Monday, January 14, 2013

Cycling Death, Fatality. 'Cyclists must take control, for their own safety' SMH


"The onus remains on us cyclists to do what we can to ensure our safety."


"We need some Transport Accident Commission-like ads to educate cyclists and motorists."


Cyclists must take control, for their own safety


Philip Lynch October 07, 2010
There's a lot a cyclist can do to minimise risk of harm.
There's a lot a cyclist can do to minimise risk of harm. Photo: Michele Mossop
Cycling on Melbourne's streets is a dangerous way to get around. The tragic death of a cyclist on Footscray Road last week, the sixth fatality on Victorian roads this year, is a grim reminder of this fact. The death of a cyclist sends shudders down the spines of all of us who cycle. Not to mention the hundreds more who are seriously injured every year.
And yet, paradoxically, I was almost cleaned up by a cyclist running a red light as I made my way home the other night. The helmetless offender wore dark clothing and he had not a skerrick of lighting on his bike.
Is it any wonder that such cyclists continue to provoke the ire of motorists?
Perhaps there's something about bicycles, something about their simple design that confers a sense of invincibility and invites such cavalier behaviour. However, there's a quantum difference from the carefree cycling we undertook as kids compared with the hazards of city commuting.
Compulsory wearing of helmets was introduced in Victoria 20 years ago. But like driving with mobile phones at our ears, some of us still don't get it. I'd estimate that up to a quarter of cyclists can't be bothered, for whatever reason, to don a helmet. Of course, it's not just about wearing helmets. At the very least we need to wear high-visible vests, have front and rear lights that actually work, and, of course, to ride sensibly and defensively. Sharing road space with cars calls for exemplary navigation skills. By this I mean, a quick look behind to make sure it's safe before changing direction: to know when to back off, and when to give thoughtless motorists a wide a berth.
I've ridden a 20-kilometre round trip across Melbourne to work for the past decade. I'm no Cadel Evans. I eschew lyrca. Many other cyclists overtake me, frequently. But I'm still faster than the bus and tram. I stick to the same route and I know the dodgy sections where extra care is required. Half my trip is on the bike trail, the rest on streets where bike paths inevitably peter out and simply disappear. Truth be told, my daily cycle is part of my daily grind. For roughly a third of the year, Melbourne's dawn and dusk is dark, cold and miserable. Yet I persist. It's my only exercise. Exercise I would not otherwise undertake.
I've learnt the hard way to minimise the risk of being skittled by opening car doors (by riding slowly past parked cars, fingers on brakes) avoiding wayward pedestrians (yelling helps) and I've taken on a healthy respect for wet tram tracks. I've learnt, also, to steer clear of that all-too-familiar menace, the texting driver.
In spring, as I ride through Yarra Bend, swooping magpies help break up the monotony of the ride. In summer an occasional snake slithering across the bike path near Dights Falls sharpens my senses. And on winter evenings, pale sunsets filtering through the peppercorns along the Merri Creek makes the ride worthwhile.
Despite all the risks associated with cycling, it's still a relaxing and at times exhilarating activity. Cycling has its own innate pleasure. I remember the absolute joy on my daughter's face when she awoke last Christmas morning to uncover her shiny new pink bicycle in our lounge room. Visit any caravan park at holiday time and you will witness hordes of kids endlessly pedalling safely away to their hearts' content. It's a pity that for so many people it is no longer a safe transport option as they grow older.
It's high time we raised the profile of cycling more safely on our electronic media. We need some Transport Accident Commission-like ads to educate cyclists and motorists. Bicycles continue to outsell cars each year, as they have done for more than a decade and I can't see this trend reversing. Of course, it's still a car world out there, and it's likely always to remain so. Cars rule. Their comfort and relative safety cannot be denied.
The onus remains on us cyclists to do what we can to ensure our safety. We must continue to lobby local government to continue to improve infrastructure, to make our roads safer for everyone.
Philip Lynch is a Melbourne nurse who has ridden to work for 12 years.



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