Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Age; bipartisan or arse hole?

In the last few days, the Melbourne-based newspaper, The Age, has been going to town on bicycle-themed stories. Some of them promote cycling as God's answer to all problems transport, some of them portray cyclists as suicidal maniacs, while others seem to simply report that there is a war on the roads between cyclists and motorists.

Is this too much to ask? (from

Of course, ask The Age, and they'll say they're just reporting the news. But from the prolific nature of these bicycle-themed articles and the diatribe of acerbic comments made by readers (drivers and cyclists alike), I'm left in no doubt that articles about the so-called "bicycle wars" sell newspapers. So, it might just be possible that The Age has an agenda in promoting said war. Which leads me to wonder; is The Age simply reporting the news, or is it a massive arse hole stoking the fire of what was once a small problem but is quickly becoming more bonfire-esque?

But before we go on, some housekeeping. There are two videos in this post that will start automatically. I'm no hacker and can't figure out how to stop this happening, so just pause them until you're ready to watch.

Let's have a look at what the members of The Age's fourth estate have been concocting:

First, there's this time-lapse, which helpfully points out every misdemeanour that occurs over a 90-minute period at one of Melbourne and Australia's busiest intersections. It also clarifies that despite the abundance of law-breaking, there were no accidents. I can't help that this is a very unsuccessful attempt by the producer to have his cake and eat it too. It's like, "look, look how naughty these people are. They are so naughty it makes me shiver down to my obedient little cockles. All these people should be fined, if not executed" but, "Despite these flagrant examples of lawlessness, there wasn't one accident! Not one! Maybe people are capable of crossing the road on a red-light without killing themselves. It's almost as if they look to ensure it's safe before crossing."

Then, there's this video by the lovely Tessa van der Riet, who ponders the timeless question; is riding to work really worth it? The answer? A resounding yes;

But then, there's this article on a a man who tragically lost half his leg in a bicycle accident. Ask him if it's worth riding to work, and he'll say no.

Battered cyclist ponders value of a ticket to ride
KEN Anderson eases back the hospital blanket to reveal a left leg amputated from above the knee and a pelvis held together by a metal frame.
He faces months of rehabilitation, sees everything in double because of bruising on his brain and is eager to have a prosthetic limb fitted to relieve the discomfort of phantom pains.
He cannot recall anything of the day five weeks ago when he rode his bicycle to work and was involved in an accident with a truck in Swan Street, Richmond. But the severity of his injuries means he will never forget what it cost him, although he counts himself one of the fortunate ones.
''I consider myself lucky to be alive,'' he said from his bed at the Epworth Hospital with wife Ruth and youngest son Jonathan beside him.
Mr Anderson, 62, said he always knew cycling to work carried risks and had considered giving it away after countless scares and a fall he had last year when he damaged his wrist after being sent flying over his handlebars when a truck driver opened a door in front of him.
''Every second day there'd be something that would happen on the way to work,'' Mr Anderson said.
''It was usually on the way to work … because drivers are in more of a hurry. Someone would pull out in front of me or cut me off around the corner and I'd have nowhere to go, and I'd have a feeling: 'Why am I really doing this? Is it worth it?'''
Mr Anderson, who took more than a week to regain consciousness in The Alfred hospital after he was injured, said Melbourne had a long way to go before it could count itself a safe cycling city, and has vowed to contact the City of Yarra to urge improvements to infrastructure.
He also believes the state government must consider mandatory licences for cyclists, which could increase respect between riders and motorists, with the revenue funnelled into better bike paths.
''Drivers have to have more respect for cyclists and, in order to get that to work, the cyclists have to earn the respect,'' he said.
''I'm coming to the conclusion a licence might be desirable. That allows ordinary kids and adults to ride on footpaths and in the parks … a licence shows you know the road rules and it just shows you're one notch above the hoon cyclists.''
Mr Anderson also suffered a lacerated spleen and nine broken ribs, but has been told he is making good progress in his recovery and is aiming to recover sufficiently to take his wife on a four-wheel-driving holiday.
He has been told a prosthetic limb will allow him plenty of movement and let him live a relatively normal life, but admits his days of stress on a bike are probably behind him.
''The jury's out on that. Ruth doesn't want me to and I'm not keen on it,'' he said.
Now, it might seem disrespectful to disagree with someone who has paid such a high price, but disagree I do. Firstly, I think the idea of a licence is ridiculous. How will it get rid of "hoon cyclists"? There are plenty of hoon motorists, and they all have licences (or at least did before they were revoked).

