Australia have shown nothing of the keenness of governments in European cities with far less clement climates to promote cycling. From speaking to one or two politicians, I get the impression that Australian politicians basically just don’t believe Aussies will ever be interested in cycling.

    It’s not for everyone or all purposes of course, but there’s no reason why a lot more people couldn’t be encouraged into it. As far as the safety aspect goes – there’s far less deaths on roads per journey in cities with high cycling uptake (e.g. Amsterdam) than those with low uptake. The problem with Australian cities is that they are so dominated by car traffic that potential bicyclists feel understandably threatened and marginalised. Having said that, in my years of riding almost everywhere I never once had an accident involving another vehicle (*). The same could not be said of my years driving!

    (*) Come to think of it, I do vaguely remember once being forced to ride into the side of a car by some idiot that didn’t see me. But there were no injuries, and no costs to me.

  2. lauredhel says:

    Hear hear. Trains in Perth still ban bikes in peak hour (and buses don’t take them at all as far as I know), and their definition of “peak hour” is very wide. We’re trying to move toward being a single-car family, but this is our big sticking point.

  3. “I predict that traffic in urban Australia is going to look a lot more like Asian cities within a few years,”

    Except by then the Asian cities will look like here. Every time I go to Beijing, which is fairly often, there are noticeably less bikes and more Audis.

  4. Patrick says:

    Re public transport, in Melbourne at least there is a genuine issue here around overcrowding.

    I cycle to work most days, and to the local bakery etc, so I am pretty cycle-friendly, but I am not sure that this is such a benefit. A better option might be to increase train-track cycle paths, since on most lines I know in Melbourne these generally exist already, are off-road and are of modest gradient.

    The downside is that they are generally very narrow, often in poor repair and rarely well-lit.

    I can also second NPOV’s comments – I ride along a busy road and through the entire Melbourne CBD but have never yet had an accident, although I have managed a scrape or two in much simpler conditions in the car! I often ride home in peak hour, as well.

    But finally I have to say that as a pedestrian I found Amsterdam much more dangerous because of all these silent bikes zooming every which way!

  5. Jason Wilson says:

    I cycle to work in Brisbane. It’s scary. The city council is spending billions on traffic tunnels, and despite their boasts commuters have to dedicated cycle tracks in large parts of the CBD. The Valley is a nightmare.

    I’m moving to Sydney soon, which I’m told is even scarier. But it’s a matter of critical mass, or chickens and eggs, or something. More cyclists will get more respect and facilities.

  6. Jonno says:

    I think that the sentiments expressed here are right, but would clarify what has happened in Melbourne in the last 15 years. Bicycle Victoria has had enormous success in getting bike tracks built. It is a very successful lobbying organisation and as someone who has cycled all his life in Melbourne, the change in the number of bike paths in the last 15 years is little short of astonishing. The situation is a long way from where it needs to be, but then climate change has only been accepted generally in the last couple of years and Bicycle Victoria has been achieving things since well before then. In the realms of the politically achievable, enormous progress has been made. Indeed Canning Street at peak hour feels a bit like Beijing felt in 1985.

    The successful campaign to overturn the Melbourne bike ban (interesting use of the web shows the power of cyclists as voters – I understand that folding bikes will now be allowed on trams and buses. It is of course very hard to fit a bike on a train at peak hour now (ie before the full recent petrol price increase has had its effect).

    I have had a couple of crashes and only ride on paths and side streets. The cycling community is great in swapping routes so it’s not so bad not riding on main roads.

    Yes – there is a very long way to go but a big start has been made.

  7. Jason Wilson says:

    Nice reminder that we do have some power after all Jonno – nice one, and a worthwhile campaign.

  8. Don Wigan says:

    Agree with Patrick. Cycle paths alongside the rail tracks would, if lighting and other safety factors were attended to (like staffing the stations), would encourage more cyclists, reduce traffic congestion, etc.

    Facilities for carrying bikes on buses and trains is also needed. Even observing all the rules about keeping way left, I’ve never felt all that comfortable cycling and would prefer it separated as much as possible from car traffic.

  9. Matt C says:

    I walk to work and back each day, a walk of around 30 minutes each way. I spend a fair proportion of my walk dodging the lycra clad idiots who dominate the paths along Loftus St in Perth. I agree that public transport should be more bike-friendly, cycle paths should be wider, etc. However, I resent the idiot cyclists (note: not all of them) who display the same sort of aggression towards pedestrians that they accuse drivers of displaying towards them.

  10. David Rubie says:

    Lastly, police should aggressively enforce the road rules against drivers who treat cyclists as if they arent even there, and against the few cyclists (mostly bike couriers) who equally treat the rules with contempt.

