Act of aggression

A site dedicated to cycling rants about Brisbane ...and a board game

An open letter to the Queensland Premier gets a response

A little while ago I wrote to the Queensland Premier about the Transport Minister's complete disregard for peer reviewed research, community sentiment, and the Queensland Parliamentary Committee's recommendations, when it came to mandatory bicycle helmet laws.  The letter can be read below. I recently received a response, the pertinent bits of which are:

The Premier understands your view that helmets are a barrier to cycling participation and acknowledges your strong opposition to mandatory helmet laws.

As you would know, the Queensland Parliament' Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee made 68 recommendations as part of the inquiry into improving the interaction of cyclists and other road users. While the Government supported the majority of the committee's recommendations, 17 of them, including the introduction of a trial exempting cyclists over 16 years old from mandatory helmet road rules, were not supported.

You would be aware there are conflicting opinions regarding the benefits of mandatory helmet laws. While you've provided information to support your position, the Queensland Government has decided not to progress changes to helmet requirements at this time.

The Government is committed to creating safer road conditions for Queensland cyclists and will continue to work to implement the committee's recommendations.

The claim that 17 recommendations were supported is a bit of a fudge of the figures .... a bit like how the Government tried to rely on the HUGE numbers of cycling injuries in the Netherlands as evidence that helmets should be mandatory (see page 11 here).

The vast majority of Inquiry recommendations supported by the Government were administrative actions without real outcomes.  Things like investigating potential administrative changes, developing better ways to obtain statistics, developing relationships with stakeholders etc.  A few of the recommendations related to significant policy changes, most of which were not supported, or 'supported in principle' which is Govspeak for 'there's already a decision process in place that we can pretend meets this outcome'.  

However there were about 20 recommendations to specifically change the road rules in ways to make cycling safe, including recommendations about introducing safe passing distances.  All but 2 were rejected, including the recommendations for a mandatory 1 metre safe passing distance (1.5m in speed zones greater than 60kph).

Instead, the Government has introduced a 2 year trial for safe passing laws, and will review the success of the laws after that date.  Already it is clear that the Queensland Police are refusing to enforce the laws (see here and here).  

One of the committee's recommendations was to increase certain fines for cyclists only where death or injury of another road user is a potential outcome of the offence.  Instead, the Government has increased all fines for cyclists, so that they are the same as drivers.

The two changes to the road laws completely supported by the Government were allowing cyclists to ride across zebra crossings, and removing the mandatory requirement for bicycles to use on road bike lanes.  Neither of these changes have yet been made, 6 months after the Inquiry, despite the laws being changed almost overnight to introduce the higher fines and the mandatory passing laws. 

 

An open letter to the Queensland Premier

1 July 2014

 

Mr Campbell Newman

Premier of Queensland

PO Box 15185 City East

QLD  4002  Australia

 

Dear Premier,

I'm after your advice.  How can Queensland implement good public policy?  All the usual, democratic processes of good government don’t seem to work under your government.

So far I've sent quite a few letters to you and to your Minister for Transport, Mr Scott Emerson MP, about Queensland's mandatory bicycle helmet laws (MHLs), referencing all the available research on the issue which clearly supports changes to MHLs.  

In one of your responses to me on this issue, you wrote "I have an open mind on this but there would need to be some very good data supporting a change."

So in my letters I've pointed out all the overwhelming research showing that MHLs significantly discourage utility riding (i.e. riding to the shops, to work, to school etc.), and probably makes no difference to cycling injuries. I've provided some data that even shows MHLs may even make cycling more dangerous.  Actual, published, peer reviewed data.  I've also provided Census data showing that this type of everyday cycling, the type that reduces car use, saves Queensland a motza and helps fight obesity, has declined since the introduction of MHLs.  I've provided links to lengthy and detailed critiques of the small bit of evidence used by the Transport Minister and CARRS-Q and to justify keeping MHLs. I’ve even met with TMR policy advisors on this issue.

My local member, Jason Woodforth MP, even campaigned in my electorate on his opposition to MHLs and is now part of your LNP government (although I suspect he won’t get pre-selection next year, poor fellow).

The responses I get from the Transport Minister, his advisers and TMR, just regurgitate false information like dictatorship propaganda: as if saying the same rubbish over and over again will somehow give it credibility.  I'm sure your Chief of Staff will flick this letter to TMR (I even mentioned 'Scott Emerson' and 'Transport' in the second paragraph so your staffer didn't have to waste too much time in deciding where to flick it) and the response I get to this letter will no doubt be the same.

The falsities regurgitated include referrals to the Cochrane report on helmet efficacy (over 20 years old now and discredited by more recent research, not least because it was based on research conducted by the reviewing authors themselves); CARRS-Q's infamous 2010 monograph which misquoted a significant amount of the research it purported to review; and, more recently, a claim that the Netherlands have heaps more head injuries than Australia and this can be blamed on their lack of MHLs. 

Of course TMR suggests this has nothing to do with the fact that cycling accounts for something like 30% of trips in the Netherlands, compared to Australia’s average of under 2%. Because, you know, the Netherlands doesn’t have disincentives to cycling like MHLs.  

