Cycling is experiencing a worldwide renaissance and Melbourne is no exception with sales of bikes out stripping cars by a scale of six. Wether it be environmental, health or practical reasons, cyclists are rapidly becoming a consumer and user group large enough to start making some demands. So here's a short wish list to make any keen Melbourne cyclists life a little better, and frankly, in these days of environmental crisis, a little more valued in the part we play in doing the world a favour.
An important issue to tackle first and foremost is tax. A common point made when Cyclists make too many demands is that we pay no road tax (and very little on vehicles and supplies) and thus shouldn't be entitled to very much. True, a fair point, but if you also consider the little impact cyclists have on road surfaces, the extremely low numbers of injured people we inflict upon our health system and the reduced amount of wide and varied support workers and facilities required to stop car drivers killing each other, the argument starts to collapse somewhat. I'm also of the opinion that most cyclists would not be adverse to paying a small road tax if it meant that facilities and resources would be improved, a licensing requirement could also lead to safer and less reckless cyclists and perhaps more understanding motorists.
Starting with the simpler to implement.
One of the downfalls of riding on the far left of the road is that is where you generally find the worst quality of road surface, the pot holes, utility access covers, bumps, creases, broken glass and those stupid cobble stones that seem to be favoured by Yarra City council. I swear I'm getting RSI or a muscle strain from constantly absorbing the horrendous surfaces on my journeys, not to mention the damage it does to my bike. As I don't often ride on the middle of the road I'm unsure if the surface quality is any better, but surely road surfacing is a pretty basic requirement and task of councils?
Now, you've got a great city trip out planned, jump on your bike, arrive swiftly at your destination and look for somewhere to lock (or park) your bike. Hard isn't it? Another of the pitfalls of the increasing popularity of cycling is the corresponding difficulty in finding somewhere to safely 'park'. There are plans afoot to begin implementing the 'parking systems' found in other cities around the world that include bike lockers and showers in some areas of the city, but don't hold your breath. Personally, with a large framed bike and a (essential) D-Lock I find the omnipresent metal semi circles dotted around completely impractical, especially with more than one bike sharing. Personal opinions aside, there are simply not enough of these 'hoops' in many areas, with cyclists resorting to lamp posts, rails and other assorted solid urban ornaments, potentially annoying and inconveniencing pedestrians, especially those with buggies and wheelchairs. Fortunately Melbourne doesn't have particularly strict laws governing this practise, if it did, there would be a lot of cyclists with minor criminal charges and legally cut padlocks. It would not be very hard or expensive to install more compact bike parks (Personally I think straight poles are most practical) and a few of the more complex systems, after all we still find space to increase the amount of car parks in our cities. Again, if a small parking fee is incentive to motivate our councils to do the right thing, then I don't think many cyclists would object.
A more complex and demanding request is the re-timing of traffic lights. Melbourne's traffic lights give undue priority to motorists. Pedestrians (with some sets far worse than others) generally have to wait for ridiculous amounts of time to be allowed to finally cross, where they then have to frantically dash across before the lights change in a space of time that most fit youthful people have difficulty in meeting, let alone elderly or disabled. All this whilst cars sit there impatiently waiting for you to cross so they can continue upon there way, frequently not even waiting for you, dangerously cutting you off whilst crossing. It's a similar situation for cyclists, generally the timing of traffic lights (at a cyclists average speed) is insufficient time to cross safely, especially if you commence crossing just as the green light begins to change, it's a dangerous and panic filled dash across major intersections as cars begin to rev their engines and hurtle towards you. Another issue is the triggering of smaller light sets, how often have you sat at a red light with seemingly nothing happening? This is because some lights (especially at night) are triggered by the size or weight of a vehicle not met by a bike, on many occasions have I sat like an idiot until finally giving up and crossing at the pedestrian lights. It may be a complex, but not unreasonable request to benefit and include everyone who uses them.
What about when the worst happens and you or your bike encounter a problem? General house insurance cover aside, there are a few specialist insurance companies for cyclists that cover damage to you or your bike such as (intriguingly) the RACV and CycleSafe, including road side assist cover. Plans that cover theft of bikes are a little harder to find with CycleSafe being the main contender. So what if your bike is stolen? Fortunately (one really shitty bike with the lock worth more than the bike aside) I have never been a victim of bike theft, but I know many who have, and many who have had annoying experience of dealing with the authorities in such situations. Fair enough, most bikes are not as worth as much as cars, but as a prime mode of transport it's equally as frustrating to make do without it. On a related issue, have you ever tried ringing work to tell them your bike has broken down? My basic point around these issues is being taken seriously, we are doing our part to help the planet, we don't demand much, but to be taken seriously (and valued) in times of distress is a fair request.
So do you agree? Any other issues you have with cycling in our fair city? What can we do to get something done? Contacting VicRoads is a good starting point to have roads fixed and cleaned (www.vicroads.vic.gov.au), apparently they're actually pretty efficient! Join Bicycle Victoria (www.bv.com.au), not only do they rally other groups for improvements, but they'll also help point you in the right direction of where to go for guidance. Local councils are good places to start to get problems solved and if you are interested to find out how much your local council spends on cyclists then take a look at BIXE (www.bixe.com.au).
In summary, if you have a problem and believe in something, don't just take it, do something about it!
Published in Aduki