Give Us Better Biking Infrastructure, Please!

I was centimeters away from death or serious injury. Millimeters, even. The woman in the car hadn’t meant any harm. She had only just parked and was now hurrying on her way, probably wondering if she had enough coins in her wallet for the meter, if the space she’d just backed into was truly legal, and if she still had time to avoid being late.

But I was on a bike and when her door flung open, I had only seconds to apply the breaks. I screamed. She apologized. Another day commuting to work in the city.

I ride my bike most places these days. It’s good for my health, my wallet and the environment. Some bike-riders are as bad as ex-smokers-insufferable, morally over-inflated bores. I try not to be one of those. I know that not everyone can ride, and few can ride all the time. This afternoon, my kids have footy training and I’ll use the car.

But more people are cycling these days. Not for recreation – though this is happening too-but to get where they’re going. Since 2001, there’s been a nearly 30% average increase in Australians cycling to work. An increase in commuter cyclists benefits us all. One less sweaty body in the tram or train; one less car clogging up the road at peak hour; one less person straining the public health system with a physical or mental health problem that regular exercise might have prevented; one less person contributing to air and noise pollution, road trauma and congestion in our capital cities; one less person emitting greenhouse gases that contribute to dangerous climate change-and the list goes on.

Yet the support of Australian governments of all persuasions for bringing Australia’s commuter cycling infrastructure into the 21st century ranges from paltry to piss-weak. My near-death experience would almost certainly have been avoided if I had been traveling in a Copenhagen-style lane, commuter paths ubiquitous in the city that gives them their name, which keep cyclists separate from moving traffic. I also owe several close calls to what I call magician lanes: bike lanes that simply disappear in the middle of four-lane traffic and magically reappear further down the road. What do they expect us to do, de-materilise?

But Copenhagen lanes are scarcer than hen’s teeth in Australian capital cities and magician lanes far too common. The consequence is that more people than necessary risk fright, injury and even death when riding, and that men will continue to make up the majority of those cycling to work because most women refuse to consider commuting an extreme sport.

Why is Australia’s biking infrastructure so poor? The answer is that despite regular calls for us to reduce the size of our waists and our carbon footprint, few governments have been willing to show commuter cyclists the money. Melbourne is the happiest story, and it has only completed 35% of the bike network begun in the early 1990s. Sydney is amongst the saddest. Despite having many of the factors know to encourage cycling-congested roads, short distances between destinations, high parking costs-fewer Sydney-siders than residents of most other Australian cities cycle to work because the city’s infrastructure is so poor.

What can you do? Ride when you can. There’s safety in numbers and we need your voice in the chorus for change. When you drive and park, watch out for cyclists.

Be part of the solution, whether you’re in four wheels, or on two.

Publication history

Give Us Better Biking Infrastructure, Please!  Sun-Herald (Sydney)