Precious cargo, pavements and cycling advocacyNovember 13, 2011 at 14:52 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
Tags: bicycle, bike, bnsw, bobike, pavement, radish, toddler, xtracycle
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.