A Large Step to a Safer Cycling Community

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On-road cycle lane2

Pedal Power ACT Executive Officer John Armstrong reflects on the recent government response to the Vulnerable Road Users Inquiry.

Could you imagine a community whereby the ethos of cycling was so ingrained into its fabric that that it had compulsory cycle training for children in schools, new drivers were tested for their competence around cyclists, the community was educated and supported in sharing the roads and shared paths and the road rules did all they could to protect the cycling community? The government’s recent response to the recommendations made by the inquiry into Vulnerable Road Users just might have set the vision for such a community!

This past fortnight has allowed us to reflect on some strong outcomes made by the ACT government in addressing cycling safety. The Vulnerable Road User Inquiry provided 28 recommendations for the government to consider. This was in response to Shane Rattenbury’s call to investigate what could be done to provide a safer environment for pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists on the roads of the ACT.

In agreeing to 18 of the 28 recommendations, the present ACT government has established the platform for some major reforms in the ACT that should allow the cycling community to feel safer on the road and its environs. Whilst there are many recommendations that require further work – the prospect of establishing good effective outcomes remain. So what are some of the actionable items? The items that can be put into effect and have been agreed to are:

• The requirement to dismount at a crossing is rescinded and the capacity to ride across (at walking pace) is allowed;
• A minimum overtaking distance of 1m in 60kph (and lower) speed zones & 1.5m above that speed;
• Education of the broader community on the overtaking distance requirements and a vulnerable road user brochure to all registered vehicle owners;
• Trial a lower speed limit in school zones and heavily built up areas;
• The theory test for drivers and the driver competencies tested include vulnerable road user elements, and
• An awareness program for cyclists and pedestrians on shared path use

Whilst each of the above items will be implemented and the result of this should lead to a safer environment for those on the bike, it is the potential for stronger and greater change through some of the other recommendations – should they ultimately be implemented – that is exciting. For instance – the government agreed to review three specific areas that have a direct impact upon the cycling community. These included:

• the road rules at intersections to see if any rules could be modified to better protect cyclists;
• review the current cycling education programs in schools and consider compulsory cycle training in all schools, and
• examine the implementation of a strict liability scheme in the ACT.

They agreed to consider them – not to implement them, but in doing so, have allowed for these highly effective outcomes to potentially occur. The cynics would suggest that the government’s lack of obligation shows a lack of commitment to these important principles. However – the gate remains open, the government is inviting input and debate and the discussions need to occur on each of these items.
Each of these items has massive potential to provide a stronger and safer environment for the cycling community and requires an equally massive amount of work to see them implemented.

What did not occur as a result of this inquiry was an obligation to provide and fund improved on-road infrastructure. That was a failing of the inquiry to provide those recommendations – and it was the government’s role to respond to the recommendations presented to it. So whilst Pedal Power ACT recognise the failing of the inquiry, we note that the opportunity to address the improved on-road infrastructure and the investment that will be required to attain this still remains with the government (outside of this response) and can be addressed in the ensuing budget.

Pedal Power recommended to the inquiry that there was no “silver bullet” that would provide a safer environment for the vulnerable road users – but it required a multi-pronged approach that addressed legislation, speeds, education, training, infrastructure and funding. The government’s response showed its willingness to address many of these areas – and it should be congratulated for doing so.
The prospects for further change remains and the necessity for strong political leadership and a visionary approach to ensuring Canberra is the Cycling Capital of Australia is no more important than now.

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