Apr 4, 2011

On her bike: why women won’t ride

Transport planner Rachel Smith writes: Last week my colleague told me that she was selling her bike. She likes the idea of cycling and has no actual hostility

Transport planner Rachel Smith writes: Last week my colleague told me that she was selling her bike. She likes the idea of cycling and has no actual hostility towards her bicycle it’s just, as she says “our roads are too dangerous for females”.

So why don’t Australian women cycle? In other cities around the world the bicycle is a central part of life for most women.

It’s not just here. The problem is the same in London too. Transport for London’s latest report Travel in London found that the London cycle hire is primarily used by white men from higher-income households, thus coined by the tabloid press as “Boris’ Posh Boys Toys”.

A while ago I conducted focus groups with women in Brisbane to find out why the bicycle was the “elephant in the room” and what planners really needed to do to make riding acceptable. Unsurprisingly, I was not surprised with the answers I heard at coffee shops, at my yoga class and at work: women didn’t want to ride because of a lack of safe and dedicated cycle infrastructure, traffic fears, personal safety fears and topography. What Australian women wanted was complete separation from parked and moving cars.

In Copenhagen, a city of 560,000 bicycles, 521,000 people and 35,000 cycle parking spaces 85% of residents own a bike, 70% cycle all year around and 60% use their bike every day. A huge 37% of commuter trips are by bike (that’s more than 150,000 people cycling to work every day!) and a quarter of all families with two children own a cargo bike. In Denmark cycling is chic, stylish, and sophisticated but Copenhagenites don’t only cycle because it’s good for their health or their environment, they cycle because it’s the fastest, safest, easiest and most convenient mode of transport, and because their city has a network of dedicated bikeways.

With the help of an AITPM scholarship I visited 21 ‘cycling cities’; the famous ones in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany as well as the lesser known ‘icons’, such as Bogota in Colombia, to discover first-hand what infrastructure had transformed a city into a ‘cycling city’. What I found was that each city had its own unique network of bikeways, but there were common themes including: 4.0 – 5.0 metres of ‘usable’ cycling space, complete separation from motorised traffic, a consistent level of service as well as high quality streetscaping and signage. All of the cycle routes in all of the cities were designed with cycling in mind — they were direct, quick and traffic free. They were lined with cosy cafes, enticing boutiques and townhouses with window boxes and above all they were beautiful.

Back in Australia, it was clear that we had a problem with width and protection. We had cycle lanes but they were skinny, unprotected, on-road cycle lanes, on busy highways, often less than one metre wide. ‘Normal’ people — women, children, seniors, families, tourists — weren’t riding bikes and so in an attempt to ‘get more people cycling more of the time’, we were building more skinny, unprotected, on-road cycle lanes and not surprisingly the vicious cycle of people not riding was continuing.

According to City of Sydney research (quoted at the 2010 Bicycle Victoria conference) 41% of our population are ‘potential’ cyclists; people who want to cycle but are concerned. Research (Munro 2010) suggests that 46% of regular cyclists think Sydney roads are ‘unsafe’ but 84% of non-regular bike riders in Sydney say they would start riding a bike if they could use separated cycleways.

In 2010 I launched my Cycling Super Highways concept; a vision for seven metre wide cycleways that are completely separated from cars, well-lit and —  importantly — designed for everyone.

“Why so wide?” people asked. Cycling Super Highways are seven metres wide (3.6 metres of ‘usable cycling space’ in either direction) to allow two cyclists to cycle side by side — because it’s a sociable mode of travel — whilst providing enough space for a faster moving cyclist to overtake a slower moving cyclist.

They are wide and segregated so that ‘average, normal, everyday people’; women, children, seniors, will be encouraged to cycle not because they are cyclists but because riding a bicycle is a safest, convenient and enjoyable mode of travel. Finally they are wide so that they are safe enough for everyone to use regardless of their age, physical ability and cycling skills, for example young children with stabilisers cycling to school to use and mothers on cargo bikes cycling with their weekly shopping.

I know we can’t just go out digging up roads and knocking down houses to build Cycling Super Highways but we can identify opportunities to reshape our towns and cities. Last week the Adelaide Advertiser announced that Grenfell Street would become a public transport-only zone under a final plan put forward by ‘Thinker in Residence’ Fred Hansen. The street’s footpaths would be widened, allowing for outdoor cafes, and buses would be the only traffic. Rob of the Roy posted “add some bicycle lanes and the project will be a huge hit”. Rob is correct, we need to consider and include all modes, especially cycling, in our city planning.

Grenfell Street offers real possibilities for the city, and the people, of Adelaide to increase mobility, broaden accessibility and really change travel behaviour with the introduction of safe and dedicated cycle infrastructure.

