After my short jaunts riding in London and Boston, I felt compelled to compare the riding in a bike friendly city to what it’s like riding at home in Sydney.
One of the biggest problems I think with Sydney riding is that the lanes simply aren’t wide enough for a bike and car. Indeed in some places (eg the Pacific Highway), the lanes are so narrow that trucks actually overhang the lanes. Having road lanes that are actually wide enough to accommodate a car and a bike easily and safely really negates the need for official bike lanes, as people can just go around you.
Bike lanes, need to actually be a decent piece of road surface, and they need to be wider than my handlebars. The bike lanes in Boston that I rode on were about 2/3 the size of a normal car lane, and so gave you plenty of separation from traffic. In addition to this, they had a separate car parking lane, which meant that you weren’t having to dodge around parked cars.
Non-compulsory helmet laws.
I didn’t wear a helmet. I didn’t die (contrary to what people may have you believe) Honestly, I loved the feel of the wind in my hair, and realistically, if I’d been hit by a car going at 80? I doubt it would have helped me. Although I religiously wear my helmet in Sydney, I didn’t feel as if I required one in either of those cities.
Signage that says what bikes should do, and what cars should do is helpful. In Boston, there was a clearly painted line (in front of the car line) to allow bikes to wait at the front of queue at a red light. This was clearly signed so that cars didn’t feel as if bikes were simply jumping the queue.
Good bike infrastructure
This doesn’t just mean bikeways. In London I didn’t cycle at all on a bikeway/bike lane. I just rode on the road (though I think I did ride in a bike lane for a while in Boston). However, good bike infrastructure also means things like end of trip facilities. Most street corners in Boston sport a bike rack. In London, a lot of the stations have undercover bike parking (in a shed at the station office), or in Paddington station (one of the large train/tube stations), there is a massive bike rack actually inside the station and under CCTV surveillance. Having secure bike facilities is definitely great.
The more I look at it, the more strongly I feel that it is a critical mass type situation. At the moment, we don’t have enough riders in Sydney, which means that motorised transport (aka cars) are the dominant method of transport in the city. In London, the bike numbers are massive. I don’t think it’s quite a 50/50 situation, but at any given set of lights, you’ll see 10-12 riders waiting. Riders are everywhere on the roads in the city, and on all sorts of bikes. No lycra (or maybe I saw one guy in lycra), but the vast majority of people were wearing ordinary work clothing – suits, skits, slacks, and riding all sorts of bikes. Steelies seem very popular, as do folding bikes. I saw more folding bikes there then I’ve ever seen in my life.
The more people that ride, the more motorists that will be bike friendly thinking ‘that could be me’, and the more motorists that will understand the complexities of riding a bike in traffic. I think there is a ‘tipping point’, at which a city becomes bike friendly. Sydney, how ‘bout we try and work it out?