Cycling boom: Now is the time to get serious about road safety

Raphi Simon taking cycling and safety seriously. Photo Dylan Cohen.
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Cycling groups are calling on all levels of government to get serious about safety, after a lockdown-driven boom in bikes gets ready for a return to normal traffic conditions. Dylan Cohen reports.

Cycling groups are calling for a major improvement in road safety as cars return to the once near-empty streets and meet a dramatic increase in bicycle numbers.

Australia’s top cycling body, Bicycle Network, said there had been an increase of more than 270 per cent of Australians commuting by bike since the coronavirus outbreak began in March 2020.

Bicycle Network spokesperson Alexander Miller said the key to increasing cyclists’ safety was to ensure plenty of distance between bicycles and cars on the road.

“Cars are involved in and the cause of the majority of crashes, so we need to see governments get on with creating more protected bike lanes.”

Melbourne City Council has responded to the dramatic increase in cycling numbers, and is set to trial extended safety zones for riders.

Australia’s top cycling body calls for an increase in bike lanes. Photo courtesy Flickr.

“The City of Melbourne have said they will install 12km of pop-up bike lanes,” Mr Miller said.

“It’s also exciting to see (them) trial a protected intersection on Albert St in East Melbourne as intersections are a common place for crashes to happen.”

Mr Miller said it was now time for state and federal governments to follow the City of Melbourne’s lead.

“There are some encouraging signs … but we need to see all levels of government commit.”

Bike User Group Melbourne head Nicholas Dow said more people cycling could only improve safety.

“People were cycling before the virus, and will continue to do so afterwards.  If there are more people cycling, that will only improve safety by making cyclists more visible and motorists more used to seeing bikes,” he said.

The group is campaigning for more bike lanes and greater respect for cyclists. It wants: physically protected bike lanes on busy roads; an end to “rat-running”;on local streets; and stronger laws to protect vulnerable road users, with penalties enforced by courts.

New Melbourne cyclist Raphi Simon, 22, said he started cycling because it gave him something to do.

“[It kept] my mind and body active,” he said.

“Not only was it beneficial for my health, but it gave me some sort of social life and normality, as it was an activity I could do with friends.”

Many new cyclists are looking to take their bicycle skills to the next level and making contact with local cycling clubs.

One of Australia’s largest cycling clubs, St Kilda Cycling Club, is currently “in hibernation”, after having to cancel competition rides and other events during the virus lockdown.

But club president Lewis Fulcher said there had been an increase in enquiries over the past few months.

“We have seen a number of enquiries come through. There’s definitely some enthusiasm bubbling out there and people are enquiring and buying social memberships,” he said.

“If people’s interest continues within cycling, that’s where we’re really going to capitalise and we’re going to get an influx of members who are going to take their riding out of the coronavirus into normal and everyday life.”