Can a cycling event change attitudes?

Spend a week at the Tour Down Under and cycling around the glorious city of churches, and you’ll understand quickly what I mean when I say I LOVE cycling in Adelaide! Contrast this with the experience we had just four days after returning to our beloved Melbourne!

“Get off the f%$#&n’ road ya f$%#&n’ dickhead lycra sh&ts”

And that was a woman who yelled, and granted, she was on the other side of the road to us…okay admittedly we were in an area where perhaps grasp of vocabulary may be questionable, and to our uninitiated ears the term’ ‘fuckin’ may indeed be a term of endearment. But then again…maybe not!

Just over a week ago the South Australian government announced alongside members from the Amy Gillett Foundation, including Amy’s Mum Mary Safe, that a whole raft of new measures surrounding road users and bike riding were to be introduced.

Photograph from Amy Gillett Foundation: L to R, CEO Tracey Gaudry, Patron Simon Gillett, Premier Jay Weatherill and Amy's parents Mary and Denis Safe
Photograph from Amy Gillett Foundation: L to R, CEO Tracey Gaudry, Patron Simon Gillett, Premier Jay Weatherill and Amy’s parents Mary and Denis Safe. Photo from Amy Gillett Foundation

Included in the list were some extraordinary measures that to my way of thinking perhaps have been fueled by the effect an international cycling race has on their city. Every time I visit Adelaide I wonder if perhaps the city has become so full of respect for what bike riding brings that they just can’t help but look out for the riders, nurture the event, treasure the tourists and welcome every single person into their fold for the week. I seriously question every time I am there, could it be that if we held a cycling event of he magnitude of Tour Down Under in every city, could we elicit such attitudinal change in every state?

In order to preserve what they have, why wouldn’t they be one of the first states to introduce such widespread measures that will only be great for bike riders and ALL road users? It’s exciting to think what the future will be like for a city such as Adelaide when they are prepared to recognize the measures needed to really make them a true ‘cycling city’. We talked lots about this notion of the ‘cycling city’ at Velo City Global earlier in the year, and Adelaide really is on the way.

I wrote in article then, and tweeted, we shouldn’t be taking baby steps in the changes needed to improve conditions for bike riders and motorists. We need to just do it….as Micheal Colville Anderson suggested. We are not Europe, so we can’t yet ride with the perfect notion of being Copenhagen cyclists, but we can take steps to improve what we do have.

Great advice from Michael Colville-Anderson, keynote speaker at Velo City Global in Adelaide 2014
Great advice from Michael Colville-Anderson, keynote speaker at Velo City Global in Adelaide 2014

So just exactly what are those measures that Adelaide has been bold enough to introduce? Well, here’s just some of what it will take to become a ‘cycling city’ friendly to it’s users.

The 1 Metre Passing Rule

As part of an ongoing campaign by Amy Gillett Foundation, along with recommendations from the South Australian Citizen’s Jury, the need to introduce the minimum 1 metre overtaking rule when drivers pass cyclists has been recommended as legislative change and will be introduced later this year in South Australia.

Providing more space when passing cyclists protects everyone…if you’ve ever been in the situation of a car, bus or truck passing too close, you’ll know that we simply need this as law. Though we did experience a few drivers in Adelaide not adhering to the recommendations all that well, as a general rule, the South Aussie drivers were generous in their allowances made while we were on the road. Respect.

Metre

Amend L Plate Learner Drivers Test

In an important move to bring cycling into the common vernacular of the next generation, the recommendation has been made to include questions on the Learner Drivers tests to include questions about cycling. A minimum of two questions about cyclists will be placed on the test…though let’s hope it’s more than just two!

If we can approach this from a ‘ground up’ approach and treat questions about cycling and cyclists’ use of the road as ‘normal’ and expected, then perhaps we can break the barrier of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality so often referred to between drivers and cyclists. We all share the road, so let’s treat that as the norm!