When the Los Angeles Department of Transport said “for the bike to catch on we need a revolution in our bicycle infrastructure” they were right. If we really want cycling to be a central part of our lifestyle, our transport system and our cities we need an ‘infrastructure revolution’ because… that’s what women want.

Rachel Smith is a Principal Transport Planner with AECOM in Brisbane. Rachel’s Cycling Super Highways Toolkit (downloadable here) and study tour received financial support from the 2008 Australian Institute of Traffic Planning and Management Janet Brash Memorial Scholarship.

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30 thoughts on “On her bike: why women won’t ride

  1. culturecycle01

    I’m in two minds about this article.
    It seems to generalise a bit too much, making the findings a little vague.
    I’m also a little tired of the halcyon European examples. They also have narrower streets in many medieval cities, something which we don’t have in Australia.

    Wherever you stand: racing cyclist, commuter, “lifestyle cyclist” or even parent taking the kids out on the weekend, there are pros and cons to being on the road. I’ve broken ribs in car accidents as well as cycle accidents. I’ve also had years free of any injuries either by car or bike.

    Recently I started some bike training courses even though I’ve been cycling as a commuter and recreationally for many years. The courses have given me valuable insights into our legal obligations and our rights on the road. I can highly recommend them as a way of gaining confidence. You can find info at

    The other confidence builder has been participating in riding events where the roads are blocked off. While the speedsters race off in front, these events have offered me a way of cycling city and rural areas in my own time while enjoying the sites.

    We’re lucky to have such good roads in Australia. It would be great if we learnt to see them as shared resources.

  2. bikecommuter

    I agree with Byron Bache. Men should not be excluded from safety issues. There are a lot of men like me who consider that riding on the edge of roads with trucks and cars passing at speeds 40-80kph faster than I am travelling is a recipe for disaster. I object to the lycra loons on the grounds that their behaviour is often dangerous to other road users and illegal. I wear mountain bike shorts because they look like normal clothes and last a lot longer than street clothes, which are not designed or made for sitting on a bike seat. Up until the 1950s, clothes makers took into account that a lot of people would ride a bike in their clothes.
    I have always used bikes as transport and for some jobs — school and uni holiday jobs in the post-office. In the past five years I have also done some touring.
    I grew up in Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s when most main roads were two lanes with a wide strip of dirt on the left, a lot of suburban streets still had cobblestones (up until the late-1970s) which slowed motor vehicles and drivers gave cyclists a wide 1.8 metre berth by law, plus most of them had grown up riding bikes for transport and respect for cyclists. I rode to school on main roads quite safely from the age of 11. However, it was impossible for me to ride 30km to university on the other side of the city and public transport was a very unco-ordinated bus-train-bus trip of two hours each way. I had to use a car.
    As the roads expanded to four and six lanes and some suburban backroads became arterial roads, bike riders were ignored and a year ago it was still impossible to follow the my route to school safely on a bike.
    The other big factor largely ignored is the money saved. In two years after moving to Perth, I saved a quarter of the deposit of a house by cycling 7km into the city and not paying parking — my shifts did not match public transport. The route was half on low-traffic suburban streets and the rest on a tourist/recreational bike path.
    The house I bought was in an area that took 15 years to get a proper cycleway 8km to work. Cycling was a hazard even in off-peak traffic and my route ended up being very circuitous, slow and used a lot of footpaths. However, shopping was a cinch — 15 minutes there on back streets and a path, straight through the carpark up to the door, lock the bike to a post, do the shopping, load it on to the bike carriers, unlock the bike and home in about 15-20 minutes while some people were still circling the carpark trying to find a space — a neighbour’s record was about 45 minutes with four bored, 7-12 year olds in the car. And, cars had to follow a complicated, circuituous system to get in and out designed to stop peak-hour traffic using it as a “rat run” shortcut — bikes just went through the barriers designed to stop motorcycles.
    The neighbour was laughed at for spending the money to get proper commuter bikes for her and her children to all go shopping. And when 150 metres of path was built alongside an arterial road, she could escort the kids to school and then go 3km to her part-time job accountant job. The money saved on car use paid for all the bikes in about 15 months. However, she reckoned the biggest saving was her sanity from the stress eliminated plus the two hours saved. Another really big bonus was that the children liked riding to places on their flash bikes with gears, mudguards, lights, carriers and proper kickstands. They still use bikes as transport.

  3. pockit

    @the man on the clapham omnibus
    FYI – Vicroads isn’t the transport department, the Department of Transport (DoT) is. VicRoads manages the arterial road network, and local councils manage local roads. DoT is responsible public transport, roads and ports (got that off their website). Sound confusing?! It is! Too much bureaucracy.

