Cyclists break the law due to safety concerns, study says

Post date: Oct 9, 2014 1:08:56 AM

In the occasionally fractured world of Sydney cycling and cycling politics, not even the bike riders themselves claim to always play by the rules.

But the reason they break the law, the great majority of cyclists say, is to protect themselves.

A cyclist on a shared path in Pyrmont. Photo: Wolter Peeters

A cyclist on a shared path in Pyrmont. Photo: Wolter Peeters

A new study by researchers at the University of NSW, who interviewed 770 cyclists, found almost 95 per cent of them admitted to breaking the law at times while cycling.

The reasons they gave, however, might be understood by those who have experienced the fraught and sometimes dangerous experience of cycling in Sydney.

Cyclists nominated the differences in speed between vehicles and bikes, unsafe roads, poorly connected bike infrastructure and trying not to annoy drivers as motivations for flouting the road rules.

"As vulnerable road users, cyclists are motivated to ensure their own safety by avoiding perceived danger from fast-moving vehicles in traffic and ensuring minimal conflict with drivers," said researcher Louise Shaw.

One common infringement admitted to by cyclists is to push out in front of red lights to put a safe distance between themselves and cars. Another was riding on the footpath.

Vince Bush, 50, who has cycled for most of his life said he was frustrated by the inadequate time green lights on bike lanes gave to cyclists.

"I'm being treated like a pedestrian and I'm not, I want to go quicker, that's why I ride my bike," he said.

Mr Bush also claimed a taxi driver had just abused him for being too slow.

But other cyclists believe Sydney motorists' attitudes to cyclists have changed dramatically.

Richard Barnsdall, who cycles up to 40 kilometres a day, said motorists had become far more aware of cyclists and that a mutual respect was growing.

"The restrictions imposed on cyclists are a part of the cost of having a bike," he said.

The survey's findings could, however, add to the arguments in favour of a licensing scheme to make it easier to penalise those who break the law.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay, who did not respond to requests to comment on this story, has said he was increasingly persuaded that a licensing scheme for cyclists would improve safety in the city.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby was not impressed by the survey's findings and condemned the actions of cyclists who break the law, saying they did so because they were unaccountable.

"Why should pedestrians remain silent and say we will share it with you?" Mr Scruby said.

"There are no rules, there's no risk assessment, there's no protection. It's got to a point where the footpath is no longer safe."

Bicycle NSW spokeswoman Sophie Bartho called on the NSW government to begin a major campaign about sharing the road, which has historically been divided on pedestrian, motorist and cyclist lines

"Fundamentally, what it boils down to is that cyclists are breaking the law because the infrastructure is not there," Ms Bartho said.

"We need connected cycleways. The City of Sydney has come a long way but we have a long way to go."

A City of Sydney spokeswoman said the best way to improve safety was to create separated cycleways where possible.

"As our network grows, more people choose to ride and we have seen the number people riding in and around the city soar 132 per cent over the past four years," the spokeswoman said.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Octo 2014