The geography of cycling to work in Sydney. Red indicates low levels and yellow/green means relatively high (source: Charting Transport)

Friday’s editorial in The Australian, The menace of urban cyclists, is worth quoting in full:


THE arrogant sense of entitlement in our inner cities is also evident in the ever-growing number of cyclists snaking their way through pedestrians on overcrowded pathways, darting between cars and clogging-up lanes on our congested roadways.

The problem of city cyclists reached their apogee in Melbourne this week when a cyclist was “doored” on busy Collins Street, after a passenger opened a taxi door and a rider crashed into it. Neither the taxi nor its passenger could be deemed at fault because a narrow “bike lane” inhibited the taxi from stopping next to the kerb. The passenger was lucky to avoid serious injury.

What makes this incident even more absurd is that, although the lane was marked by a bicycle symbol, it was not actually a dedicated bicycle lane. Melbourne bike lanes must have signage, fixed to a pole, that shows the start and finish of a lane, as well as clear markings on the road itself. The state’s bicycle operations officer — yes, there is such a position — admits there is confusion for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. Cyclists, including the one “doored” this week, are using cameras to film such incidents so they can make insurance claims. The Victorian government imposed even tougher on-the-spot fines in 2012 for people who opened car doors in the direct path of cyclists.

For too long, authorities have bowed to the demands of selfish cyclists and their lobby groups. Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling. We have no equivalent of Amsterdam and should stop pretending we do.

Just how cyclists, who have a legal right to the road and are especially vulnerable to injury or even death, can be described blithely as having an “arrogant sense of entitlement” and are “selfish” because they’re demanding more consideration from motorists is baffling, to say the least.

Of course the anti-cyclist tone isn’t surprising. This is an ideological battle for The Australian and most of its readers; it’s not about logic or ethics.

None of that’s a surprise, but what struck me was the penultimate sentence: “Truth is, our cities are dominated by cars because they are sprawling”. The implication is nothing can be done to redress the conflict between drivers and cyclists because it’s a structural issue.

Fact is, cycling is now very much an inner city phenomenon in Australia, as the exhibit shows (1). And both residential and employment densities are generally higher in the inner city than they are in the sprawling suburbs.

The dooring incident cited by The Australian didn’t happen in the car-oriented suburbs but in Melbourne’s CBD, on the corner of Collins and Swanston.

CBDs are far removed from the sprawling suburbs. They only cover around 5 sq km and they’re by far the densest agglomeration of activity in Australian metropolitan areas, as all those office and residential towers make obvious.

In terms of transport, cars don’t dominate the CBD; they’re a minor mode. For example, the great majority of work trips to and from the CBDs of Sydney and Melbourne (around 70-80%) are made by public transport, not cars.

It’s true the streets of the city centre are often clogged by the minority who choose to travel by car or taxi, but little of that congestion can be sheeted home to sprawl. A lot of it is business and tourism travel.

In the peak, most of it is commuters who will drive no matter where they live, either because work pays for it or their status demands it.

You’ve only got to try and find a parking space in Manhattan or Brunswick to know that density doesn’t preclude high levels of car use. Or see how many times the characters in Sex and the City prefer the convenience of a cab over taking the subway.

Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians is an issue that needs to be addressed. But so does conflict between cars and cyclists. The hands of policy-makers aren’t tied by supposedly intractable structural forces like sprawl; they can and should make cycling safer (see What can be done to stop cyclists getting “doored”?).

Update: Much more balanced and reasonable editorial on cycling in Saturday’s (22 March) Sydney Morning Herald.


  1. Exhibit is from Charting Transport, What does the census tell us about cycling to work?