In one remarkably poor piece of Ministerial letter writing, TMR even had the audacity to claim that MHLs were introduced "on the basis of a substantial body of evidence indicating a diminished risk of injury through helmet use."  Of course, this is a lie and there was no evidence except the anecdotally based (although no doubt heartfelt) campaigning of a handful of trauma surgeons when the laws were introduced, as a condition of Federal funding. 

That's a bit like banning children from playgrounds, or banning stairs and bathtubs, based on emergency presentations. 

Then we had a Parliamentary Inquiry into Cycling Issues.  You may have forgotten about Queensland's Parliamentary Committee system, it doesn't get used that much any more.  In the absence of an upper house, it is supposed to ensure legislative amendments reflect good, evidence-based public policy, not ideology or the personal whims of one Minister.

The Transport, Housing and Local Government Committee published a very good report called “A New Direction in Cycling”.  A number of people spent a considerable amount of time and effort  to give very detailed submissions to assist the Committee, in the belief that it was the way to achieve good, evidence based public policy, and the belief that our Parliamentary system actually worked.  The Committee, made up of members from both sides of the house but predominately from your party, prepared a detailed report with 68 recommendations including measured, academically based amendments to MHLs.

Mr Emerson, however, supported most of the recommendations only in part, predominately on the basis of whether the recommendations would cost money or involve actual legislative change. For MHLs, however, Mr Emerson very publicly rejected any change even before the report was published. 

Because he personally thinks they're a good idea.  Because they've saved his noggin plenty of times.  

I assume, of course he's talking about recreational, sport riding.  I've been riding for transport for 40 years and my helmet has never hit the tarmac (except when I drop the damned thing because it is a bugger to carry around everywhere on daily business).  Admittedly I don’t wear my helmet all the time, like when I’m overseas: Australia and NZ are the only two countries in the world that enforce the law.  Even when in one of the few overseas cities such as Vancouver where there is also such a law, local police know the law is stupid and don’t enforce it.  A number of cities have quite recently repealed their MHLs.  And guess what, there was a lot more people riding bikes. No mass carnage.

As for the more dangerous sports cycling, helmets will always continue to be part of the uniform irrespective of legislative amendments. Just like it is in all the other countries of the world where MHLs aren't needed, and people are allowed to dress appropriately to suit the activity they're doing. Lets face it, if the pro teams started wearing fluffy bunny ears on the Tour de France, Saturday morning on the river loop would like Easter drinks at the Annex.

If Mr Emerson really has taken that many tumbles off a non-racing bike, he’d better give bikes away completely and stick to Segways.

Thankfully the poor suffering policy people in TMR didn't let Mr Emerson formally blow a fat raspberry at the Committee's recommendations on MHLs, and instead crafted something based on the non-peer reviewed CARRS-Q submission, and on the terrible rate of head injuries plaguing cycling in the Netherlands.   

There’s no point explaining the bias behind the CARRS-Q 2010 report.  I‘ve already done it several times in previous letters to Mr Emerson.  As an aside, one of the bits in that Netherlands publication that TMR chose not to regurgitate says that, in the Netherlands, only "One third of the cyclists who are admitted to hospital with serious injury after a road crash are diagnosed with head or brain injury."

According to Australian research, our cycling related head injuries account for the highest proportion of critical injuries (73%) and severe injuries (86%) to cyclists.

The Netherlands fact sheet quoted also recognises that “it may be the case that the less serious neck injury takes the place of serious brain injury, which means that the finding is positive when the two injury types are considered in combination. This is indeed what was concluded: if all injuries to both head and neck are considered in combination, the risk increase is smaller but still present (factor of 1.18.)”

That fact sheet also says that “Based on the experiences in Australia and Canada, it cannot be ruled out that compulsory helmet may decrease bicycle use ...”  

But TMR chose not to use that bit either.

The same poor policy officer responsible for crafting that response to the recommendations to amend MHLs, is probably the same person thanklessly tasked to drafting a response to this letter.  I feel sorry for them, having to try to engage with me, understand my issue, somehow blame it on the previous government and still keep Dr Graham Fraine and Dr Mark King happy, given their TMR careers are based upon MHLs remaining unquestionable (given their involvement in their introduction).

The problem is, Premier, at the end of all the arguments about what percentage of safety helmets might offer, the actual risk of falling off a bicycle and risking a head injury is incredibly small. If it represents a risk significant enough to be dealt with by legislation, then MHLs for drivers, pedestrians, and bathtubbers would prevent many, many more head injuries and should be instituted immediately. 

What is clear from the research, however, is that the majority of death and injury to cyclists is caused by cars, and the best way to get drivers to look out for cyclists is to get a lot more people cycling.  MHLs are significant in preventing this from happening.  Spending millions on separated cycling infrastructure would help too, but then (a) we would definitely not need helmets and (b) amending the MHLs as recommended by the Committee is something Queensland can afford to do (both politically and economically).

