Keeping us safe… (updated)

August 8, 2017 at 16:58 | Posted in bicycles | 6 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I got pulled over the cops the other day. Rather excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve ever been pulled over with lights and sirens blaring!

The reason was that I was riding like cyclists do in 98% of the world – that is to say without a polystyrene hat. In Australia, of course, this deviant behaviour is considered a criminal offence. And not a minor one – the fine is $325. That’s the same as a car driver not giving way to pedestrians on a crossing flashing amber, and drinking alcohol whilst driving.

I spoke to the officers, and explained I have an exemption, and showed it to them. It remains to see if they accept it or if I get a ticket through the post. But what a waste of everyone’s time.

Still, it seems the NSW police are keen to ensure vulnerable road users are suitably penalised for daring to use a Sydney road network that is hostile towards them. A few days later, I was in the city and witnessed no less than five motorcycle cops booking pedestrians who dared to scuttle across a pedestrian crossing when it wasn’t green. Given that this is right outside Sydney Central Station and there are a lot of pedestrians needing to cross, that there is relatively few vehicles, and that the green time for pedestrians is woeful (about five seconds every three minutes), you can hardly blame a few people for crossing on the red man.

But no, the NSW police were there, handing out tickets ($72, if you were interested). Whilst I watched, I saw two cars drive through on very amber lights ($325, as explained above), and one on red ($433), but rather than jumping onto their powerful motorcycles to catch the miscreants putting people’s lives in danger, they just chatted amongst themselves.

Great to know our safety is so important to them.

Update:

In recent news, it was reported that the number of fines issued to cyclists rose massively last year  – $1.99m in fines, compared to $0.33m the previous year. The number of injuries also fell, by about 7% – but cycling participation fell about 25% (from 17% of people to 12.5% of people regularly riding bicycles). This means, of course, that cycling actually became more dangerous last year. All those fines and police activity have driven people off their bikes, and made it more dangerous for those that remain.

And, true to form, I was pulled over yet again this morning. This is on a ride where I saw perhaps 4 drivers using a mobile phone, and close to 10 drivers driving through an amber or red light. So a pretty typical ride. The road safety priorities in NSW (and Australia more generally) are truly f—-d.

police again

Those Scofflaw Cops…

January 25, 2014 at 11:58 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

copsonfootpathI came out of work at lunchtime the other day to see two bicycle police officers riding on the pavement outside our building. The ground slopes away a little bit, and one of them instead of being on the pavement proper rode up on the paved area outside the office block. When he got to the end he realised that the pavement had dropped away, and there were a few steps down back to that level – so he just rode down them, clatter clatter. The two officers then continued their leisurely ride along the pavement, through the throng of people on the pavement of the CBD at lunchtime.

Now, for sure, they were riding slowly and I’m sure carefully, and not really inconveniencing anyone. And I’m not really averse to careful pavement riding – I do it myself sometimes. But, technically, they were breaking the law – road rule 250, to be precise. I know that the police are able to break the rules in an emergency, or when attending an incident – usually with sirens wailing and so on. But these officers were just meandering along chatting, with no sense of urgency.

Now, on the one hand I don’t really mind. After all, I think careful footpath riding should be legal, as it is in for example Japan (where, despite the hectic streets, it all works rather well). But I can’t help feeling a bit piqued when those same cops pull me up later in the day for flouting rule 256 – one that it seems to me creates less danger and inconvenience to other road users than footpath riding. I didn’t get a ticket – my magic indemnity saw to that – but it was annoying just the same.

Actually, I have to say I have never ever seen a bicycle police officer riding on the road.  I think it’s  pity – it seems to be bicycle cops would be ideal for catching motorists using mobile phones, blocking junctions, driving through red lights and the myriad other dangerous behaviours that can be seen on the city streets every minute of every day. Perhaps they think it’s too dangerous…

Videoing my ride

September 17, 2013 at 21:03 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’d been toying with the question camerafor a while – it’s something that is a growing trend amongst cyclists, as evidenced by the endless youtube footage if cars carving up cyclists. Should I get a camera for my bike? The main motivation for attaching a camera to one’s bike seems to be in order to capture bad driver behaviour and, if the worst comes to the worst, to use as evidence. I don’t suffer much from bad drivers, but I was vaguely curious try out a camera.

So I bought one on eBay – a very very cheap one. $20 from China, complete with handlebar clamp and integrated headlight. What’s not to like? Well, the video quality, obviously, but I thought I give it a go before splashing out on something expensive.