    There are actually some good reasons for (occasionally) treating road rules with contempt and riding aggressively – largely for visibility reasons. I know car drivers hate it when you “take the lane” near a round-a-bout but sometimes that’s the only rational way to negotiate a right hand turn that ensures you don’t get t-boned. I think it’s also reasonable to be WAAAAY in the middle of the road instead of skimming past parked cars so you end up slamming into an opening door. Everytime I get honked at or yelled at, I’ve been seen.

    Note – red lights are not for running though.

    Cycle paths are a total dead end in my opinion – they are never constructed to the same quality level as roads and deteriorate quickly, often are confined to some very dark and occasionally dangerous bits of parkland, usually covered with enough broken stubbies to eat up your petrol savings in tyre patches and NEVER head where you want to go. I never ride on them, or the footpath, ever. The side of the road is cleaner – regularly swept by the local council and kept cleaner by the constant passage of cars.

  11. Ken Parish says:


    I agree totally re roundabouts. If you don’t “take the lane” you end up getting run off the road or chopped off in your prime by some idiot in a car who treats you as if you just don’t exist.

    Equally I agree that it’s dangerous to ride too close to parked cars lest you end getting cleaned up by someone opening their car door without warning. In fact exactly that happened to Jen a few months ago and her leg is still giving her trouble.

    However I don’t agree about cycle lanes/paths (aspirationally anyway). What you say is certainly true of many of them at present but it need not be so. That’s the whole point of my post. It wouldn’t cost much in the big scheme of things to construct and maintain a decent and well lit network of wide cycle paths, or to sweep them regularly to remove debris and broken glass (I got 4 punctures in a single week not so long ago from broken glass on cycle paths). Certainly not if by having decent, wide safe cycle paths we managed to attract even 25% of the travelling public to use bikes instead of cars for a substantial proportion of their travel. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic objective. In fact I think that or even better may well be one of the cheapest, easiest and most quickly achievable ways of substantially cutting our CO2 emissions.

  12. Matt C says:

    I’d like to point out that my earlier comment was not intended to be inflammatory… it’s something that genuinely frustrates me every day. You’d think cyclists would be considerate towards pedestrians, given the way they’re treated by drivers. Instead, I regularly feel quite unsafe walking on the path.

  13. rog says:

    Ken, your point that there is no reason why governments couldnt make cycling much more attractive in many other cities as well

    Never been to Darwin but I assume that has a main street and a few others off the side?

    Sounds like any old country town and its a bit unfair to demand the same level of rural nonchalance in a metropolis.

    Roads in Sydney were not built for cars (nor carts) but now that they are here, there is little room for alternatives. Pushbikes in Sydney are fair game for motorists frustrated by the ineptitude of the current govt in not providing a better public transport system that would remove these free wheelers from profiteering from the public purse.

  14. rog says:

    In the flurry of formatting, there is a reason why there arent more cycle paths.

  15. Patrick says:

    I think every cyclist would agree about roundabouts and parked cars. I often weave in and out of stationary or near-stationary traffic but I am much more scared by the parked cars than the moving ones!! In fact a couple of times I have nearly veered into moving traffic trying to distance myself from the parked cars :(

    It would help if more cyclists paid attention to signalling – I do see some cyclists who seem completely ignorant of signalling conventions like ‘right’ and ‘left’!

  16. Niall says:

    Like Jason W, I live in Brisbane. Well, not exactly ‘in’ Brisbane, but in the Redland Shire. On the outskirts of the city proper. It’s 26 kms each way for me and while I loathe public transport, it’s no more cost effective than driving a six cylinder to work, costwise. Add to that the inconvenience of poorly timed and less than frequent buses and trains, and the inevitable commuter crush, and I’m quite content to drive in the comfort of my own vehicle, listening to the radio, smoking if I choose to, drinking a cup of tea, if I choose. Petrol is expensive and unless my income level changes, I’ll be forced into the public transport cattle crush eventually. I’d really like to adopt cycling as an alternative, but as Jason points out, it’s a dangerous undertaking. Even riding a motorcycle is dangerous, but a bicycle would be akin to having a death wish on Brisbane’s roads.

    Unless mayors like ‘Can-Do’ Campbell Newman truly grasp the nettle of paying for real alternative facilities, rather than simply painting white lines on existing roads and calling them bike paths, people like me aren’t likely to risk life & limb by cycling to work.

  17. JC says:

    its no more cost effective than driving a six cylinder to work, costwise.

    But I’m sure it saves Asian drivers a lot of grief, Niall.

  18. Niall says:

    Wouldn’t know, JC. I’m too busy paying attention to the road and driving appropriately.

  19. CFQ says:

    Jonno at #6 makes a great point. I’d encourage cyclists – recreational, commuter, whatever your purpose – to join their version of Bicycle Victoria (in my case, Bicycle NSW). They are great at lobbying councils and governments, not to mention organising community rides, and the more of us who are in them, the better.

    I’m in full agreement regarding the construction and maintenance of cycle paths, ideally barricaded from motorised traffic. I’ve heard so many times about people who would cycle to work etc, if only for the fact that the traffic is so dangerous and they understandably don’t want to ride in it. So they drive, and their opportunity to get some exercise is curtailed.

