Cycling is a hot topic at the moment. In Melbourne we have a city divided. Just like women identifying themselves (or being identified) as either Jackie or Marylin, most Melbournians can now be labelled either Warnie or pedal-pushing hippy. Which one are you?
Of course, as with most labelling systems that offer a grand total of two choices, you're probably neither one nor the other completely. But everyone seems to have a pretty strong view on the matter. The Age and Herald Sun comments sections run hot every time a cycling issue is mentioned, which now seems a quotidian occurrence. Read them, and if you are someone who has even an ounce of common sense, you will probably weep.
The thing is though, I feel most people are missing the point. Contentious issues such as bicycle registration and licencing, helmet laws, and strict liability laws are contentious for a reason. It's because you can plant yourself on either side and argue away to your heart's content, safe in the knowledge that you are absolutely correct because everything you say makes sense.
Take, for example, the recent push for bicycle registration. While there are several arguments, the most common one goes something like this;
That's the root of the problem, isn't it? That motorists, motorcyclists, truck drivers and just about any other road user you care to name has to fork out hundreds of dollars each year for the right to use our roads, but cyclists are not required to spend a penny, or be identified.That's from an article by Bruce Guthrie in the The Age. It seems a perfectly logical argument and yet I think bicycle registration is a terrible idea. Yes, cyclists use the roads, but unlike motorists they very rarely cause harm to anyone. Most of the money motorists spend on registration goes to third-party insurance and road trauma victims. Road degradation (which, incidentally bicycles hardly contribute to at all) is mostly repaired by council and government cash. Where does that money come from? That would be tax, not registration.
The same goes for licencing, compulsory helmet laws and strict liability laws. What's strict liability? You can read a woefully inadequate article that alludes to the law here (check out the comments too, they're gold) or an excellent post here.
The thing is, just like arguing about what caused WWI (Industrial Revolution? Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Militarism? Imperialism? Nationalism?), people are never going to agree. To continue the metaphor, and warp it slightly, the focus should be shifted from arguing about what caused WWI to working out a way to avoid it. Obviously without a DeLorean, it's not possible to avoid the actual WWI, but it is possible to avoid the metaphorical WWI (which would see cyclists and motorists battling in the trenches of St. Kilda Road armed with cranks and carburetters respectively).
In the scheme of things, it doesn't really matter if cyclists are registered and licenced or forced to wear helmets or drivers are assumed guilty until proven innocent (strict liability). No matter what permutation of these things you think is best, there will still be exactly the same problems between motorists and cyclists.
Laws don't prevent people from doing the wrong thing. If they did, no one would speed, no one would put their feet on the seats of trains and no one would murder. We all know people do speed, put their feet up and murder. The reasons for why these things occur vary. Perhaps a disrespect for others, maybe a bad upbringing or potentially a dislike of the law itself. I don't really know.
The problem with laws is they don't solve the root of the problem. People can, and will, argue all day about what laws fix things. These people are missing the point.
So, my question is, what is the root of the problem in Melbourne? And in other cities? What changes need to be made to improve driver-cyclist relations?