Just give me some space! (Reflections by a lady cyclist in a car city)

I’m writing in italics, because this one is a guest blog post, by Rebecca Short. You may know her from the Today Show who recently had her as a guest, talking about the Bicycle Dating event that she organised as part of the Sydney Rides Festival. I know her best as the organiser of The Dollars and Cents of Building for Bikes at the institute of architects in Sydney last year. A lot of Sydney based firms with green agendas would be more familiar with her communications consultancy. I would like her to be known as the the woman who sparked some sensible discussion, among women, of the environmental barriers to women wishing to use bikes for transport in Australian cities. It is one of the most pressing issues of our day, but as a male I can’t lead the discussion. Over to you Becs:

Rebecca Short:

I don’t really care for cycle culture.  The actual people who ride bikes are great – fit, above-average in the looks department, and they host fun events. I’ll cop to reading cyclechic and this blog, hosting a slightly quirky inner-city bike event last year, and even defending lycra on mainstream morning radio.

But in order to get more women cycling for transport: space trumps culture.

Different estimates say that in Sydney, between 16% to 23% of cyclists are women. Last I checked we were around 50% of the population.

So, hypothetically, what if all the men who commute by cycling today keep doing so, but we could somehow add enough women to make up a true 50/50 split all at one time? If we generously say 20% of cyclists today are female, evening up the numbers would acheive a 60% percent increase in cycling overall. For comparison, The City of Sydney recently declared a 13% increase in people cycling in one year and called it a boom.

Steven tirelessly argues here that the key to getting more women cycling for transport is five–star safety rated infrastructure. So, what is women’s “cycle space” then? What can help get us out there? I suspect it’s going to take more than a pair of reflective leg-warmers, gorgeous though they are. To help discussion along, here’s some examples of what cycle-spaces for ladies can look like. Subtitle: “what I did on my holidays”.

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Just a tangent – the wearing of high heels on bikes should be viewed as a correlation to cycle-culture, not a cause of it. I’d suggest women wear lovely shoes on a sit-up bike to get to work in places where they have safe infrastructure, great maternity leave, and a lovely society where their contribution is treated equally to their cycling brothers. But it’s not the shoes that got us those things.

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So a segregated cycle space is a women’s space, right? Don’t worry, we are happy to share with the blokes though.

But, just this month in Sydney, one proposed new segment of separated infrastructure along the outside of a major park prompted some pretty disappointing responses online from cyclists. Like this one (paraphrased); “We don’t need a segregated bike lane in that location, because at the route decision point 90% of riders already join the [three lanes] of traffic, and slower riders can take a detour through the park.” At the spot he’s talking about, cars have just exited an 80 km/hr zone. I’d estimate 100% of women riders currently choose the park, but it is not surprising we look like 1-in-10 to this guy. It’s really dark in there at night, so perhaps our hours of riding are a bit restricted, too.

This attitude sounds a bit like an old chestnut of a letter that pops up every few years in university newspapers: “Why is there a women’s room but no men’s room on campus? Isn’t that sexist?” Of course cycle-space readers are far too sophisticated to fall for that one, knowing the answer in a blink: “because the whole campus and a lot of the public domain has been a ‘men’s space’ for a long time”.  Followed by “Let’s have a conversation that is less than 40 years old – how awesome was the latest season of Game of Thrones?”

I do wonder how many of today’s Sydney cyclists think that if a segregated cycle way is a women’s space (read: slow) then building new ones will mean that men, who happen to be the 80% at the moment, won’t be able ride their way (read: fast, and in traffic)? In essence they’ll be forced into the slow lane. And that would somehow be bad. Hopefully, not many. But just in case:

Annabel Crabb definitively describes a true perspective shift, when she says “behind every successful woman is a wife”. Keep reading – it is related to bike infrastructure, honest.

She says you can have all the quotas and positive language you like, but to really get more women into boardrooms and positions of power, men also need ways to become hands-on parents. Essentially, being able to change lanes for a while. Plenty of fathers want this – but until very recently workplace culture has said ‘no’.

Likewise, bike riding men – don’t be scared of the separated cycleway slowing you down. I may only manage 20km/hr to your 30, but I often catch up at the lights. Join me in a new cycleway, you won’t lose too much travel time and you gain so much! Sights and sounds, smiles, nicer odour when you arrive at work, the individuality of street clothes, maybe even being able to stick a child seat on that frame and do the school run. Oh, and a 60% increase in cycling overall. Imagine.