    Note to the powers that be – a so-called cycle path is NOT a cycle path when cars can park in them! This is a real problem in my neighbourhood, the inner west of Sydney.

    David’s point re: roundabouts – I ditto Ken’s agreement.

    Matt C – I’m certainly not saying you fit into this category, and there are cyclists who are morons, but I ring my bell and call out regularly while I ride, even though I’m often on a cycle-only path, but if someone’s listening to their damn iPod, no amount of calling out is going to help.

    I suppose what it comes down to is everyone looking where they’re going and being aware of people around them. But some people just have no idea.

    Absolutely, public education is essential. Some drivers just assume they have have automatic right of way over cyclists, even though taking that right of way is truly dangerous. Until they hit someone, they probably won’t care.

  20. CFQ says:

    Rog, do you mean cyclists are profiteering from the public purse? If you do, you should know many cyclists also own cars, so pay all the costs that people who only drive pay.

  21. melaleuca says:

    I used to be a keen cyclist and cycled practically everywhere. I didn’t even get my driver’s licence until I was 30. But now, as the big four-oh approaches, I’m much more risk averse. I had too many near misses. I won’t cycle among traffic again until someone invents a bike with air bags.

  22. David Rubie says:

    Ken Parish wrote:

    However I dont agree about cycle lanes/paths (aspirationally anyway). What you say is certainly true of many of them at present but it need not be so. Thats the whole point of my post. It wouldnt cost much in the big scheme of things to construct and maintain a decent and well lit network of wide cycle paths

    Given that a record number of bicycles was sold in Australia last year, maybe it’s time we collectively invested in cycling paths in the cities, but it just isn’t going to happen in rural areas or small country towns (and arguably, shouldn’t).

    What I’d prefer is that if you prefer to cycle commute, get out and do it visibly and safely in an integrated fashion with the traffic. Granted, this is much easier where I live (Armidale in NSW) but the basic principles are sound and pretty much universal:

    John Forester is one of the advocates of the philosophy I’m talking about.

    Now, usually, people don’t cycle as they cite “safety” as Melaleuca did just now. I used to think cycle commuting was unsafe, but since doing what John Forester advocates, that has pretty much dissipated. I’m far more worried about flat tyres than motorists. I’ll be 40 this year and I’m pretty much as good shape as I’ve ever been, thanks to the bike.

  23. Stephen says:

    The essential problem is that cyclists ride at a different speed to the majority of the “traffic” whether they are on the road or the footpath.

    On the road, bikes normally travel 20-40km/h slower than the speed limit of cars. I’m not trying to defend the road rage bikes attract, but if a car drove at that speed on the road, they would attract a similar amount of aggro to the bikes. In fact, bikes probably attract a lot less because cars can actually get past them.

    And I’m completely with Matt C on this one. I understand that bike riders are just trying to get where they need to as fast as they can, but the fact of the matter is that too many commuter cyclists ride past pedestrians at 30-40km/h, riding really close and then cutting in front of them without warning. Oh, and ringing a bell? That’s almost as bad if the cyclist has been riding silently and then rings it when they are just 3 or 4 metres behind you. Either way, the pedestrian nearly jumps out of their skin and it’s very unpleasant if you are out for a relaxing stroll. (I walk around Lake Burley-Griffin in Canberra all the time and this attitude really does feel like the “big and tough” approach cars take to bikes.)

    If you are going to ride fast on the footpath, please be considerate and:

    (a) Call out “on your left” or “on your right” to alert people where you are and what you’re doing. For some reason this is less startling than a bell.
    (b) Slow down a bit while passing! Would it kill you to get home 30 seconds later?

    Also, I don’t quite understand the roundabout thing. I was always taught to stay in the left lane and perform a hook turn. This keeps you safe and out of the way of traffic.

    But I do agree on two things — that bikes should never have to share a road with parked cars, and that more bike paths and bike lanes will make cycling a more viable commuter option.

  24. saint says:

    Up the driving age to 17 or 18 (if it is still 16 like down here, and with exemption for those living in rural areas), and make it compulsory to ride a bike or a motorcycle for one year (unless you are disabled) before you can get your car licence.

    I’m betting that after a year without aircon, plush seats, weather protection, stereo sound system and just skin between you and the road or the next car, that would tend to make one a much more attentive car driver.

  25. Ken Parish says:

    That might be a good idea Saint. In fact you could go even further and grant only a provisional licence to age 21 that allows a driver to carry no more than one passenger. the research seems to show that the human brain develops in such a way that young people’s brains don’t cope well with multiple stimuli when driving with multiple passengers. It’s one reason (along with showing off) why they have so many accidents. That too would provide an additional incentive to keep using the bike and develop a better road sense/sense of self-preservation. One big thing that riding a bike teaches you is almost infallible defensive driving skills: you learn on pain of death to assume that everyone else on the road will ignore your presence and mow you down in an instant if they feel like it/don’t see you (which they often don’t). Assume they don’t realise you’re there unless you make it so blindingly obvious that they can’t avoid seeing you (viz “taking the lane” in a roundabout).