    On a lighter note, I’m a female cyclist and I travel 10kms to the CBD most days in my normal clothes (no lycra!) and ride slowly for safety purposes (and to enjoy my ride). I just don’t feel safe with cars and other riders whizzing past me so fast. Wider lanes would be good. So would more courtesy in bike lanes – 12 years ago when I first started cycling, people used to ring their bell or say “passing!” when overtaking at a reasonable distance beside you (and some even used to say “good morning!” as they were pasing – not that I expect that, but ahh the good old days). Now I find other cyclists zoom past me far too close and with no audible warning – it’s a bit scary when the lanes are so small.

  4. marigee

    My husband and I are keen recreational cyclists. We are also motorists. We know and abide by the rules whichever mode of transport we are using and try to be courteous to fellow road users. If everyone stopped for a second to consider that each and every person on the road is a flesh-and-blood human being instead of letting their ignorant, nasty, vindictive prejudices run free, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The loss of empathy in our selfish society is at the root of so many woes!

    Yes, there are selfish cyclists who run red lights, overtake five-abreast and scare the living daylights out of pedestrians. Yes there are dozy or inexperienced cyclists who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Yes, there are vicious motorists who deliberately drive as close to you as possible, who scream abuse merely because you are wearing lycra, just as there are stupid motorists who cut you off and pull out in front of you even while they are looking you square in the eye, and selfish motorists who get indignant because they have to touch their brake and golly-gosh, might lose 30 seconds on their journey time!! There are arrogant pedestrians who get pissed off because you ring your bell to let them know you are coming and stomp along in the middle of the ‘shared path’ refusing to budge a centimetre. (Guess what people? That’s so you know we’re there and don’t step into our path and hurt us both, not because we’re arrogant bastards!) And there are foolish pedestrians who have their ear buds in and their music players turned up full bore with absolutely no idea what is going on in the environment around them.

    But you know what? Most people on two wheels, in cars, or on foot, are decent folk, who mostly try to do the right thing but sometimes make a mistake.

    Recently I volunteered to count cyclists for the nationwide ‘Super Tuesday – Getting More People Cycling More Often’ census run by Bicycle Victoria. I live in the City of Stirling in Perth, and as I watched the stream of silver 4×4 vehicles speeding past for two hours, it confirmed my view that while I – a driver of more than 30 year’s experience – feel confident riding our roads, there is NO WAY I would let my children cycle to school.

    The Stirling City Council has recently spent hundreds of thousands of dollar re-doing two roads in my area – Hale Road and Brighton Road in Scarborough/Wembley Downs. In both cases they have laid down MASSIVE pieces of ‘road furniture’ in the middle of the road to make the lanes narrower. They have installed HUGE kerbs. There are NO cycle lanes. The end result: motorists and cyclists are both inconvenienced and cyclists’ lives have been endangered. Traffic flow has been ‘calmed’ – idiots! In other words, cyclists have no choice but to obstruct motor vehicles because there is simply no room for cars to pass safely – it’s a lose-lose situation.

    As for the gender issue, every week I am struck by the lack of female cyclists out there. On my Super Tuesday count, there was not a single female commuting to work. On my training and recreational rides, a few females are vastly outnumbered by males. Both genders come in ALL ages, shapes, sizes and on all kinds of bikes, so it’s simply not true to pigeonhole cyclists as mid-life crisis men. Probably the only demographic missing is teenage girls, but, as the mother of one of those, it’s jolly hard to get them involved in exercise full stop.

    I think the lack of personal safety is probably the biggest hurdle to getting more women out there cycling more often, and I agree that a network of good, wide, safe, cycle paths is a must. It has to happen for the sake of the environment and our health! (Ladies, my hubby lost 10kg by taking up cycling and the weight has STAYED OFF.)

    Some women may be intimidated by the large numbers of male cyclists but don’t be! Men like women! And most of them are friendly and gallant (yep, they’ll change your flat tyre for you 😉 And if a big, fast peloton is bearing down upon you, just keep left and don’t panic! They are yelling to let you know they are there, not to scare or abuse you.

    And finally, a word about lycra. You don’t have to wear lycra to ride a bike. But if you decide to cycle more than 40km, you might well change your mind. Cyclists don’t wear lycra to pose or make some kind of statement (what on earth was that bizarre comment about ludicrous lycra-wearers ‘knitting their own sandwiches’ supposed to mean?) Cyclists wear lycra because it works. It doesn’t rub and chafe, it wicks away moisture (the canvas-shorts-wearing-I’m-so-sweaty-it-looks-like-I’ve-just-urinated-in-my-pants look is truly grotesque in my opinion), it doesn’t flap and get caught on things. It’s bright so people can see us (hopefully). Lycra is a comfort and safety issue first and foremost, then, like typical humans, we move on to fashion!

