Tags: bicycle, bike, close pass, commuting, cycling, metre matters, overtake, police
Most days, I ride to and from work along Burns Bay Road. On the upper section through Lane Cove, I probably get at least one motorist a day who comes closer than 1m. It has a 50km/h limit; it’s marked with signs for caution due to pedestrian activity, and has a number of pedestrian refuges along its length. It should be a good road for cycling, but the unfortunate ‘door-zone’ markings make is much more dangerous than it should be.
(As an aside, there’s plenty of room for separated bike lanes on this road, although somehow I don’t see the (rather anti-bike) council ever doing that. Another cheaper approach would be to put a double-width bike lane in uphill, move the centre line over and remove the downhill one, as has been done in places in Leichardt )
The other day I got a particularly egregious close pass; one where I could have reached out and touched the car:
This was one I thought I would take to the police. Not that I have much faith they will do much, but hey.
So I took the footage in. Unfortunately the front cam was not charged, so I didn’t have the footage with the bike wheel in shot.
However, the reaction from the police constable on duty was not what I expected. “Wow!’, he gasped, as he watched the video. ‘Geez, that really is close!’. Then he looked at me, and asked if I’d brought footage in before.
I said I had, and he seemed to remember. However, he was much more enthusiastic this time. ‘This is much better than last time,’ he commented. ‘You can see it’s really really close!’.
So it seems he is going to follow it up. Which is a good thing. Comparing the footage with the last incident (see here), it looks pretty similar to me. Luck of the draw, or are the police starting to take this a bit more seriously, perhaps jolted by press coverage like this?
We will see!
Tags: bicycle, commute, cycling, metre matters, overtake, police
I 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:
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.
Tags: bicycle, bike, camera, cycling, helmet, police
The other evening I was riding home from work when I happened to ride past a Highway Patrol car. Usually they just ignore me, but on this occasion, the officer evidently felt the need to share his opinion of me. Leaning out of the window, bogan-style, he yelled across to me.
‘Where’s your helmet, dickhead?’
The default approach for the NSW police is, in my experience, to be rude and aggressive. With the notable (and honourable) exception of the velocops, my interactions with highway patrol officers has rarely been pleasant. However, this was the first time I had ever had a police officer shout outright abuse at me.
I stopped, and a conversation ensued, where I pointed out I was unable to wear a helmet for medical reasons. He continued in the same aggressive tone, ‘Yeah? Yeah? You gonna tell me what it is? What’s wrong with you?’.
Then, suddenly, he clocked something. I have a camera mounted on my handlebars. And it was pointing in his direction. Suddenly his tone changed. No, he didn’t need to actually see my medical certificate. He was just concerned for my safety. ‘Ride carefully, sir’, he implored me, before pulling away.
I run cameras partly for fun, partly in case a driver does something dangerous around me, so I have evidence.
But it seems they are also necessary protection against aggressive policing.
Tags: bicycle, bike, camera, cycling, motorist, police, tailgating, video
Almost a year to the day since this incident, I today experienced another rather unpleasant situation on the roads. I wasn’t hit, but was somewhat spooked. I was riding up Burns Bay Road this morning – traffic was moderate, although had bunched up a bit around me because of a red traffic light half-way up the hill.
Then I heard a car behind me start on the horn. Then it got closer and closer. And sounded the horn again. And then got really close, the driver gesticulating for me to move over.
Move over to where, I’m not exactly sure, as there was no way she was going to get past without going into the other lane. More the the point, I wasn’t going to head into the gutter so she could try and squeeze by anyway.
It’s a little hard to judge, but I reckon she was around 50cm off my back wheel at the closest. I could hear the engine right behind me, and honestly thought at one point she was going to clip my back wheel. Which, of course, would not have been pleasant. As in ‘serious injury’ not pleasant.
Once she finally got past (having been behind me for all of twenty seconds – apparently my safety is less important than those 20 seconds of here oh-so-valuable life), she called out through the window:
‘Move over. You’re going to get killed!’.
The irony of this statement is, of course, stark. I laughed out loud at this, in part from relief that she was no longer behind me, but also as I thought of what she actually meant:
‘I’m a bad driver. I might kill you!’
As the eagle eyed of you will have spotted, I do have footage of this incident. Yes, I have joined the legion of cam-toting cyclists, and not that long after the last incident equipped myself with a rear-facing camera – a Cycliq Fly6. I will do a review of it in due course – I’d meant to do it a while back, but not got around to it.
After reviewing the footage once I got to work, I took myself off to the local police station to report the incident. As I could see it, there were three possible offenses being committed – driving too close to the vehicle in front, incorrect use of the horn and aggressive driving.