I’d love some hi-viz legwarmers and will keep asking my partner nicely if he can crochet up a pair. In the meantime, I’d just like some space out there.

With many thanks to Steven for making some virtual room for dicsussion!

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore.
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41 Responses to Just give me some space! (Reflections by a lady cyclist in a car city)

  1. James says:

    “There are still a few nutters who think separate bike infrastructure diminishes cyclists’ right to the road” I’m a nutter, and I’m right. If I was wrong, asses in cars would not yell at us to use the rubbish they call bike facilities we currently have.

    Vehicular Cycling is *the* best method we have to cope with what we have.

    You will have to work miracles to alter what infrastructure we have.

    The current state, given the distances we tend to travel in Australia, I want to ride as fast as I can on the road at least. I don’t want some glass strewn strip of asphalt made lumpy by tree roots and littered with bollards and tight bends. Look up @BollocksInfra https://twitter.com/bollocksinfra

    I think the reason it is inevitable you’ll get negativity toward many infrastructure initiatives -good or bad- is because there are so few examples people can point at and say “I want to ride there!”

    A colleague, who is not an experienced and seasoned rider, just told me he rode down Beach Rd for the first time ever a month ago. He said he came back along the separate MUP along Eastlink, and said “Never again! It was shocking. I would have been better off on Springvale Rd.” (3+lanes each way and 80km/h)

    Now, you’ll probably say that these separate facilities are not what you’re talking about. But until you can get some *real* bicycle super highways implanted in the landscape, don’t expect any glowing endorsements from people who use a bicycle as a serious mode of transport, and who want to get from A to B in a timely fashion.

    Australia is *not* Copenhagen. In the quest for bicycling nirvana, you will go blind starring at Copenhagen, right Steven?

    • Steven says:

      Ah, you know me so well James! I used to live in a suburb where the only way to get out by bike was to go flat out among cars, crapping myself the whole way. I moved. So we can remain interlocutors, I implore you to sell up and buy a new house somewhere near a cycleway. What do you say Rebecca?

    • James says:

      To mitigate the [nutters] loss of right to the road, the “must use facilites” laws must be removed from Australian road rules.

    • Steven says:

      I’ve never heard of those laws. Is there something perhaps about having to use a door-zone bike lane where one is painted? If so, then the defence of necessity (ie, it was necessary for me to take a lane, lest an opening door clip me, or because there were potholes or glass) would easily stand up in court, and police would be aware.

    • James says:

      I’ve not heard of the law being applied, except in the US of A.

      Who decides what impracticable is?

      Why would a lane be painted along side parked cars if it would be impracticable to use?

      247 Riding in a bicycle lane on a road
      (1) The rider of a bicycle riding on a length of road
      with a bicycle lane designed for bicycles
      travelling in the same direction as the rider must
      ride in the bicycle lane unless it is impracticable to
      do so.
      Penalty: 3 penalty units.

      Note
      Rule 153 defines a bicycle lane and deals with the use of
      bicycle lanes by other vehicles.

      (2) In this rule—
      road does not include a road related area.
      Note
      Road related area includes the shoulder of a road—
      see rule 13.

    • crank says:

      http://www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/SafetyAndRules/SaferRiders/BikeRiders/RoadRulesAndFines.htm

      “Rule: A bike rider must use the bicycle lane if there is a bicycle lane on a length of road in the same direction as they are riding (unless there are obstacles in their way, i.e. parked cars, debris etc).”

      In it’s intent, I actually think that’s fair enough, but our shoddy infrastructure makes that tenuous, as per James’ point, which really makes it the same as Rebecca’s point :-)

  2. Bec S says:

    Hi James, thanks for reading and engagement. Phew, where to start?

    Actually, you seem to be responding mainly to Steven’s intro, rather than some of the the later points in the article. I’d be a bit more interested in discussion about the idea that bringing women into the cycling fold could boost numbers by 60%. Sound like a good goal? Would you like the option to ride into work together with women friends?

    I guess Cycle Space to me, is about the big picture: trying to create a vision what we could be, not just what we are now. And its ok to talk about what we might like a city/society to be like, that’s how things get changed. Like getting women into Universities, for example. Or the vote.

