Citizens Jury - taking cycling safety to the people

Citizens Jury – taking cycling safety to the people

Ok, maybe it wasn’t quite as emotionally charged as that…

Adelaide, South Australia. Not really a shining beacon of progress. A lot of things make their way to Australia a few years after the rest of the world, and South Australia is usually later still (they’re rolling out broadband like it’s a big deal).

Regarding cycling, it’s pretty archaic. If you’ve not heard, Australia has been called the worst place in the world to cycle in (which is a pretty bold claim). Now, granted, cycling mode-share is quite low indeed (below 1.5% in 2011), but infrastructure is nevertheless quite poor. Painted bike lanes, usually handle-bar width wide, and a selection of bike boxes (advanced stop lines, or ASL’s) are all we get, which is better than nothing, but hardly progressive. ASL’s are not all that useful without any other infrastructure to compliment them. You might argue that it’s a chicken-and-egg situation. You get a lot of people who argue that building infrastructure for people who aren’t using it is a waste of time and money, but you may just be able to detect the problem with that argument. The one segregated bike lane that was put in last year was, and still is, riddled with controversy (it’s used – not as much as it’s antagonists think it should be, but it’s not really linked to any other good infrastructure, either). I’m getting off topic… While Adelaide generally shows a lack of initiative and needs serious prodding to move into action – at least, for anything useful – there is hope.

It comes in the form of a Citizens Jury, held just a couple of months ago. It involved 37 randomly chosen Adelaide residents (sadly, only 6 were cyclists, which is a little disappointing given the topic of discussion), and the question was, “Motorists and cyclists will always be using our roads. What things could we trial to ensure they share the roads safely?” The full report is here.

What I think is the biggest step forward, and sits slightly apart from the rest of the recommendations, is this: The Jury recommends,

a permanent change to the drivers’ licence permit process which includes:
  • Combining the two handbooks (The Drivers Handbook and Cycling and the Law) into one publication.
  • A minimum of two questions on cycling in the learners test to be compulsory, one each in part A & B
The Jury also recommends two trials are developed:
  • A trial focussed on informing – a flash screen that appears online as people interact with Services SA licensing section. (i.e. during the online vehicle renewal registration).
  • A trial focussed on assessment: When people update the photograph for their licence, they undertake a road rules assessment at a terminal in Services SA (while waiting for their renewal photograph to be printed). This assessment should include a minimum of two cycling specific questions.

Education. That is definitely a key element in getting road users to cooperate, and even more so here in Australia, where attitudes on the roads are so bad it’s almost a joke. Our media is seriously biased towards motorists and regularly incites hostility towards cyclists. Car culture is strong. We desperately need to get to people as early as possible to see a new generation of road users take control of the roads by learning that it’s not theirs to control, and integrating cycling questions into the driving tests while combining the two handbooks gives cycling legitimacy and puts cycling and driving on a level playing field.

Clearly this is only one part of what needs to happen to achieve parity amongst road users, but it’s a great step in the right direction for this old dog. Of course, the results of the Citizens Jury are merely something that will go directly to the government, who will review them and then decide what they would like to do about it. It doesn’t sound like any direct action from the Citizens Jury is guaranteed, only that the government will implement it’s response (which I suppose could be nothing?):

The government’s response to the recommendations will be implemented by government agencies and will be tabled in State Parliament.

In any case, let’s be positive and hope that something does happen, and that it happens soon. I would love it if, as a condition to gaining a driving licence, every single motorist (or at least, people who drive for a carreer) had to spend some time cycling the roads they will be free to drive along as they see fit. These guys did it, and if you can turn hardened, cyclist hating truckies into empathetic and courteous road users, then surely it would work for others. Sure, some will refuse to see reason, but we could just let stiffer laws deal with them, if we had the balls to actually make doing something really, really bad something worth thinking twice about.

Whatever happens, this gives me hope for Adelaide, and I hope this is the first step in engaging with the issues surrounding how we use and share our roads in a far more positive and progressive manner.

 

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