    Vive la bicycle! Come on girls – get out there – it’s so much fun 🙂

  5. Bellistner

    lindsayb @ 6:<blockquoteI am curious to know how high fuel prices will need to go before community pressure forces local planners to move away from the planning model pushed by the oil/car/road lobby groups. Or perhaps I am overestimating the average intelligence, and people will starve or bankrupt themselves rather than give up driving their beloved cars.I think it’s essentially infinite. When petrol prices spiked in 2007/08, people stopped driving weekends. They stil drove to work, the shops, whatever, but the weekend drive to the country or coast became less common.

    Then prices dropped a bit, and it seems that people collectivly went “Wow, fuel is cheap now” even though it was only 20c cheaper than before. And now fuel is higher than it was in 2007/08, but the roads are still clogged both weekday and weekend.

    What’s needed to get a non-private transport revolution is not necessarily a price spike, but a rapid and seemingly unending price escalation. $1.50 this month. $1.60 next. $2 by Christmas. $3 by next autum. That sort of thing. The reality is that prolonged crude prices of $80/bbl tends to kill economies, which is why the developed economies are finding it hard to gain traction now that Crude is over $100/bbl.

    Another problem is medium-distance transport: it takes a long time to build the capacity. Buses have months of lead-time, trains years. Bicycles are cheap and almost ubiquitous, but not suited for >20km daily use (unless it’s an electric bike) on ‘regular’ clothes.

  6. ripley

    SobhanA: There is no need for doorings to happen to cyclists. If your choice is between exposing yourself to a potentially fatal dooring or being assertive and inconveniencing the drivers behind you by cycling well away from the swing of a door, I suggest you choose inconveniencing the drivers behind you. They generally wont understand why you are riding so far into the road and most likely assume you are doing purely to piss them off, but that is a reflection of the average intelligence of an Australian.

    To cycle safely in Australia you need to be very assertive, not easily intimidated, be confident and very aware of your surroundings. Once you have that confidence you need to not hesitate. For whatever reason, women do not generally have the confidence and assertiveness needed on the roads. Many drivers try to intimidate cyclists and I think this often scares women off cycling, which is a shame as cycling in spite of all the intimidation games on the roads is a great way to develop your confidence and assertiveness. I would recommend cyclists use an ipod to “turn off” all the abuse, honking and other intimidation games used by drivers. If you’re going to this you must take your time and become very visually aware of your surroundings.

    Australia is a ultra-conservative country which rarely progresses until 20 years after Europe does it. You can see this in many facets of our society. While we have plenty of road rules which are meant to protect road users, they are rarely enforced (in Melbourne at least) other than in token political publicity campaigns. Drivers are generally the most competitive road users, taking enormous risks to simply gain one car space (which is generally pointless as if they had not taken that risk they would have ended up at the same point or arrived at their destination seconds later). Drivers resent cyclists who can zoom past them in peak hour queues and are fit enough or gutsy enough to ride a bike. Just as some of the anti-bike posters here have shown, they believe cyclists should be intimidated by the traffic on the road because they certainly would be. And when a cyclist does not show this fear, they resent them.

    Just last week I was cut-off by a police car who, eager to reserve her spot in a queue of cars (in peak hour) drove across the bike lane assuming there was no traffic coming because all the cars were banked up. I see police blatantly ignoring traffic infringements by drivers every week. Better cycling infrastructure is certainly a major part of the solution, but the police actually enforce the road rules on a day-to-day basis. The problem is many of the road rules that put cyclists in danger are the ones police consider minor because they “only” endanger cyclists.

    I order for this to happen cyclists need to stop being fooled by the superficial token police blitzes and see these for the political publicity stunt that they are. Then punish the responsible political party with your votes.

  7. Frank Campbell

    What? A piece on “Rooted” about something other than climate change?

    still, one swallow doesn’t make a meal, does it?

  8. rachel smith

    Great to see so many comments!

    Quite a few people have raised the women/gender issue and it’s an interesting one. You are right. It’s not just about women, it’s about everyone. The current situation, across Australia, is that typically 75% of all bicycle trips are made by males and only 1 in every 100 journey to school trips are made by bicycle.

    New cycling infrastructure needs to appeal to ‘new’ cyclists and ‘return to cycling’ cyclists and in particular women, children and seniors, the people who are currently minority user groups.

    Well designed cycleways attract people – everyone – to ride bikes, as proven by the new City of Sydney cycleways. Data I have seen in the media reports a 173% increase in cycling.

    The market for cycling encompasses bike riders of all different ages, physical abilities, cycling experience and road safety awareness. For this reason I am increasingly categorising bike riders into 4 different categories:

    1. Strong and fearless.
    This group are typically highly confident road cyclists who seek out the fastest and most direct route and who will cycle without fear in almost all road traffic environments. Research in Portland (USA) showed that this group accounts for only 1% of the bike riding population (Geller 2010).