  26. jacques – I just lost a possibly brillaint 300 word rant on bikes and paths and etc etc etc.

    I’m posting in Opera – I find that Troppo somehow rejects long – ish word counts. Small post are NP.

    I’ve mentioned this before.

  27. Ken Parish says:


    Hmmm. I was hoping WordPress had just put your comment in moderation, but it looks like it’s zapped completely. Buggered if I know why. Quite a few comments of that length get through.

    Damn shame too. I recalled that you were a cyclist and was looking forward to your observations. An abbreviated version perhaps?

  28. pablo says:

    I’ve cycled more than 20 years in mostly urban settings without serious incident mostly be never ‘competing’ with traffic, obeying most road rules where that doesn’t clash with the first point. Cycling in Sydney is quite exhilarating but it is depressing to me how few people actually cycle as a means of getting around.
    I still get a kick when young kids on bikes acknowledge you since you know their parents have probably given up cycling the day they took their kid’s trainer wheels off. That is depressing as is the two tier market – very expensive and the cheap and shoddy.

  29. David Rubie says:

    I don’t need a 300 word rant on why cycle paths are counter productive, as Forester already did it:

    Cycle ways paper


    – Most bike/car accidents are at intersections (around 90%).
    – Incorrect assumption that a cycleway will reduce number of intersections when they generally increase them (crossing driveways, car parking etc). This increases danger, not decreases.
    – Overtaking vehicles only account for less than 10% of cycle/car accidents and therefore cycleways are about motorists, not cyclists.

    Pablo makes an interesting point though – a good bicycle is expensive and a cheap one is garbage and to be avoided.

  30. Richard Green says:

    I was impressed with the bikepaths in Darwin when I visited, but I kept wondering what it was like to ride during the wet season (I don’t really know the character of that rain)

  31. John Mashey says:

    1) Good stuff; Australia ought to be one of the better locations for cycling in the long run, given the climate and geography.

    2) When more people cycle, when they do need to get somewhere faster (by driving), they actually can, since congestion is lowered.

    3) If one looks for US analogs to places where most Australians live, I’d suggest the cities around San Francisco Bay, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and maybe San Diego, and bicycling is very big in at least some of these. I’m not sure we have a Darwin analog.

    4) In the case of the SF Bay Area, all of the following go on, and some examples may be applicable to Oz … although nowhere do we have those terrifying-to-an-American Melbourne hook turns, so can’t help with that.

    a) Cyclists have to organize. Around here there are numerous cycling organizations, such as Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, with many programs.

    b) People have to argue for cycle paths, or at least cycle lanes, over *decades*, so that every time a street is worked on, it gets a lane if that’s possible.

    c) I recommend UCLA Professor Don Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” about the implicit subsidies of cars that create perverse incentives for having cars. For example, suppose local zoning rules:

    – require parking spot(s) per apartment/condo, and that of course gets baked into the price, and since underground parking is especially expensive, people spread out when they can. That pushes buildings further apart, which of course makes it harder not to have a car.

    – likewise, for shopping centers, stores, businesses.

    – in Oz, since a lot of cities grew up after there were cars, you have a lot of the same issues as we do in Western US.

    d) Since government takes a while, sometimes individual entities can do things. Suppose a company has free parking for employees, as most do. That’s an implicit subsidy for having a car, and the parking space costs the company. Suppose the company provides good parking space for bicycles, or offers discounts on rail or bus tickets, and best of all:

    – charges, say $5/day for employee parking.
    – raises everybody’s salary by $5/day
    Now, nobody is any worse, but now someone can get up to an extra $1000/year if they bicycle, take a bus, carpool, etc, at least some of the time.

    Bigger firms might provide busses to trainstations or ares where a lot of employees live.

    Google does some of these, including have Wifi-enabled busses. Sun Microsystems has many Alternate commute programs, and that list is well worth reading.

    e) Universities *never* have enough parking, but can do the same sorts of things as companies. Stanford is very aggressive on this, bicycling at Stanford. I often bike to Stanford, and you can’t enter the campus without seeing multiple signs urging you to avoid use of cars.

    Anyway, many actions can be taken while encouraging government efforts that just don’t happen overnight.

  32. Yobbo says:

    Wouldnt know, JC. Im too busy paying attention to the road and driving appropriately.

    And abusing any slitty eyed cunts that dare share your road.

  33. conrad says:

    Speaking of the dangers of cycling, I’m sure there are some studies out there looking at cyclists versus non-cyclists, and what you find is that at least in terms in of life expectancy, cyclists live longer because the benefits of excersize far outweigh the rather small number of cycling deaths. It would be interesting to know what the trade-off between the increased quality of life from the excersize people get vs. cycling injuries looks like. Just looking at accidents and ignores ignores the benefits to the individual (and not just monetary ones).

