Metre matters

January 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

If you’re even remotely connected to cycling you’ll know about
A Metre Matters, the campaign by the hardworking Amy Gillett Foundation. Its objective is to make cycling safer by getting drivers to allow a minimum of one metre when overtaking bike riders on the road. The campaign achieved a major victory when Queensland agreed to put the principle into law from the start of this year. Other states and territories seem likely to follow suit.

The campaign has heaps of momentum, such as the well-publicised Share The Road Tour, no doubt helped by the enthusiastic participation and tweeting by well-known Amy Gillett chairperson Mark Textor.

This is all pretty great, assuming it doesn’t piss off motorists any more than they are already. But I think I’ve figured out why I’m struggling to get behind A Metre Matters.

It’s because the width a motorist gives a cyclist when passing is almost never a problem.

In my last few years of cycling, 90 per cent of it on roads and 50 per cent of that in peak hour, I’ve experienced ‘loss of separation’ only a handful of times. There are only two, maybe three incidents that I’d rate close to a side swiping. One involved a public bus whose wheels were over the bike lane line and whose warm, sickly-sweet draft nearly sucked me under. Another involved a car whose driver squished me into the kerb in a bout of road rage. The only incident I’ve ever mentioned to police involved a shiny purple custom ute that passed me deliberately and frighteningly close on a wide suburban street. I say deliberately because the driver held down his horn for the duration. It’s the only time I’ve ever had to stop and settle myself down before continuing. Yes, I got his registration number. No, I don’t know if anything was done.

If motorists suddenly start aiming for a metre, my rides will become more nerve-wracking. The reason I can’t get excited about one metre is that most drivers give me two.

If passing width isn’t the issue, what is?

For me, it’s drivers seeing bikes and giving way when they should. Close-shaves may be rare but I brake once a week for a driver that hasn’t seen me, or has seen me but doesn’t think I count. A common example is a car passing and then turning left across my (non-left turning) path, with or without indicating. Even more common is riding on the main road and having to brake for vehicles entering on my left, even though I have right of way. (This one happened today and it’s only Monday.)

In the first example, the driver doesn’t look left and cuts me off. In the second, the driver doesn’t look right and cuts in.

Look right. Look left. Look Bike was a road safety campaign from the 1980s and it’s a slogan I still remember. Although it was aimed at motorcycle safety it works just as well for bicycles and it’s simple: Look. Then look again.

There are other things that I dream about more than legislation on minimum safe overtaking distance. Not because they have higher consequences (they don’t) but because they are things that riders encounter daily, not just once-in-a-bad-driver.

One is bike-friendly road surfacing, instead of the ‘squirt of tar followed by a truckload of gravel’ approach. Then more gravel added later to absorb the tar that oozed to the surface. Gravel that gets flicked up into people’s windscreens and faces. Gravel that, after a few thousand vehicles redistribute it, ends up in treacherous drifts on the side of the road.

Another is regular street-sweeping, to clear the bike lane of the glass, nails, wire, stones, vegetation and other debris that carpet road shoulders. The speed and action of vehicle tyres shifts road debris to the side. This can’t be helped but it’s depressing riding through this obstacle course of hazards while vehicles enjoy a clear surface exfoliated of their own muck.

I’m a driver and a cyclist. As a driver, I know how invisible bikes can be. As a cyclist, I know how vulnerable I am.

I’m grateful for the Share The Road campaign and it’s a good message. I just don’t think that a metre is all that matters.

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