    2. Enthused and confident.
    This group are enthused and are encouraged to ride a bike when cycle infrastructure such as dedicated on-road cycle lanes is provided. This group have been the key success story in the UK Cycle Demonstration Towns (pilot projects to demonstrate modal shift when infrastructure and behaviour change initiatives have been established). For example in Exeter in the UK the provision of on-road cycle lanes, off road shared paths and travel programs has encouraged many people to become regular bike riders. As a result 9% of journeys to work and 20% of journeys to high schools are now made by bicycle (Devon County Council 2010).

    3. Interested but concerned.
    For many cities around the world this is the main ‘target’ audience to achieve mode share targets. This group of ‘potential’ cyclists would like to ride bikes for transport, for utility trips and for recreation but want safe, direct, comfortable, attractive and connected cycle infrastructure to enable them to ride bikes on a regular basis.

    4. ‘Non cyclists’.
    There are a number of people in our cities who could not be encouraged to ride a bike despite the provision of infrastructure or initiatives… and that’s ok.

  9. the man on the clapham omnibus

    Some positive stats are that there is definitely a large increase year on year and that it is starting to tell in office buildings with increased demand for bike storage and lockers. Offices with these facilities are getting better rental returns and increased demand.

    “A white paper released by Colliers International and Bicycle Victoria, 10 per cent of vehicles entering the CBD during the morning peak are bicycles, with the total number increasing by 20 per cent each year.”

    If the 10-12 km around the CBD could be made bike friendly this would take a large load off the road and public transport network which appear to be at capacity in our largest cities with no means of fixing the problem in sight.

    Have to think one of the only reasons we may have helmet laws in Australia, is that our facilities are so poor and dangerous for cyclists that we have a much higher incidence of bicycle head and bodily injuries per head of population than the other countries analysed here. We may have used helmet laws as a means to address the symptoms rather than the root causes of these statistics.

  10. green-orange

    Helmet hair.

    But mostly cos they’re lazy slobs (well the truth hurts, not as much as being hit in the face by a baseball bat, but it hurts).

    In the city, there’s always a backstreet way of getting anywhere. But those “back to riding” types in their 40s who haven’t ridden a bike since they were 8 always seem to choose the most congested and dangerous B-double routes and then swerve out unpredictably in to the traffic at random intervals.

    I am more of the “pipe-smoking” type rider, not a real cyclist.
    I haven’t yet reached the “10 speed racer with a ripped up jumper gaffer taped to the handlebars and a flagon of cream sherry on the parcel rack” stage. A couple of years yet.

  11. Rohan

    [email protected]

    Your observations about Sydney cyclists might have been true 5 years ago but are not accurate anymore. Even non-regular cyclists have absolutely no idea how quickly the uptake of cycling in this country is accelerating and how strongly progress is not on the side of the anti-brigade.

    Trendy fixed-gear and single-speed bikes are attracting droves of teenagers and early 20’s to cycling, albeit for the most superficial of reasons.

    At the upper-end, there are loads of (mostly) men in their 50’s and 60’s quite content to lycra it up and hurl their disposable income at $800 pedals (“they’re 20g lighter than the $300 version!”) and $2000 wheels (“because so-and-so from Team Saxo-Bank won the Paris-Roubaix with them”). I know someone in his mid-60’s who describes his 30 grand car as “a waste of money”, while owning two houses, two boats and seven bikes – one of which the frame alone is worth $10,000. It’s an amazingly attractive consumerist wet-dream for cashed-up bogans and non-bogans alike.

    There’s overwhelming evidence from around the world that you’re right about the helmet law. Unfortunately the political resistance to getting the law repealed is considerable and it’s likely to be a long and protracted battle.

  12. aliheth

    There is a great faked photo that does the round of cycling blogs where a highway has fives lanes for cyclists and then one lane for cars. It makes me think of my grandfather reminiscing about riding to work in the 1930s when he said Punt Rd in Melbourne, now a traffic sewer, was a “sea of bikes”. It’s really only been a few generations in which we’ve converted from a predominantly walking/bike riding/public transport culture into a car driving culture in our big cities. The reasons that so many people drive are for the obvious ones of speed and convenience, but also that governments built the infrastructure. If governments commit to building separated cycleways that are connected and convenient then women will use them and it will lead to an increase in cycling overall. I’ve always ridden my bicycle as a primary means of transport and was strongly encouraged by my father, who commuter cycled for many years, to do so, but often get questions from other women wondering how I manage helmet hair, sweating, creased clothes etc.

  13. SiobhanA

    I’ve often asked the same question about cycling. I get weird looks about it from gung-ho male cyclists who think I’m being a pansy when I express concern about getting doored by parked cars.

    Having received a lovely door-shaped bruise in my shin and losing a chunk of finger skin to a door bolt last year, I can safely say that Melbourne’s cycling lanes aren’t really cycling lanes – they’re more a shoehorned remedy to quieten cyclists and aggravate car drivers. They’re tokenistic lanes, so thin that there’s no space to swerve if a parked car opens its door on the bike lane. So essentially, the cyclist is stuck between running into a parked car or swerving into traffic on the inevitable day that someone DOES open their car door on you.