So Premier, I need your advice.  My local member of a majority government strongly supports MHL repeal.  TMR has been provided with all the relevant academic research showing that this legislative change reflects good public policy.  Queensland's own Parliamentary Committee system recommended reform. And yet, the Transport Minister refuses to fix this problem. 

Please, what else can be done?  I'm afraid I don't personally have the money to lobby you directly through dinner parties and party donations.  I can only rely on good old fashioned democratic processes.

Update on the new bicycle

Apologies for not updating this site in a very long time.  I blame the children ... and work ... and trying to get my Honours thesis done.

A well overdue post is comment on the Queensland government's response to the Parliamentary Enquiry into cycling Issues.  The Parliamentary Commission put together a 68 point blueprint that would make real, positive leaps forward for cycling in Australia.  The Transport Minister, and the bureaucrats in the Transport Department who prepared the official government response, however, stuck their thumbs in both ears, waggled their fingers about and blew great big raspberries. To summarise, none of the 68 recommendations that would make a real difference were picked up on.  A handful were completely bastardised under the guise of being accepted in part (just the part that didn't matter, and an awful lot were completely rejected.  

But that will be the next post.  

For this post, after such a long hiatus, I want to talk about something positive.  How much I have fallen in love with my (not so new anymore) Brompton M6R.

At the risk of being the cliche, I upgraded the standard seat with a Brooks B17 leather saddle. I found the standard seat uncomfortable for rides longer than an hour.  I love the Brooks saddle, but can understand why they might not be for everyone.  For me, even new and not yet fully broken in, it is one of the most comfortable seats I've ever had.

I also upgraded the front light with a stand light.  The standard front light would turn off once I'd come to a stop at intersections etc, and now that it is winter I found it somewhat disconcerting waiting to cross busy roads in the dar, with no front light.  I was worried cars turning across me would not see me, and cut the corner.  The upgraded light stays on for a bit, usually enough time for me to get across the interaction safely.  It also has an automatic sensor function: it knows when it is night or day and turns itself on and off accordingly.  Because the rear light is connected down current from the front, this means the rear light is also automatic.

I've also upgraded the handgrips, for some cheap cork-style grips.  Looks nice, but I haven't ridden it far enough with the new grips to be sure they're a good idea.  I'll let you know.

In short, I absolutely love the Brompton and it is my everyday transport.  The only time I don't take it is if I know it needs to be locked out on the street for extended periods, for example if I'm going to the cinema.  It usually comes into pubs and restaurants with me and just sits under the table, but I haven't been game enough to try to carry it into a theatre yet.  When I went to the art gallery I secured in the cloak room.  When I collected it the staff wanted a demonstration of unfolding.  Te Brompton got applause.  People who work art galleries dig good design.

 

New bicycle!

 

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A little over a week ago my new bicycle arrived, a Brompton from the United Kingdom.  This bike is to replace my daily commuter, a Dahon Speed which I bought from a friend 2nd hand. 

I love the Dahon, and have replaced just about everything on it to keep it going over the last couple of years.  My daily commute is 30km round trip, and I’ve used the Dahon for most other trips too, so conservatively I’ve done over 20,000 kms on it.  At initial purchase price of $200, even adding in costs of replacement parts, my estimated running costs have probably only been between 1 and 5 cents per kilometre.

For those who want to know these things, my Brompton spec is H6R, with the following additions:

·      Extension seat post

·      Shimano hub dynamo with lights

·      Brompton bespoke folding front basket

·      ‘Eazy’ wheels (for rolling the bike with ‘eaze’ when it is folded up)

Bromptons can at their worst be described as a funny, quirky little urban bicycle.  At their best they can be described as a modern engineering masterpiece, bordering on art. 

A good folding bicycle is for me a lot like an Apple iPad.  When the iPad came onto the market I really wanted one because it was such an attractive example of industrial design, but I wasn’t convinced of its utility.  Once I had purchased an iPad, however, I couldn’t imagine life without it.  It’s just so damned useful! 

Same with a good folder.

When I handed over $200 for my Dahon I thought it might get used once in a while.  However it soon became my everyday ride, stashed under my desk at work (no more stuffing around in the building basement locking it up) and unobtrusively tucked into the corner of a train carriage when the weather turned nasty or after a late night out.

I say a good folding bike, because people I know who have bought incredibly cheap designs from supermarkets or department stores haven’t used their folders nearly as much as I have.

So given the utility of a good folder, the brilliance of the design, and the advantage of having a good look (and a couple of quick rides) of a friend’s Brompton, I had very few qualms spending money on a Brompton of my own.

Besides, I’m a sucker for an industrial design icon.

There was an 8 week wait from ordering to expected delivery, which unfortunately dragged out to 10 weeks before the bicycle actually arrived.  Due, I suspect, to Brompton bicycles now being imported via a local distributor instead of directly by Australian bike shops.  The bicycle arrived in a box, all folded up, and apparently ready to ride. Usually when I purchase a new bike, I spend a couple of hours going over it to make sure everything is assembled properly, lubricated, and adjusted correctly before I ride it.  I was lulled into a false sense of security on this occasion, and have since lost a piece that presumably hadn’t been tightened up properly at the factory, and hadn’t been picked up by the shop I bought it from who assured me they fully inspect the bike before couriering it on to me.  The bike shop was very good about it though, and posted me a replacement piece straight away.

