Sydney riders reflect on the New South Wales cycling law changes

by Aidan James


In the course of his research for an article about the impact of New South Wales’s new cycling laws, Sydney cyclist Aidan James* spoke with many riders to get their thoughts. Here are the perspectives of three such riders.


James

James commutes daily from Rhodes into the Sydney CBD. He does bunch rides some weekends.

“Since March I’ve felt the majority of motorists who do the right thing, still do. But overall, no I don’t feel safer. In fact I feel less safe in some situations as the 1% of drivers who were already hostile towards cyclists appear to have deepened their resentment. They seem emboldened [by the new fines] and I now have even more run-ins with them.

“The increased penalties mean I need to be more careful of overzealous police [who] could fine me – and I don’t have the time to fight it. I’ve actually gone right off the NSW Police. I understand they’re following orders but it’s heavy-handed and not proportional to the threat cyclists pose to the general community. During their blitzes, cars can be completely queued across intersections. But the police are too busy checking bicycles for bells whilst traffic is at a complete standstill due to some moron blocking an intersection.

“Funnily enough I have a bell on all of my bikes now, but I’ve found using them can actually make situations worse. Often pedestrians think the bell means ‘get out of my way!’ instead of a friendly alert I’m coming through. To me bells and reflectors are akin to putting lipstick on a pig – we’re no safer than before, just more annoying.

“[Since the new laws came into effect] I’ve been a lot more wary on the bike. I’m now only commuting and have cut right back on ‘unnecessary’ cycling. Although I’m hoping to get my mojo back when the fuss blows over and police start going after real threats to the community. Right now I feel like a bit of a criminal just for cycling to work.”

Bronwen

Bronwen does training rides on weekday mornings and bunch rides on weekends. She commutes into the Sydney CBD from the Eastern Suburbs.

“Do I feel any safer? It varies. I do see changes in the behaviour of some motorists. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the electronic roadside signs promoting the ‘metre matters’ message to drivers the other day. However you still get motorists who make poor decisions, like attempting to pass up the inside. In the last six weeks our club newsletter (Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club) has reported three members who were collected by cars.

“Before the new laws started I witnessed motorcycle police pulling two cyclists over early one morning in Centennial Park. We all thought ‘okay here we go, the police will be cracking down’. But I haven’t seen any negative behaviour from the police since. I’ve also asked people in the bunches I ride with, none have been stopped or booked by police since the new laws either.

“I get why cyclists are cross at the increase in fines. But the big issue for me is the lost opportunity to focus on behaviour change for motorists. I’m hoping with greater awareness and a focus on the behavioural changes required, rather than focusing on the increase in fines for cyclists, it will make a difference. I think the NSW Government could improve its investment in awareness campaigns for motorists and cyclists. Improved infrastructure would help too! On a whole, are the new laws making a difference? The evidence will be in the data.”

Donald

Donald is a weekend bunch rider and club racer. He commutes from the Inner West into the Sydney CBD.

“Unfortunately I feel less safe now than prior to March 1. There has been very poor publicity surrounding the associated rules and regulations. Like many others I don’t believe the one-metre message has been relayed clearly enough to the general public and I don’t believe there has been a significant change in road user behaviour, both from drivers and cyclists.

“Whilst it’s difficult to substantiate, it feels there is heightened ‘negative’ awareness and tension between drivers and cyclists on the road. I feel like I have been passed within a metre more frequently than before the new rules were rolled out. These close calls seemed to be intentional. For the most part, sensible drivers (notwithstanding their stance on cyclists) still generally exercise a degree of caution when driving within close vicinity to cyclists.”

“Overall, I feel police behaviour towards cyclists has been quite negative. I was followed by a highway patrol car around Centennial Park for 15 minutes after the roll-out of the new laws. I thought that was unreasonable. Ironically, driver behaviour within the park remains largely ignored despite the capacity for vehicles within the park to severely injure cyclists or pedestrians. There are many reports on social media of cyclists being fined for largely insignificant offences, whilst reports of police not taking any interest in video footage of drivers breaking the one-metre rule are not uncommon.

“As a racing member of Cycling NSW I already carry ID and wear a helmet (largely due to the risks associated with the higher speeds I travel relative to a commuter on a bike path). While the new laws do not directly impact me now, they do have the capacity to impact me in the future. By driving down cycling participation rates amongst commuters and recreational cyclists, I slowly start to become a smaller and less significant minority.

“This lends itself to observational bias, which is a huge issue for cyclists. The only way this bias can be diluted is by ensuring more people cycle. Of course should participation rates decrease, it will also act as a further disincentive for cycling infrastructure projects.

“Whilst cycling in a global context is generally a success story, the outlook in NSW appears grim. I believe cycling issues are largely urban issues given the concentration/density of road users. Relative to other cycling friendly cities, the Sydney metropolitan region features a lumpy topography that most cyclists, particularly commuters and utility riders, find difficult to navigate without geared or assisted bicycles.

“The creation of dedicated and thoroughly planned cycle paths could potentially provide relatively direct routes without large changes in elevation, separate bicycles from cars and, most importantly, improve safety – which ironically is the whole point of the new rules and regulations, supposedly. There doesn’t appear to be any appetite for the current NSW Government to build this infrastructure unless there is a financial return via tolls, taxes or registration.

“What I find most infuriating about the new one-metre laws is they oversimplify a very complex urban planning issue. When considering cycling or any other form of infrastructure policy, it is important to overlay it against a political, social and infrastructure framework. I believe it’s a lengthy but worthwhile process. Unfortunately for most politicians a vision to the future would fall outside a very short election cycle so it’s easier to provide old and tired projects (such as roads, roads, and more roads) and quickly turn some sods for the camera, as opposed to being a little adventurous and exploring the potential of an efficient, clean and fun alternate mode of transport.”

*The author requested for their real name to be withheld to distance themselves from their current employer, who is also involved in the NSW cycling community.

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