  34. Patrick says:

    I know I’ve said that I mainly ride on the road to and from work, but I (and my wife during the week as well) often ride with our children and for this purpose cycle paths are a godsend.

    There is no way ever I would ride in any kind of traffic with my 18-month old sitting behind me, nor is there any way ever I would let my kids ride in any degree of traffic until they are at least 10 (and maybe older).

    But it would be stupid to simply not ride with them, since a) they love it, b) it is good for their fitness and general health, c) it is much better ‘family’ time than sitting in the car, and d) it means that they develop early the skills and confidence on a bike that they will later need to safely navigate traffic.

    Anything that encouraged more people to get out and ride with their kids would be money brilliantly spent in my view – that $70 million to Toyota would have gone far, for example. You might be amazed how far they can ride – our four year old can cope with nearly 20km rides already, which frankly I would not have thought he could.


    b) People have to argue for cycle paths, or at least cycle lanes, over *decades*, so that every time a street is worked on, it gets a lane if thats possible.

    I think that this is generally already the case. I have noticed that generally (in Melbourne), new roads or rebuilt roads do factor in cycle lanes and paths.

    And re d), my work (also in Melbourne) provides literally hundreds of bike racks (in six stories of parking!) and the crucial element, showers on every floor. If I didn’t have ready access to showers I could never ride to work.

  35. NPOV says:

    Good point Patrick – until we see Governments giving that sort of money to projects that are clearly public goods such as those that encouraging and facilitate bicycling, there really is very little justification for giving it to private overseas corporations that are already highly profitable.

  36. NPOV says:

    …and, worse, purely for the purposes of one very specific technology (hybrid petrol + NiMH battery) that I’m willing to bet will be dead within 10 years.

  37. Bill Bamford says:

    Cyclists should realize that they have a similar, if not greater, effect on pedestrians than motor cars have upon them – at least cyclists know that they are sharing the road with noisy machines overtaking them in close proximity at +20 km/hr greater speed, and being able to be heard approaching from behind; pedestrians walking on a designated footpath are not expecting to be overtaken from behind at high speed by a silent machine, often at even closer proximity than any car would be to a cyclist.

  38. The Editor says:

    Great post. I ride everywhere and I’m sick of being told to “get off the road, fuckhead” or “get out of the fucking way” when I’m using the road lawfully and courteously.

  39. Ken Parish says:


    I agree, and it’s a point already made above. Someone suggested that calling out “bike” is better than ringing a bell because the latter seems to startle pedestrians. However Jen does that as a matter of course (mostly because she doesn’t have a bell) and regularly gets snarly responses anyway saying “why don’t you ring your bell?”. Moreover, more people actually react to a bell, calling out usually gets ignored even when done repeatedly at increasing volume as you get closer. You actually can’t win if you’re a cyclist. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that many pedestrians aren’t really startled at all but just reckon bikes have no right to be on paths, just as drivers think they have no right to be on the roads.

    Pedestrians with MP3 players jammed in theirs ears are also a big problem because they don’t hear any sort of warning at all. So are those who insist on walking on the right while others more sensibly stick to the left, forcing cyclists to weave in and out. Then there are those who walk in groups in line abreast, inconsiderately blocking the entire width of even the widest combined cycle/foot path.

    The only really viable answer, as the primary post suggests, is a network of well designed and maintained dedicated cycle paths and/or dedicated cycle lanes effectively separated by concrete ripple strip from the vehicular carriageway(and in which parking is always illegal). Forester’s strategies (highlighted by David Rubie) may well provide an effective way of riding in traffic with relative safety, but they’re unlikely to convince the sorts of numbers of people we need to be shifting much of their transport activity across to cycling and, as Patrick points out, they’re certainly not going to convince parents to let their kids cycle on busy roads.

  40. Patrick says:

    I’ll raise you five, NPOV, and only because it will take that long for people to realise that the stupid thing was still-born.

    As it is you’d be better off in every way I can think of except pretentiousness with a modern diesel.

    And as for ‘highly profitable’, they are the world’s biggest and most profitable gross auto manufacturer and the second most profitable per unit (behind only Porsche)!! We may as well have given the money to Exxon to develop clean refining technology.

  41. David Rubie says:

    Ken Parish wrote:

    Foresters strategies (highlighted by David Rubie) may well provide an effective way of riding in traffic with relative safety, but theyre unlikely to convince the sorts of numbers of people we need to be shifting much of their transport activity across to cycling and, as Patrick points out, theyre certainly not going to convince parents to let their kids cycle on busy roads.

