Precious cargo, pavements and cycling advocacy

November 13, 2011 at 14:52 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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I’ve carried a lot of things on my Radish cargo bike over the last year or so – groceries, a table, teacups and even a person. However, there is no doubt that the most precious cargo I carry is my beautiful daughter. Since buying the BoBike seat, we use the bike quite often to get around; I take her to playgroup, and we go out to the park or to the shops.

She really enjoys it, and often talks about ‘going on Daddy’s bike’. And as we go along we sing and chat, and she points out the things we see (‘Doggie!’ “Bus!’ ‘Tree!’), and rings the bell for me when I ask her to. It is lots of fun for both of us, and we laugh together as we whizz down the hill, the wind in our hair.

I’m a confident cyclist, capable of holding my own on the road, happy to ‘take the lane’ when needed, very used to traffic and I think quite good at reading road situations and staying out of trouble. Indeed, I’ve escorted novices on their first few commutes, and help them understand how to ride more assertively on the road in order to make the ride safer and more enjoyable. I am also aware that riding a bike – even on the road in Sydney – is not actually that dangerous, despite what many would have you believe, and that your chances of being involved in an accident are actually very very slim – much less, for example, then when walking back from the pub after a few beers, or when playing football.

However, from the moment I first set off with Toddler Chillikebab on board, it was clear that I was going to ride differently. A bit slower, yes, after all it’s not going to be much fun for her if she’s bouncing around in her seat. But what was very quickly apparent was that I was going to ride on the pavement for all but the quietest streets.

Take this road, for example, which runs near my house. It’s one of those slightly uncomfortable roads for cycling – dual lane, but with lots of parked cars. Riding along you either have the option to take the whole available lane, and risk annoying  car driver behind you who wants to go past, or ride next to the parked cars, putting yourself in the door zone and inviting traffic to pass quite close to you in the adjacent lane. I’ve ridden down this road lots of times; it’s not especially fast and the traffic is well behaved on the whole. I certainly don’t think twice about it when I’m on my own; I just take the lane or pull in as seems appropriate and all is well.

However, I wasn’t going to ride it with Toddler Chillikebab on board. We cruised along on the pavement instead. It just seemed the natural thing to do.

This has really got me pondering how most people think about cycling. Most people who don’t cycle would I’m sure feel the same, even if they didn’t have a toddler on board. Riding on any sort of busy road just isn’t going to happen.

It also reminded me of some comments made online by Omar Khalifa, the CEO of Bicycle NSW (the state peak body for cycling). He wrote about riding down Harris Street, and finding it very unpleasant with many aggressive drivers. (He also commented that such cycling was inherently dangerous; which I thought was a particularly unfortunate bit of Whispering, considering he is supposed to be the lead cycling advocate in the state.)

I’ve also ridden down Harris Street, and I suppose a few months ago someone had commented on it, I’d have either given them some tips on taking the lane, or perhaps suggested finding an alternative route. But now, I might offer an alternative suggestion – just ride on the pavement. There’s a big, wide pavement on Harris Street, and not many people walking along, so it would be perfect. Of course, you have to ride much more slowly, and there are cross-streets which entail stopping to cross. You also need a different bike; riding on a  bumpy pavement on a road bike is very uncomfortable; hard skinny tyres and a hunched-forward position make it very wearing on the wrists. It also feels frustratingly slow. But on an upright bike, with big tyres to soak up the bumps it’s just dandy; you can cruise along and feel quite relaxed.

I suspect that that type of cycling isn’t the sort that Omar wants to do, and unfortunately most bicycle advocates, being keen road cyclists, just seem blind to its possibilities. I know that a few years ago I certainly was; it was only when I got the Radish that I started to see another way and I’ve been slowly finding out more about it over recent months. In the Northern Territory it is legal to ride on the pavement, and the NT has the highest modal share of cyclists, despite having the most dangerous roads and the worst weather.

Allowing cyclists on the footpaths would probably be a controversial move; no doubt people’s first thoughts would be of lycra-clad hoons carving up old ladies outside the shops. However, I’m not so sure that would happen; road cyclists want to ride on the roads – it’s non-cyclists who would ride on the pavements. They’d probably cruise along slowly just like Toddler Chillikebab and me, ringing their bells and singing songs. Now that doesn’t sound so threatening, does it?

Of course, what we’d really like are proper separated bicycle lanes. Without doubt they are the most comfortable way to ride. But while we wait for them to be built (and in Australia it could be a long wait) we could consider allowing cyclists onto the pavement, at least in areas where pedestrian traffic is light. It would probably get a lot more people riding their bikes than telling them that on dangerous streets you should take the lane.

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3 Comments »

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  1. I always ride with my small kids on the footpath, often with the child seat I ride on the road but when there is any traffic I go on the footpath. I sometimes retreat to the footpath when the unfriendly roads I commute on get too much for me. When I’m in Japan I usually ride on the sidewalk as thats where most of the bicycles are.

    The thing with Australia is that people invariably give you death stares when you ride on the footpath. Its harmless, its safe, what is the problem? I’ve asked people and its usually a waste of breath. At least in NSW it is legal for adults to ride with children under 12 years of age on the footpath and in most states children under 12 years of age can legally ride on the footpath.

  2. What a lovely image of you riding with your daughter. I would love to do that but I think my wife would only let me ride in the park – I can’t blame her for being protective.

    Riding on the footpath while singing sounds perfectly reasonable to me. When I ride on the path at walking pace while wearing a suit no one seems to mind as long as I don’t creep up and surprise anyone, dismount for a few paces when children are around, say excuse me and thank you and sing happy sounding songs.

    I ran into a car door on Harris Street but I discovered another option besides “taking the lane” and getting honked by impatient drivers is to use the laneways that run parallel to Harris St. The inner west and lower north shore seem to have loys of little laneways running parallel to busier roads and they’re great for cycling. If you can find them in the street directory they’re almost like proper separated bicycle lanes if they could be connected up.

  3. The reason not to allow footpath cycling is that it scares people, it takes away the only place where the old, the very young and vulnerable can walk without a heightened state of vigilance. The risks to pedestrians are generally not great but the removal of someone’s right to peace is a serious violation. Also, people in Australia, particularly, are famous for not giving way and driving / riding too fast; the footpaths in Surry Hills are crowded with speeding hoons. There will be children injured and elderly killed, so it would be better to punish drivers by removing a lane for bicycles, rather than pedestrians who already have nowhere else to go.


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