Read it and weep

Check the calendar. It’s NOT April 1st. The comments below from a former roads minister in Australia defy belief.

Carl Scully – now, thankfully, out of Government so out of harm’s way – was roads minister in New South Wales from 1996 to 2005. In a frank, forthright – and frightening – article in the motoring section of The Age newspaper he has become an overnight sensation. Are his views on cycling shared by other high-ups around the world? Is this how many policy makers, who say they want to promote cycling, really feel about it?

Amazingly, Scully puts it print what many ‘vehicular cyclists’ have long feared: that building cycle lanes isn’t for benefit of cyclists, it’s an excuse to get cyclists off the road (perhaps all roads), out of the way of cars, which could then be allowed to travel faster.

Scully also flags his ignorance by introducing the old chestnut about cyclists “not paying for roads,” probably the most used and abused anti-cyclist argument there is, and which, of course, is false because roads are paid for out of general taxation, and cyclists pay tax.

Cyclists do not have the same rights as motorists on roads

Despite a massive increase in funding, policy and delivery, the bicycle lobby groups remained at best sceptical, and at worst disappointingly hostile.

Perhaps this was because I made it quite clear that I believed riding a bike on a road was profoundly unsafe and that where I could I would shift them to off road cycle ways.

No one would suggest it is safe for pedestrians to be on the roadway, so why should it be any different if a pedestrian gets on a bike?

While individuals do take all sorts of risk voluntarily every day, either by necessity, or for the thrill of it, the road is quite a different environment.

The claim put to me often by cycling lobby groups, “that bicycles are non-motorised vehicular transport and have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle”, was a claim I rejected firmly every time.

In rejecting the “we have a right to be on the road” mentality of cyclists and their lobby groups, I also took a measured and balanced policy position on how best to separate bicycles and vehicles from our roads over time.

Shifting cyclists off our roads or even banning them was neither fair nor entirely possible without providing off-road alternatives. I made a decision that all future major road infrastructure would be built with off-road cycle ways.

Without infrastructure alternative for cyclists, it may be necessary to regulate the manner and time in which they may use our roads.

But, the lone cyclist travelling in the middle of a vehicle lane at morning or evening peak hours is not only unsafe for the cyclist, but is often quite unsafe for motorists as they weave around them.

I would be happy to see a ban during morning and evening peak times. Time-of-day cycling would ensure that our roads during peak periods are for the sole use of vehicles and not for the use of cyclists.

Cyclists are unlikely to be happy being regulated to time-of-day cycling or to footpaths and off-road facilities.

But, before rejecting this option out of hand, they should consider not only how unsafe it is to be sharing the roadway with vehicles, but also acknowledge that it is motorists who pay fuel levies, tolls, registration and licence fees, as well as the huge cost of buying and running a motor vehicle.

Apart from a negligible amount of GST on their equipment, cyclists pay nothing towards the cost of the roads they wish to use and rely on motorists to fund most of the cost of cycling infrastructure.

Being more aware of this may make more cyclists a little more sensitive to the needs of the motoring public.

Avoiding Godwin’s Law
Scully won’t know this, but his views on getting cyclists off the roads has a long and inglorious history. Cycle campaigner John Franklin has a great online history of the cycle path; he shows that cycle path construction has often been financed – and certainly promoted – by the auto lobby.

Scully would no doubt be proud of such initiatives. He might be less enamoured of the other great promoters of compulsory use of cycle paths: the Nazi party. According to Godwin’s Law, to cite Nazis in a web story is tantamount to losing the debate but there’s a genuine reason for citing them in this case.

Franklin bases part of his history of cycle paths on ‘From Cycling Lanes to Compulsory Bike Path: Bicycle Path Construction in Germany, 1897 – 1940, Volker Briese, The 5th International Cycle History Conference, Cambridge, 1994.’

1920: Quote from first Dutch Roads Congress: “After all, the construction of bicycle paths along the larger roads relieves traffic along these roads of an extremely bothersome element: the cyclist.”

1920s: Mass construction of cycle tracks in Germany. Motive: to remove disturbances in the fast flow of motor vehicles caused by cyclists. Propaganda cited paths as pro-cyclist, and first use made of ‘safety’ argument to get cyclists to use them. Many arguments between police and cyclists, the latter prefering to use the newly tarmaced roads.

1926:Cycle tracks made compulsory for cyclists in Germany.

1934: New German legal instruments to address “the problem of disciplining cyclists” who did not use cycle tracks. Bicycle associations outlawed by Nazi regime.

WWII: Use of cycle tracks made compulsory in Netherlands, under Nazi occupation.