    Point taken Ken (and Patrick). No, they aren’t going to allow children to ride safely in traffic. However, neither are the “sorta, kinda” bike paths that are merely lines sprayed on the side of the existing road, which is what we all seem to end up with as a token compromise that just expose a cyclist to more danger while seeming to offer less.

    btw Forester seems like a nutjob, but the central idea is pretty sound. I didn’t enjoy the ride to work much this morning – it was cold and raining and I managed to pick up a rusty nail through a brand new tube. Still, it doesn’t take long to get dry.

  42. NPOV says:

    Are you saying that you think the world’s most profitable auto manufacturer is has been pursuing a “still-born” technology for the last 5 years?

    I don’t see hybrid petrol+NiMH as “still-born”, but will almost certainly be surplanted by PHEV, hybrid diesel+battery, or some other battery type within 10 years. I’m assuming Toyota expect this and tool their plants appopriately, however government money, if needed at all, should surely be towards funding research in future non-specific technologies, not ones already commercial developed, and likely to be obsolete in the foreseeable future.

  43. Pappinbarra Fox says:

    Up here in Cairns they have just started painting the road green along cycleways at intersections. I guess it is meant to make drivers more alert but it must be scary for cyclists when the paint gets wet. Or is ther special paint? Also in Cairns ther are a large number of japanese cyclists, who somehow seem immune to accidents. Can’t for the life of me understand why there are not half a dozen knocked over each week, particulalry along the busy main roads. I contemplated riding my bike to work but honestly I am too afraid.

  44. FDB says:

    PF – it’s paint with bits of grippy grit in it, if it’s anything like the new ones they’re laying out in Melbourne.

  45. Patrick says:

    The Melbourne grippy green paint is fine in the wet. Also, although I haven’t tested it, it looks like it might generate some tyre noise inside a car, which would be good.


    My kids are not going near any bike-path on a road – the paths in question have to be off-road entirely, in which case even the bumpiest crap (and there are some near us) is vastly preferable to anything near a road, including the footpath.

    Next to my current house they are rebuilding a road, and building a new bike path next to it but on the other side of a nature strip. I think this is the ideal situation.


    Just because the only advantage it confers is pretentiousness is by no means meant to suggest it won’t sell well. That doesn’t need much justification! I only meant that it was technologically still-born in the sense of being a second- (or worse) best outcome from the start.

  46. Derek Barry says:

    Good point Ken and its a discussion whose time is well overdue.

    I cycle to work daily in Brisbane 15km each way on busy and narrow roads with few bike paths. Its a white-knuckle ride that usually leaves me with my heart pumping rapidly by the time I get to my destination. Barely a day goes by that I’m not involved in some altercation with a motorist or truckie after yet another 60kph near miss. One of these days the miss won’t be near, and I’ll end up in hospital (if I’m lucky).

    To most drivers, bikes are just annoying slow-moving vehicles that prevent motorists from driving at their desired speed (an attitude that conveniently overlooks the fact that traffic jams are created by cars not bikes). As a result, they cut in, harry or overtake unsafely and don’t feel the need to indicate their intentions. Despite knowing all that, I have no intention of being terrorised out of my daily ride any time soon. Australian roads need more cyclists, not fewer.

    Its clear to me that not only is the infrastructure poor, attitudes towards bikes and cyclists are still mired in the car-glory era of the 50s and 60s.

    Until that changes, the war on the road between drivers and cyclists on Australian roads will continue.

  47. Matt C says:

    To most cyclists, pedestrians are just annoying slow-moving objects that prevent cyclists from riding at their desired speed. As a result, they cut in, harry or overtake unsafely and dont feel the need to indicate their intentions. Despite knowing all that, I have no intention of being terrorised out of my daily walk any time soon. Australian paths need more pedestrians, not fewer.

  48. Derek Barry says:

    fair point Matt – they should not be sharing the same space.

    Its also fair to say a lot more cyclists have been killed by motorists than pedestrians by cyclists.

    And I totally agree that Australian paths indeed need more pedestrians, not fewer!

  49. NPOV says:

    And indeed a lot more pedestrians have been killed by motorists than by pedestrians.
    The one time I collided with a pedestrian was when a tram that had closed its doors after stopping, then suddenly opened them again to let on a pedestrian that I hadn’t seen – who ran straight across the road into my path. Thankfully (like all accidents on the Island of Sodor) nobody was hurt.

    Patrick, I don’t doubt that a few people buy Priuses out of pretentiousness, but there are plenty who do buy current hybrid technology vehicles (which I believe are all petrol+NiMH) because it does make sense for their driving needs. My company’s accountant (based in New Hampshire) bought a Honda Civic hybrid after calculating that even at the gas price 2 year ago it would pay for itself in 3 years, and at current prices would do so in well under 2.

  50. FDB says:

    “Island of Sodor”


    Is that in Eternia?

  51. David Rubie says:

    “Island of Sodor” is a Thomas the Tank Engine joke FDB. Perhaps NPOV thinks his locality is like that.