So here, ladies and gentlemen, is an entirely uninteresting ten minutes of my commute – it’s the section through Sydney’s CBD on the green bike lanes. Probably the only interesting thing is the cycle cops on duty at Pyrmont Bridge (I spot them and push my bike through that section – it’s about three mins in), merrily giving out tickets to riders without helmets or those who ride through the red bicycle light at that spot (a bicycle light which, due to a wholly inadequate sensor, rarely turns green) whilst ignoring all those scofflaw pedestrians doing exactly the same thing.

copvideo

Oh, you’ll also see me ignoring a whole load of similarly useless bicycle traffic signals that give cars priority (any signal that only gives cyclists four seconds of green per phase is just asking to be ignored, IMO), whilst paying closer attention to those where pedestrians might be crossing. The other strange thing is the camera perspective – it seems to be quite a narrow angle, which gives the impression I am much closer to things than is really the case. At 7.15, for example, you’d think the guy on my right was seriously invading my personal space – it looks like his elbow is right in my face. But actually he was probably two metres in front of me.

I would probably use the camera more, but the battery is pretty hopeless (it only just lasts out for my thirty minute commute), and, more to the point, after I’d had it about a week I dropped it onto my concrete garage floor. It now rattles a lot, and whilst the pretty lights all flash away merrily it no longer appears to actually record any video. Oh well. It was an interesting experiment, but not interesting enough to make me want to splash out on a more expensive camera. Or not until I’ve carpeted the garage, at least.

Cops, cars, jaywalkers, bikes and priorities…

August 30, 2013 at 12:31 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

copcarI was riding home on Wednesday this week when a friendly oncoming cyclist on Pyrmont Bridge warned me that there were police at the end of the bridge pinging helmetless cyclists. I thanked him, and then rode on, keeping a lookout. I was expecting to see the usual bike cops, but saw there was a squad car parked on the junction, with two officers standing on the pavement nearby. I jumped off my bike and walked across the crossing, to avoid a tedious helmet conversation, and once on the other side paused to see what the police were doing.

The first thing I saw was a pedestrian being ticketed for jaywalking.jaywalker

Shortly after that, a car turning right out of Darling Drive went through a red light. The filter light on that lane is only lit for a short time, and it’s frequently not enough time for the queue of cars to get across. So it’s pretty much a dead cert that someone will push through as it turns red.

In this instance, I think probably two or three cars went through as it changed, with the last one evidently being well after it had gone red – indeed, he was so late going through that the pedestrian / bike crossing had gone green and a swarm of pedestrians were already in the road. This meant he got stuck in the middle of the junction – as it happens, slap bang over the bike crossing that links Pyrmont Bridge with the Union St cycleway.

This posed some problems for cyclists; either they had to ride around the rear of the vehicle, uncomfortably close to the oncoming traffic now coming out of Pyrmont Bridge Rd, or go around the front of the car by riding on the pedestrian part of the crossing.

caroncrossing

In the picture above, you can see one cyclist doing exactly that – look for the flash of hi-viz behind the cop’s arm.

The car was stuck in the middle of the junction for quite a while whilst the crossing cleared (in the pic the ped lights have gone to flashing red and the car is still there), with two cops on the pavement, one each side of the crossing, perhaps five metres away from the vehicle.

So what happened next?

Well, the cop in the picture, turning and seeing the cyclist coming around the front of the car, pulled him over, asked to see his ID and gave him a warning about riding over the pedestrian crossing, although he stopped short of issuing a ticket. (Whilst this was happening, a pedestrian came over to where the cop was speaking to the cyclist, and started laying into the officer about how they were harassing cyclists!)

As the crossing cleared, the motorist drove away, with neither cop making any effort to speak to him, pull him over or capture his rego.

After the cyclist had ridden away, I took the opportunity to speak to the officer about his actions. He was very pleasant and courteous, and basically acknowledged that the cyclist was ‘the unlucky one’.

‘There’s things coming from all angles on this crossing, and there’s only two of us, and we can’t stop everyone.’ he said. ‘He was just unlucky this time; it’s just too busy to cover everything.’

I did gently press him about the motorist, pointing out that a car driving over a red light and towards a crowded pedestrian crossing perhaps posed a greater danger than a lone cyclist trying to get around an obstruction, and the cop did agree that, yes, the behaviour of the car driver was more dangerous. He also agreed that he’d seen lots of cars jumping that particular red light.

Internally at this point, I was shouting, ‘so why on earth didn’t you walk the five paces over to the car when it was stuck on the crossing to talk to the driver, instead of pulling over the cyclist?!!’. However, I kept that thought to myself. The cop went on to say he was a cyclist himself, and hated it when car drivers do that kind of stuff, and that poor driving around cyclists really annoys him. Not enough, it seems, to translate into action when he is on duty.

