Metre matters

October 19, 2016 at 20:58 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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camera-on-bikeI haven’t been blogging a great deal about cycling recently. That’s not because topics don’t endlessly suggest themselves; as I cycle back and forth to work hundreds of potential articles fly around my brain. Aside from a busy life that seems to make writing difficult;the other problem is that most of the things I mull over on my commute are relentlessly negative. Since most of my riding is on cycling-unfriendly roads at peak times, under what is one of the most cycling-unfriendly governments in the world, it’s sometimes hard to capture the enthusiasm and joy that comes from riding a bike.

That’s not to say I hate my commute. It’s way better than driving (which I do occasionally, and is awful). The turn of the pedals, the satisfaction of cresting a hill, the feel of rain on my face – these are all wonderful things, and everyone should ride a bike and experience them.

But I have held back from writing about the ridiculous increases in fines for petty offenses ($106 for not having a bell, for example), the continued anti-cycling rhetoric from the Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, the victim blaming from the head of the NSW roads authority, and the stalling of so many worthwhile cycling infrastructure projects whilst unwanted multi-billion dollar urban motorway projects go ahead unbridled.

I also did not write about the one positive action that happened – a new road rule was established that required car drivers to give at least one metre of clearance when overtaking a cyclist. Of course, this was wrapped up with all the fine increases, and all the government and media coverage and emphasis was on how these terrible cyclists were being brought into line and punished. There was no public information campaign, for example, to explain the 1m rule to motorists.

That said, it did get media coverage; mostly from the cyclist-hating right-wing Murdoch press that mostly consisted of clueless comments about how it would make overtaking cyclists more dangerous, as those poor motorists were now forced into the middle of the road (!). Helpfully, the chief of the NSW Police also came out and said that they would not prosecute infringements of this law (unlike the huge new fines for bells and helmets, which they enforced with great alacrity).

But, to take a positive from this sea of negativity, I did notice that after the law was introduced, motorists did, on the whole, start leaving more space when they went past me. There just seemed to be a few less close passes, or drivers ‘squeezing past’ rather than waiting five seconds to safely overtake.

However, with virtually no enforcement from the police (only three fines issued for close passes in the first 6 months) and no media reinforcement, things have now returned to normal. Those drivers who, when the issue was in the news, did think a little harder when seeing me up ahead, have sunken back into complacency – too busy talking into their mobiles and breaking the speed limits to take any notice of me.

And, accordingly, the close passes are back. I probably get a car or truck passing me closer than 1m at least once a week. I now have cameras on my bike that make it easy to measure this quite precisely, so I can be quite sure. However, I until now have not taken any complaints to the police. For the most part, the passes are not very much less than 1m, and the effort of trying to report them only for the police to do nothing just doesn’t seem worth it.

(As an aside for those who do not ride bikes; passing a cyclist with 1m to spare is too close. Way too close. If you ride a bike and have a car come that close, it is an unnerving experience. 2-3m is the minimum distance you should be aiming for. 1m leaves little margin for error – if the cyclist hits an unexpected pothole, for example, and swerves somewhat they will be under your wheels. So the law is set a 1m not because this is a safe distance – but precisely the opposite. At 1m you are driving in an unsafe manner, and unsafe driving quite correctly should be penalised.)

However, the other day a particularly egregious close pass prompted me for the first time to go to the police. Here’s the footage from the front and rear cams:

close-pass-front-youtube

youtubeclosepassrear

It was very close. I could have reached out and touched the car. I held my breath and held my line, just hoping she wasn’t going to move a tiny bit closer and clip me. Just so thoughtless. She saw me, she hesitated, and then decided that my safety was worth less than the five seconds she would have to wait to overtake properly.

The police, predictably, were not interested. I had to fight to get them to even take a statement, and they immediately told me they would not issue a fine, as they considered that the matter was ‘not serious’. I did get a call back from the officer later that day to say he had spoken to the driver, who was ‘apologetic’.

So there we are. An everyday tale of cycling in Sydney.

I’ll finish with a promise. I will try to publish a positive cycling story on this blog every week for at least the next six weeks. Remember folks, cycling is still fun. Cycling is still safe. And cycling is still life-affirming. I’ll try and remind us all of that over the next few weeks.

 

 

 

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