Queensland’s Inquiry Into Cycling – My Thoughts


Myself, Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk and Co-Convenor of CBDBUG Donald Campbell at the BCC's Bike Skills Lauch

Myself, Lord Mayor of Brisbane Graham Quirk and Co-Convenor of CBDBUG Donald Campbell at the BCC’s Bike Skills Launch. Skills are great, but doesn’t make up for poor infrastructure

Two weeks ago, the Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee Inquiry into Cycling Issues delivered their report, listing 68 recommendations.

 

I had some initial strong thoughts of support and opposition for various recommendations listed but really wanted to think the recommendations through and their implications for Queensland.

 

Contrary to how it was covered in the main stream media, it wasn’t just all about making the world kittens and chocolate for cyclists. People who ride bikes aren’t all “cyclists.” To most, a “cyclist” is someone who rides a road bike, travels at around 35km/h and sticks to the roads or occasionally the bike paths and generally makes a motorist’s life a PITA. Most of the people I know who ride, aren’t cyclists per se. They ride bikes. Sometimes they ride really fast on the road on ludicrously light and expensive machines, other times they fly down a rough path, jumping ditches and dodging trees, and at other times again, they trundle about more sedately, using their bicycle as a utilitarian form of transport. I know very few dedicated sports cyclists, what most would call “avid cyclists,” yet I know and ride with lots of people on bikes.

 

Rebecca who rides a bike but as you can see, isn't a "cyclist." This was taken at Style Over Speed.

Rebecca who rides a bike but as you can see, isn’t a “cyclist.” This was taken at Style Over Speed.

The media tended to focus on the “cyclists.” They obtained quotes from “cyclists.” They spoke to “cyclist” representative bodies, especially those ones that say they represent everyone but really just focus on sports cycling. What they didn’t do much of, was talk to people who ride bikes. And the thing is, the Inquiry’s findings mainly impact those who aren’t “cyclists,” and people who want to ride.

 

The larger picture in Queensland is one of sedentary behaviour. Of people driving their cars because car culture has reigned supreme here for decades – and still does. Did you know that 70% of all trips in Brisbane by car are <10km? 10km isn’t very far on a bike – and is immensely doable, even for those who aren’t “cyclists.” So the Committee did their best to address this increase in sedentary behaviour, the escalating health expenses (not to mention the huge expense of subsiding motor vehicle transport and the gaps of Brisbane’s barely coping public transport network) by making recommendations that would, on the bulk increase the numbers of people riding bikes.

 

There are many reasons people cite when asked why they don’t ride. The big one is not feeling safe, followed by lack of infrastructure, which unsurprisingly impacts how safe you feel when you ride. The vast majority of recommendations directly impact these two. The minimum one metre safe passing distance is a great start, but real infrastructure is sorely needed, and the Inquiry recognised this, even calling out substandard attempts at infrastructure.

 

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains - safe? Hell no

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains – safe? Hell no

They correctly (in my opinion) pushed for more infrastructure, everywhere! That every road (I don’t mean motorway) should be seen as a bicycling option, and that parking in a bike lane is farcical. That infrastructure should be included in developments and train stations should cater for the casual commuter. To many around the world this would sound like common sense – but this is a HUGE leap here.

 

There was much made of the relaxation of mandatory helmet laws. People who have followed me on Twitter for many years, especially after the launch of CityCycle, would know that I used to think that a helmet made you safe.

 

What makes you safe is infrastructure, enforced road rules that protect vulnerable road users, and everyone working together to make sure we all get home safely.

 

Yep - I do wear a helmet, just not all the time.

Yep – I do wear a helmet, just not all the time.

After my “smoosh and drag” last year, where my helmet was knocked off during the impact (someone went and found it back down the road and brought it to the Fire and Rescue Team), I realized that just because I should be safe, didn’t mean I was. It was a harsh reality check that questioned my values in almost everything – including mandatory helmet laws. As I slowly recovered, I stayed focused on returning to riding (on a new bike as my old one was totally destroyed while saving me from a more frightening outcome) and given my total lack of confidence in my fellow man, I refused to ride on the road. As I learnt the way to and from almost everywhere without putting rubber to bitumen other than crossing the road at pedestrian crossings, I realised just what safety theatre the helmet had become. As such, I am totally in favour of the relaxation of MHL as recommended by the Inquiry – it doesn’t mean you can’t wear one, it just means that if you’re tootling along a pavement or in a park, you won’t be fined. It comes down to perceived and actual risk.

 

I suppose my biggest disappointment with the Inquiry’s recommendations, was their avoidance of the “20 is Plenty” idea. Essentially, this limits residential and city streets to 20mph or 30km/h. This would have instantly reduced the likelihood of accidents, the severity of any accidents that occurred (the correlation between injury severity/death and speed limit is well documented), as well as making so many streets truly “bike friendly” without painting a yellow bike on them and a token share the road sign, followed by crossing fingers.

 

The legislative requirement of infrastructure funding tied into the target bicycle riding participation percentage was another big one that I think the Committee overlooked. However they did link in the amount spent on safety communication to be tied with the percentage of the population that rides (18%). The “buy” for such an amount would be huge! This can’t be a bad thing, even if it isn’t exactly what I wanted.

 

I must admit to being perplexed by the lighting requirements. All it is really doing is adding another barrier to entry and perpetuating the idea that riding a bicycle is dangerous (it’s not supposed to be). Also, the “colour” of bicycle lights are different to those of motor vehicles, and don’t work as well during the day – so I’m not sure how they would be visible at such a distance during the day.

 

The equalising of fines didn’t really bother me too much, until I thought about how that would work with children – as their parents/guardians would be held accountable for any fines. If a small child rides and inadvertently breaks a road rule, they are fined at the same rate as a motorist and the parents have to pay? I don’t have a problem with this is we are talking 16 year olds, but young kids playing on a local street? Oh, and if you think they shouldn’t be playing on a street to begin with, then you are the target of the cultural shift mentioned in the report.

 

Riding should fun, safe and awesome!

Riding should fun, safe and awesome!

Overall, I am very much in favour of nearly all of the findings made by the report. It isn’t surprising, given that most of my 34 recommendations to the Inquiry got up in their entirety or in a similar format.

 

Now the biggest question is which of the recommendations made by the Inquiry are going to become law. Already the Transport Minister has stated that some points, like the one metre minimum passing distance will go ahead. However, to truly make a difference to how Queensland moves, he needs to not just cherry pick the easy ones. Scott Emerson needs to  show true political will and foresight, and implement recommendations that may initially be seen as unpopular (eg parking in bike lanes which is illegal in both NSW and VIC) but will be regarded as creating a safer, healthier and altogether better Queensland. This is his chance to be the one who draws the line in the sand. To be the one who is remembered for what he did, not what he failed to do.

FIVEPANDAS

 

 

#fiveoutoffivecyclingpandas(even if I don’t agree with everything it is to be applauded

PS. If you want to see the best and worst that Brisbane has to offer riders, check out my photoblog.

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One Response to “Queensland’s Inquiry Into Cycling – My Thoughts”

  1. Chris Says:

    Excellent summary. Totally agree with you. Your perspective on helmets is particularly interesting given you buck the trend of accident survivors claiming their “helmet saved their life”.

    Riding carefully, and being aware of what’s going on around you are the best ways to protect one’s noggin. What’s lacking is the road environment to enable that to be done with minimal risk of becoming a victim of a less careful, less aware motorist. And that’s what the committee tried to capture. Let’s hope Mr Emerson takes on board the vast majority of recommendations.

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