Recent Bike Dr Blogs for Dismantle
Road Share: How to drive with cyclists
Even as a cyclist myself, I am always most nervous behind the wheel when there are cyclists around. I think this is the case for many drivers. It can be difficult to know how to best share the road with smaller, more vulnerable counterparts, while keeping everyone safe.
Stick to the rules
I was approaching a round-about on my bicycle the other day. In it, a car was turning right, so I applied my brakes to give them the right of way. The driver saw me approach and stopped, in the roundabout, to let me go first.
“You have the right of way!” I said, waving her on.
“Geeze,” she countered. “I was just trying to be courteous.”
And she was, in a way, but she was also creating confusion.
Cyclists are considered vehicles and should be treated accordingly. Road rules are great: they’re a set of clear, universal codes that govern a highly complicated space. Without them, the roads would be chaos. If you have the right of way, take it. If a cyclist has the right of way, give it. Treat cyclists like the smaller, slower vehicles they are and everyone will be much safer for it.
Just last month a 25-year-old in Melbourne was killed when a driver opened their car door without looking and knocked him under a truck. Car doors are terrifying things. Wing mirrors are useful.
Same awareness goes when pulling out. It’s always worth having a quick check of your blind spot before pulling intro traffic, just in case there’s a cyclist hanging out there.
The one-meter passing law – where drivers are required to leave a 1m gap when passing cyclists on roads with speed limits of up to 60km/hr, and a 1.5m gap otherwise – has been bouncing around for the last twelve months or so. The liberals argue that it’s not enforceable, the Greens argue that 90% of cyclist deaths involve a motor vehicle, and a Perth NOW poll demonstrates the tight gap in public opinion.
What the legislation is getting at, whether or not it is a good bit of law, is that passing is one of the more dangerous parts of driver-cyclist interaction. I’ve had one driver pass so close, I felt his wing mirror brush the arm of my jacket.
If a driver passes too close, the tiniest misstep can cause serious injury. If it’s not safe to pass, wait until it is. True, it’s deeply annoying to get stuck behind a slow road user, especially when you’re in a hurry, but pass too close too quick and the result will be much worse.
Last year, towards the beginning of my contract, I wrote a blog urging cyclists to stay alert and ride predictably. It’s important to do the same behind the wheel. Most cyclists will obey the road rules. Most will stop at red lights and maintain a constant line while riding. A few, however, will waver in and out of the bike lane. A small handful will jump suddenly from the footpath onto the road through a red light and into your lane.
If these riders weren’t in the minority, the injury and death statistics would be much higher. There’s no need to drive like they are every rider (see above), but it pays to remember how much bigger, heavier and much faster you are. My most frightening experiences on a bicycle have always involved inattentive drivers, much more than alert, aggressive ones.
As I mentioned above, most cyclists stick to the road rules and remain hyperaware of their surroundings; when sharing the road with vehicles travelling three-to-four times faster, it certainly pays to be. They’re not surrounded by a big metal shell, so cyclists have excellent visibility and well-honed instincts. Trust them to do the right thing, be courteous yourself, and hopefully we can lower the road toll together.
Oil Crises and Car Free Sundays:
A short history of cycling in Amsterdam
Car Free Sundays
In October of 1973, the Netherlands was included in an oil embargo imposed against several countries with pro-Israli stances. The Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) instigated the embargo after The United States supplied arms to Israel during the Yom Kipper War.
This incident sparked the oil crisis of 1973, which produced an avalanche of consequences all over the world. Holland depended on oil for over half of its energy needs, around 40% of which came from the Middle East. Joop den Uyl (my favourite politician name so far), Holland’s Prime Minister at the time, responded with fuel rations, but he also imposed a ban against driving on a Sunday. Cycling, previously suffering from a decline of up to 6% a year, began a serious resurgence.
How Holland Became a Car City
Holland had been a very cycle-friendly country previously, especially after the turn of the century, when bicycles came to represent freedom of movement in times of economic depression. Postwar prosperity and steep income rises, however, along with the automobile’s role as a symbol of new wealth, lead to a sharp increase in car traffic in old cities not built for cars. Cycling began to decline. Buildings were knocked down to make room for cars and city squares were turned into car parks. Narrow streets and poor traffic infrastructure quickly lead to a huge increase in traffic accidents and road deaths. The transport balance had been tipped in favour of cars and it really wasn’t working out for the Dutch.
How Holland Became a Bike City
1971 set a new road death record in the country, with 3,300 people killed, 500 of which were children. This sparked the ‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (Stop the Child Murder) campaign, which rallied for safer roads and a shift in focus from auto traffic to alternative transport options, such as public transport and cycling. By 1973, this campaign had gained traction and the Car Free Sundays reminded people what their cities were like sans heavy traffic.
Several areas of the city centres were made car-free permanently after that, and in 1975 the Government began started allocating money to the creation of dedicated cycleways that were physically separated from car traffic.
Cycling rates shot back up. In Tilburg, in the south of the country, cycling increased by 70%.
Today, Holland has the most cyclists per capita in the world and is the safest city in which to cycle. It has a brilliant balance of transport modes with cycling infrastructure that is fully integrated into its road and public transport systems. It’s a story that gives us the ingredients in one recipe for the perfect cycle city.
You will need:
- Ancient, pre-industrial road infrastructure not built for cars;
- A huge and sudden increase in road deaths;
- An oil crisis, petrol rationing, and Car Free Sundays;
- A motivated and vocal protest group campaigning for mixed transport, coupled with a supportive public and sympathetic government; and
- Dedicated and sustained investment in cycling infrastructure.
We might be missing a few of those ingredients here in Perth, but sometimes the best cooking comes from messing with the recipe.
This is the latest blog from a series I’ve been writing for the bicycle-focused Social Enterprise, Dismantle. Read more here.