More Green Boxes

Though a slap of paint is hardly a groundbreaking improvement in badly needed bicycle infrastructure, it does at least take a step forward in making bike riders visible. The boxes are certainly no panacea to what we really need but at least when we know there is no quick fix to our myriad of problems, being able to make yourself more visible at the front of the traffic queue is preferable than being squished out into the gutter.

If you’ve used the bike boxes, you’ll probably agree they are at least a step in the right direction.DSCF8782

Riding On The Footpath

Okay, I hear all the objectors arching up already, but as a teacher of women who want to ride I know this is a biggy! Too often are we placed in situations where the option is simply too dangerous to contemplate being on the road. In South Australia, you will now have that option if there is no safe alternative.

Law states that anyone in Victoria over the age of 13 must be on the road or use the designated bike paths. In other words, not footpath riding. If you’re like me and seen your own 13 year old ride on the road, despite all the education in the world, they simply don’t have the capacity to judge the consequences of their actions. Get them off the road and onto the footpath, and that goes not just for the kids, but any rider who is unpredictable!

I think this change is one of the most significant from my perspective. I just couldn’t even count how many times I have been asked by participants in our women’s cycling programs why they can’t ride on the footpath. But you know what, I say go for it…if you feel unsafe on the road, get off it! When you feel nervous, you become unpredictable, and an unpredictable rider is a seriously vulnerable road user. Though riding on the footpath comes with it’s own risks, in many cases, it is the safer option!

I’d also hasten to add that I was advised by our own Victoria Police on one occasion to get off the road and use the footpath. They didn’t like seeing the uncertainty I was placed in as a cyclist and gave me full permission to ride on…on the footpath! Thanks!

DSCF8286

Formal Cycling Education in Schools

As an accredited AustCycle coach this is really an incredible start to behaviour change. Not only will education mean we are teaching our children right from the outset what the expectations are of them as road users, but also we teach them that bike riding is the norm. Okay, I can hear those people yelling that as soon as we mention the word ‘safety’ we imply that riding is not safe…to the contrary. When we talk about safety it’s the same as teaching our children to not stick a knife in the toaster! There is a risk, we know about it, but we won’t stop cooking the toast!

Cycling education is something I’d certainly like to see as standard in ALL schools, in every state. But not just school – we sure have some catch up to do. What about providing easy access to bike riding education programs for adults? It brings to mind our current situation where we have 12 women on a waiting list to do one of our programs, yet we don’t have the funding to run it. These women miss out on important education that can make them life long riders, educated riders and skilled bike handlers. But because we rely on funding to run our FREE programs for the community, if we don’t get the funding, we can’t run the program.

The multitudes of woman who have said to us at our Wheel Women programs ‘why don’t they teach this everywhere?’, and ‘why don’t our kids learn this in school?’ is just a given…we hear it in every program! Education is really one of the keys to creating better riders who actually know how to use the infrastructure, roads and paths. When we have educated riders, as well as other road users, we reduce the risks. Simple!

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Conclusion

South Australian riders will be better off with these changes. Sure, there will be so many who slam my opinions in this, but I can’t help but see that these are certainly FANTASTIC steps in the right direction. I applaud the South Australian Government and Amy Gillett Foundation for working together to instigate real change that will make a difference.

If we can take example from South Australia, there is no doubt that other states need to follow the lead and act now…bring it on for Victoria PLEASE! I long for the day when I can see a child ride to school, aged 15, safely on the footpath. Or see a woman who is trying desperately to get back into riding but too terrified to use the road, ride on the footpath until she gains confidence to be a regular rider. I look forward to the day that my own son , who is due to take a Learner Driver test in 2 years will just simply know and understand his obligations as a road user as both a rider and a driver.

Clearly we have a way to go before every city in Australia becomes a ‘cycling city’, but at least it’s a start! Perhaps we need a Tour Down Under in every state…now that would be FUN!

For now, I’ll steer clear of the crazy lady who screamed at us about our lycra…just in case she has a bus license as well!

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