I showed the footage to the Constable on duty, and whilst sympathetic and interested, initially he told me there was nothing he could do. I held my ground, and asked to speak to his superior, and after some discussion it was agreed that I could make a report. The key in all of this was agreeing that I was prepared to go to court; once this was established it all became much easier.
Was there a bit of fobbing me off initially? Perhaps, but I have to say once we were over that, the police could not have been more polite and helpful. I made my statement, he took the footage, and promised to call me back with more information.
True to his word, he called me later that day. He had spoken to the motorist, who initially had been dismissive and aggressive, but once was told that there was video footage suddenly became rather more cooperative and contrite.
He had also asked the traffic division to look at the footage, to see what the best course of action would be with regards to charges. Here things were a little less successful. ‘Misuse of the horn’ was virtually impossible to get past a magistrate, in their opinion. Tailgating was a possibility, but the difficulty would be in proving just how close she got. We were travelling fairly slowly, and the prosecution would need to prove that she was so close to me that at those speeds she would have been unable to stop if needed. This they thought was tricky, as establishing exactly how close she was, and how fast I was travelling, was very hard to do from the footage – certainly it was unlikely to be solid enough to convince a magistrate (reasonable doubt and all that). Interestingly he said that had my rear wheel been in the shot, it would have helped tremendously – both to give perspective on the distance, and also to see the wheel rotation to measure speed. So there’s something to bear in mind – angling the camera down to take in the top of the rear wheel and the road behind you is a worth considering if you want the footage to stand up to court scrutiny.
He was looking into predatory driving, but this was usually reserved for more serious offenses where people were actually injured. Again, he felt this would be tricky, as I would have to have felt like I was in mortal danger. Did I feel that? Well, a bit I suppose, but certainly nothing like I felt in the seconds before I was actually hit last time. He was still looking into this, but felt it was a long shot, and again unlikely to get up before a magistrate.
So all in all, it’s unlikely that this will go any further. But in another way, I got the result I wanted. The driver got a somewhat confronting call from the police, and had to acknowledge her driving was far from perfect. Hopefully she’ll think a little harder next time.
It was also an interesting exercise to understand how the police work on these types of matters. I felt the police were diligent and helpful, and explained to me clearly the problems they foresaw in proving the case in court – which ultimately is what dictates their actions on what, if any, charges to lay. So top marks to Constable Taylor of Chatswood Police station.
That it should be so hard to get any offense proven is I suppose an indictment of the way the system works, but also helps to clarify where the problem lies. Yes, I know some cyclists have had issues with police being uninterested in incidents of dangerous driving, but I suspect it’s actually more about the overall court system – which in turn is a reflection of our societal biases. Ultimately the police want convictions, and if the courts were more sympathetic to cyclists, the police would be putting more cases forward. That will happen as our overall society becomes more accepting of cycling as a legitimate form of transport that deserves protection against poor driving. Which will happen . . . . eventually. Perhaps?
Anyway, here’s a few top tips if you run a camera and need to report something to the police:
- Angle the camera such that your wheel is visible in the shot. Helps to establish distances and speeds. Telemetry from a speed sensor is also great.
- When you go in to make a statement, be clear that you are prepared to go to court (if course, to do actually need to be prepared to go…!)
- When you make your statement, ensure you cover how scared / vulnerable / in danger you felt. Don’t ham it up, but don’t play it down.
- If necessary, be somewhat persistent. But always be polite and respectful.
Tags: bicycle, bike, commuter, cops, crossing, cycling, jaywalking, pedestrian, police, red light
I 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.
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.
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?
Tags: bicycle, bike, cycling, fine, fixie, flashing lights, helmet, nee nah nee nah, police, police car, ticket
Well, it happened again. And again, actually – I’ve really had a spectacularly successful run of collecting tickets over the last three weeks, totalling six tickets. That’s about $400 in fines (assuming the ones I contested for various reasons are upheld). But the one that I was going to write about didn’t happen on Pyrmont Bridge, and is notable as it’s the first ticket I have ever received from non-cycling cops. Indeed, it’s the first time in my life I have been pulled over by a police car, complete with flashing lights (no wailing sirens, unfortunately, although I like to think they just forgot to turn it on).
As is usually the case on these occasions, they were very nice, and listened politely as I explained my reasons. The female officer told me she would have to look up my record and decide whether to give me a ticket or a caution. I did ask for a caution, but did have to wryly admit that she was going to find a lot of helmet offences on my file. Whilst she was taking down my details, I had a nice chat with the other (male) officer about fixed gear bikes; he asked me how it rode and why I liked it. He was a cyclist, as it turned out, and we have a very nice chat.