    I agree, cycle infrastructure is mostly pretty lacking in Australian cities, and some of the really shaggy ones must push people on to the road. But where they’ve really done a gold plated job, like Bourke Street in Sydney tonnes of women of all types are using it. I just reckon we deserve a place, too.

    A safe option from from A to B on a bike seems to be something worth asking for. I respect the abilities of vehicular cyclists, am currently commuting about 10 km on the bike in Sydney about 3 days a week, seeing plenty go past. I just can’t really do those speeds, so need to work out other strategies. See you on the road!

    • Steven says:

      Good point Rebecca. I’ve cut my intro back to one paragraph. Sorry James, if that makes you look really silly. ah ha ha!

    • James says:

      Hi Rebecca. For various reasons I drive to work at the moment and ride for fun after work – even in the cold dark depths of winter. Unlike Steven, I don’t crap myself the whole way, but after years of doing it I have developed eyes in the back of my head, mind reading capabilities and the crash avoidance skills of a ninja ;-) These are not traits I expect others to have or want to develop, and mostly I have them because I ride through gnarly traffic at speed, compared to most people. Ride slower and you don’t need such skills, just basic awareness, caution and reasonable bike handling skills.

      When I stop at lights with other bicycle riders or when I pass someone I say “G’day”. I’m not gender specific or a lycra snob, and I smile when I see women out riding about Melbourne city. I giggled last night when an Asian chick stormed passed another couple, on her Dutch city bike with beautifully matching basket, frustrated at their slowness. Maybe she is a closet racer? I dunno, but the gusto she exhibited gave me a smile.

      Something that seems to be holding women back is the need to wear a helmet and the over dangerisation of bicycling. Check out the Nothern Territory, for example. Relaxed helmet laws and more women riding and lower injury rates. Bonus!

      I don’t believe infrastructure is practicable to implement all over the place – certainly not within my lifetime. Even a sprinkling wont alter the status quo much, because at some time you will need to ride with motor traffic.

      My brother and his family organise and run bicycling holidays in Italy annually. My sister in law posted a picture on FB of her about to ride to the local market on a city bike with basket and no helmet. She said somthing like, “Though there are very few bike facilities here in Italy, there are people riding bikes everywhere and drivers are not impatient with them. They slow down and wait until it’s safe to pass, and are not affraid to go over the centre lines to pass at a safe distance, even on very narrow roads. Why can’t drivers back home be like this?”

      Well, I think there is a huge lack of education and training here in Australia. Licenses are seen as a right not a privilege. The first steps in improving the situation is to properly educate school kids how to ride safely and drive safely. Teach them that the people on bicycles are legitimate road users and they must wait and be patient, and not pass them in their car too close and at speed.

      The Victorian Transport Minister tells me bike ed is in something like 69% of schools, but when I looked further, his idea of bike ed and mine are *very* different.

      No, I don’t think facilities are the magic bullet – though no one thing is. I think it is more necessary to clean up the motor users mentality through education, training and strict penalties. Loss of license should be a common occurance these days, yet drivers who cause life threatening injuries or death walk free and keep driving.

      Juries are sympathetic to the drivers plea.
      Accused says: “I thought I had enough room!”
      Juror thinking: “Geez, I could knock a rider off one day and be in the same situation. It could happen so easily and I’d go to prison. Better not convict.”

      Our society is so easy going when it comes to transport stupidity. I watch driver after driver using their mobile phone, failing to indicate, speeding, without lights at night, running red lights… And we forgive them even when they hurt someone!

      Anyway, that’s what I think needs fixing to make riding blossom all over. While little bits and pieces of bike facilities here and there might help get a few people riding who have access to them, the bigger picture is that all roads should be useful to ride on.

      For the record, Vehicular Cycling doesn’t *require* speed. While it is useful to be able to accelerate quickly at times, but not mandatory. I’m sure you can do 30km/h on your bike for a short distance, no?

      If you can squeeze cars out of the city and make space for riding bike – go for it. But you’ll be battling the powerful motoring lobby groups. Good luck.

      I’ll look for you if I ride in Sydney. Meanwhile, if you visit Melbourne, I can be found at Threshermans Bakehouse often around 7pm on a week night ;-)

      For you and Steven, in a couple of years I intend to semi-retire to a place 10km from the nearest country town in Northern NSW. No cycleways, only rough rural roads, but I intend to run most errands by bicycle.