  14. George Stitt

    Well, women are the only adults, after all . . .

    In Sydney at least, cyclists seem to be males of a certain age. You don’t see any cool teenagers or early 20-somethings on pushbikes, and you rarely see any males over the age of about 50. The cycling cult seems to be reserved for chaps in their 30s and 40s, grotesque in their ludicrous lycra suits, all of whom look like they relax at the end of the ride by knitting their own sandwiches.

    Sydney never was a cycling town. There was a time, years ago, when a tacit consensus existed in Sydney that if you were the type of “adult” who wanted to ride a pushbike, you went off to Adelaide or Canberra or Christchurch and indulged your passion there. Sydney’s dud roads and choked traffic made cycling unwise, to say the least.

    I rode a bicycle from the age of eight to about 18, because I had no other choice. Growing up in the bush, it was safe enough. At 60 I wouldn’t mind getting on a bike again, at least in the winter months, although I refuse to wear a helmet.

    “Helmet hair” may be one reason why women aren’t interested. Just two countries on Earth _ “larrikin” Australia and little brother New Zealand _ have made cycling helmets compulsory. Says it all, really.

  15. Ruby

    I recently bought a bike and starting riding around in Sydney after a trip to Amsterdam. I love cycling but I do feel very unsafe on the roads. Cars don’t like bikes being on the road, and pedestrians don’t like bikes being on the footpath. Sometimes it is necessary to go on the footpath, because it is just too dangerous to ride on the road. People are extremely aggressive about cyclists, which is a shame, because most people who drive in Sydney go very short distances that would actually be quicker on a bicycle.

    I was very disappointed to witness some young women in their 20s violently screaming and swearing at an innocent cyclist on King St, Newtown in Sydney recently (who had just almost been hit by their car). They got out of their car and followed the cyclist down the street, taunting her, saying it was her fault they had nearly hit her in their car and that she had a ‘duty of care to herself’ to stay out of their way, and making deluded claims that everyone on the street was ‘laughing’ at the cyclist. They were so threatening and aggressive that I almost felt the need to call the police. I hope the cyclist managed to get away from them unharmed.

    People should have more respect for cyclists on Sydney’s roads. We are taking a much healthier, more environmentally friendly option and we should not have to fear for our lives on a daily basis because of irrational, aggressive drivers.

  16. flyinglow

    Better designed paths that are integrated across the whole city, wide enough for 2 abreast, have priority lights and are isolated from traffic (even if it’s simply a rumble strip in the road so drivers know they are incroaching.

    If the paths are good and a propaganda program is rolled out encouraging people to ride, more will ride. They’ll see it’s not as bad as some make out.

    Also, I think we should pay cyclists $500 a year to ride to work, offer tax free bikes and equipment (then again you can buy it all online from overseas at half the price) and let cyclists turn left on a red after stopping.
    Lets be honest we’re doing you a favour by not driving (see, we do pay rego, which by the way has nothing to do with road infrastructure) or take up a space on the train/tram and if people are more active it’s less of a burden on our medical system.

  17. jimbo89

    @abarker, your attempt to blame the victim of that accident you bring up is pathetic. Regardless of the circumstances, it was still almost entirely the fault of the truck driver. If it were a motorcyclist he hit he would have likely killed them too; would you be blaming the motorcyclist? As for the bicycle pathway, I don’t know about Adelaide but in Brisbane and Sydney (the major Australian cities I have lived in), the paths are generally either poor quality, take a completely circuitous route, so stop/start that you cannot train properly on them, are shared pedestrian paths on which it is completely dangerous to do any sort of speed, or a combination of all four. Your cyclist acquaintance was likely correct in what he said. Much cycling infrastructure is seemingly an attempt on the part of governments to be seen to be doing something,
    when it completely ignores the needs of cyclists.

    That you bought up the ‘but they don’t pay rego!’ chestnut shows your ignorance. Bikes don’t pay rego because they do no damage to the road surface, emit no pollution (the rider’s breath notwithstanding), don’t really contribute to traffic congestion to any meaningful extent, and injure very few people relative to cars/trucks. Besides, if you really wish that all road users should pay their fair share, be careful what you wish for. There are a large number of economic analyses indicating that fuel tax and rego do not cover the total economic cost of car usage, such as Economics at the Wheel: The Costs of Cars and Drivers, by Richard C. Porter, and hence if such taxes did truly reflect the cost of car usage, you would be paying a lot more.

  18. Rohan

    abarker and Nici touch on the issue that is missing from this article.

