Life Wellbeing The government must stop its war on cyclists

The government must stop its war on cyclists

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New South Wales has escalated its war on cyclists by announcing stricter cycling road rules and an unprecedented increase in fines at a time when it should actually be doing the opposite in an effort to tackle the state’s worsening traffic congestion problems.

On Tuesday, the Baird government released new rules for bicycle riders as part of its Go Together campaign that includes a massive jump in penalties for cyclists breaking road rules and a new rule that makes it mandatory for adult cyclists to carry photo identification.

As a cyclist, I know this approach to be not just flawed, but counterproductive to the wider goal of encouraging more people to take up riding.

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NSW roads minister Duncan Gay announced the penalties, which currently sit at a modest $71 for most cycling offences, will be more than quadrupled.

sydney cyclist
It makes sense to promote, not penalise, cycling in Sydney to ease congestion. Photo: Getty

Riding without a helmet and holding onto a moving vehicle will both incur a fine of $319 (an increase of $248). Those who run a red light, ride “dangerously” (whatever that means) and don’t stop at child or pedestrian crossings will cop a fine of $425 (an increase of $354). The new offence of not carrying photo ID, as well as other offences like riding at night without bike lights, carries a penalty of $106.

Meanwhile, the penalty for drivers who break the new minimum distance rules, where a distance of one metre must be provided between cyclist and motorist on roads with a speed limit up to 60km/h, and 1.5 metres for roads with limits over 60km/h, will be handed a laughable $319 fine.

Not only would this be a complete nightmare to enforce, it’s also the same as the penalty for a cyclist not wearing a helmet (the merits of which have already been questioned by public health experts).

Sydney’s roads are already struggling to cope with the ever-increasing traffic congestion (hello, WestConnex), so it would make sense to reduce, not increase, these penalties and encourage motorists to take up cycling as an alternative mode of transport.

Another potential outcome of increased cycling rates would be a reduced burden on the public health system, especially the rates of obesity, which currently sit at two-in-three Australian adults and one-in-four Australian children overweight or obese.

cyclist australia
More cycling infrastructure, not harsher fines, is what’s needed. Photo: Getty

Instead of punishing penalties for cyclists who don’t wear a helmet or run a red light, we should be looking at increasing funding for cycling infrastructure, specifically dedicated bike lanes that would go a long way towards making roads safer for all involved.

It’s also worth noting that the main reason cyclists break rules in the first place is to make the ride a safer experience. A study conducted by UNSW researchers in 2014 found that cyclists who break road rules are “motivated to ensure their own safety by avoiding perceived danger from fast-moving vehicles in traffic and ensuring minimal conflict with drivers”.

For example, cyclists often push themselves out in front of red lights in an effort to ensure a safe riding distance, but I guess this counts as riding “dangerously”.

In a statement, Mr Gay said the new laws are about “striking a balance for everyone on the roads and footpaths” in line with the recommendations of the roundtable discussion he held with cycling, motorist and pedestrian advocacy groups.

But the two main cycling advocacy groups involved in these talks, Bicycle NSW and Bicycle Network, although welcoming of the new minimum distance rules between motorists and cyclists, have slammed the exorbitant fines and the state’s antipathy towards cycling infrastructure.

cyclist australia rain
It’s already hard enough finding the motivation to ride to work. Photo: Getty

Ray Rice, CEO of Bicycle NSW, said in a statement that “if fines are to be raised to such a high level, then bike riders need to be treated fairly in terms of road design”.

Bicycle Network labeled the rules an “oppressive step” in treatment of cyclists “that smacks of totalitarianism”.

At a time when experts are calling for a rethink of Australia’s cycling legislation, these reforms are at best an ill-conceived money grab, and at worst seek to deliberately penalise cyclists to appease the rev-heads who are incensed by the fact they have to share the road with cyclists who don’t pay for vehicle registration.

It’s time for our politicians to change gears when it comes to bike laws. These arbitrary penalties should be scrapped and replaced by laws that recognise the needs of cyclists and greater infrastructure that allows a safer ride for not just them, but pedestrians and drivers as well.

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