    • crank says:

      Hi James,

      I’ve been hit by cars numerous times when a kid, and battled it out in NYC before it became bike friendly – I am a pretty hardened vehicular cyclist. However, when you have a kid and are riding with them on your bike, you will definitely be ‘crapping your pants’. Since moving to Melbourne, my wife has been cycling less and less and choosing other modes of transport. Plain and simple, she feels threatened on our roads, and we live in ‘bike friendly’ inner Melbourne. Even I, as I get older, would just like to be able to get to the shops 800m down the road in a manner that does not require “eyes in the back of my head, mind reading capabilities and the crash avoidance skills of a ninja”. I think you need to see it from other peoples’ point of view. I hope my kid can ride his bike to school one day. I hope I can ride around when I’m 65. Types of riders we need more of – kids riding to school, mums and dads taking kids to daycare, grannies on an outing, suits, any old sod going shopping. Right now, we see little of that, but plenty of vehicular cyclists. All of those scenarios are using a ‘bicycle as a serious mode of transport’ – it is no more or less valid than you and your choice to use a bicycle. You drive to work and cycle ‘for fun’, so am I (non-car owner and ride everyday for transport) more serious than you?

      Vehicular cyclists account for very few people, I refer you to Gellar’s excellent ‘Four Types of Cyclists’ – http://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/158497
      Notice we comprise <1% of cyclists? It is not until we cater for everyone that cycling can really be 'serious'. Compare the rates there to Australia's cycling share, and you can see that in 'high' cycling areas we are stalling at the 'Enthused & Confident' group (and usually only for commuting). If we don't build better facilities now, people will get fed up and the pendulum will swing back, just like my wife has decided cycling in Australia is not for her.

      I don't know the details, but I do know Italy has far stricter consequences for motorists that hit cyclists than we do here (just from reading a few articles on convictions)

      Don't get me wrong, I agree with much of what you say :-)

    • Bec S says:

      James, no argument from me on wanting car drivers to be better and safer! Ah, Melbourne, land of Hobbits, already so far ahead of Syd in all types of etiquette and knitwear. Just briefly:
      Re: “[there's] so few examples people can point at and say “I want to ride there!” Yep. So when a decent, funded, albeit short, separated cycleway is proposed, can the existing bike community just please not argue *against* it? The sub-text can seem like those riding now are happy with the status quo, and don’t support measures that work better for the other half of the population.
      Re: “Can you do 30 at a short stretch?” Possibly, but I don’t want my life to depend on it. Up a hill? No way. I also don’t want to tango in the weird bus/ bike lane on my route, would rather that be a smooth ride for 40+ fabulous citizens taking the bus. So apart from gratuitous holiday snaps, this discussion starter attempts to show various cycle-spaces that do work for women – three of the pics are just cheap rails, one is a rack on a train and two are in open countryside. It’s all about creating the cultural imaginary.

    • James says:

      Hi Crank,

      I don’t find many inner Melbourne roads particularly bike friendly, especially not the main routes. Tram tracks are a royal pain in the ass! Combined with the morally reprehensible door-in-your-face bike lanes, there’s a lethal concoction right there, and the leafy back streets are often used as high speed short cuts.

      My wife rode with me to Lygon St one day. She didn’t like the cars, but the only times she’s crashed was on the bike path! Melbourne air doesn’t help her asthma, which is why we’re planning a move North.

      I understand what people want, but I highly doubt the possibility of it happening, at least not within our lifetime. Real steep oil price rises and conviction from Government are not on the horizon – yet. Why would a minister put their head on the block and spend up big on bike infrastructure?

      Look how much friction the one and only bike facility I can point at and say “I want to ride there!” near Melbourne (Princes Bridge, North bound) caused?

      I don’t think riding relatively safely does require extreme skills, and there are people out there teaching “the way” thankfully – see http://bikesatwork.com.au/ .

      I’d love to see more people using a bicycle for everyday transport also, and I don’t only ride for fun – well it is fun, but… I often go up the street and do some shopping on the bike, and I’ve commuted, toured, visited people, and all sorts of things. I’d like a trailer for my MTB so I can carry more goods more easily.

