As the most vulnerable vehicles on Australian roads, bicycles are constantly at risk from other road users.
Canberra has high volumes of heavy traffic, and the sheer size of trucks and buses means that their drivers find smaller vehicles like bicycles difficult to see.
Infrastructure that separates bicycles from motor vehicles like trucks and buses is the best way to avoid people on bikes being killed on ACT roads.
Until the ACT Government commits to better cycling infrastructure, understanding between people who ride bikes and people who drive trucks and buses on Canberra roads is essential to prevent tragedies.
Last month Pedal Power ACT was invited to attend a forum aimed at bringing together two groups who don’t often meet face to face or see eye to eye: bus and heavy vehicle drivers, and cyclists and pedestrians.
The forum was called ‘Reducing the risks: cyclists, pedestrians, buses & heavy vehicles’, and it was convened by the ACT Chapter of the Australasian College of Road Safety on behalf of ACTION buses to help build understanding and cooperation between the groups around safely sharing the road.
And that’s how we found ourselves behind the wheel of a massive bus, struggling to measure the safe overtaking distance of one metre next to a truckie on a bicycle.
The opportunity to experience the road from a different perspective was a highlight of the forum. Bus drivers jumped on bicycles while transport planners got behind the wheel of big trucks. Pedal Power ACT’s turn at the wheel of an ACTION bus was both intimidating and instructive for someone who is used to traveling with much more agility.
Yet there were disappointing moments too. We heard firsthand from instructors for our biggest trucking companies and public transit organisations that they do not fully understand the rights bike riders have on the road.
There are large numbers of heavy vehicles on ACT roads. We also have the highest per capita numbers of people riding bikes in Australia.
Heavy vehicle drivers are, for the most part, professional people working in industries such as freight, construction, or public transport. This gives the organisations they work for a unique opportunity to provide world class training to prioritise the safety of all road users.
Bike riders are a varied bunch. People on bikes could be athletes, businesspeople traveling to work, or kids crossing a road to school. Reaching these disparate audiences requires a range of approaches and it is impossible to tell if all bike riders have taken in a particular message.
Vulnerable road users like people who ride bikes have to prioritise safety. If that means merging with other traffic to avoid glass in the cycle lane, or taking a lane at a roundabout, they will do so. Sometimes this momentarily inconveniences other road users.
To see leadership from ACTION and the heavy vehicle industry in ensuring the safety of vulnerable road users is commendable, but not revolutionary. And it should be a normal part of everyday business.
In London the trucking industry has been highly involved with cycling groups to improve conditions for cycling on the road since 2010. In Australia, Toll has been working with the Amy Gillett Foundation to educate their drivers about how to share the road safely with bike riders. In 2016 the Melbourne Metro Rail Authority undertook to develop a strategy to ensure bike safety.
In Canberra, we took a step in the right direction by having stakeholders together in one room. But it was underwhelming when compared to other players in this space.
At the forum we encountered a mix of opinions about bicycles on the road, riding in bunches, lack of visibility, riding through intersections or roundabouts, riding when bike lanes suddenly ends, and other issues that bike riders face daily.
This lack of understanding could be quickly dismissed. For the most part these drivers are qualified, skilled and hard-working people genuinely trying to do their best. That’s exactly why it is unacceptable that this group is questioning if people should be allowed to ride bicycles on the road at all.
Everyone who uses ACT roads would benefit from the heavy vehicle industry and government taking a leadership role in promoting understanding about sharing the road with vulnerable users.
The community benefits by having more people on bikes. People who ride increase workplace productivity, and save the public long-term health costs. More people on bikes mean fewer cars on our roads, and less congestion and pollution. Bus drivers and truckies want to be able to do their jobs efficiently, and more bikes and less car traffic in Canberra will improve their productivity enormously.