He also said they were positioned there because there had been lots of reports of conflict between cyclist and pedestrians in that area. The reason for that, of course, is due to the phasing of the lights. Cyclists and pedestrians get far too little green time, meaning that a large group of pedestrians builds up for each signal change – and many of them end up spilling into the bike lane simply because the crossing is not wide enough for that number of people.

Approaching cyclists, for their part, knowing that they have perhaps three seconds of green to get onto the crossing before they will be forced to wait another four minutes for the whole cycle to go around tend to speed up when they see the crossing go green.

Speeding cyclists anxious to get onto the crossing and a sea of peds spilling all over the road – hardly surprising that there’s conflict.

The number of pedestrians and cyclists at that junction at peak time far exceeds the number of motorists, of course. And yet the motorists get the vast majority of the green time. Simply putting in another pedestrian green phase in the middle of the cycle would probably solve most of the conflict issues, and save the police time and money having to patrol there. But that might cause a precious motorist to be held up for ten seconds longer – which clearly can’t be allowed, can it?

 

Bike cops, bridges, taxis and bike lanes…

March 22, 2013 at 08:34 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

bikecopsI’ve had a bit of a bad run of it lately. The bike cops are doing another helmet  blitz on Pyrmont Bridge, and I’ve been stopped three times in the past couple of weeks. Had a lovely chat with them, but each chat costs me $66 – this the penalty in New South Wales for the heinous crime of riding a bike slowly in an area with no motorised traffic whilst wearing an ordinary hat.

Whilst I have no argument with the individual cops (they are doing what their command have told them to do, and it’s obvious they think it’s a waste of time), one of the things that does bug me is that there are so many better things they could be doing. Like looking out for the kind of driver behaviour that actually puts cyclists at risk. Bike cops would be perfect for this – very easy to keep up with cars in peak time traffic, and then pull them over when appropriate. But no, their commanders seem to think that bike cops are only useful for policing people on bikes.

taxi in bike laneI was reflecting on this on the way to work when I came across a taxi driver merrily driving up the King St bike lane. He’d dropped someone off, but why he felt he need to drive in the bike lane to do so I have no idea. It’s illegal, inconvenienced a whole bunch of cyclists and is potentially dangerous. I took several pictures, and was thinking ‘where are those bike cops when you actually need them!’.

Later that day I was riding home and a pedestrian on Pyrmont Bridge kindly warned me that the bike cops were on the bridge again. Thanking him, I hopped off and walked, and sure enough there they were. They hadn’t seen me riding, so no ticket, but I did go up and have a chat. During the conversation I said,

‘I was hoping I was going to see you guys today, as I have a crime to report!’

Their eyes rolled a little (this must be an occupational hazard for policemen), and asked me to explain.

I pulled out my phone, and showed them the pictures of the taxi I had taken that morning. To their credit they were very interested, asked me to email them the pictures, if I had a description of the driver and so on, and if I would be happy to be a witness if it went to court. I agreed, and thanked them for their time. They then rode away. Possibly because they had other matters to attend to or perhaps – I like to think – so that I could get back on my bike to continue my ride without the embarrassment for all concerned of either watching me hobble up the street in my bike shoes or having to come after me to give me another ticket.

And I’ll wait to see if I hear back from them about the taxi driver. I hope they throw the book at him!!

The crackdown

February 22, 2012 at 20:14 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

It seems there is a crackdown going on. Right across Australia, police are focusing on vulnerable road users. ‘Hurrah!’, I hear you shout. About time some focus was put on behaviors that put vulnerable road users at risk. Surely this means an increased focus on cars that go through red lights, pass cyclists aggressively, mobile phone use whilst driving and so on.

Unfortunately no. What the ‘focus on vulnerable road users’ entails is dishing out tickets to vulnerable road users for minor infringements that put no-one at risk, whilst ignoring the ‘bull’ – car drivers swishing past, ears glued to their phones whilst they exceed the speed limit.

I saw the bicycle cops were on Pyrmont Bridge this morning, so I turned off to go another way. I could do without any more helmet fines right now, given that I just received a $198 bill for the last one (I appealed for leniency, but to no avail). However, on a very quiet back street I encountered another officer. I’m not sure if he was just sitting there to nab people going around, or if he saw me turn off prior to the bridge and rode after me.

It’s one of the guys I know well, and he was very apologetic; he asked to to understand that it wasn’t personal, but they had been told not to issue any more warnings. He’s a really nice guy, and seemed to tacitly agree that the law was stupid – I also made the point that I appreciated his polite and professional manner, and that my argument wasn’t with him or his colleagues, but with the stupid law.