      I don’t think the pendulum will swing the other way. There is a driving (excuse the pun) force behind more Government spending – that of improved public health and reduced need for more road expansion.

      Maybe you and your wife could jump on the train with your bikes and go for some rides near Bendigo?

      Hi Rebecca,

      I won’t support infrastructure – whether it be for bikes specifically or not – that makes riding less safe than it was, and neither should you.

      Copenhagen bike lanes are an example of a cure that is worse than the disease, as are door-in-your-face bike lanes and bike lanes to the left of left turn only lanes.

      These “facilities” may get “bums on bikes”, but are the cause of many serious injuries. I refuse to use them, as do most of the people I know who ride, which puts me in a worse position because the car drivers don’t understand why I’m not using a purpose built bike lane that is *right there*, and get all hot under the collar about it.

      No, I won’t support “any facility is a good facility”. If you’re going to do something, it’s got to be safer for *all* bicycle riders.

      Strangely, I like riding in the bus lane. The occasional bus is far less of an irritant than hundreds of cars.

      But back to the point – in Australia we have at least 3 or more generations for whom the bicycle is no more than a kids toy, and has no place on the road. Until that fundamental cultural image is changed, bicycling will struggle.

      Cheers,
      James.

    • crank says:

      an architect friend is building a bike friendly dwelling in bendigo, the idea being you just take the train and voila :) will do it soon. (steven, i gave him cycle space :)

      peak oil is no argument – we don’t need oil to proper cars, it’s just profitable for the time being.

      Vehicular cyclists often claim separated tracks are dangerous – can you point to some research or evidence which concludes this, or is this anecdotal? I concede Australia needs proper intersection design. We have ambiguous road system that does not define right of way (and heck, we don’t like to slow down!) Bicycle Dutch illustrates this quite well in his video – http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/a-trip-to-sydney-australia/ You are correct that a separated track on its own, is not enough.

    • Steven says:

      Kay Tesche and Anne Lusk have authored the main papers showing cycle tracks are safer than vehicular cycling, even accounting for difficulties at intersections and American and Canadian drivers not looking for cyclists when turning. Go look ‘em up!
      I would be interested in your friend’s house. I’m working on a paper right now about sustainable ways to reach country retreats, and what architects can do with site selection and design magnets to incentivise biking, hiking, sailing and training it to exotic locations.

    • James says:

      Hi Crank,

      I don’t know about comparison studies, but there are numerous studies that indicate protected or separated bicycle infrastructure can cause more problems than they solve.

      (you’ll need to google translate if you don’t speak the lingo.)

      http://bernd.sluka.de/Radfahren/Radwege.html

      There are some other links in this blog..

      http://janheine.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/separated-cycle-paths-a-summary/

      Cheers,
      James.

    • Steven says:

      One of Kay Tesche’s studies asked a shit load of canadian cyclists where they had been injured, and found they were one tenth as likely to have been injured on a barrier protected cycle track than another randomly selected point on the route they were traveling.

    • James says:

      Now then, Steven, no need for bad language.

      Just as there are claims, counter claims and rebuttals for such things as man made climate change and the much promoted need for bicycle helmets, so to are there for the supposed safety benefits of segregated facilities.

      Personally, I’ve *never* used a separated facility that I found safer, but to be fair, I’ve never used many separated facilities because of those I’ve tried, I’ve felt *less* safe, and there are very few examples in place for me to try. Most of what we have are not proper bicycling facilities, but MUPs, where pedestrians with dogs abound, and the surface is lumpy with tree roots and strewn with glass and debris.

      It’s not hard to see why I don’t feel safe. Even the Melbourne BUG don’t like the way they are designed here.

      http://www.melbournebug.org/2013/12/shockingly-dangerous/

    • Steven says:

      I see a eureka moment coming. Well designed separated cycle tracks are 10 times safer than riding in-carriage. If you put your energy into lobbying for those James, you could do a lot for this country. I suggest reading Tesche’s work, and maybe even packing your bike off to Vancouver and Montreal to experience the cycle tracks she has studied.

    • James says:

      I have a hard enough time trying to sway the proponents of cure worse than disease solutions, and more radical but actually safer alternatives don’t get considered. Simply lowering the speed limit to 30 in busy shopping strips would make everyone safer. I also think councils should not allow parallel parking in these areas, and that they should provide off street parking that people have to pay for – to reduce car activity and promote active transport. But of course these ideas are just too “out there” for council or the public to consider. We have to nibble away, piece by piece. We wouldn’t want to slow down someone in a car, even if someone else’ safety would benefit, eh?

