Maybe Sydney isn't actually nuts

Outrage and indignation this week in Sydney over new laws that treat cyclists “like scum!” Granted, the regulations brought in by Duncan Gay, the minister for transport, are pretty extreme.   

Fines for offences including not wearing the correct helmet and jumping a red light have increased five-fold in some cases (helmet fines have risen from £36 to £163) and Gay is trying to bring in compulsory ID for cyclists.   

It beggars belief, and it does fly in the face of every cycling strategy in any major city across the globe that I can think of, especially when you consider that these regulations run hand-in-hand with the ripping out of cycle lanes across the city.   

But Australia is a country well known for its intolerance to cycling. Maybe they prefer congestion, maybe Sydney is big enough to have every road user sitting in a car. One thing is for sure, despite the animosity there are still plenty of cyclists. To give you an example, 10,000 of them signed a petition against Gay’s new laws.   

I’m not surprised cyclists are turning militant, threatening to blockad streets and to wear jerseys emblazoned with rude words. For any of you who are not familiar with bike riders, these are extreme measures. For cyclists this is the equivalent of rioting.   

Which should get things going a bit, but I do find myself asking if Sydney cyclists aren’t getting a little over-sensitive about this.   

We all carry some form of ID most of the time anyway, whether it’s a driving license or a bank card or, increasingly, one of those ID tags you wear on your wrist in case you keel over and someone needs to phone the wife. It’s hardly a new thing to carry one, and not exactly an inconvenience.   

As for helmets, I’m all for them. I have never once encountered anyone who has come off his bike and said he wished he wasn’t wearing one. These arguments that the helmet debate is detracting from the real issue of how cyclists are treated as second class citizens are simply lame mischief. If you all wore a lid that would be the end of the debate. I see a cyclist without a helmet, I see a disaster waiting to happen. This is a fool, plain and simple, who is either too ignorant to protect his head or regards himself as invincible. Either way they are a liability. Plus, helmets are cool. You look ridiculous without one these days.   

The running red lights rules will cause gridlock in Sydney when they come into force. You’ve only got to look at San Francisco where cyclists there did a ‘ride to rule’ along a stretch of road known as The Wiggle for one evening. They came to a complete stop at every red light and stop sign and made sure they were at least a foot from the kerb and caused havoc. Cyclists take longer to get away from lights which is why sometimes, when it is safe or when forward thinking councils put in filters for cyclists, it’s better to let them go before all the traffic begins to move.   

Plus, I’m a believer in obeying traffic signals. They are there for road users and cyclists are road users. Just stop at the lights.   

Duncan Gay believes he has struck a balance between the rights of cyclists and motorists. I’ll tell you one thing, I would gladly accept all of his regulations to cycle in a city where it was illegal to pass a cyclist closer than a metre (up to 60kmh or 37mph, 1.5m over 60kmh), which it will be for Sydney. Any driver who flouts this law is liable to be fined $319 and get a point on his license.   

That’s a decent deterrent for a close pass and while some will argue that this will be a difficult regulation to police, it gives you a great excuse to get yourself a rear-mounted camera.   

It might on the face of it seem lunacy to remove a well-used cycle lane but there are many who believe complete segregation of cyclists will result in even more problems on the roads. 
Cyclists and drivers need to learn mutual respect for each other and Gay’s new laws are going some way to addressing that.   

However as is the often the case it’s unlikely to be the cyclist who needs to learn this respect. The sanctimonious driver needs to be knocked down a peg or two.   

Imposing a safe passing distance is a start, and one I’d like to see brought in over here. Stopping at red lights in return is a small price to pay.