So I continued to work (he was quite happy for me to continue my ride). Turning into the Kent St cycleway, a motorcycle cop shouted to me.

‘Where’s your helmet, dumbo?’

Given that this wasn’t an instruction, I ignored him and carried on. Next thing he’s powering up alongside me on his motorcycle, shouting at me to get on the pavement and get off my bike.

He was very rude, at least to start with, asking me why I didn’t get off and push, that he wasn’t wasting his breath shouting for no reason and so on. He was really quite aggressive. I thought the police were supposed to keep situations calm, not insult people and shout at them. Anyway, I was able to calm him down a bit by telling him I hadn’t understood he was giving me an instruction. Whilst he wrote me a ticket, I explained my reasons for not wearing a helmet. We had the ususal too and for about ‘the guys in the tour de France wear them’, to which I replied that drivers at Bathurst wear four point harnesses and flame retardant suits, but that didn’t mean they were needed for driving in the city.

‘But they are doing 200kmh!’ he said.

So I pointed out the TdF riders were doing 80kmh down a mountain, whilst I was doing 15km/h in a bike lane – thus rather proving the point.

His attitude did soften a a bit after that exchange, and at the end he simply advised me to wear a helmet, ‘to make your life easier’.

He also commented that he had already pinged three cyclists and two pedestrians that morning. After he left, I watched him for a few minutes, and in that time he gave a pedestrian a ticket for jaywalking, and another ticket to a helmetless cyclist. Such a great use of our tax dollars.

All very tiresome. Still, two tickets in one day must be a kind of record. I guess tomorrow I’m going to have to go the very long way round, to avoid the central Sydney police local area command. Still, it’s a nice ride, and the weather is lovely at the moment…

The boys in blue

November 8, 2011 at 22:02 | Posted in bicycles | 8 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

So it happened. The ink was barely dry on the verdict I received when attempting to defend riding a bicycle without a helmet when I saw the cops again on Pyrmont Bridge.

I rode along behind them for a while, wondering what to do. Get off and walk? Stay behind them and hope they didn’t see me?

In the end, I had to know what would happen. Would they finally leave me alone, having seen that I was prepared to fight this, and having heard the magistrate uphold my arguments (if not the technicality of my legal position)? Or would they simply see that ‘I lost’, and dish me out with more tickets?

So I rode past them, and sure enough they called me over. It was immediately clear that it was the latter course of action they had in mind. ‘So the magistrate didn’t agree with you then,’ one of them said.

‘Well, actually he did agree with me,’ I countered, ‘but he didn’t agree that it was enough to qualify for the defence of necessity.’

‘Well, we have to keep giving you tickets’, he said. So they did.

This is really getting very tedious; I have received eight tickets for riding without a helmet in the last nine months – this is after three years of riding helmetless without so much as a comment. So what to do now? Another court challenge?

 

Facing the cops…

May 30, 2011 at 19:52 | Posted in bicycles | 2 Comments
Tags: , , ,

I found the whole experience of going to court rather stressful and bruising; it is a horrible experience that is designed to be intimidating. I stewed on it for the whole weekend, and even though I ‘won’ I really didn’t feel much sense of satisfaction or closure, and was in all honesty starting to wish I had just paid the fine and dropped the matter.

Then, this morning, as it by fate, the cops were on Pyrmont Bridge again. A fellow cyclist saw them up ahead and warned me. Dispirited, I turned around, planning to go around the convention centre. But they had spotted me, and I heard them approach; the swish of their tyres clear behind me on the wet asphalt.

I stopped, and I prepared myself for another lecture. It was the same cops, of course, and they recognised me.

Summoning up some enthusiasm, I greeted them. “Good morning, Officer! Actually I have some really good news for you this morning!’.

He raised his eyebrows quizzically.

‘I was in court on Friday, defending myself against two counts of riding without a helmet. And I’m pleased to say that the magistrate recorded a verdict of ‘no conviction’!’

Some further discussion ensued, and I explained what had happened in court with the cops looking increasingly crestfallen.

‘OK, ride on’, the cop said. ‘Go on.’ He waved me on my way with an irritated wave.

Suddenly, my mood lifted. I laughed out loud. I sang. I splashed through the puddles like a kid, and I felt a weight lift from my mind. This was what it had all been for. The hours of preparation, the taking time away from work and my family to go to court, the stress of giving evidence and the anger and impotence I felt being lectured by the magistrate. This is why I did it.

Just to ride my bike.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.