  3. cyclesnail says:

    Sorry, James, I am with Rebecca and Steven on this issue.

    A range of measures will help to encourage more people to cycle instead of using their cars: Separating traffic users depending on speed and volume, lower speed on selected suburban roads and a change in road rules that gives vulnerable people, such as pedestrians and cyclists, more a safe space when they are overtaken by a faster road user.

    What is missing is the political will to fund and promote some or all of these measures. Our politicians still cling to the antiquated (and de-bunked) belief that spending more money on roads will solve congestion and improve quality of life.

    If we do not tackle all the diverse issues around cycling participation, gender split and infrastructure issues, it will only ever be a tiny segment of the population that uses a bicycle for everyday transport instead of a car. And politicians will ignore us at budget time.

    • James says:

      Hi cyclesnail. I am all for lower speed limits, and facilites where practicable. For instance I recently asked for a hook turn lane for bicycles only, instead of the current requirement to cross 3 lanes of 80km/h busy highway traffic to the right turn lane, only to find a vehicle sensor that doesn’t work on bicycles. http://seeclickfix.com/issues/878488-hazardous-right-turn

      I hate that our roads are designed with a total absence of the safety of bicyclists in mind. Some of my pet hates are traffic sensors that don’t sense bicycles, and long left turn lanes and merging lanes. It’s always a game of cat and mouse when you want to go straight ahead and there’s cars wanting to move left at speed. You have to indicate, look behind and make it known you intend to go straight and look for a driver who will slow and let you move right. Similar problem where a merging lane comes in from the left. Try riding along the Hume Freeway for a while ;-)

      FWIW, I don’t think bicycle riding will ever be as it is in the Netherlands – simply because our urban development is so spreadout. Bicycle riding isn’t so practicable here. But wait, maybe after peak oil? ;-)

  4. the other alison says:

    Nice piece, Bec. What comes to mind here is that often attempts to change the status quo (whether it’s modes of commuting, how we teach history to school kids, how we build houses, whatever) is that we get stuck in an either-or argument about the change. EITHER we have to have separate cycleways OR we have to do more about making it safe to ride on-road, EITHER we teach about the glory of the Anzacs OR we teach Marxist post-modern perspective on post-colonial wars and so on.

    If we look at any significant change to the status quo, it wasn’t brought about because one side won the either-or argument. It comes about because we say AND. We build separate infrastructure AND we make it safer for people to ride on the road – all focussed on an objective of making it safe and easy to get from A to B.

    I think the other thing that hampers getting better bike infrastructure is getting sucked into the EITHER cars OR bikes argument. EITHER a separate lane down Oxford ST OR another lane of traffic. And it’s really hard not to when some shock jock is turning purple and popping veins on one side of that argument. But to me the way to win it is not play that game. Bikes AND cars (and pedestrians and roller-skaters and uni-cyclists and husky sleds and scooters and motorbikes). And it’s a winner because most people fit into a couple of categories.

    I’m a fan of separate infrastructure (and I’m lucky enough to live somewhere that’s got a lot of it) because I want to be able to commute every day on my bike in the same state of half-attention that I would in a car. Not a tense adrenalin-fuelled state of hyper-attention because losing concentration for a second means death. Oh yeah, and I do like riding in my whole wardrobe of shoes – platform sandals, sneakers, high-heeled boots, whatever.

    One final thought: It’s only in the past 50 years that the majority of vehicles on the road have been cars. The rest of human history there’s been a mixture and we got along just fine.

  5. Roberto says:

    The other alison makes a very good point – there are good reasons for an “and” approach. Why can’t we have both?

    Separate infrastructure is not always going to be the answer but it does have a very important role in enabling people to cycle away from roads and vehicles and feel safe.

    At some point however any cyclist will need to join the road system, and they need to be able to do this without feeling they are risking their lives.

    As a cyclist for nearly 40 years, I feel reasonably confident mixing it in traffic, and while not considering myself a ninja like james am “aggressively assertive” (or is that “assertively aggressive”?), and ride very consciously aware that there is a very severe disparity between my chosen method of transport and heavier vehicles.

