Motorists. Pedestrians. Journalists. Politicians. Everyone wants to bag cyclists it seems, except perhaps Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Through the rose-coloured lens of our photochromic glasses it’s harsh and unfair. But without absolving motorists of all blame, Peter Maniaty wonders if perhaps we could be doing more to address the situation ourselves?
You don’t have to look too hard in Australia to find people queuing up to criticise cyclists. Every day in cities and towns all over the country, there are countless examples of on-road aggravation between those of us who travel on two wheels and those who prefer to travel on four. Often it’s largely verbal, with the odd bit of digital gesticulation. But sometimes things are far more serious; instances where almost without exception, the cyclist loses.
There have always been rumblings between road users, of course. No doubt similar irritations were present when automobiles first took to the potholed roads and dirt tracks that were previously the exclusive domain of horse and carriage. But thanks to the largely stereotyped and unhelpful views expressed by a number of high profile detractors in recent months, things seem to have deteriorated somewhat. It may be purely anecdotal, but I simply can’t recall so many of my club-mates being involved in serious traffic incidents as they have in 2013, nor as many close calls. I’ve even been hit at a roundabout myself – whilst reviewing a bike for this very publication, no less. Thankfully, and somewhat remarkably, the damage was confined almost exclusively to the car, not rider or bicycle.
Now, I have no intention to reprise the litany of tired arguments put forth in the ongoing and, frankly, futile struggle for bitumen supremacy. You know what they are and no doubt have your own thoughts on their validity or otherwise. No, my intention here is to forget all that and simply say that it’s high time we got our own house in order, my dear cycling brethren. Yes I’m talking self-regulation. For surely we need to conduct ourselves better, both as individuals and groups, before we can truly point the finger at others?
Just this morning as I sat in my car waiting to turn at a major commuter intersection near Sydney’s Darling Harbour, I was appalled as 21 different cyclists ran the same clearly visible red light, right in front of me. Plenty of motorists and pedestrians witnessed it too and I couldn’t help but lament what damage their reckless disregard for the law had just done to the reputation of cyclists everywhere. I bet these folks are the first to get up in arms when a motorist does the same thing to them or a friend, and nearly brings them down. Talk about glass houses.
Convinced my experience was surely an unfortunate aberration, I went back and filmed the same intersection a bit later on the same morning. The same thing continued to happen, at virtually every change of the lights. As my anger and resentment rose with every new discretion, I was tempted to call the Police then and there to get them to come down and hand out infringement notices ad nauseum. Seriously, when did this kind of thing become okay?
As a good friend said to me a few months ago: “If we really want to expose the hypocrisy of motorists we first must remove it from cyclists.”
It’s so simple. And so true. No-one holds a gun to our heads. As cyclists, we each have a choice. We can do the right thing when we’re out on the roads, be it commuting to work or riding with our local bunch, and thus earn the right to wave our self-righteous fingers at irresponsible motorists who endanger our lives or those of our loved ones. Or, we can do the wrong thing, perpetuate stereotypes and be accused – not without justification – of massive double standards when we complain about nearly getting cleaned up by that bus, taxi or SUV.
As anyone who knows me will readily vouch, I’m certainly no saint. But as much as I possibly can, I do try to do the right thing when out riding. I choose to stop at red lights and obey traffic signs. I choose to wear my helmet. I choose to give way to pedestrians. I choose to slow down when the conditions demand it. I choose to ride with a light, front and back, when out before dawn or after dusk. And rather than hurl insults at motorists who do the wrong thing by me, I choose to politely thank to those who do what’s right. A friendly wave goes a long way at an intersection or roundabout. And costs precisely nothing.
Recently, I’ve also chosen to do something else which I now actively encourage all cyclists to do: speak out when I see others riding recklessly, bringing both their behaviour and the fact that I ride myself to their attention. Sometimes I get abused when I do this. I was even called a ‘traitor’ this morning, which simply highlighted the ignorance many cyclists sadly seem to ride around with every day. On the contrary pal, I’d suggest you are the traitor, betraying the reputations of responsible riders everywhere.
Abuse or otherwise, I sincerely hope that after their initial anger and dented pride subsides, these riders think about what they were doing. And maybe, just maybe, think twice about doing it next time. We can only hope.
Clearly better on-road manners and stricter adherence to the road rules will not stop all accidents and dangerous driving behaviour. Cyclists will still be hit by cars and end up in hospital, or worse, often through no fault of their own. But it’s a start; one that might begin to heal some of the ever-widening rift between riders and drivers in this country.
Rather than a race to the bottom between cyclists and motorists, why not make it one to the top?