What's more, the fact that drivers don't respect cyclists has nothing to do with licences. There are plenty of other countries where cyclists are respected, and none of them require licences of their cyclists. It has more to do with an increasingly aggressive road culture, for which news agencies such as The Age are partly responsible. Everyone just needs to chill out if you ask me.

And one more thing on licences for cyclists; it would be a disaster for cycling. It goes without saying that less people would ride. And while I know not everyone agrees with me on this, I for one believe that cycling should be promoted at all costs, for all sorts of reasons that I won't go into here.

Further, if something occurred every second day that worried Mr. Anderson, that says more about the infrastructure in Melbourne than anything else. Not to mention the drivers (unless Mr. Anderson is implicating himself as responsible for these near misses, in which case I suggest he indeed shouldn't be cycling, but not everyone else too).

And finally, of course it wasn't worth riding to work for Mr. Anderson on that day. If everyone lost a leg every time they rode to work, not many people would cycle. Maybe even none! The fact of the matter is, tragic accidents occur. But they don't occur all the time. If they did, there would be no people left. People also get maimed and killed while driving and walking. It doesn't mean it's not worth it. It just means there are risks inherent with moving about.

Then there's this article;

Push for peace as rage rises between drivers, cyclists
Bicycle groups and transport safety researchers say an emphasis on driver education is desperately needed to reduce the risk on Victorian roads for cyclists and cool aggression between riders and motorists.
With up to 60,000 Victorians preparing to commute by bike for Ride to Work Day on Wednesday, experts say it is time for the state government to introduce awareness campaigns similar to those aimed at reducing speeding and drink-driving.
The number of cyclists killed on Australian roads has halved over the past two decades to about 30 a year, but the number of injuries on Victorian roads continues to escalate, with a 9 percent rise last year.
Suddenly opened car doors are a leading cause of serious injury for cyclists.
Suddenly opened car doors are a leading cause of serious injury for cyclists. Photo: Craig Abraham

Cycling advocates say that, while improved infrastructure should be the long-term aspiration, education could have an immediate impact.
Marilyn Johnson, a research fellow at Monash University's Accident Research Centre, said a recent study of footage compiled from helmet-mounted cameras showed 87 percent of near-crash events were the fault of motorists.
She said she was most alarmed by how rarely drivers looked for cyclists, and called for a change of emphasis in safety programs.
“Cycling safety campaigns usually focus on changing cyclists' behaviour, where the emphasis should be on changing driver behaviour,” Ms Johnson said.
“If a driver cuts you off or opens their door in front of you, there's nothing you can do to change your behaviour in that situation. Those two examples and so many I see are about changing driver behaviour.”
Bicycle Network Victoria maintains it is safer to ride than ever as the increase in crashes has not matched the rate of participation. Figures last month showed more than one million people cycled weekly in Victoria, the highest riding rate in Australia.
Peter Cameron, an emergency physician at The Alfred hospital, said cyclists had little protection on roads and were vulnerable to serious-impact injuries. Among those he treats daily are cyclists who suffer facial fractures, head injuries, shattered shoulders and internal injuries.
"I quite enjoy bike riding along the river but riding on crowded roads without a segregated bike path is verging on suicide," Dr Cameron said.
VicRoads says $14.5 million worth of bicycle improvements will be delivered this financial year, and continues to raise awareness about bicycle safety and road sharing through initiatives such as October's Safe Cycle month and Ride to Work Day.
However, Amy Gillett Foundation chief executive Tracey Gaudry said raising awareness had to be enduring, as participation increases did not translate to safer riding.
“We are all for more cycling, but our cause is about life and death,” Ms Gaudry said.
“Sometimes our message about skill and safety is at odds with organisations promoting cycling because we'd rather see a safer environment before more people ride bikes.
“We currently see safety is compromised by more people riding bikes without enough of the focus going hand in hand.”
Ms Gaudry said the foundation's “metre matters” campaign – which calls on governments to set a minimum legal distance between cars and cyclists - had reached three million Australians and helped reduce aggression levels in Melbourne compared to other Australian capitals.
However, many cyclists maintain there is still far too much hostility.
John Gould, a passionate safety advocate and bike shop owner, said Melbourne road users could learn tolerance from their overseas counterparts.
“I've ridden in probably 20 countries and I find Melbourne the second-worst place I've ridden in [after Istanbul],” he said.
“A lot of those countries don't have many cyclists but they're still a lot more considerate … I was probably on the only bike in Slovenia and holding up traffic going up hills. But no one tooted, everyone knew it was only 10 seconds of their lives.
“Here there's lots of carry-on: 'Get out of my way'. The utes love to play chicken with you, I see lots of incidents. The road is a shared carriageway and we've got to share it.”
Mr Gould said he also made a point of ticking off cyclists who broke road rules, as they gave the wider cycling group a bad reputation among drivers.
Bicycle Network Victoria also supports government-sponsored safety campaigns, but spokesman Garry Brennan said improved infrastructure was the key.
“We know that many places where aggravation occurs it's because of a problem with infrastructure: the bike lane disappears, the road narrows or there's a badly-designed roundabout,” he said.
Mr Brennan said Melbourne's road engineers were among the best, although it was up to councils to allocate more funding towards bicycle-friendly foundations.
Sergeant John Travagliani, of the Victoria Police bike squad, said the level of angst was no worse than the interaction between motorists.
But he said drivers had to be more aware of cyclists, particularly when they got out of parked cars without checking mirrors.
Cycling groups nominate opened doors as a classic example of a minor action with the potential for major damage, and where education could have a significant impact.
Christian, who was close to losing the movement in his left arm when he crashed into a suddenly opened car door in Chapel Street two years ago, said he was irked by how little had been done to eradicate a pet hate of many riders.
“I know the TAC spends some money on aspects of bicycle safety, but the car door is an issue that's swept under the carpet, to a degree,” said Christian, who declined to give his surname.
The RACV says motorists and cyclists have to learn to live together.
"Cyclists are legitimate road users and like motorists and pedestrians are entitled to share the road," the motorist group's acting manager for roads and traffic, Emily McLean, said.
"Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians need to respect each other as well as the law, and with safety in mind, be alert to each others presence and needs.
"With an ever-increasing number of cyclists and vehicles on our roads, governments at all levels need to develop appropriate infrastructure that provides safe and efficient travel for all users."
The RACV recommends that cyclists make themselves visible by wearing bright clothing and using lights when appropriate, and to make eye contact with other road users whenever possible.
The Transport Workers Union did not respond when asked what could be done to improve relations between drivers and cyclists.
There are plenty more articles and videos that have been available on The Age website in the last week or so. And having read them all, you could be excused for feeling a little confused. Is cycling good? Are cyclists hoons? Do cyclists run red lights? Are most accidents the fault of cyclists? Are most accidents the fault of motorists? Should you ride to work? Is it worth it?

