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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  1. Great write up Mike. As the Perth population becomes more dense I feel the change to bikes and public transport is a necessity as opposed to a choice so the sooner we look to the world leaders for advice the better. Here’s to it happening as quickly and as harmoniously as possible! 🍻

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    1. Thanks Curt! It’s something that cities all over the world will need to do but with current population growth, it is vital that Australia looks at alternatives very soon. Fingers crossed they act!

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  2. Hey Mike! New here. I’m pretty sure your brother sent me over. I’m a fellow YouTuber and am in a group with him.

    Anyway. I agree with your article concerning the benefits that outweigh the negatives when it comes to cyclists. What do you think should be done in smaller cities and townships where there are no cycle lanes, and police officers often ticket cyclists for riding on the sidewalks. I know the law says that drivers have to share the road with them, but there is almost no shoulder on most of these roads, and people often do not obey the average speed limit of 45 miles per hour. ( I am speaking from the US and referencing US laws and the such.)

    I feel that having cyclists use the road with no obvious means of moving out of the way if danger would arise puts the cyclists, and drivers, at risk. I believe it’s an infrastructure situation and we need to find a way to build proper bike lanes on all public access road ways.

    We should offer tax breaks (beyond not having to pay for registration or tags) to those who use bicycles the way we do to people who buy energy efficient appliances or solar panels. I also believe however that if you ride a bicycle out on a public road you should have some sort of insurance. You may not damage a car horribly if you hit it (the cyclist almost always loses there), but if you hit a parked car, or a pedestrian for some reason (whether in a cross walk or in a general accident) you need some sort of protection against loss and the injured party needs some form of redress.

    What are your thoughts?

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    1. Hi Michael, thanks for contacting me!

      The relationship between cyclists and motorists varies in countries all over the world. I don’t know a lot about the USA but I believe there’s a lot of stigma and unwillingness for motorists to share the road with cyclists and there is very little infrastructure for cyclists outside of cities. I personally feel that cycle lanes should be introduced alongside roads, separate to paths where pedestrians walk. There also needs to be a greater level of education in road tests (for example) about sharing the road with cyclists.

      It’s definitiely an infrastructure problem. Safety is obviously paramount regardless of the type of road user and giving cyclists there own cycle lanes would go someway to achieving this. I don’t feel that that’s even a thought on the mind of the current Republican leadership…

      I certainly wouldn’t be against a form of insurance to provide a bit of a safety net to cyclists but there shouldn’t certainly be a number of possible incentives considered to offer those that choose to cycle/reduce their car use.

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