A couple of weeks ago, in response to the Emily Greenwood case, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Elizabeth Farrelly added her two cents to the matter with a piece concerning bike bullies and registration. I don’t know her history, her political leanings, or anything else about her, so I get to come to this with only my own biases.
The Australian Cyclist Party (here) referred to the article as “inflammatory” (the rest of the post on Facebook raises some good points). I’m not necessarily going to agree with that, but let’s have a look and find out, shall we? I’ll take the salient points of the article and follow them up with my thoughts. As usual, provide yours in the comments.
“I have never favoured bicycle registration.”
Good start. Nor have I.
She then recounts a story about a rather despicable man who crashed into another pedestrian while he was riding on the footpath, and then continued to abuse Ms Farrelly, presumably, because she was both present, and alarmed at the situation.
So far I’m with her. I know that she has presented herself as being against bicycle registration (and pro-cycling), but this story is clearly building a possible case for it.
She follows up with a short discussion of coexistence and a sympathetic view of the plight that cyclists, and sometimes pedestrians, are faced with. Fine.
She then decides to examine the five reasons (these are the universally acknowledged five?) in support of bicycle registration to see if they stack up.
“The user-pays argument… is the least persuasive”. Agreed. I’m constantly baffled how anyone decides to believe that this is a thing.
Statistics? “Well yes, of course, but by itself that is insufficient reason”. Statistics are fine, but they won’t do anything to improve safety or the social interaction between user groups.
Improved accountability? Unproven. “We don’t know” if that would improve with registration. I very much doubt it, unless the police send undercover officers to mingle with cyclist traffic and start busting them with consistency.
Insurance is her last reason for registration of cyclists.
Of the five, the insurance argument is most persuasive. Emily Greenwood, several weeks on, is still uncompensated, still absent her front teeth. Compulsory third-party cycle insurance, as with motor vehicles, would relieve at least this inequity.
She says that the only argument against this is that it will discourage cycling, and that’s not good enough. “Does this mean we must put up with whatever behaviour cyclists choose to dish out?”
Ummm… no? This is where she loses me. I was mostly on board up to this point, but when she pulls out this gem, she starts to sound a bit like the rest of the click-bait seeking, sound-bite fishing, knee-jerk reacting, illogical and biased columnists out there.
How do you go from registration discouraging cycling and thereby potentially pushing it back into the periphery of traffic and infrastructure concerns, to all of a sudden thinking that all cyclists, all of the time, will be hell-bent on wreaking havoc on everyone they encounter? Are we to believe that this is the case now? It must be, as cyclists aren’t registered, and yet… it’s not. Strange.
But you can see registration as an attack on cycling, or you can see it as a defense of walking. This points to another ICP [Important Civil Principle]. Laws exist to protect the weak. On the road, cars are strong and cycles weak. On the footpath, cycles are strong, pedestrians weak.
Ok, first of all, it can be both. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Secondly, I completely agree that laws need to protect the weak. I don’t, however, believe that they necessarily need to protect the weak from themselves when just using a tiny amount of brain power should be enough. Generally speaking, the footpath is for pedestrians, and cyclists are expressly prohibited there (unless they are under the age of 12). On the shared paths, yes, cyclists should yield to pedestrians, but by the same token, pedestrians need to be responsible for their own actions. Ah ah ah! Don’t go thinking that I’m allowing you to suggest that I am opening the door for a “cyclists should be responsible for their own safety” argument, because I’m not. I mean, they should be as far as they are responsible for their own actions, but the danger primarily lies with motorists and/or bad design. Now then – I see pedestrians regularly making erratic movements – stopping suddenly or changing directions without looking around them, especially with ear-buds firmly in place – and although I have no statistics to back this up, I’m going to suggest that this is a significant contributor to cyclist/pedestrian collisions on shared paths. Laws shouldn’t necessarily have to protect people from themselves. That’s when health and safety gets out of control and everything is wrapped in cotton wool and dumbed down to protect the stupidest amongst us and we all loose as a result. Like, someone cut their finger at the office, so now scissors are banned for everyone. Someone burned themselves on the toaster, so now there is no toaster.
Laws need to protect the vulnerable from reasonable (or unreasonable, depending on how you look at it) dangers, promote efficiency, and order.
This same principle applies on the road, too. Laws – better laws than we currently have in place – need to be in place to protect cyclists. The costs are much higher here, and they are all mounted against cyclists. Again, by the same token, cyclists need to be aware of their surroundings and not behave unpredictably whenever possible (sometimes it’s not). I would argue that given the difference in the contexts – the frequency of collisions and their severity – the same laws will not necessarily simply cross over between the footpath and the road.
Where the footpath and the road converge, this is where the responsibility is shared. Motorists and cyclists must be vigilant in making sure that they pay attention and give way to pedestrians in the intersection, but pedestrians must use the tiny bit of common sense needed when approaching a roadway – look before you cross. There are people out there who say that some witnesses to the Emily Greenwood crash report that she actually crossed against the lights, and that the cyclist actually had no opportunity to avoid her. The media isn’t interested in an interview with the cyclist, not surprisingly, so we can’t really say either way.
Ms Farrelly finishes off with a little heart-string pulling:
I don’t know if registration would curb the bike bullies. It might. But I can tell you one thing. I’d pay cycle rego twice over if it brought Emily Greenwood new front teeth.
Awwww. It’s a nice sentiment, if a little sappy. Also strikes me as a little cheap.
In the end, she’s non-committal in taking a position on bicycle registration, but certainly seems to suggest that she wouldn’t be against it.
Overall, I think she makes some good points, a few bad ones, and then cops-out at the end by pulling the sympathy card and pandering to the vocal minority who see the Emily Greenwood situation as a representation of all that is wrong with cyclists.
So, bike bullies and registration? Meh. We need, if anything, to talk about insurance for all (maybe like the universal public liability insurance that NZ has), and not about bicycle registration. Inflammatory article? Hardly. Helpful? Not so much. Worth commenting on? You be the judge.
Header image: source