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TENSION BETWEEN CYCLISTS AND MOTORISTS IS WELL
DOCUMENTED IN PERTH, AND BOTH SIDES HAVE ENGAGED
IN THE BLAME GAME. BUT WITH THE NUMBER OF SERIOUS
CRASH INCIDENTS ON THE RISE, TALK IS TURNING TO ACTION.
SO, IS CHANGE UP TO THE INDIVIDUAL OR THE LAW? DOES
PERTH NEED TO BE MORE CYCLIST FRIENDLY?
words Louise Baxter
NO Simon O’Brien, former WA
Any road user faces an
inherent risk, whether they
are motorists, cyclists or
pedestrians, and those
risks can be ameliorated
through better design,
constant efforts to
and dealing with
problem areas when they
Cycling in Perth is often compared to
other parts of the world, but there is a range of reasons
why, historically and culturally, the landscape for cycling is
different than in many metropolitan centres. We’re working
through the pains of a rapidly growing city and how best
to accommodate cycling within that. So I don’t know the
experience in Europe is necessarily applicable across
the board in WA. If you do go overseas, where bicycles are
used by large numbers of people, it’s in a fairly quiet way,
in a slow-moving and congested environment. That’s quite
different from the open roads that cyclists need here in Perth.
The idea of following Europe’s lead with strict liability laws
(in which motorists would automatically be held responsible
for incidents with cyclists) is a debate worth having, but you’d
need to have a detailed discussion before going down that
track. The reason for my concern is that, wherever you’ve
got a law that provides an absolute response to a situation,
you’ll inevitably have unforeseen consequences, and cases of
injustice. It’s not the sort of thing that you can necessarily just
legislate and expect to work. What I’d like to see is greater
community awareness rather than a punitive action after the
fact. That’s how you avoid having tragedy on the road. I think
it’s about everybody taking responsibility – whether you’re
driving a car or truck, riding a bike or negotiating a pedestrian
crossing. If we accept that we’ve all got a role to play, that
we’ve all got a right to be there, and that we’ve all got to look
out for each other, that cultural change is the way we’ll avoid
conflict – and worse – on our roads.
Some people don’t seem to have the skills to use our
roads. I’m strongly in favour of providing training and
guidance but not of mandatory training. I believe that
parents have a big role to play with their children from an
early age, and it’s pleasing to see parents on bike paths,
clearly teaching their young children what they need to know.
I don’t believe that cyclists should require a licence and
registration. We want to encourage bike-riders in Perth, and
we’re not going to do that by putting bureaucratic processes
of sanctions in their way. I think there are a lot of benefits
in getting on a pushbike: for personal fitness, for the
ease of getting around and commuting, and people doing
their bit in reducing road congestion on short journeys. The
last thing we want to be doing is putting hurdles in their path
to actively discourage people from getting on their bike.
Director at Nicheliving
Women’s Cycle Initiative.
In Perth, we’re fortunate to have well-maintained road
surfaces and generous bike paths. It is the minority of
road users that makes cycling on the roads dangerous,
normally through a lack of education on road rules and
the rights of all road users. It’s anti-social behaviour
from motorists – driving too close, verbal abuse and
throwing objects at riders – that makes riding dangerous.
On a weekly – if not daily – basis, our group is involved
in incidents with vehicles. This is despite us taking as
many precautions as possible. Cyclists are vulnerable,
outnumbered and easily targeted.
Cyclists span age brackets, fitness levels, ability levels,
motivations and gender, but motorists do not discriminate
between a beginner rider and an experienced one.
Unfortunately, one round of abuse or one close shave is
enough for a beginner to leave their bike in the garage.
Media hype, and lack of foresight and direction from
all stakeholders to administer a long-term solution to the
issues has contributed to the current tension. The focus on
cycling safety should be harnessed to encourage positive
action from all government and cycling representative
bodies. Existing motor vehicle licensing should include
a section and assessment on rights and responsibilities
of cyclists. We also encourage education for children
on cycle safety, because tolerance, understanding and
knowledge about road safety begins at an early age.
We support strict liability laws, as figures indicate the
majority of cases involving a car and cyclist are eventually
deemed the fault of the car driver. The enquiry is
a huge cost to the government and insurance companies.
Mandatory liability laws would ideally save money and
recognise cyclists as ‘at risk’ vehicles. All motorists need
to see cyclists as permissible – and vulnerable – road
users, need to slow down and consider the impact and
consequences of their actions. Government needs to
encourage tolerance and understanding between all road
users and expand education to include cyclists’ rights.
Investment in facilities to foster cycling as a sport, and
infrastructure to create safer roads and more bike paths,
are essential to the future of cycling in Perth.
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