The bike was couriered to me because I chose not to buy from the local Brisbane shop: previous bicycles bought from that particular shop have been woefully assembled, needing almost a complete rebuild on one occasion, and the shop is becoming notorious for bad service. Unfortunately the next closest Brompton dealer was in Sydney, almost 1,000kms away, although I have since discovered the newly appointed distributor also operates from Brisbane.

The positives

The engineering that has gone into this bicycle is awesome.  Its fold is more complicated than the Dahon, and takes longer (although I’m still inexperienced at folding it), but it is much more thought out.   

 

 

The Dahon just folds in half, with the seatpost then getting lowered and the steering stem folded over too. The finished fold is just held together by a magnet and metal plate near the front and rear axles.  My Dahon, being older, is slightly more advanced than the modern Terns or Dr Hons which share its lineage: the modern bikes have the steering stem fold outside the bike and held from flailing about by a rubber strap.  Whereas my older Dahon is designed such that the steering stem folds inside the two halves.

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The Brompton’s folded size is smaller than the Dahon, but its real achievement is that, when folded, the Brompton is much easier to carry about and is a lot more stable.  My Dahon won’t stand by itself when folded, but needs to be leant against a pole or wall, and is unwieldy to carry.  In contrast, the folded Brompton is much easier to carry, stands solidly on its own and can be rolled about with ‘eaze.’

The day my Brompton arrived at the office coincided with the first torrential downpour of the storm season. Riding it home on-handed from the station, through several inches of surface water whilst holding an umbrella, I was first struck by how incredibly well balanced the Brompton seems to be.  Track-standing was incredibly easy, even with little to no getting used to the bike.

Despite its diminutive look, the Brompton is also incredibly comfortable to ride.  I opted for firm suspension because when test riding the standard suspension seemed too soft.  The bicycle has rear suspension by means of a rubber block between the main frame and its hinged rear triangle, very reminiscent of Alex Moulton’s suspension solution for Issigoni’s  Morris Mini Minor.  However I will probably upgrade the suspension to something adjustable as the firm block seems too firm.

The Brompton is designed for front-mounted luggage, with a bespoke mounting system and a matching range of bags.  I opted for the cheapest luggage option: an open topped cloth bag with carry handles.  Even the design of this bag is good, with simple, integrated cantilever support, and the ability to completely remove the cloth from the frame if necessary.  The bag is also cavernous, easily carrying everything I’d usually stick into a pannier and with room for my messenger bag which, on the Dahon, I usually had to wear over my shoulder.  The bag is almost too big, because it invites me to put too much heavy stuff in it which does make the bicycle feel a bit too front heavy, exacerbated no doubt by the 16” wheels.

The bicycle also comes with some neat additions, like a Zefal pump in a frame integrated mount. a bell integrated into the left-hand gear lever (there’s not a lot of room on the handlebars for mounting things) and bespoke elastic straps for the bespoke rear luggage rack. The left-hand folding pedal is also a bespoke design, appearing to be considerably sturdier than generic folding pedals offered for other bikes.

The negatives

As Peter Eland would politely put it, there are perhaps just a few little niggles. Having an important part fall off because it wasn’t tightened properly being, of course, a pretty major one.

The front-heavy feel of the bike when carrying stuff in the front-mounted luggage, combined with the small wheels, do make the bike feel skittish and slippery or uneven surfaces need to be ridden upon with care.  On my first ride into work I had to brake heavily due to a stupid cow throwing open her car door in traffic, and the back wheel locked up.

While the rear light has a stand light function (remaining illuminated when stopped),however the front light does not. 

Both front and rear mudguards have additional mudflaps, the rear mudflap being rubber. However the front mudflap is made of a thin cloth which doesn’t look too long lasting.  I’ll replace it with one cut out of rubber when I get the chance.

On my bicycle the main Brompton decal had a couple of unsightly air bubbles which now can’t be shifted, but probably could have been taken care of easily when the decal was first applied in the factory.  This doesn’t affect the bike’s performance, and is really only a small, personal annoyance.

All up, it really is an amazing piece of machinery and I am, to use Brompton’s native language, well chuffed with it.

 

How many of the exact same 'freak accidents' are needed?

Right from the outset, let me make it clear.  Riding a pushbike is NOT DANGEROUS.  Research based on assumptions around distances travelled indicate that cycling is more dangerous than public transport or taking the car, but not as dangerous as riding a motorcycle.  However this research is based on distance travelled, which automatically skews the results in 'favour' of transport modes used for the longest distances.  According to this type of categorisation, shopping centre escalators or elevators would rank as the most risky forms of 'transport'. The shorter the distance covered, the more skewed the result would be.  If you wanted to take it to the absurd, loungeroom couches, movie theatre chairs, beds, and anywhere else where 'distances travelled' are small to non-existent, would appear extremely dangerous!

