It’s Walk to Work and Walk to School Day tomorrow and no doubt politicians will be out and about supporting the enterprise.
Yet the authorities have allowed Australia’s footpaths to become danger zones for pedestrians. Despite a law that prohibits anyone over the age of 12 from riding a bike on a footpath, that law is blatantly and increasingly flouted by many cyclists. Meanwhile, despite this law, the chairman of the Pedestrian Council, Harold Scruby, reports that local councils are converting more and more footpaths into “shared pathways” for the use of cyclists and pedestrians. The trouble is many cyclists seem to ignore the “Give way to pedestrians” signs and proceed at speed, dodging and weaving along shared pathways as though they were ahead and nearing the finish line in the Tour de France. Scruby says that pedestrians are losing a sacred right that dates back to Roman times: the right to the exclusive use of the footpath.
Despite the growing concern about the environment and obesity, intolerant, menacing motorists are believed to have been primarily responsible for the retreat by many cyclists from the roads to the footpaths. Why, when it became obvious a decade or more ago, that Australians were taking up cycling in huge numbers, was so little, apparently, done by the authorities to protect cyclists from the intimidating, life-threatening behaviour of thuggish drivers? As Scruby notes, the authorities can “spot an illegally parked car from Mars”. So why, given 21st-century detection/deterrent techniques, did our politicians and bureaucrats fail so miserably to ensure a fair go for cyclists on our roads?
Now, of course, it’s the pedestrians who are complaining about being the victims of intimidating cyclists. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that all too often the reaction of cyclists to shouted objections about their recklessness is an obscene gesture as they ride off and/or a torrent of foul-mouthed abuse and calls for more dedicated cycleways. Do steriods sometimes prompt this type of behaviour, or is it possible that cycling clubs coach their members to show aggression in an effort to discourage pedestrians from speaking up after a frightening encounter?
Meantime, although Scruby stresses that many cyclists do behave well, he is continuing to campaign for the introduction of a 10km/h speed limit on bike paths. He also insists bike paths should be separated from footpaths. In January he was reported in the Port Phillip Leader as saying that councils have exposed themselves to massive damages claims from people who are injured as a result of using shared bike and pedestrians paths. It was also reported that this assertion was supported by legal advice from leading Sydney law firm Slater & Gordon, which also said the RTA could be sued as it was part of the cycleway approval process.
Scruby has put forward a plan that includes fines for cyclists who speed and are otherwise guilty of negligent cycling, as well as a comprehensive identification system for cyclists and number plates for their bikes.
One of the main complaints at present is that cyclists who hit and run are often able to escape any redress or punishment because they cannot be identified. They are not presently obliged to display any kind of identification and because most do seem to comply with the requirement to wear protective helmets (and sometimes goggles) it’s almost impossible to identify them.