Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Cyclists up against shock-jock ravings
I’m freewheeling down Macquarie Street, breathing the salt-sparkle, seeing the Opera House rise from the bush, mindful of the good Guvnor’s legacy, when a car veers in, shoving me dangerously near the parked vehicles. “Ya, gedoff the road!” yell its occupants, evidently delighted with their command of broadest yobbo.
Admittedly, my middle digit may have raised itself microscopically from handlebar level, but the yobs’ next move was to rev that clapped out Ford Fiesta, accelerate past and swerve hard in front, gesticulating wildly, screaming, “Hope ya crash, bitch!” before tearing off to the expressway.
That was weeks ago, my first experience of car-on-bike road rage, and it did rather take the shine off the ride. Since then, though, such incidents are noticeably more common. Just yesterday morning, I was pedalling happily along my local inner-city bike lane when from a large furniture van, travelling the other way (and therefore entirely unimpeded by me), came the same full-throated war-cry: “Gedoff the road!”
Seconds later a small white van buzzed past in my direction, horn blaring loud and long without reason or provocation. At almost the same moment, it transpired, my student daughter, cycling a couple of blocks away, was cussed and spat at by (of all things) a pedestrian. Nice.
I put this sudden rash of bike-hate down to shock-jock syndrome, it having happened since Alan Jones took his war on cyclists to the airwaves.
Elsewhere, the term “cycle wars” refers to the competition – as between London and Paris – to get more cyclists on the road, more quickly. Here it has a more sinister ring, the war being to get cyclists off the road.
Like most city people I don’t listen to Jones all that much. But I recently stumbled across a podcast of his now-notorious Clover Moore interview – if that’s indeed what it was – last month on the subject of city cycleways.
Still less than 5 per cent built, the 200-kilometre cycleway stands to benefit the city greatly, establishing safe bike arteries in both directions and yielding twice the per-dollar economic benefit of a new motorway. Yet Jones describes it as “the biggest disgrace in traffic management that I have ever seen” and insists it will “destroy the city completely”.
He was in fine form that morning. With a spite suggesting payback for Clover’s defence of Moore Park (against the SCG, of which Jones is a long-time director) he set about cutting in, hectoring, talking over, abusing. “You haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about,” he told the lord mayor. “You virtually speak for nobody … For god’s sake, Clover Moore, can’t you read?”
As a Redfern resident I recognised the familiar aural patterns of man bullying woman; these dramas are often played out in our street. Occasionally it’s female-on-male but, in general, I find, the gender roles assert themselves among the inebriate classes.
But Moore, while audibly irritated by Jones’s rude non sequiturs, stayed calm, patiently pointing to her increased majority at the last election (with the cycleway a key plank), to burgeoning usage and recent polling showing 80 per cent support.
So I would have dismissed the entire event as the rough-housing of public life – but for the extent to which the driving populace appears to take Jones as their behavioural totem. He hates cyclists, they hate cyclists; he slags them with impunity, well, so can they.
Even before the interview, and despite city council efforts, Sydney was working hard on its international reputation as a cycle-hating city. Professor John Pucher, of Rutgers University, who spent a year here trying to understand why, noted “an incredible level of aggression from Sydney motorists” – even compared with US cities.
Europe, he reports, (and to a large extent North America and Canada) imposes many more sticks – much higher petrol prices, vehicle taxes, rego and licensing – as well as many more carrots – extensive bike parking, bike-and-ride buses, cycleways, cycle-friendly traffic speeds and lights and mandatory cycle training in schools.
Tomorrow, for instance, Transport for London – the world’s most intelligent bureaucracy – launches its Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. Modelled on Montreal, the scheme makes 6000 bikes available for hire at centres throughout the metropolis. For £1 a day, or £45 a year – paid on-street or online – you can make unlimited half-hour trips. Cycle longer, you pay more. Simple and brilliant.
Here, where an entire state government can’t even copy London’s Oyster Card properly, the city must do what it can – namely, build separate cycleways.
This should please motorists, since it reduces congestion and limits the build-up of road rage behind cyclists convinced their only safe option is to “claim the lane”. It cleans the air and cuts our ballooning diabetes and heart disease budgets. How is it “the worst traffic management ever”?
The real wonder – disgrace – is that we let these shock jocks raise profits by artificially raising our ire, when really what we should raise is our collective middle digit.