When measured more logically, for example in terms of time periods of exposure (i.e. how long someone spends doing a particular activity), riding a pushbike is in fact incredibly safe.  Some research suggests you're 1.5 times more likely to die walking than riding a bike if you walked and cycled for the same amount of time.

Other research based on hours of exposure has found that riding a bike is twice as safe as being in a car and, when measured by numbers of participants. about 4 times safer than playing tennis and 40 times safer than fishing.  

What makes cycling seem so unsafe (i.e. the perception of safety as opposed to actual safety) here in Brisbane, and in most Australian capital cities probably, is the media attention that 'cycling deaths' receive.  Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't want the media to trivialise these tragedies, but a lot more coverage is given to cyclists' deaths than other forms of road carnage.  Car drivers and their passengers who die are generally reported, but don't seem to get the same amount of emotive coverage as cyclist, or even pedestrian deaths. 

I think there could be two reasons for this.  First, it seems to me that there is a heightened media attraction to cycling issues in Australia at the moment.  As a cycling advocate, I view this as a good thing (as long as it is positive, and not just drool falling onto a keyboard from the slackened jaw of a braindead moron.)  

Secondly, the death of an innocent while minding their own business and going about their daily life, senselessly killed at the hands of another, or by some sort of 'freak accident', is a much more emotive story.

Unfortunately, however, there's too many deaths that are often portrayed by the media (and even some cycling advocates) as a 'freak accident' when they are not. One death in a certain set of circumstances might be considered a 'freak accident'.  But how much of a 'freak accident' can it be if there's two, or three or even several deaths, all in similar circumstances?

In September 2011, 25 year old Richard Pollett was killed when a cement truck tried to pass him on a busy road. The truck driver admitted he saw Richard, and admitted he didn't bother changing lanes or slowing down, but claims he just thought Richard would have enough room even though he was driving a cement truck in a narrow lane around a slight bend.  In May this year the truck driver was acquitted of dangerous driving.  

In  May last year, 82 year old Franco Leo was killed when a garbage truck ran over him on a 'traffic calming' roundabout on a residential road in New Farm. Looking at the scene afterwards, it appears the garbage truck was going fast enough to also hit the kerb on the opposite side of the roundabout, after hitting Mr Leo.  

In the 6 months since the truck driver's acquittal for Richard's death, Tanya Roneberg, Sue Bell, Les Karayan, Myles Sparling and Michelle Smeaton have all been killed on Queensland roads.    

Sue Bell, Les Karayan and Michelle Smeaton all died because of trucks attempting to pass them. Early reports suggest a piece of equipment, a crane stabilising arm, was extended from the side of the truck that struck Michelle.

Myles Sparling, 5 years old, was crossing the road with his family on a pedestrian crossing, when a truck turned the corner and killed him.  

News reports suggest Tanya Roneberg was also killed by a utility van attempting to pass her.

These are not 'freak accidents'.  There's just too many similarities.  As a society, we need to stop trying to rationalise these deaths as 'accidents' in order to preserve our wilful blindness to the actual causes.  All of these deaths need to be looked at together, in a proper coronial enquiry, with the real dangers exposed and effective recommendations made.  

If we continue to allow heavy vehicles travelling at speed on the same road space that unprotected men, women and children are traversing, then these deaths will continue. 

Most importantly, we need to stop calling them 'cycling deaths.'  These people didn't die because they were riding their bikes, they died because they were struck by a truck or similar heavy vehicle.  The police report of Michelle Smeaton's death shamefully phrased the circumstances as "came into contact with part of the truck causing her to fall from her bicycle."

It's like reporting a person who has been shot as "coming into contact with a small projectile, causing her to fall and sustain multiple internal injuries."  It's a bit like people suggesting the old adage that it's not the leap off a building that kills you, it's the sudden stop at the end.  

 From my personal experience, there are a number of identifiable situations where dangerous interactions occur regularly between people on pushbikes and other road users.  Each of these dangerous circumstances is made all the more potentially lethal, if a truck is involved.

Getting doored 

This situation occurs where doors of parked cars are opened into the path of cyclists without proper care and attention. While this is an offence under Queensland’s road rules, it still appears to be a common occurrence. Often the result is not the cyclist hitting the opened door, but the cyclist swerving to avoid collision and instead colliding with passing vehicles.  If that passing vehicle happens to be a truck, much wider than a normal car and taking up much more of the lane, then there's nowhere to go.  

 The close shave

In Queensland, for some absurd reason, motor vehicles are allowed to park in designated bike lanes. This means people have a choice of either keeping to the left which encourages vehicles to pass too closely, or ‘taking the lane’ (riding in the middle or in the right wheel track of the lane) in order to prevent vehicles from overtaking if there is not enough room to do so safely. If taking the lane, cars and trucks often tailgate to intimidate them into moving over, are aggressively beeped at or, when there is sufficient space within the lane or a break in oncoming traffic, overtaken too closely as a 'punishment pass'.  The existence of a bike lane, even if there's cars parked in it, further infuriates the motorist.  On many occasions the subsequent close overtake is accompanied with being told to “get off the f***ing road” or the dangerous and illegal blaring of a horn.

