Cyclists told to ‘get off the footpaths’; Bike industry calls for increase in speed-limit for e-bike motors.

Photo by Rose Lamond on Unsplash

Pedestrian lobby groups are calling for national restrictions to stop cyclists using footpaths after a 93-year-old man was hit and killed by a cyclist in Burpengary, north of Brisbane. As Yahoo News reported, the elderly man was struck while walking along a footpath on the Burpengary Service Road and was taken to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital where he died the following day.

Speaking to The Courier Mail, Queensland Walks executive officer Anna Campbell said “we need to be designing our footpaths for seniors, for people with disabilities and for kids, and if we do that right then everyone is going to be safe and you won’t find that conflict.”

Victoria Walks released a statement that went further than this, calling on all state and territory governments “to reconsider laws allowing teens and adults to cycle on footpaths [because] the risks posed to pedestrians, particularly the elderly, are too great.”

On social media, numerous posters called for harsh penalties for the cyclist and argued that cyclists belonged on roads, were generally riding too fast, were selfish, and that they should pay registration and insurance to cycle.

On Monday, a number of media outlets reported that a cyclist had nearly been killed by a driver after being flung head-over-shoulders while crossing a busy intersection in Cairns. Dashcam footage provided the 7 News shows the cyclist, who has the right of way, being clipped by a red hatchback as it accelerates to turn right across his path.

The driver of the car stopped to render assistance. However, the impact of the crash shattered the frame of the man’s bicycle, broke his leg and wrist and threw him at high-speed across the bonnet of the car and into the road. He was hospitalised for two days.

Despite the cyclist having right-of-way, many commenters on 7 News’s Facebook page argued that he should not have been riding on the road at all, should have been more cautious and should have given way to the car regardless of the circumstances.

As these two incidents highlight, resolving the political conflict between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians is not as simple as designing safer paths. Public sentiment is somewhat against cyclists whether they are sharing the road with cars or sharing a separated path with pedestrians. Indeed, as this blog highlighted last week, for some people cyclists are unwelcome even on shared paths specifically designed for both cyclist and pedestrian use. As Pedal Power ACT suggested in May, even paths that might have been considered ‘wide-enough’ or ‘safe-enough’ when they were built can become a source of conflict as participation increases and paths become more congested.

All the while state governments and councils must weigh the benefits of improving road and path infrastructure against the political risk of getting into a public stoush with rival business, community and advocacy groups.

There are intractable cultural and socio-political factors that need to be addressed in Australia for all people to be safe when travelling within the urban environment. Attempting to alleviate the problem by segregating out and designing infrastructure around each individual mode of transport ignores the material conditions from which the conflict between them arises in the first place.

In other news, industry lobby group Bicycle Industries Australia has called on state and territory governments to increase the current speed limit for electric motor assistance on e-bikes. As The Australian Financial Review reported on Tuesday, BIA argues that if e-bikes were able to ride at consistently higher speeds this could encourage post-COVID-19 cycling participation among commuters and improve confidence for riders unable to keep up with faster moving traffic.

E-bike motors in Australia are currently limited to 250 watts and deactivate if the bicycle is moving faster than 25km/h. For commuter riders who already ride at higher speeds, this provides little improvement over a conventional light-framed bike as the electric assistance is inactive for most of their ride.

Bike Industries Australia general manager Peter Bourke argue that even a slight increase in cruising speed to 32-35km/h “would equate to a huge number of people who would suddenly be willing to ride to work rather than drive or catch public transport”.

Social distancing and concerns about a second-wave of COVID-19 have prompted an increase of sales for e-bikes in Australia. Changes to existing policies on e-bike motors and use could send a much-needed signal to all road users that the growth of active transport achieved during the pandemic is not something that governments intend to wind back or discourage.

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