There have been a spate of horrific incidents on Australian roads in the past fortnight. The kind of incidents that make you question if it is a good idea to ever ride your bike on the roads, for any reason.
A cyclist on Collins St was accidentally car doored by some passengers exiting a taxi in traffic on Monday – the men responsible didn’t ask the cyclist if she was ok and walked off, refusing to give their details. She captured video footage of the entire incident, thanks to her helmet cam.
The Chronicle reports that a cyclist in Toowoomba was struck in the early hours of the morning – the driver of the car fled the scene and the cyclist was taken to hospital.
Video footage from a car dashboard in Brisbane shows a car hitting a cyclist from behind, knocking her over – she is in the middle of the lane in the middle of the day, there is no way the driver hadn’t seen her.
In Sydney six cyclists were taken to hospital after a car mowed the whole bunch down on Southern Cross Drive – another case where the driver could definitely not claim to haven’t seen them. The riders were injured, their bikes destroyed and the car bonnet and windscreen smashed in. What could possibly motivate someone to do this? To do any of these things?
When I hop on a bike I feel more human. I am propelled by the power of my body. I feel the wind on my face.
I do not ride my bike on the road for fun or sport, I imagine that there will be a day in the near future when I do this (I am planning a cycle tour of the many fantastic breweries in northern Victoria) but at the moment 100% of the time I am on my bike and on the road, I am simply going about my business. I am doing my groceries, paying my bills, going to work, seeing a movie or going to the doctor. For me, doing all of this in a car or on public transport is completely unfeasible.
My bike is pretty much free, which is great, because I don’t want to spend money on petrol and to go everywhere I need to in a day on public transport would cost me as much as I spend on food (especially with the nightmare that is Myki and the ridiculous expense that is forgetting to swipe off).
My bike is a convenient form of exercise, which is great, because I spend most of my day stationary and in front of a computer. Having to physically move myself through the world on my bike revitalises me. It clears my head, improves my mood, stimulates my appetite and helps me rest well at night.
My bike doesn’t pollute the air, which makes me feel good, because the world’s atmosphere is in a state of crisis.
When I hop on a bike I feel more human. I am propelled by the power of my body. I feel the wind on my face, I hear the whirring of my freewheel, I smell bread being baked. I smile at pedestrians, at other cyclists, at people in their cars. But the thing about bike riding that makes me feel my humanity most is my extreme vulnerability. There is no escaping the fact that I am a bundle of flesh draped in thin cotton and polyester, surrounded by hard vehicles moving far faster than any human was designed to go.
When I am walking on the footpath I do not feel this vulnerability. I have a safe space, with trees on one side and garden beds on the other, that I can rightly call my own. When I am driving in my car I do not feel this vulnerability, I am surrounded by a still pocket of air and a hard shell of glass and metal – the smells and sounds of the outside world are almost completely excluded. I think this may be why a person’s humanity can sometimes be left at the door when they get behind the wheel of a car.
Irrational anger can be funny, it is a common comedic device employed in American cinema, but when it places the physical safety of others in serious danger it is never ok. This means the irrational anger of motorists towards cyclists simply can’t be tolerated, especially when there are so many reasons why it is good for our society that people ride bikes (read my post, Six Reasons Drivers Should Thank Cyclists). The occasional misbehaviour of a few cyclists that motorists will often complain about, such as running a red light, could never be justification for purposefully causing them serious harm. It is not a good reason for a pedestrian to encourage a driver to run a cyclist down, as Matt Holden writes about in his story, Running a light? Travellers see red.
If there was a method of transit I could use that was as beneficial as cycling but safe from the dangers, I would use it. If I could get everywhere I needed to go without riding my bike on the road, I would. But there isn’t, and I can’t. These are the simple reasons I won’t be scared off the road.
I live in hope that these incidents will prompt drivers to see the fragility of the human on a bike. That the human on the bike might have no other way to get where they need to go. The fact that cycling is a fun and pleasant way to get around is not a reason to tell people they are foolish for taking a risk by doing it, it is a reason for more people to start doing it.