    The cycling culture in Australia is more testosterone driven and competitive than anywhere else in the world. It’s all about ME, NOW. You want me to wait – are you kidding?? What the f8ck are you doing in my way?? Unlike many of my cyclist friends, I don’t try and defend the behaviour of those that flout the rules.

    I’ve commuted daily to work in Sydney CBD for nearly 10 years and as a fit and, yep, aggressively competitive cyclist, manage to flourish in this environment and reap the time-saving benefits, which as a result of ongoing neglect in all modes of transport infrastructure are truly massive. But for people who are not physically and mentally strong, the experience is too intense, scary and overwhelming. This excludes most males as well as females.

    Debates over how this situation came to be tend to be carried out along very partisan lines using chicken-and-egg type arguments which go nowhere. However seeing the situation in many cities in Europe, San Francisco and Vancouver has left me in no doubt that the necessary behavioural change – and subsequently inclusiveness – would be achieved over time if serious dedicated cycling infrastructure along the lines suggested by Rachel was built, backed up by some contemporary legislation to clarify the responsibilities and accountabilities of cyclists and motorists.

  19. the man on the clapham omnibus

    Options like those in Perth would be ideal, they are created along the passenger railway, freeway and major highway corridors of metropolitan Perth and are called ‘Principal Shared Paths’.

    We should demand that every new trainline / freeway also has this alongside it in a protected area :

    I’ve started riding in the last year as Melbourne’s road and public transport networks are at capacity, its still dangerous and lanes are frequently cut off by cars and too narrow. However the main trails like those to the docklands are fantastic but there are not enough of them.

    Meanwhile, we seem to be captive to road obsessed Transport departments like Vicroads (notice the emphasis) who will happily advocate spending 1.5 billion on adding a lane to a freeway when the same traffic volume is using a bike path.

    “Bicycle Victoria says it recently counted 1772 cars using the new 3.5-metre lane on the Monash to the CBD between the peak hours of 7am and 9am.
    It counted 1239 bikes heading into the CBD on the Main Yarra trail over the same period, with both counts carried out from the MacRobertson Bridge in Burnley”
    from The Age , Feb 28 2011

  20. Son of foro

    I used to think that I was average, normal, everyday people, but I guess Tammy was right …

  21. lindsayb

    Seems to be a lot of catagorising of cyclists as if they were a single homogenous group.
    No doubt there are the heroic road racer types that piss a lot of people (myself included), but the route I commute along has men and women, old and young, lycra and work clothes clad cyclists all sharing the same path with walkers, and everyone seems to be getting along pretty well.
    The best way to bring the agressive macho-type behaviour under control is to have more women, children and commuters cycling around, and the whole point of this article is about how to achieve this.
    The fact is that cars make our cities pretty unpleasant places to be in. They take up a lot of room, they pollute our air, they kill hundreds of people every year and maim many times more than that. We are exiting the age of cheap oil, and it is well overdue for us to discuss how we are going to move ourselves around our neighbourhoods into the future.

  22. abarker

    @lindsayb – No, I don’t. I think Nici’s comment shortly after yours was kind of along the same lines of what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say was that Women don’t tend to have that overburdening need to dominate or be territorial or obstinate as (some) men do, and I think (some, especially the ones I’ve met in my own personal experience) cyclists fit that bill pretty well.

    At the end of the day, I have a right to walk into a biker bar, storm through it to the counter, push between two large men drinking, and order a pink appletini. But I don’t. Common sense dictates against it, in much the same way that it dictates against riding a bike and being oblivious to other, heavier, more powerful vehicles on the road.

    Case in point, in Adelaide a year ago a guy died on Anzac Highway riding a bike. It was sunrise, the sun was pelting into a truck drivers eyes as he turned right across traffic and hit the cyclist travelling the other way. While a tragedy, the cyclist could have been on a purpose built cycle path that runs parallel to the highway, not 500 metres away, and been perfectly safe.

    I had this conversation with a cyclist and he shook his head, enraged. “No. That track is no good for road cyclists man”. Which made me wonder why was it built in the first place? Methinks the posing and the “I’m allowed to be here it’s my right I can do it if I want to and I’ll put myself and others at risk just because I can” attitude wins out. Cycling to get somewhere is fine, but for the racer boi’s – they need to realise, They’re not Lance.

  23. Nici

    The aggressive machismo demonstrated by the new generation of cyclists (and I don’t mean they’re young, they’ve just adopted cycling in the past 10 years) is putting off plenty of men as well as women. They’re also not only men.
    Twenty years ago, plenty of women cycled. But the traffic was slower and the shared path attitudes were more co-operative.
    These days, many of the fast riders on the shared paths treat walkers in much the same way as they are treated by car drivers.
    Sadly I don’t think the building of extra roads just for bikes will fix this issue. I’ve found myself surprisingly hostile to the bulldozing of park land just so that cyclists can speed through more landscape on their way to work.
    Once those paths get rammed through parks, some responsible wag at council starts worrying about the hidden insurance dangers lurking in trees and wants to chop them down.
    I can’t see that more roads and fewer trees is a worthwhile trade-off.
    Perhaps everyone could just slow down and pay more attention to each other. Fat chance.

