Sunday, August 07, 2011

Is cycling in Melbourne dangerous?

One of my favourite blogs, The Melbourne Urbanist had a thoughtful post trying to nut out the constraining factor preventing Melbourne being accurately described as a bike city.

He (and his voluminous commenters) cite various articles and personal anecdotes all seemingly predicated on the assumption that to venture out on to the Melbourne streets with a bicycle is to take your life in your hands and it got me thinking: is cycling in Melbourne really that dangerous?

I ride 50-100km per week as a commuter with probably 30-40% of that distance on bike paths (with numerous street crossings) and the rest on roads; with the exception of a short stretch of footpath on Bell st between my house and the Upfield bike path I never ride on the footpath. I have been doing this for around 18 months now and in that whole time I have had to slam on my brakes to avoid a crash exactly once and stopped with a comfortable margin of error to the side of someone who pulled out of a side street on Sydney road.

I suppose I have a reasonable bike* with good brakes that would give me a little more control than average and while I'm probably slightly more coordinated than the average potential cycle-commuter in Melbourne, I'm definitely not exceptional in that regard**.

It could be a matter of framing: I rode a motorbike in Jakarta for almost a year so I may have a skewed idea of what constitutes obnoxious driving and a lower expectation of driver awareness. Am I oblivious to my impending doom or is everyone else overreacting?

* I ride a low-to-mid-range hardtail mountain bike with disc brakes set up as a commuter with slicks and the front forks locked out.
** I long for the day when I can do a track stand at the traffic lights.


pfctdayelise said...

I think it only takes one close call (or worse) to realise that at any time, only a few narrow inches and a few seconds of inattention lie between a peaceful coexistence and serious injury.

If you were riding on Sydney Road instead of the bike path you might have a different perspective. :)

I also have never had an accident but there are plenty of occasions I haven't felt safe. I would say I'm only moderately a "road warrior" but to be worthy of the title "bike city", potential cyclists shouldn't require any warrior mentality at all.

ohminous_t said...

If you ask me, you are asking me right? Which city you frame this question in is probably irrelevant.

Maybe the central concept to these ongoing debates is/am 'risk homeostasis' your point about framing is on the money, I would put my money on it.

I always resented comments to the effect 'as a cyclist you're taking your life in your hands.' or whatever and am dissappointed if cyclists themselves mouth this attitude.

I mean you have to to some extent put your life in other people's hands, but this is true of any mode of transportation.

Without consulting the statistics, cycling is bound to be more dangerous than riding inside a car with crumple zones, seat-belts, air bags, side impact air bags etc.

But the thing is that people ride bikes in all sorts of ways and carry all sorts of expectations on how other infrastructure users should treat them. This drives things like 'risk homeostasis' like somebody with a shoddier performing bike than yours probably wouldn't take the same risks you do. People with better bikes than mine take risks I don't.

Maybe the trick is just to get your expectations of how other road users will act as close to realistic as possible, then ride accordingly.

eg. I don't ever expect drivers to look for me when opening their door in a paralal park. I look for them, and have never been doored.

John said...

... to be worthy of the title "bike city", potential cyclists shouldn't require any warrior mentality at all.

Amen to that. That sounds like the right way to think about it. I do wonder though, how good would the infrastructure have to be for a person with no road warrior mentality to want to commute into the city from Coburg (~8km).

I mean you have to to some extent put your life in other people's hands, but this is true of any mode of transportation.

Yeah, I guess it might be more dangerous than driving a car but is it "dangerous" in absolute terms?

johnorford said...

From my limited experiences.

Germany has amazing bike paths (basically every city and town everywhere).

Ireland / NYC poor.

Jakarta v poor - and yet it seems to be trendy now...

I cycled throughout my stay in Germany, and loved it, maybe I am spoilt but the thoughts of cycling on any busy city road ain't too appealing.