Unfortunately, it was yet another nice chat that cost me $66. And whilst my dealings with the NSW police have (with one exception) been very cordial, friendly affairs, I am starting to wonder whether $66 for each chat is really good value. And so I have been forced into something I really didn’t want to do. No, I haven’t started wearing a helmet. I have obtained a medical certificate from a doctor that says I cannot wear one for medical reasons. There are plenty of valid medical reasons why wearing a helmet is a bad idea, and plenty of doctors familiar with them who are happy to write out a certificate. The only flaw in this plan is that, unlike in Queensland and Victoria, there is no specific provision in NSW law for such an exemption. That said, last time I was in court the police prosecutor said that if I had such a certificate then the police would not issue a ticket, and the magistrate did say it would be a reason to dismiss the case. So we shall see. So far, though, it seems to be working as since I have had it tucked into my saddle bad, I haven’t seen a single policeman…
Tags: bicycle, bike, bike lane, cops, cycleway, fine, helmet, police, sydney, taxi
I’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.
I 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!!
Tags: bicycle, bike, cops, criminal, fine, helmet, police, ticket
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?
Tags: bicycle, ice, police, radish
We also supplied cold drinks to the guests (well, the adult ones at least), so in the morning I set out to get ice.
It was a very hot weekend, with temperatures well over 3oC. Finding somewhere that still had ice was surprisingly hard, especially as the bottlo was not open at that time on a Sunday morning. Eventually I found a garage that had some, and then had that dilemma about how much to buy. I ummed and ahhed, and eventually got four bags. I knew this was going to be too much, but part of me just wanted to load up the Radish with loads of ice.
Each bag weighs 5kg, so there was a bit of weight – and my loading was not very even, as I didn’t want to crush, freeze or moisten the bread rolls I bought from the baker. They also clonked and moved around rather as I rode along; it was all rather reminiscent of having a passenger. Still, I got home fine, and am now able to add ’20 litres of water’ to the list of things I have carried on the Radish.
I did buy too much ice, by the way. One bag went completely unused. I also bought too many bread rolls. Such is life.
Tags: bicycle, bike, criminal, cycling, helmet, law, mandatory, nonsensical, police, sydney
On Thursday last week it was Baby Chillikebab’s first birthday. A momentous event that the North Sydney police evidently felt the need to mark by patrolling the foot of the Sydney Harbour Bridge cycleway staircase looking for commuting fathers trying to get home early. As I rolled up on the Radish, the two cycle cops called me over.
‘Good afternoon sir. Could you tell me why you aren’t wearing a helmet?’
Sigh. Here we go again. It seems the nonsensical police crackdown on dangerous cycling scofflaws is still in force.
I trot out my rehearsed line. ‘I choose not to wear a helmet for personal safety reasons, Officer.’
Cue normal slightly puzzled expression, and then ensuing dialogue. They weren’t as busy as the last time, so I was able to have a bit more of a chat with them. At one stage the officer actually taking my details seemed quite interested in the issues and the supporting evidence, but his colleague warned him to ‘not get into a discussion about the research and all that stuff’. There was one quite comical moment when I asked him if he was actually going to give me a ticket, or, given that I had received a ticket just a few weeks before that was still pending review, he could perhaps exercise his discretion and simply give me a warning.
“I’m going to have to give you a ticket because you already had a warning, and, well, you didn’t learn the lesson, did you?’. As he said this, his voice tailed off as he realised how nonsensical this sounded when faced with someone who has absolutely no intention of wearing a helmet, and can spout dozens of research articles to support his position.
I then had a nice chat with them about how I might be able to combine the two tickets into the same court appearance, to save time – they were most helpful. And we then had a chat about the Radish; they were quite enthused and interested if it could carry a passenger. Perhaps I should have offered to take one of them for a ride!
Anyway, it now seems I will get another ticket. What a complete waste of everyone’s time and money. Whilst the policeman was taking my details, a car drove through a red light at a nearby pedestrian crossing. I pointed this out to the officer, and asked him whether he considered this a more serious crime than me riding a bike without wearing a polystyrene hat. He dodged the question, saying that they were there to enforce all aspects of the law and were looking out for rogue drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. I was tempted to say that they weren’t going to nab many rogue motorists as they were positioned thirty metres away from the road, but I refrained.
The whole interaction was very polite and professional, but riding away I must admit I was fuming. Not about the police (who are just doing the job assigned to them by some unimaginative superior officer), but the nonsensical helmet laws we have to put up with in Australia. To my mind, I was doing something rather good that afternoon. I was reducing road congestion by not driving. I was reducing my impact on the environment by not burning fossil fuels. I was making the roads safer for others by operating a low-speed, lightweight vehicle rather than a fast, heavy one. I was keeping myself fit and healthy. All things that have a positive impact on society. And my reward for all that common good? To be branded a criminal. It’s enough to put you off cycling…
(Note: the image is a library pic of a NSW police bike squad; I forgot to take a picture of the actual officers involved).