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.