Sep 1, 2012

Is ACA playing the “mum” on cycling?

A Current Affair pumped up the “crazy and irresponsible” cyclist outrage on Thursday night with a sto

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

[caption id="attachment_19656" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="A Current Affair says this "mum" cycling on the streets with a child trailer is "crazy, just absolutely crazy""][/caption] 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.

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19 thoughts on “Is ACA playing the “mum” on cycling?

  1. Dylan Nicholson

    Alan, I’d have to say, the fact that despite of that sort of attitude from the Police Copenhagen has still managed to achieve what is has, maybe there is hope for Australian cities after all…

  2. Alan Davies

    Even in Copenhagen there are those who want to suppress cycling!

  3. lindsayb

    don’t let the mindless bullies at aca get you down. Criticism from aca should be worn as a badge of pride. After all, they are a suppurating pustule on that rotting zombie of TV stations, channel 9.

  4. Wiz Aus

    Personally I’m not sure the speed of cars is the main issue – yesterday I was riding along a road with a 100km/h speed limit, and felt perfectly safe, as there was, somewhat unbelievably, a full-width lane dedicated entirely as a bike lane (yes, in suburban Melbourne – points if you can guess which one). The times I’ve felt most in peril are actually when the traffic is mostly stopped, but there are still cars trying to make turns, drivers flinging open their car doors to get in or out, and/or there’s virtually no room to make it past all the traffic. The times I’ve felt the absolute safest is of course when there’s lots of other cyclists using the same road – again, it doesn’t bother me at all if cars are doing 60 or 70 if they’re well aware that they’re sharing the road with slower/smaller vehicles. Indeed I was also on such a road yesterday, and observed at least a couple of parents carrying their kids along on the same road, but in this case it didn’t strike me as unsafe at all.

  5. hk

    There is case for 20 to 25 km/hr separated safe CONTINUOUS cycle lanes across the urban region, whether the lanes be within the road reserve or not is not the main issue.

  6. Ride2Wk

    Good points Alan and most of the commenters 1-13. Full marks to Melea for not following the sheep but instead doing as is best for her & her child (& the rest of society even if they don’t realise it.)

    Micheal R James is right when he comments about the massive cost of roads but it’s not just the major roads. 85% of Australia’s roads are council roads that all of us pay for as rate payers. (Rego doesn’t pay for council roads at all.) Too much road space is just “given” to cars as the first priority instead of bikes & pedestrians. It would be very easy to create many good cycleways if only parked cars could be banned on at least 1 side of bike route streets as Clover is doing in Sydney City.
    Speed limits should also be reduced in areas of high pedestrian and cycling usage. The EU is now recommending only 30kmh for residential streets. Japan and Germany have many streets with speed limits down to 20kmh to improve road safety. Australia has amongst the highest urban speed limits in the developed world but it’s not something to be proud of.

    Regards, another cycling parent who takes his kids on-road.

  7. suburbanite

    That’s it! Ban cars until they can be made safe. They’re just accidents waiting to happen. It’s not only cyclists that are at risk from cares, the drivers themselves are put are in danger as well as the passengers – and children are victims as well when they unsafe machines have accidents.

  8. Scheper Michael

    ACA scoop tip: I few weeks ago, I saw an accident between a bus and a private car. The private car was badly damaged and the occupant was very lucky not to be more seriously injured. Private cars are dangerous! They should be banned! Get on it, ACA!

  9. FelineCyclist

    Given that much of PT is pram-unfriendly (eg getting prams on Non-platform tram stops without a conductor; finding the single lift in a train station that is always in an inconvenient spot), the logical conclusions of the ACA story are: mothers should stay home unless they are in a car.

    This is madness. Have we become such a child-unfriendly place that children must be wrapped in 50 tonne of metal before they can be permitted outside the house? Governments don’t just have a responisbility to ensure that 40-something men don’t have to deal with traffic congestion as they drive to and from the city. They have an obligation to ensure that all members of society can move around freely and safely. That means providing a good road network, but it also means providing a safe and reliable PT network and safe cycling options. Instead of spending billions of dollars building more freeways and tollways to take single occupant cars to the CBD, how about providing transport choice for everyone?

    Melea, well done for choosing the transport option that suits you and your family best. By introducing your child early in life to cycling as a normal method of transport, you are reducing her risk of heart disease, obesity and being one of the many people who are killed or injured in car accidents every day, week, month and year.

    In terms of redress, have you considered complaining to the Press Council or ACMA about ACA’s story? Or is the reference to getting a lawyer more about some sort of defamation action?

  10. michael r james

    From one point of view, when any of us venture into the public domain and on the public streets we cannot exclude ourselves from observation or indeed photography by others. The obvious vilification by ACA of an individual who is doing nothing illegal is another matter and really I do wish some overpaid lawyer would get off their fat arse and take up the cyclist’s case. Not least to demand some airtime to put the counter case.

    Another point of view is that, even while the ACA story will reinforce the SUV-driving bogan element in Australian society, it must also surely reveal this anomaly of absurd assumptions inherent in the piece–that the roads are “naturally” the preserve and priority of cars.

    A third lesson I take from this, and from comments here, is that while everyone–drivers included–acknowledge the total inadequacy of cycle infrastructure in Australian cities, the notion that the alternative is to ride on the footpaths is no solution, and in some cases worse. It is also nothing less than total capitulation to the road lobby.