The answers to these questions are; yes; some are, most aren't; some do, most don't; no; yes, 87%; yes, if you want to, but choose a route you're comfortable with; and yes, unless you're really unlucky, but that's life.

Most of this is a storm in a tea cup, but I can see it becoming a proper storm if certain groups don't stop being arse holes about it. Of course there are problems between cyclists and motorists. Of course things need to improve. But aggressive and immature approaches won't help anyone. As I said earlier, people just need to chill out a bit. And people need to stop writing articles that aren't news regarding the so-called "bike wars".

But of course, that's not all. There needs to be improved cycling infrastructure. There needs to be more education for cyclists and motorists alike. And people need to slow down and stop being so self-important and self-righteous (sorry if I'm being self-righteous here).

For novice cyclists, there's plenty of advice out there on how to ride safer and reasons to ride. I've written a few posts on this, such as how not to get doored, why lights are good, top ten reasons to bike and top ten reasons not to bike.

I advise you to give it a go. But, I would say that, wouldn't I?

For the angry drivers out there, you're probably not reading this, but if you are, relax.


The Weekly Cycle


  1. I can only assume that any time cycling gets mentioned in an Age online article, it gets lots of clicks (including mine, usually). I've had to impose a strict discipline on myself: never, ever, read the comments on a cycling-related article on the Age website. Not even the first couple. I'm sure that it's just a relatively small number of trolls making all those threads into a hatefest, but it's truly scary to see some of the attitudes and realise that these are people I'm sharing the road with.

    I'm wondering whether anti-cycling propaganda should be seen as some kind of incitement to violence. I regularly see comments from people who think it's okay to express their annoyance with cyclists by deliberately driving close to them and scaring them, for instance. I think that kind of stupidity is validated and encouraged by the hateful commentary, and of course it goes without saying that the consequences can easily be deadly. Deliberately stoking the hostility of people behind the wheel of heavy, high-speed vehicles towards the most vulnerable group of road users: perhaps if it was a criminal offence, people might get how dangerous it is.

  2. It is weird reading the Age as it provides thus coverage but at the same time as actively promoting a sportive ride as a key sponsor.