I've been chased down  a narrow 40kph road, at 45 kph, by a man driving an articulated heavy crane revving the guts out of his engine and blasting me with his air horn.   

Even if a passing truck driver means no animosity, getting passed by such a large vehicle in the same lane is such a frightening experience that I've known a number of people, men and women, who have given up cycling immediately.

 The intersection overtake

Current on-road bike lanes in Queensland are continued to roundabouts and curve left in parallel to the kerb:

 

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As a result of this, people often have to stop to the left of vehicles, where drivers are looking to their right (away from cyclists) for any traffic already on or approaching the roundabout. 

The end result is that people on bikes and other vehicles will often enter the roundabout at the same time, with motorised vehicles accelerating quicker than bicyclists.  This type of road treatment also encourages the driver’s expectation that the bicyclist will continue to keep to the left allowing them to overtake on the roundabout, whereas in reality both will take the same natural line through the roundabout resulting in collision.

Similar conflicts can occur in intersections, where both people on bikes, pedestrians crossing the road and cars will either slow or stop at approach, and then attempt to cross the intersection at the same time.

Approaching the roundabout in the above picture, I've had trucks overtake me then stop to give way, with their rear wheels sitting in the middle of the bike lane.  

 The left hook

This situation occurs as a result of the bike rider keeping to the left of the carriageway approaching a side road or driveway.  Motor vehicles will overtake them and then immediately turn left, cutting off the rider who may collide with the side of the vehicle.

The pinch point

Pinch points are created in a stupid effort of traffic calming, and in some instances to facilitate pedestrians crossing the road (because drivers tend to ignore zebra crossings so our response is to just get rid of them, and let pedestrians take their chances standing in the middle of busy traffic, with a few inches of kerb to protect them from both directions).   Pinch points are created where the lane narrows through the use of kerbing extending into the roadway, or a traffic island or refuge being created in the centre of the lane.

In most instances, any bike lane or safe shoulder evaporates leading up to the pinch point.

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The result of this type of road treatment is that cyclists are required to move into the line of traffic. This often results in cars passing cyclists too closely as described above, or attempting to ‘beat’ them to the pinch point by accelerating dangerously (MGIF or 'Must Get In Front' syndrome).

 'SMIDSY'

SMIDSY (or 'sorry mate I didn't see you!") occurs most commonly where a vehicle entering the road from a side road or driveway, fails to give way to the person riding a bike already on the road. 

This situation often occurs for four reasons: 

1. A driver will look for oncoming traffic before pulling out, but is expecting to see another automobile or heavy vehicle and therefore fails to register a person on a bike.  This is a symptom of low levels of cycling within our community, resulting in a general lack of awareness of cyclists by other road users.

2. The driver underestimates the speed of the person riding, thinking they can turn into the road before the person reaches the intersection.  This can also be attributed to a lack of awareness of cyclists’ needs and behaviours.

3. The ‘A' pillar of the driver’s vehicle (the roof pillar adjoining the windscreen) conceals the person riding from the driver’s view.  This situation is exacerbated by drivers turning in the direction of the corner as they approach the intersection, and slowing their vehicle but not stopping. These actions often result in the A pillar continuing to align with the driver’s sightline to the slowly approaching person. Drivers who are expecting to see fast moving automobiles will expect an approaching vehicle to approach at sufficient speed to overcome this alignment.   This situation is also exacerbated by the punctum caecum blind spot.

4. Lastly, and most disturbing, a driver may just choose to take the 'might is right' approach, or simply act on the view that anyone not in a car is an illegitimate road user and doesn't deserve consideration.

All these circumstances are intertwined, and all are made much more dangerous if the motor vehicle in question is a heavy vehicle, like a truck. 

 What needs to be done is no mystery.  I've mentioned most of them before (see earlier posts). Other countries around the world are doing it:

If we can't severely limit where heavy vehicles go in our neighbourhoods, then we need proper funding and world best practice design, even if it means taking space away from moving and parked cars, to ensure wherever possible people on their own are separated from people in heavy vehicles.  This doesn't mean separated Copenhagen-style paths on every street.  It means useful, connected, planned bike routes and walking with separated infrastructure where necessary, on key routes.  

We need to lower speed limits to 30kph on local streets that connect people to the separated infrastructure, when those streets are to be shared.

We need changes to the road rules so that cyclists don't have to pretend to be cars or trucks, or are at least don't have to try to compete with them.  We also need changes to the offence provisions so that, in the event a person is struck by a vehicle, the onus is on the vehicle's driver to show they were taking all required care and precautions.  

We need to start prosecuting drivers for dangerous driving offences, and increase the punishments that can be given when that dangerous driving results in serious injury or death.  We need to change the laws so that people who do stupid things on the road don't just get minor traffic tickets, so that people in control of vehicles, including cars as well as trucks,  start taking extra special care around people.  In the last week, I've heard two separate stories where a driver has knocked someone from their bike, and received a small fine and lost one demerit point. 

