Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published July 16th 2013
It's not just the bad drivers that get you
As every cyclist knows, riding in traffic means taking your life into your own hands. Commuting by bicycle might not be as glamorous as caving or rock climbing without ropes. but the sense of exposure is the same: the feeling of balancing on two patches of tire, each about the size of a twenty-cent coin, surrounded by speeding two-ton blocks of steel. The biggest challenge is to live with the idea that the slightest variation - a twitch of a few degrees in your hands or the hands of the driver passing you - can send you spinning into the line of traffic.
Of course, it's not accidental twitches that pose the biggest danger to an experienced cyclist. It's a mix of bad road design and an undeveloped cycling culture. Let's start with...
This is the obvious one: you're riding down a narrow bike lane, past a line of parked cars, when some driver flings their door open right into you. Victorian police report about a hundred cyclist-door crashes per year (which, given the number of crashes that the police aren't involved in, is only the tip of the iceberg). About forty cyclists per year are admitted to Victorian hospitals following a door impact. Most famously, a Monash University student was killed in 2010 when an opening door shoved him under the wheels of a truck.
Among cyclists, this is called 'dooring', and there's nothing we can do about it. It's not a question of visibility - eighty percent of doorings occur during daylight hours - it's a question of whether the driver looks before opening their door. And they usually don't. Until bike lanes are reorganized so that they don't intersect the opening car doors of parked cars, this one's going to keep being a problem.
Imagine this: you're riding down a busy road, safe in your comfortable bike lane. There aren't any parked cars next to you, so you're in little danger from the traffic. All of a sudden you swing through an intersection - and, like the worst conjuring trick ever, your bike lane has vanished. You can see it reappear again ten meters ahead, but with the mess of traffic turning in the intersection it might as well be ten kilometers. What's going on here?
Cycling race in Boston. Image by Furmanj from Wikipedia
Working from the principle that some bike lane is better than none, the city planners of Melbourne have put bike lanes in busy roads (most notoriously, Albert Rd) but not at the intersections where cyclists really need it. What this is supposed to do - other than lull cyclists into a false sense of security - is a mystery.
The last two dangers can be attributed to bad road design or driver negligence. Honking, however, is actively malicious: the practice of sounding the horn or yelling out the window as a car passes an unsuspecting cyclist. The people who engage in this probably think it's a bit of harmless fun, but that's because they've never ridden a bike in traffic.
Getting startled on a bicycle and inadvertently jerking the handlebars can be deadly, or lead to major injuries. This isn't an uncommon practice, either: a fortnight that goes by when I don't get honked at is a lucky fortnight.
Bright Cyclist Lights
In the interests of fairness, here's a danger that's not the fault of cars at all: blindingly bright front lights on other bicycles. Drivers acknowledge that bright, upward angled headlights can blind other drivers, so they turn off high beams when they see another car in the distance. Unfortunately, cyclists seem to believe that the brighter their lights are, the safer they are, and it's common to pass a cyclist on a dark river trail with an enormously powerful halogen lamp angled right at your eyes.
Obviously cyclists should have bright lights at night - for visibility in traffic, if nothing else. But we should also recognize that our lights can be dangerous. As unpleasant as it sounds, maybe we should try copying an aspect of car culture once in a while.
Do you ride a bike in the city? Is there something that nearly kills you on a regular basis? Let us know in the comments: together we can make a safer Melbourne.
So true these four dangers. But other cyclists lights is my pet hate for riding at night too and riding at night is a totally different experience that keeps your senses alert and no one wants one of their senses (sight) to falter from blinding oncoming lights.
Agree bright cyclist lights are a real hazard! It really bothers me that my biggest danger on my nightly ride home in winter is consistently being blinded, often causing me off the otherwise safe dedicated bike path, by fellow cyclists!!!!
Dooring is avoidable and by being aware, a cyclist can be relatively safe. I have ridden down Collins St many time - a dooring hot spot - and nothing has happened. It could have though. Why? I always keep an eye on the door/car that is on the side of the bike lane. You can see if a person is in the seat and by their movements, you can see if they are preparing to open it. Therefore, you have warning and can take action as I have. Taking the onus from the other party to you makes life safer as putting you faith into other hands in these instances will lead to grief eventually.