  52. John Mashey says:

    The bad news is:

    Even when local governments are *really* keen for it:

    a) In most existing densely-built areas, it is almost impossible to create useful separate bike paths, except where there are already parks, or sometimes along streams/rivers, if the paths aren’t already there.

    b) Bike lanes are feasible in more places, but even they are essentially impossible in many dense places.

    c) Which means that practical use of bikes in many places requires at least some riding on the streets.

    The good news is:

    While there are always dangerous drivers, when an area acquires enough cyclists, and invests at least a little in cycle infrastructure, and cyclists, drivers and pedestrians get more accustomed to each other, the frequencies of dumb actions goes way down. I.e., there seems to be some sort of tipping point, although I don’t know the specific level required…

    at least here, and the SF Bay Area isn’t that different from metropolitan OZ in love of cars.

  53. FDB says:

    I don’t got any kiddies, so I guess my instinct was to go for my own after-school viewing. I seriously WAS Adam, Prince of Eternia for a while there. And needless to say, the family cat was forced into character too, with a darling little cardboard battle cat costume he promptly shredded.

    Am I rambling?

    Waiter, more champale!

  54. Ken Parish says:

    I’m a bit persuaded by reading the John Forrester paper referred to earlier by David Rubie that bike lanes on the road may potentially increase danger for cyclists rather than reducing it.

    However that doesn’t apply for dedicated well built, maintained and lit cycle paths separated from roads completely. As John Mashey points out, there may well be lots of densely populated areas where that just isn’t possible. However, as Patrick (I think) suggested earlier, cycle paths could fairly easily and cheaply be constructed alongside railway lines, as well as along rivers and streams (as John mentions). Another possibility is freeways/expressways. They almost always have quite wide median strips dividing traffic going in opposite directions. Why not use them for dedicated cycleways, with flyover bridges at intervals to allow cyclists to access them without having to cross multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic?

    There are numerous possibilities, what’s needed is the will on the part of governments, which in turn requires understanding of the potential payoff in all sorts of ways.

  55. NPOV says:

    A modern turbo diesel would certainly make more sense if you weren’t doing a lot of stop-start driving, and you were in an area where diesel was a) readily available and b) not substantially more expensive than petrol. Not all those conditions hold true for everybody. And of course ultimately car choice is never 100% based on fuel economics. Some people simply prefer the sound, shape or feel of a hybrid over a diesel. Certainly they way the engine completely shuts down at every stop has much to be commended about it.

    A technology is successful if it succeeds in the market. Hybrid petrol + NiMH technology clearly has (I’m pretty certain it’s the auto technology with the fastest growth in sales in the U.S.), so I don’t see how you can classify it has anything but successful. If anything should have been still-born, it’s the traditional ICE engine, that wastes 70% of the energy available from the fuel it burns as heat and noise.

  56. NPOV says:

    (On my “readily available” point, I note that the Peugot article you link to makes a point about having to line up with trucks to get diesel. But in the U.S. there are gas stations that simply don’t sell diesel at all, because they’re not on truck routes).

  57. derrida derider says:

    Well, I’m a bike rider who has been guilty of silently passing pedestrians rather than warning them in advance. But for a good reason – if you ring the bell they often startle and jump right into your passing lane in front of you before looking. I’ve actually had an accident that way. I figure it’s safer for both parties to have them startle and jump after you’ve already passed them.

    And yeah – the commonsense thing would be to use your voice, but then you get abused for not using your bell as the law requires. And anyway it doesnt solve the iPod problem.

  58. Niall says:

    Stephen (23)

    but if a car drove at that speed on the road, they would attract a similar amount of aggro to the bikes

    Amusingly, at least in the Brisbane peak hour commutes, cars rarely exceed 40kph. I actually admire those who ride. No hold ups, save for the odd traffic light. Not a lot of showers at the other end though.

  59. David Rubie says:

    Ken Parish wrote:

    However that doesnt apply for dedicated well built, maintained and lit cycle paths separated from roads completely.

    I think it’s going to take a lot more cycle commuters complaining before anything this expensive happens Ken – by which stage, the roads will be half overtaken with bicycles, tuk-tuks and possibly ponies. Magical ponies.

    I’d seriously support any effort to make it happen though.

    FDB wrote:

    Am I rambling?

    They show that Masters of the Universe on Pay TV now FDB – it’s just terrible, terrible, cheap garbage. The cartoon women are teh hotnessssssss though.

    Sadly on the Island of Sodor, you only have the Fat Controller, who makes that lady on the front page of Club Troppo today look pretty damn smokin’

  60. Chris lloyd says:

    “Inducing many more people to use bikes for transport much more frequently will be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce our oil consumption.” You just have to be kidding. For every westerner moving from car to bike, there are 100 Chinese moving from bike to car.

    Exactly what percentage of trips are every going to be cycled? 2%? 5%? World wide it will be decreasing. Ride a bike if you like, lobby councils for more bike paths if you can gather the support, but don’t pretend you have the moral high ground and are going to save the world.