We need to get rid of mandatory helmet laws.  Riding a bike is safe, and wearing a helmet will make no difference whatsoever if you're hit by a truck.  Every one of the above people killed was wearing one.  What helmet laws actually do is discourage everyday, utility cycling, leaving us with an aggressive, male dominated sport, not a legitimate form of transport.  Helmet laws tell people that cycling is dangerous, that people riding bikes are responsible for their own safety, and that people riding bikes are using 'valuable' road space and delaying 'important' journeys for the 'illegitimate' purposes of sport and recreation.  But worst of all, helmets allow governments to say they take safety seriously, instead of admit that nothing of consequence is being done despite all the 'freak accidents'.  If this is done, then more people will hop on their bikes, and there's more chance that a jury will identify with the deceased, or their family, and not the driver.

Share the road ...

Here in Queensland the State Government, bless 'em, is holding a Parliamentary Inquiry into cycling issues. I made a submission as did many others.  There have been some great submissions, and some not so great. 

The big mystery is, of course, why the Inquiry is being held in the first place.  The plight of cyclists on our roads is clear, and what needs to be done is no mystery.   There is a vicious circle affecting cycling in Queensland.  Road environment requires cyclists to pretend to be, and compete with cars. As a result most ordinary people, just wanting to get from A to B, don’t want to ride.

These low numbers leads to transport planning, which is done reactively, catering more for cars and making cycling even harder.

Because of all this, cyclists are seen as illegitimate road users and drivers either treat them as a sub-species, or just have no idea how to share the road with them.

Rather than address car addiction, or admit that cars were the problem, mandatory bike helmet laws were introduced.  A 'blame the victim' approach to road safety that just made cycling even more unpopular, fuelled the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity, and presented an excuse for Government to avoid spending on proper infrastructure.

Other countries around the world have already come up with the solutions, so why the Inquiry?  Why not just get on with fixing it? 

what needs to be done is: 

1. Proper funding and world best practice design, even if it means taking space away from moving and parked cars.  This doesn't mean separated Copenhagen-style paths on every street.  It means useful, connected, planned bike routes where necessary, which are separated from cars.  

2. Lowering speed limits: 30kph on local streets and 50kph on connector roads.  Here in Brisbane, and in most Australian cities, the default speed limit is 50kph.  That means that even little laneways, cul-de-sacs, residential neighbourhoods, nursing homes etc. etc. drivers can drive at 50kph and usually drive at 60kph happily. Next up in the hierarchy of roads, collector roads which provide local access but also move traffic from local roads to main routes, speed limits are usually 60kph or 70kph,  which means drivers do anywhere between 65 to 80 kph.  Seriously, if you drive around Brisbane at or below the speed limit, you will get honked at, abused, or cut off by irate drivers who want to stay with the flow of traffic (generally 5 to 10 kph above the posted limit.

3. Changes to the road rules so that cyclists don't have to pretend to be cars, or are at least protected from cars.  Bicycles are not cars and should not be categorised as 'vehicles'. The average person cannot propel a bicycle so as to beat a car to a destination further than 5km away. The average person probably couldn't propel a bicycle across an intersection quicker than a car. Being forced to do so (by having to stop at stop signs or red lights, and being prohibited from crossing with pedestrians) means the average person won't even try.

4. Get rid of mandatory helmet laws.  There's lots of evidence that while helmets may prevent some types of head injury in the unlikely event of some types of crashes, the social damage mandatory helmet laws cause (disincentive to cycling, shaping cycling culture as a male-dominated sporting culture, risk compensation, signalling that cyclists are responsible for mitigating danger etc. etc.) far outweighs the advantages. Despite this, State Government still churns out the propaganda.

Some submissions call for an awareness campaign.  Even though none have worked before, not even Scotland's depressingly fucked up Niceway Code campaign (which even goes so far to say that cyclists are not even a subspecies, they're horses).

The problem with most government produced awareness campaigns is that they are usually undermined by government's inherent, car-centric bias.  Some pinhead in Scotland's traffic department probably thought cyclists wouldn't mind being ridiculed, if it got drivers onside. I wonder how many Scottish cyclists get carrots thrown at them instead of beer bottles. 

Australian governments have the same bias.  For example, Queensland's 'Share the Road' campaign went to great lengths to deliver twin messages with equal weighting: It takes two to tango, so cyclists follow the road rules and motorists give cyclists plenty of room.   Thereby entrenching the fallacy that cyclists disobey the road rules more than cars do. 

Here's the message for drivers, encouraging them to give cyclists plenty of room on the road:

 

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 It all looks okay doesn't it? No inherent bias here is there? Everyone in their rightful place when sharing the road??

Well, here's how the Dutch give the same message: 

 

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Why on-road bike lanes don't work

The most obvious reason why on-road bike lanes don't work here in sunny Brisbane is that, for some odd reason, our local lawmakers diverge from Australia's agreed standardised road rules and allow cars to park in them. 

It's impossible to ride over parked cars.  Believe me, I've spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about how I could do it.