    As james points out there is so much more that could be done to improve on road cycling – traffic light sensors etc., The biggest improvement would be if attitudes of drivers developed so that they all had an appreciation of what it meant to be a cyclist. It would be great if the Danish/Dutch/Italian/wherever sensibility to cycling could be injected into Australia but that is unlikely.

    Perhaps before obtaining a vehicle licence a compulsory period as a cyclist is required – so that people gain the appreciation of who they will be sharing the roads with in the future.

    However, I know my wife, a recent adopter of cycling, does not feel the same way about riding in traffic and would willingly embrace separate infrastructure if it existed.

    Similarly, I have two nephews, (around 10 years old), who are incredibly keen on cycling and want to use the roads – the dilemma is how do you get them onto the roads without getting them killed?

    Getting more people cycling has to be a key strategy – more bikes = greater visibility = greater relevance = greater safety. (Pretty much a no-brainer I think) And if it takes better infrastructure to initially get those people on bikes then that is what is needed.

    However once these neophyte cyclists are all enthused and want to go that bit further, the shared road system that we all have a stake in has to be as safe as possible both physically and attitudinally.

  6. Bec S says:

    Roberto,yay for representing your wife’s experience! :-) I hope you like riding together. I want humans generally to be nicer too, not just on the road on the road and for my income tax to go towards road safety.
    But, it’s a revelation to me that cyclists in Oz think of a separated cycleway are for beginners, then you somehow ‘graduate’ to the road. It ain’t necessarily so! Women can and do cycle for 70 years or more.We’re not necessarily neophyte. Kinda like the female cabinet with small kids Annabel Crabb describes. They are still parliamentarians, not hobbyists, they just do it the job in different ways.
    A great thing about Steven’s work is the way it imagines cycling developments for everyone, and my piece tries to say – guys can gain from a change of lanes too. I didn’t think it was particularly controversial, but there you go.

    • Roberto says:

      Bec,

      On rereading my post I can see that it “sounds” like I am suggesting separate cycleways are for beginners and then one graduates to the road – not exactly what I intended to say.

      It is more that there will never be separate cycleways that allow one to travel everywhere and that mixing/sharing with vehicular traffic will eventually have to be contemplated.

      And for that to be a better experience for all attitudes/sensibilities need to be changed.

      One of the benefits of separate infrastructure is that you can ride without having to think about cars trying to kill you but gaining the confidence to join the road system does not happen overnight.

      My commute uses a combination of on and off road bike lanes as well as roads without bike lanes. The off road bike lanes are great – don’t get me wrong – I am very happy to use them!

      And I do know “many” women do ride on the roads and are as much cyclists (if not more than!?!) any vehicular cyclist. I have very strong memories of my grandmother riding to the local milk co-op with 20 litres of milk on each end of her handlebars.

      So please, while your suggestions may be controversial – they are controversial in a good way!

  7. the other alison says:

    Wow, I went away for a few days to muse on Steven’s question, and there’s a whole other conversation going on my absence! A few reflections on the above:

    There is a chicken-and-egg situation with car drivers, to some extent. If there are more cyclists on the road, car drivers are more used to dealing with them, but cyclists don’t want to cycle on the road unless car drivers are more careful. This is where numbers are important – it’s only anecdata, but my experience cycling in Canberra vs cycling elsewhere is that drivers in Canberra are more careful about cyclists, and the only reason I can see for this is that there are more of them. I certainly notice it when I drive in Canberra – it took me a while to adjust to there being so many cyclists.

    There are two approaches in other countries I’m aware of that have helped make drivers more aware of cyclists -one behavioural and one legal. The behavioural one is from one of the Scandinavian countries and is very simple. When teenagers learn to drive, they are taught to look in the right rear vision mirror when turning right (this would be the left mirror when turning left for us) to check for cyclists. And they are taught to open the driver’s door with their right hand (this would be the left hand for us), which forces them to twist their body and look through the back window – greatly reducing the likelyhood of dooring a cyclist.

    The legal approach (Holland) is to change liability laws. So there, in an accident between a motor vehicle and a non-motorised road user, the motor vehicle user is liable for financial damage, unless that driver can prove the incident was caused by circumstances beyond his/her control(meaning the driver has to prove that their driving was effectively flawless). If the mistake leading to the incident was made by the non-motorised road user, that mistake has to be so unlikely, that a motor vehicle user could not reasonably have considered it to happen. Failing to give way or jumping a red light (deliberately or by mistake) are not considered to be unlikely events. Even in this case, the motor vehicle is still made liable for 50% of financial damages.

