I don’t know if it’s any worse than in the past, but it sure seems like 2014 was a bad year for cyclists in Australia (and elsewhere) regarding fatalities, attitudes between cyclists and motorists, and the media milking all the drama for all they’re worth (not much). 2015 has not been any better so far. Tempers are flaring, and things like “cycle rage” are becoming more common. This is a particularly weird one, starting super aggressively, and ending rather politely. ???
There are definitely more cyclists on the roads, which is no doubt a factor. I am well aware of the “strength in numbers” concept, but that doesn’t happen instantly. Motorists will have a period of time between when there are significantly more cyclists on the roads, and when they have adjusted their expectations and habits accordingly. I think we are still very much in the period where cycling is on the rise, but nowhere near seeing motorists adjusting their expectations and driving habits.
With cycling seeing rapid growth, that would indicate that there are many new cyclists on the roads who no doubt have little experience riding in traffic. A factor? I don’t think so. When you look at who usually gets hit and killed by motorists, it’s usually people who commute regularly or have many years experience riding. Research has shown that drivers will often give visibly inexperienced cyclists a slightly wider berth. Perhaps experienced are the ones getting hit because they spend proportionally more time on the roads in traffic than newer, inexperienced cyclists. It could also be that because experienced cyclists are more comfortable riding in traffic, they integrate themselves into traffic more than inexperienced cyclists would. You could argue that if experienced cyclists are riding within traffic, and motorists have not adjusted their expectations and attitudes towards cyclists, then perhaps it is the motorists that need to be more aware of their surroundings, not cyclists.
Cycling is certainly still very trendy, and I don’t think that has peaked yet. Perhaps people who take it up because they want to be part of that trend don’t treat it seriously enough. Perhaps it is just a bit of fun, a bit of fashion, and they forget that when you’re on a public road, it’s actually a very serious business. Cars have closed courses on which to have fun, and roads on which to serve a purpose. Those roads serve the same purpose for cyclists. If you are not willing to treat cycling on the road with the greatest of respect, then perhaps you should stick to the paths and parks.
“Hold on a minute!”, you say. “Cars treat public roads like race tracks all the time, and don’t treat driving with anywhere near the respect that it demands!” And you would be right. That’s why they have so many accidents and kill so many people. Nor am I saying that cycling can’t be fun and done for recreational purposes on public roads. What I am saying is that when you are on public roads, as a motorist, or as a cyclist, or as a pedestrian, your primary responsiblity is not to see how fast you can go, how cool you can look, how bad-ass you can be, how no-hands and no-brakes you can be, how much social media you can stay on top of, or anything else that isn’t directly pertaining to using the roads in a responsible and legal manner.
I place responsible first because responsible is more important than legal. The speed limit is not an invitation, it is the maximum. It may be the law to give a cyclist 3 feet when passing (in some places), but you should give more. If you can’t see where you are going or what is around the corner or over the crest, slow down in case you need to stop. Use your brain.
Like it or not, cycling is on the rise. It makes sense. It’s better for everyone. It’s going to take some time to get it right and get used to it, but… get used to it.
Cyclists: do your part. We are ambassadors for cycling. We need to be accepted as a normal part of every day life. While our safety should not be solely our own responsibility (don’t think for a second that I am even sort of suggesting that we blame the victims), if this is going to work, it needs to be socially acceptable on a grand enough scale that the general public accepts us, or at least tolerates us. So? Don’t be a dick. And most definitely, as much as the other person may deserve it, and as much as you may be bursting at the seems to lay into them, do your best not to give them a reason to harden their views against us. Can’t really see how this helped the situation, plus you never know who you are starting a fight with:
I know it all sounds very ideological, but we need to make friends out there. We need to soften their defenses, not harden them. I am aware that this is slipping into shades of race issues (I’m not trying to make a comparison), but we are the one’s who are demanding equality. We need our voices to be heard, and we need to stand up for our rights, but at the same time, we need to win them over. I’m not saying that we need to make everyone a cyclist, but we need to make everyone accept cyclists. Think about that next time you get on your bike. Think about how you will address the person who made a poor decision that put your safety at risk. Think about how they are most likely to respond relative to the manner in which you deliver your case.
It could end up in the driver actually considering their actions, or it could end up like this: Of 3 separate accidents in Perth just yesterday, one was a bizarre incident involving a cyclist reacting to a driver getting too close, which prompted the driver to chase and run-down the cyclist. If you want to escalate the situation, then be prepared for it to escalate (not that the driver is in any way excused, of course). And then there’s this. What’s going on in Perth?
2014 is done, and 2015 is ours to make of it what we will. Better laws and infrastructure for cyclists, and a smarter, positive, and cooperative approach to cyclist/motorist relations from cyclists.