  24. lindsayb

    do you feel even slightly embarrassed to have so publicly displayed your ignorance and prejudice?
    You have never seen a car driver break the law, running red lights, talking or texting while driving, speeding, going the wrong way up one way streets etc? Obviously one lawbreaking car driver would tarnish your impression of all other car drivers? FYI, a recent police study in Melbourne found bike riders were less likely to break the law than car drivers. In addition, a bike rider breaking the law is unlikely to kill anyone other than themselves. This is not the case when car drivers break the law.
    Scooter and motorbikes are not permitted to use bike lanes. It is the law. Surely you are not encouraging people to break the law?
    This article advocates separating bikes from motorised traffic, yet you are ranting about bikes “taking up a whole lane” (which is their legal right). Surely you should be in favour of this sort of separation?
    Most bike riders also own cars, and therefore already pay registration, insurance etc. Are you advocating that we pay again for leaving our cars at home? How about pedestrians? Perhaps they need to be registered and insured too, as car drivers kill an injure lot of them every year.
    If you want to write illogical, deliberately inflammatory dribble, go and post on the Herald Sun blogs.

  25. lindsayb

    Interesting article, but I agree with Byron that this is not just a gender issue. I am fortunate enough to be able to ride to work on back streets and bike paths, but am uncomfortable riding to my local shops and schools because of the volume of cars and lack of safe bike routes around where I live. My family would also love to ride more around our local area, but car-centric planning means this is not a safe option.

    I am curious to know how high fuel prices will need to go before community pressure forces local planners to move away from the planning model pushed by the oil/car/road lobby groups. Or perhaps I am overestimating the average intelligence, and people will starve or bankrupt themselves rather than give up driving their beloved cars.

  26. abarker

    In my experience with cyclists, the ‘loud and proud lycra brigade’ are all pretty belligerent people. They’ve all got some bug up them, like they’ve continually got something to prove. They’re a self entitled lot too, as in ‘This is my road too and I can do whatever I want with it’, whether that’s ride two or three abreast, cycle slowly up hills in the middle of the lane, or go through red lights or the wrong way down one way streets.

    Coming from Adelaide we have a pretty strong core group of them. They’ll take up a whole lane in peak hour in between semi trailers and buses, and beggar everyone else on the road, they’ll do as they like.

    I’ve come across a couple who wanted to whinge and whine at scooter/motorcycle riders who use bike lanes as well, threatening to report them to the police and all kinds of carry on. When they start paying registration and cumpulsory third party insurance to be on our roads, just like everyone else, even the motorcycle/scooter riders who duck into their havens, that’s when they’ll have a right to arc up about things.

  27. Jean

    Walking is also a good way to get around, except for the aggressive bicycle cultists who have taken over the footpaths. You can’t just go for a walk- you have to be constantly on the alert.
    So yes, give ’em separate bike paths, if only to free the footpaths for feet 🙂

  28. Dave

    As a guy who’s cycled all his life (and lived in Copenhagen for a couple years), I used to think this ‘separated space’ arguement was hogwash. I was comfortable riding my road bike at 40kph in traffic, so why weren’t other people.

    Then I started to ride for utility (to the shops, cafe, pub etc) like I used to in Copenhagen and I have to say I was shocked. Riding a normal bike in normal clothes, there was no way I could or would want to ride faster than 20kph. That meant I could no longer safely ride in traffic as the speed differential between me and the cars was just too much.

    That left 3 options – ride in the gutter and get clipped by motorists trying to squeeze by, ride on the footpath and dodge pedestrians, or not ride at all. Sadly, I’ve chosen the latter unless separated bike paths are available and I now contribute to our congestion and environmental challenges when I really don’t want to.

    There are plenty of examples of how to do it properly – create people friendly cities that encourage the cycling, walking and public transport, while still allowing people to drive if they want to. We just need to look overseas.

  29. Jean Morreau

    Spot on Rachel,
    Cycling in Amsterdam is truly wonderful – a bit mad, but it works – and there is something heartening about seeing all sorts of people getting on with life without their metal shells.
    Don’t forget there are plenty of towns around Australia that have wide roads and low traffic volume. It can be safe and practical and fun here too!

  30. Byron Bache

    I agree with everything you’ve said, but I’m at a loss to understand how this only affects women. I rarely cycle, and it’s because of the reasons you’ve laid out. I don’t want to be the guy that rags on you for excluding men, but really, defining ‘normal people’ as a group that doesn’t include men is bizarre. We need an infrastructure revolution because that’s what people, regardless of their gender, want.

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