    Lastly, and to partially answer Steven’s question – we mustn’t make the mistake of believing that infrastructure is set forever once it’s built. The best thing we can do if building new infrastructure is to maximise the flexibility of that infrastructure for the largest number and type of users. In a new area, this doesn’t mean building a “bike paradise” – it can be as simple as making the roads wider so there’s plenty of room for everyone, including generous footpaths, and lowering the speed limit a little. This is hard to do, because land taken up for roads and footpaths is land the developer can’t make a profit from.

    In an existing area, it involves not taking the current hierarchical approach where we engineer roads for cars first, then pedestrians (strictly cordoned off) and then bikes have to fight either cars or pedestrians for space. It means thinking one level up, and asking “how can we change this street to move the most people by the greatest variety of modes in a way that keeps them all happy”. That’s a harder question, and that’s why people don’t ask it very often.

    • Steven says:

      Thanks again Alison, particularly for the neat explanation of strict liability laws. Clicking on some of the slider-links at the top of this website will give a bit of a foretaste of urban design strategies with no streets whatsoever, so no chance for cars ever to come onto a site. Developers greatly increase their site yields this way.

    • James says:

      I really don’t want to be the cannon fodder for the bicycling movement, to make up numbers while the asses target people on bicycles even more than they currently do – until some mythical bubble bursts and peace reigns supreme.

  8. I think it’s an interesting point, and the gender bias in cycling definitely runs the other way in countries with safe cycling – such as the Netherlands and Japan.

    However I think the gender bias as a “selling” point is a lost cause in a world of stupid (mostly) male politicians. It’s much easier to get people to think about children’s rights, and the safety of children, because we would never tolerate a pavement for walking that was dangerous to a competent 8 year old; so why on earth do we tolerate a road environment than can only be used by unusually fit people on sports bicycles with special training?

    The comment up thread about the immutability of infrastructure is somewhat disproved by what happened in Seville – their cycling revolution started from nothing (0.2% modal share) and took just 5 years to reach 6+% modal share. It was also much cheaper than building roads to carry 6+% more traffic.

    Enjoy Your Ride.

  9. James says:

    We are both from the lunatic fringe, Steven. You with a butterfly’s chance in hell of changing city planning, and me with the similar chances of changing motorists behaviour.

    We both have our place.

  10. James says:

    Relevant [depressing] news just in:

    “However, Melbourne has more bicycle commuters than any other city in Australia (25,594), and 41 per cent of all women who ride to work in Australia live in Melbourne.”

    I doubt it has to do with ab. fab. facilities – ’cause they aren’t!

    http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-03/two-in-three-australians-drive-to-work-study-of-commuting-habit/5233950

    • Steven says:

      Just twenty-five thousand in a city of millions.
      BTW thanks Rebecca, James and others for the most commented on cycle-space post ever.

  11. Chris says:

    It’s really disappointing that “Vehicular cycling” is being accepted as a necessity. That lets councils, state and federal government off the hook from improving infrastructure.

    There will always be some need to ride on the road – we can’t possibly get copenhagen lanes on every street in the country. But we need to pressure the authorities to install a dedicated, segregated, safe cycle route that connects all regions of our cities to key areas (CBD, shopping precincts, education precincts etc).

    The notion (from James) that bike infrastructure = slow is rubbish. Sure, some of the crap we’ve dished up in this country over the years fits that description, but you only need to look at the Netherlands to see it can work, both for slow and steady utility cyclists and the faster and more athletic sports and recreation cyclists. Brisbane has some good examples, with the Bicentennial Bikeway and Western Freeway bikeways. Perfectly safe for those puttering along at 15-20kph as well as those doing 35kph+ – though of course the faster riders need to show some courtesy to the slower.

    And agree the law shouldn’t prevent cyclists from using the road/not using cycle infrastructure if they wish.
    The claim by many government/motoring bodies that our roads just aren’t wide enough to cater for dedicated bike infrastructure is bollocks. It’s just they’re unwilling to give us that space to upset their petrolhead electors.

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