Cyclists: Are they really a Menace to Society?

Bike Week in Queensland has got off to a great start with a journalist writing an opinion piece for the Courier Mail – Queensland’s most popular source of news – calling cyclists ‘a menace to society’. The barrage of abuse towards road users choosing two wheels instead of four continues on with more insults like ‘car-hating lycra louts’, ‘insufferable, self-righteous minority’ and ‘two-wheeled show ponies’. Des Houghton really doesn’t hold back.

Not only does Houghton fire off a number of insults towards cyclists, but he also makes a number of false claims throughout his opinion piece criticising cyclists for urban mobility issues that they play no part in. Firstly, cyclists don’t slow traffic, the increasing volume of cars in cities does that. And secondly, whilst cyclists don’t pay vehicle registration or car tax, they still contribute to the construction and maintenance of roads through other taxes that everyone contributes to. So are cyclists really a menace on city streets, or is this just an irrational hatred of those choosing to cycle instead of drive around the city?

Do Bike Lanes Slow Traffic?

Unless you’re talking about a number of cyclists lined up along the road rather not allowing cars to pass then no, cyclists don’t slow traffic, especially in urban areas. As is well documented in a number of studies, traffic in urban areas is increasing due to growing urban populations and an increasing number of cars on the road in our cities. As population and car ownership grow, so do traffic jams and congestion as many roads within cities haven’t been built to cope with the increased usage.

Living in Perth and catching the train from Cockburn Central almost every morning to get to university I see exactly that. Kwinana Freeway heading towards the city is busy almost all day and at a standstill during rush hour traffic. Cyclists are nowhere to be seen, however. It’s the same in Perth’s city streets. Cyclists don’t hold up traffic, that’s down to the volume of cars and other public transport, as well as the number of traffic lights that are found all the way along St. Georges Street. Next.

 

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Perth has hundreds of kilometers in bike lanes that are both seperate from and adjacent to the city’s roads

 

Freeloading Cyclists

Des Houghton is right when he says cyclists don’t pay registration, insurance or tax in the same way that car owners do. Apart from paying for the bike, cyclists have no other charges to pay. But that doesn’t mean they contribute nothing to the development and maintenance of roads in urban areas.

Taxing cyclists is a ludicrous idea, which is why there is no support for it anywhere in the world. The benefits of more people cycling far outweigh any negatives. Fewer cars on the road meaning fewer emissions from vehicles and overall improved air quality in urban areas. There is a much reduced cost on road infrastructure for the government and taxpayers (it’s much cheaper to build a cycle lane on an existing road than build a new highway that is unlikely to solve any traffic issues!) More cyclists would actually mean many of us would have to pay less tax on road infrastructure and so they should be encouraged, not taxed!

Changing Perceptions

Unfortunately, Houghton shares the viewpoint of many motorists driving along city streets. Cyclists are often seen as a problem on city streets, even when using designated cycle lanes. There needs to be a shift in perception where both cyclists and motorists can use roads freely, safely and co-operatively. For that, it’s best to look to Denmark in Europe. In the Danish capital, Copenhagen, cyclists now outnumber motorists with nearly half of all commuters travelling to work by bike. The Danish have not only invested in the infrastructure to make cycling a more attractive option, but also ensure that cyclists and motorists are much more considerate of each other on the road.

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Cycling can do so much for a city. The cost of infrastructure for cyclists is much lower than for vehicles, more cyclists generally mean fewer cars and better air quality, and the many health benefits of a more active lifestyle are just a few of the positives. The integration of cyclists and motorists on city streets must be improved to ensure the safety of all road users. Whether that means cyclists need to lose the sense of entitlement they have, or that motorists need to recognise that they don’t own the road and must learn to share it with other road users, but there needs to be a change in perception to improve interactions between the two different road users.

Cyclists aren’t the menaces that writers like Des Houghton describe. Many European countries show that cyclists and motorists can use roadways harmoniously and with respect for each other so it’s definitely possible! Maybe a bit less of the overly-dramatic name-calling would be a good start…

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