A Current Affair pumped up the “crazy and irresponsible” cyclist outrage on Thursday night with a story about “a mother taking a risk on our roads that leaves you gob-smacked.”
The topic of ACA’s outrage was a cyclist towing her young daughter in a bike trailer through the streets of inner city Sydney.
She’s right in there in a congested traffic zone where accidents are more likely to happen. Watch as she cycles through bus lanes, the middle of intersections, cars come from behind, mother and child in the middle of mayhem.
ACA’s ostensible take was irresponsible parenting, but the producers must’ve been delighted to catch on film an apparent member of the chattering classes so consumed by her environmental fetish she’s prepared to run “the gauntlet with her child.” And a mother too!
Unbeknownst to ACA, this story started a few days earlier on 26 August when the cyclist involved wrote on the Sydney Cyclist forum about how she and her child had been filmed earlier that day by a man and a woman in an SUV. The photographers didn’t identify themselves and her key concern was for her and her young daughter’s privacy.
She didn’t want to be held up publicly to ridicule and contempt if the footage were posted somewhere like YouTube. She’s a pre-school teacher and felt her job might be threatened if she were portrayed as someone who can’t look after her own child. She was also unsettled about her six year old daughter being filmed.
Another worry was the driver and passenger distracted her from concentrating on the street and traffic. She was “unnerved” by their “abuse”, which went on for 15 minutes. They weren’t concerned that their actions were delaying other drivers.
In the event, the video turned up on ACA, where her daughter’s face was obscured (although they still have extensive footage of her) and the show acknowledged cycling with a trailer is perfectly legal. I’d add the trailer was clearly visible (Balinese flags) and she sensibly sought to occupy the centre of the lane so cars wouldn’t try to squeeze past. Conditions were good – daytime and clear weather.
The main issue here though isn’t “irresponsible mum endangers child”. Even if you disagree with her choice, it’s a single case and hardly justifies “banning” bike trailers as ACA contends this one example shows is necessary. In fact one reason the issue attracts attention is because you don’t often see children in bike trailers on busy streets in the CBD.
However the way ACA chose to frame this story isn’t the only possible angle. Rather than demonise an individual, it could instead have made a more general point – with real policy implications – about the risks to life and limb that all cyclists in Sydney face.
It could’ve shown how laws favour motorists over cyclists; how drivers’ attitudes to cyclists are often unsympathetic; and how there’s limited infrastructure for cyclists to use in Sydney and other cities. It could’ve shown how the risks, real and perceived, are a barrier to the personal and social benefits of cycling.
And it could’ve pointed out that there’re cyclists – like the one in the video – who’re on limited incomes and who cycle in large part because it’s more affordable than the alternatives. It could’ve shown how popular bicycle trailers are in cities like Copenhagen that support cycling.
ACA’s supposed killer punch was driving a car at speed into a test trailer to demonstrate how unsafe it is for children. The trouble is they’d get the same effect if the car collided with any bicycle, whether it was pulling a trailer, had an integrated child seat, was a mountain bike, a road bike, ridden by an adult or ridden by a child.
A bicycle is always going to come off second best in a collision with a car – that’s the nature of a bicycle! Just like a pedestrian, a cyclist is vulnerable if hit at speed by a much heavier object. But cycling’s advantages – its low cost, lightness and sustainability – derive from that same inherent character.
In effect ACA is saying don’t cycle on the roads because if there’s a collision with a car you’ll be the loser. They don’t say it, but that applies pretty much equally whether you’re a child in a trailer or an adult astride the saddle.
Well, that doesn’t cut it. People want to cycle and have little choice but to use roads. They cycle for lots of different reasons and make their own calculation about the various trade-offs, including on behalf of their young children.
So long as a parent is taking reasonable steps to protect his or her child’s welfare in the circumstances he or she faces – and the video indicates to me this cyclist was – it’s her business, not ACA’s.