    “Create many more separate cycle paths so people from every part of a city can cycle to work.” Unless a sufficient percentage of people are going to use them, this is a poor use of pubic money. True, cycling won’t become more popular until the infrastructure is built, so there is a Catch 22 – just as there is with public transport investment. But PT is surely a much more practical solution to transport that bicycles.

  61. pablo says:

    A great blog and it would be valuable to draw some vox populi conclusions.
    * dedicated bike tracks separate from pedestrians (somehow).
    * in the absence of bike tracks, continuity and consistency of road lanes across all Australian states/territories.
    * some radical and consensus thinking by all transport authorities on on-board bike transport/storage.

    Hopefully these things progress before we get to a critical mass of serious riders across Australia. My gut feeling is that cyclists demands for safer riding conditions will outpace the desired network which will be a great shame particularly when it is remembered that there are on average between 10 and 20* cyclist deaths annually. And we all know how/why most of these would occur.

    * from memory

  62. Jonno says:

    Apologies to the Darwin reader – I just have to extol the virtues of a ride to work along the Yarra bike path from Heidelberg on a cold winter’s morning (my wife has been ill and it’s been a while since I did it – I am dreadfully missing my riding).

    With the mist rising on the river, whooshing along getting warmer as you go, it’s just wonderful. Perhaps I hear the frogs if there’s been rain, or notice a few birds and ducks.

    I greet the same pedestrians on the path each morning.

    I ride through the Collingwood children’s farm and see the animals.

    When I get to work I have a shower – that first blast of hot water – woohoo.

    Then I have a chat to the blokes in the shower.

    I get to my desk and switch on the computer feeling great.

    That’s a real commute!

  63. Jonno says:

    Sorry – that should be “Apologies to the Darwin readerS”

  64. david tiley says:

    Since damage to roads varies with the cube of the axle load (I’ve no idea why I know that, but I do), the damage bikes do to paths is negligible. If they are built properly in the first place, they will last for centuries so its a good long term investment.

    They are surely easy to sweep each day with a person on a ride on lawnmowery machine.

    Relative velocity is an important issue on busy roads. When I was young, I could mix it with the traffic and keep up; these days I am riding on the pavement at particular black spots. It is all a matter of care + confidence.

  65. John Mashey says:

    re: #54 Ken & freeway medians

    As usually, it’s a lot easier and cheaper to incorporate something into the original design than to retrofit it. For those freeways that do include bike path designs, I don’t know offhand of any that put them in the median, but admittedly, if one wants to do a retrofit, that may be the only place.

    Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether or not that’s cost-effective:

    a) Even if every freeway had a bike path, cyclists still have to get to and from the freeway, i.e., one has to solve the end-to-end problem.

    b) If you’re going to go a long distance on a freeway, at least some of that need is very well-met by putting more bike racks on busses. Practical use of freeways for shorter distances requires many entrance/exits, which is much easier along the side than in the median.

    Here is a local transport authority’s bike policy and Caltrain’s.

    This kind of thing can make a *big* difference. It is totally impractical to commute by bike from a place like Palo Alto into San Francisco (~30 miles), even if it were practical to put a bikeway along Route 101.
    Riding a bike to PA trainstation, and either leaving it there or walking in SF, or taking the bike and riding in SF … is eminently practical and may even take less time than driving, depending on the traffic.

  66. NPOV says:

    Chris L: “For every westerner moving from car to bike, there are 100 Chinese moving from bike to car” – so what? I care about Australia’s oil dependency, not China’s. There’s not at all as individuals we can do to help China reduce it’s fossil fuel consumption, but we can certainly reduce our own.

    As far as the percentage of trips that could be cycled, we could look at cities like Amderstam as a reasonable target: 33%.

  67. NPOV says:

    Here’s an interesting article giving an American’s perspective on Paris’ bike-share program. I was there two months ago, and despite temperatures rarely above 5 degrees, there was at least 3 times the bicycle traffic there that I ever see in the most bicycle-friendly parts of Melbourne, even on the sunniest days.
    The day I see a government in Australia even consider something like this, I’ll accept that maybe they really do intend to help out motorists struggling to pay for ever more expensive petrol, and match their rhetoric on reducing carbon emissions with actions.

  68. Helen says:

    a) In most existing densely-built areas, it is almost impossible to create useful separate bike paths, except where there are already parks, or sometimes along streams/rivers, if the paths arent already there.

    Musing on the Peak Oil business, it occurred to me that if the mix of traffic changed radically then you might have a completely different breakup of the wide multilane roads that we have in this city. Something like Geelong Road in Footscray or Dandenong Road in the eastern suburbs, could have public transport up the middle (as Dandenong Road does already for some of its lengh), then say two lanes instead of four for the motorised traffic, then a comfortable Copenhagen bike lane completely physically separated from the motorised traffic lanes.

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