Disclaimer: This post is by no means meant to take a side of a certain party or to criticize certain groups. It is merely written based on experience and the frustration it has caused and it elaborates on my personal opinion and feelings on certain laws and certain missing actions our society and government is not taking
It was lunch time and I decided to take a break for a quick bike ride for an hour.
I was looking forward to this ride, where I can free up my mind, get some exercise done and come back refreshed and full of energy to my desk to finish off the second half of my day. What I did not anticipate was that I would come back very angry and frustrated.
I grew up in Germany from the age of six and riding a bike was part of our everyday life. We rode our bikes to school, to our friends, to the food shops, to the local lakes, the mountains and even to the neighbouring towns. Riding was fun and effortless and safe, as there are over 70,000 km worth of cycling paths across the country. I rarely had to ride my bike on the road to get to a town 20km away. And even in areas where there are no cycling paths, I was never petrified to ride because drivers respected cyclists and made sure to overtake when it was safe for everybody.
In the last two years before finishing school, cycling turned into a regular 50km ride habit to unwind and to help me focus on my studies for my Abitur. I remember how great I felt after this long ride next to the mountains and how refreshed and motivated I felt after my ride to sit down and study.
When I moved to Australia, I expected to be in a country with ample of opportunities to ride. I have lived in four countries in my life and out of all countries Australia has the best cycling conditions from a weather perspective, yet the worst out of the remaining conditions. There are hardly any designated cycling paths – a few have been added, but still far not enough to get around safely, especially with children.
Drivers do not know how to behave around cyclists. Despite of the new laws that enforce a car to overtake a cyclist with more than 1m, I have still seen too many cases where the distance was not respected and the cyclists were lucky to have only gotten away with a shock (mind you, I was shocked, too).
With NSW having enforced the new cycling laws on 1 March 2016, the government added another reason NOT to cycle. I am all for cyclists abiding by traffic rules and safety and fully agree that helmets should be worn, but I am against enforcing it as a law; it does not encourage cycling and a cyclist without a helmet does not harm the greater public, but himself. Why can that not be their own choice? And if we are already talking about helmets? Where are the guidelines of how to wear a helmet correctly? Does NSW fine for incorrect fitting? Because wearing a helmet incorrectly or a wrong size, will not protect like a helmet that fits and is worn correctly? Why is that not policed?
The most ridiculous law in my opinion is the enforcement of the bike bell on road bikes and mountain bikes. Clearly the person who wrote this law has never ridden a road bike. The only place I can mount my bell is right next to the head set. In order for me to ring the bell (which I did not think I will use, but keep on reading and you will understand why I had to), I need to take my hand away from the brake (!), let go of the handle bar and flick the leaver. What if I have to break suddenly? Yes, I have the other break, but only one hand on the handle bar! Will I have time to get back to the safe position that helps me navigate my bike in a safer way? When I rang the bell the first time, this sprang to my mind. The answer is: NO. I will just fly off my bike! So from here on, I used my natural bell, i.e. my voice and shouted like I used to.
However, I do not understand why I had to use the bell / shout on a section that was purely signed for cyclists. I deliberately chose an area with a designated cycling path. I’d say about half of the area is a designated cycling path and next to it a designated walking path. Both paths are marked clearly with street signs on the side and with oversized prints on the paths of bikes and walkers. And yet, people are all over the shop.
So as I was riding along in the section where this clear distinction of the two paths is made, I ride around a bend and two ladies walk in my lane. I have to break and I ring the bell frantically (here I notice what I wrote about before). The ladies jump left and right in panic, which makes it hard for me to judge where to go to avoid a collision; I have to pull the brakes hard, not to run them over and not to injure myself. Naturally I do shout at them with frustration and ask why they cannot walk in their lane as the signs say. The dumbfounded ladies just yell at me: “which signs”, as if I was making up a story. All I could do is point at the street sign and the human sized print underneath their feet. Then I left and rode hard to get my anger out.
And now let’s do the maths: I would say, there is a sign of the above picture after every 50-100m on a stretch of let’s assume 3km. In addition to those mounted signs there are oversized prints of either bikes or walkers on the footpath at about the same distance. So even if both signs appear after every 100m, that is 30 street signs and 30 oversized prints (or 60 prints, because there are two next to each other). So that is 60 / 90 signs along this stretch and they don’t see them?
Today’s example was not the first, but today’s ended luckily with no injuries. However, I have been on the same stretch, in the bend before where a mother let her toddler ride her scooter on the cycling path. A young cyclist came along the bend and did not see the child on time. The outcome was luckily nothing severe, but both the child and the cyclist had bruises and scratches all over themselves. And what upset me the most, was that the mother tried to put the blame on the cyclist.
I am a mother of two and I defend my children where I can, if it is reasonable, but in this instance, it was not the cyclist’s fault. The cyclist did nothing wrong, he rode his bike in his lane on the left hand side. The mother did not take into account the signage and her child had to suffer the consequences.
(In case you wonder why I did not say anything to the mother. I was on the oncoming side too far away to say something. I witnessed the accident from distance.)
So rather than focusing on enforcing ridiculous laws that just make the population cringe and discourage cycling, how about this government raises awareness of their street signs and teaches children at school and young drivers about street signs and road rules and how to behave and respect each participant on the rode equally, no matter if pedestrians, cyclists, runners, drivers of cars and trucks, etc. Only this way is it possible to raise a generation that is considerate and respectful towards each other. Putting ridiculous laws into place just makes people believe we live in a nanny state and takes the joy of a nice sport away, as it happens to me right now.