    There is only one “solution” and that is segregated cycle paths. Anything else is a distraction. At least Sydney has a mayor who is actually doing something about it. The argument that it is unaffordable is beyond ridicule as NSW contemplates its next transport plan–with almost nothing in it for public transport and probably $30bn+ on ever-more expensive roads. Just one road, the F6, is estimated at $10bn. It is time for a mandatory percentage of all road building costs to be dedicated to alternatives to cars, ie. cycles and pedestrians. If it was 0.5% (one 200th) that would be $50M just from the F6–and the reality is that alone would probably be enough to create a proper segregated city-wide cycle network; because of course the cost has never been the issue, it is the taking back part of the roads for other users.

    But with the recidivist governments in power in all major states, forget it. As for the much more substantial budgets required for serious PT, doubly forget it. (Doubly the harbour crossing by trains is part of the Plan but with zero priority behind 3 extremely expensive roads: F6, M6, M4; thus, like all other serious PT upgrades over the past 50 years or more, it simply will never happen.) NSW is set to repeat the previous 15 years of Labor with a narrow and seriously retrograde vision of a city. There seems nothing to stop this madness.

  11. Graham

    Well said Alan. A concise summary of what appears to be exceedingly unprofessional, illegal and dangerous behaviour by the driver-photographer. Even worse, their product is being manipulated and exploited by A Current Affair (ACA) for its own commercial, entertainment and political purposes. I was going to say poor ‘journalism’ by ACA but I think any semblance of journalism from the likes of ACA and the tabloids is a distant memory. Shows like ACA are a joke, but they are no laughing matter when they resort to attacking innocent women and infants like they are doing to Melea and her child.

    As a Canberran I am

  12. IkaInk

    After recently finding out she was pregnant my wife has been keen to buy a car, something neither of us have owned for many years. In part she feels the car will simply make things easier, in part she’s scared of having a child on the road. I’m much more inclined to buy something like the carrier Melea is using and keep cycling/using public transport. I’ll change the routes I ride, opting for the footpath far more often, and avoiding routes like Heidelberg Road; but I have no intention to suddenly start driving just because I have a child.

    Finally, if ACA or anyone starts filming me I’ll be getting a lawyer involved very early on.

  13. Wiz Aus

    In any city in Europe (or indeed, I’d suggest, most of the rest of the World, though excluding most of the U.S.), I doubt this would be considered particularly noteworthy, and certainly not looked on a excessively dangerous. But as a cyclist, and as one that used to carry my son around on the back of my bike, occasionally on roads, but usually footpaths when possible (he’s too big now), I’ve more than once recently observed parents riding along busy main roads with children in tow just wincing a little…because the sad fact is that Australian roads are not bicycle friendly places – *primarily* because drivers are mostly oblivious to who else they might be sharing the roads with, but obviously also because there’s so little serious attempt to ensure bicycle paths are clearly and safely marked out*. Maybe these brave parents will somehow be the part of the trigger that’s needed to convince the powers that be that cycling needs proper support/investment, but unfortunately I can’t help but feel it does more to reinforce the idea in many drivers’ minds that cyclists are some alien race beyond understanding why anyone would want to travel in anything than a car, especially when kids are involved. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

    * The thing I can’t help noticing recently is that along many of the roads I use for cycling, often the only sections where the bicycle lane marks are visible (if typically more than a little faded) are those where there’s arguably relatively little need for them, because the lane is already quite wide enough. It’s near intersections that bicycle lanes are most needed (to allow cyclists room to pass the waiting cars), and of course it’s exactly where they tend to disappear.

  14. Roberto

    ACA should publicly apologise for this unwarranted harassment of Melea and daughter. As The Urbanist says, of all the ways they could have looked at the issues of bicycles and bicyclists in the context of transport in our cities this would have to be the cheapest and laziest bit of tele journalism ever. The cyclist would have been more justified if she had been filming them and asking why they needed to drive such a big vehicle- assuming it is the normal huge 4wd that TV companies seem to love to barge around in.

  15. Craig Brown

    Interesting that the online piece ( has no comments as yet. I posted there last night and nothing’s come through, and given the amount of chatter floating around the cycling community at the moment I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a huge amount of angry pro-cycling posting being submitted.

    I’m very anti-rego for bikes for a lot of reasons (can’t be made revenue positive, the cops already don’t follow up reporting of cars reported for offences so good luck with bikes, do we really want to put a price on something anti-congestion, anti-pollution, pro-exercise…and so on), I think people forwarding this argument are revealing their own prejudices and ignorance.

    Melea – you rock, and it’s been great to see the level of support in the cycling community for you. Good on you for shoving one up them.

  16. SBH

    Ben would also advise women not to fill up at petrol stations I guess?


  17. Melea

    Im the ‘dangerous’ mother in question, anyhow, thanks for your support. Since minding my own business has now been criminalised, I am expecting negative repercussions in the community. At least this article will give my boss some perspective, in the event parents question my capacity with their children in my care. ACA need to be held accountable, but no lawyer has stepped forward as of yet, in spite of support from around the world. I am astounded by the degree of support and offers of a new bakfiets -and funds for a lawyer! Stoked to be seen as a pioneer!. I do hope good will come of this for cyclists. Any correspondance can be adressed through Sydney cyclist, cheers!

  18. Bellistner

    And just yesterday, The Parrot dragged 40 something Pensioners along to have a whinge about virtually everything, including demanding cyclists pay registration (when nearly all cyclists already have a drivers licence, at the very least). I’d be happy to pay rego on my MTB, but when can I expect to see some dedicated infrastructure in return? *crickets*.

  19. RidesToWork

    Well said, Alan!

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