But the real problem with on-road bike lanes everywhere is that the thin little white line dividing the allocated bike lane road space from the allocated everything-else road space doesn't magically prevent everything-else from driving over it.  Let me give an example.

Bicyclists riding along Sandgate Road are directed by lawful signage to turn off a nice wide 2 metre shoulder and divert through Nundah Village: an uphill local street which swaps between bike lane markings (bikes must ride in the bike lane unless imptracticable to do so), a bicycle awareness zone (bikes can ride anywhere on the road), a bike lane with parked cars (bikes must magically ride over the top of parked cars unless impracticalbe to do so), or nothing at all (you're on your own mate!).  The local street swaps between these various supposedly cycle friendly treatments about every 15 metres or so.  Then back again. 

At the end of this local road, after traversing a dangerous roundabout and two sets of lights that the automobiles (which are not so diverted) get to miss out on, the local road turns into an on-ramp joining back to the road the bicyclist was on in the first place.

This on-ramp has a bike lane on it, although at the moment it is covered in dirt and gravel from cement trucks and other construction vehicles (there's a huge new residential development being built on the aforesaid local road).

Twice in the last week I've almost gone under a heavy vehicle whilst riding in this bike lane (this morning it was a cement truck, last week it was a council bus). 

The problem as I see it is this. The vehicles travelling alongside the bike lane, on the other side of the littel white dividing line, are focussing on the traffic they are about to merge with.  They have already dismissed the fellow on the bicycle from their thoughts: after all he's on the other side of that little white line safe in the bike lane, right?  

The bike lane isn't incredibly wide, and vehicles whose drivers are looking for a gp to their left invariably drift a little to the right, as they inevitably travel towards the point of merge but there's no gap in traffic opening up for them.

Last week, when I realised the council bus had got about 20 inches from my shoulder and was still getting closer, the driver luckily slowed down allowing me to squeeze in front of it and to safety (there was ultimately no gap for the driver to merge). Now aware of the situation, I hung back this morning and avoided going under the rear wheels of the cement truck.

It would have been nice if the drivers - supposedly professionals in their field in both situations- had remembered me once I had disappeared from their field of vision, but it would be better still if the infrastructure didn't work on the asusmption that heavy vehicles and bicycles can safely use the same surface of road because little white lines have magical impermeability.

For the rest of the week I'll just 'take the lane' and ignore thebike lane.  This will invariably result in some wanker up my arse hitting his horn, but at least if I go under his wheels it'll be obvious that he meant it. 

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Banana bars suck

This morning we went for a family bike ride in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. Miss 4 has just started riding her beautiful hot pink Electra completely unassisted.  

All was going brilliantly. 

Then we got to a tight bend, with a pair of those stupid yellow banana bars that only Australian safety boffins seem to think are a good idea.  These particular bars were guarding a tight bend in the bike path, no doubt to protect cars from crashing into the 1.5 metre wide bridge railings a couple of feet further on (/sarcasm ... there's really no point for them).

Because they're right on the corner, they even give me the willies. Our kiddie trailer only just fits through. 

The inevitable happens, and Miss 4 catches her handlebars on them and crashes. 

I'm so sick of living in a place where cycling infrastructure (and rules) are designed by pinheads who clearly have never ridden a bike in their life.

Oh, and in case you don't live in Australia, banana bars are great big yellow metal railings on either side of a bike path, that curve in to create a pinch point usually no wider than one person.   No one really knows why.

Luckily Miss 4 was going pretty slowly, and no damage done ... except some nasty scrapes on the mudguard of the Electra.  

 

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First post

Please excuse the mess. I've just moved in here and this is my first attempt at a website all my own.

Other interwebby posts have been simple: write some guff, send it to techno-savvy friends with a website, they post it up, hey presto there it is.  My mental meanderings for all the world to see.

The problem is what I write has to be about something said friends (or site) want to publish.

Often, I just want to write shit.

So methinks, how hard can it be to start a website of my very own?

This first post is, of course, complete rubbish. But please come back when I've unpacked a few things, hung up some pics, have the place in some semblance of order. As it takes shape I expect this site to cover two distinct areas of interest, possibly more. I'll have menus so that those uninterested in one area can completely avoid it (a likely thing).

First up, this site will be about my thoughts on urban transportation, which will be very pro- cycling and pro-public transit, and very anti- personal automobile.

Secondly, this site will also be about a board game called "Act of aggression". So the website name is actually about the board game, not the state of transport in Brisbane, Australia or the western developed world in general.  That relevance is just a happy coinky-dink.

Just to be an enigma, a possible third category of subject matter might be old cars. You see,  while I hate what automobiles have done to my society, I still have a passion for their history and engineering. A bit like any recovering addict really.  Whether it be booze or heroin, the stuff represents all that went horrible in one's life , but we still find ourselves staring lovingly at the bottle, appreciating the integrity of a tumbler of single malt, or thinking wistfully about the last great hit.

Oh, and if the references to booze and drugs offend you, fuck off. Go back to looking at porn.

Just want to set the tone of the site right off the bat.