commentary and people

Bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist. I was reminded of this on about 3 occasions on my way home from work today. It’s a very short ride – but it’s through the centre of town and it’s not unusual to feel like you’re living on borrowed time. Whenever I have a ride like that I wonder about the road rules, and the enforcement of laws that must govern people parking badly, partially blocking bicycle lanes, and the retrospective manner in which lanes are painted in, after the cars have been fully accommodated.

In their deference, the motor-ist’s attempt at parking is made hard by a narrow parking lane.

Cycle Lanes as an Afterthought
Many of the on-road cycle lanes in Newcastle have been ‘retrofitted’ into the existing road-scape and so have been squeezed between parking spaces and traffic lanes – in the ‘door zone’. This is probably the most dangerous place to be riding, it’s Russian roulette and the stakes are high. In many cases the resulting division of space means that the cycle lane and the parking spaces are now too narrow to meet road standards.

The photo’s used as part of this post are from a short stretch of road near my house that I regularly use on my way to work. It is used by many cyclists wanting a direct route into town. There is a slower meandering off-road path that I now use more regularly for travel, especially with my family, but just for clarity, the issue is definitely not restricted to this area and while there are cycle lanes painted on the road, it is being suggested as a safe place to ride, and essentially ignored by motor-ists to the detriment of cycling safety.

I wonder if this truck driver would let his rig hang this far out into the traffic lane – or if police cars would drive by and let him impede traffic while he gets breakfast.

What is Law?
Newcastle Cycleways, the local peak body for cycling, actually recommends that you don’t ride in cycle lanes and that in fact, you’re only legally obliged to cycle in them when there a specific roads signs instructing you to do so. It would seem that the cycle lanes provide a suggested (albeit dangerous) path that is now accepted (incorrectly) as the legal place to ride. So who would dare to exercise their rights and ride in the traffic lane? Only a few brave souls I would suggest.

Car after Car after Car.

A State of Fear?
So as we have it, Cyclists are intimidated off the roads, into the door zone by painted road lines. If cycle lanes and cycl-ists were respected universally then perhaps the state of play would be acceptably dangerous, but the reality is that lazy and aggressive driving makes any on-road cycling too scary for most sensible people, and especially so in the rain when you can add plain stupid driving into the melee. So where am I going with this? In my opinion, bicycle lanes are best when they truly separate cycl-ist and motor-ist.


Somewhere in central Australia

Deadly Treadlies was a bicycle recycling project minted in 2003 in Alice Springs by Ian Sweeney and Mick Cafe, working for the Tangentyere Council and Central Land Council. In brief, the project provided the materials and skills to recycle 2nd hand bikes for the Alice Springs community. It won awards, it recycled bikes and it kept Ian Sweeney off the street – all good news.

I went out to visit Ian in 2008 for about 10 days and spent a couple of days with him in the Larapinta Valley camp where he was managing the administrative centre for the camp. Ian and I spent two days fixing bicycles, recycling old parts and generally getting kids on 2 wheels in a collaborative workshop setting. It was part of the kids activities roster for the camp and it was great to get out there and be a tiny part of developing the bicycle scene in Alice. At the time I felt pretty ill-equipped to really ‘touch base’ with the community other than to be another well intentioned ‘blow-in’ from the big smoke. But bicycle repair was the only thing I really had to offer, other than an open mind, and for whatever it was worth, they got what I had while I was there.

Larapinta Valley Admin Centre front and back verandahs

To say it was rewarding is a massive understatement and I gained a whole lot more than I gave. As part of my day job I had done some aboriginal cultural heritage awareness training and so that had essentially briefed me on some of the most easily grasped issues, Ian filled in some of the finer detail about the work his does and the community I was visiting. It was a week that I won’t forget and feel now that I was given a real gift – just being out in that part of the country is special. Ian had been out there for about 5 years at the time, and since having a short sabbatical in Melbourne, he’s back out there again working with the community. The desert can capture a man’s heart so they say.

Something that I saw that will stick with me was this little girl who hadn’t ridden a bicycle before, getting on, pushing off, then riding through the sand like it were mown grass. Cycling in sand is hard and cycling for your first time usually takes some time to master – heading off into the sand is the cycling equivalent of jumping off a harbour ferry to learn to swim. It was impressive from a girl who was probably three and a half.

Somewhere else in Central Australia

I’m writing all this down because I think it illustrates the power of the bicycle to build capacity in communities. The joy of riding a bicycle is something that has no boundaries, and is easily shared with a simple smile. Its also a damn useful, sustainable, cheap and appropriate transport mode.

I’ve recently written a review of the movie Bicycle Thieves and although it’s not much of a ‘cycling movie’, it is a story that illustrates how a bicycle can create markets, economies and sustainable work. Perhaps I am making too much of all this, but suspend your disbelief for a moment, and imagine a city with all it’s short, commuter and general transport trips taken by bicycle. It’s a deadly idea.

21 Nights in July
The Physics and Metaphysics of Cycling
Dr. Ianto Ware

The Author

Ianto Ware claims to be a doctor, and for mine, doctors fix broken people. So with this is mind, what claim does the author have that relates to the book? Well… he cured my cycling literature virginity and cured my complete disinterest and ignorance of the Tour de France. I’ve been riding for a few years but hadn’t ever felt drawn to the tour, however since being ‘treated’ by Ianto, I’ve felt more of an appreciation for it. So while I wouldn’t say I was broken – I feel much better now. Thank you Doctor Ware.

book Ianto Ware 21 Nights in July

The book, 21 Nights in July

the Book

The book is broken up into stages of the 2008 Tour de France and the musings of the author during that time. It’s stimulating, funny and a witty sideways glance at the event and its personalities. Additionally and in parallel, it’s a very personal and philosophical consideration of many issues facing cyclists and Ianto draws on the history of cycling and various ‘ologies’ to bring together a modern cyc-ology of a sort. I found it to be a pretty compelling read and Ianto, true to his background, retains the ‘zine’ feel without losing it’s way into fathomless introspection. It’s introspective, but this adds style and personality to the work, rather than becoming simply navel gazing.

Who’d like it?

Well I liked it alot, and would recommend it to anyone who I thought could read, and had more than a passing interest in bicycles. It’s not a light hearted or flippant book, but It’s not a serious and massive tome either. Some of it’s beauty is that is is broken up into short chapters that don’t follow a strong linear narrative, so you can simply pick it up from time to time and take a bite when you’re peckish – I read it all in one sitting. It probably wouldn’t suit someone after an historical reference guide to the tour, but they’d certainly appreciate the strong reference to the cultural event – apparently it’s more that simply a sporting occasion.

Books aren’t for everyone, but even if you’ve got short attention span this book is worth your time, even if it is only available in 17 minute intervals.

You can purchase the book here for $12