These past few weeks of summer holidays, I’ve been taking my children to day camp to augment their skills and socialise. The difference this summer is that I’ve asked them to ride their own bicycles. Why? Because we are venturing beyond our usual short walk up the hill to school. And because both kids are now able to bicycle on their own. We recently sold my son’s balance bike with his blessing because mid-year he started using a pedal bike.
As per usual, we’ve had mornings of grumpiness, complaints of sore muscles and I have admittedly lost my patience. One morning, my nine-year-old daughter didn’t want to bicycle. After a few patient approaches I finally said, “Do you understand that I am teaching you how to be more independent. Using your own bicycle will make it possible for you to do more without me and much sooner than most kids your age.” This message seemed to snap out of her bad mood.
Most parents will agree that getting young children out the door in time for an appointment is like herding cats. Inevitably though, we make our way to the garage where we unlock our bicycles and venture beyond our neighbourhood. For the first few days, I took them both in the cargo bike. But as their combined weight is over 65kg, it’s a bit like taking a kindergartener in a stroller to the first day of school.
My husband and I are teaching our children how to use the footpath, the cycleways and sometimes the quiet roads. We try to demonstrate the rules of the road by example. It’s tedious waiting for a red light to change, wearing a helmet and using clean language to express displeasure when a driver doesn’t behave accordingly. But it’s necessary. Our daughter demonstrates her knowledge gained while sitting in the front cabin of our cargo bike daily.
As a result, she takes the lead on our commutes, my son is next and I’m lucky last on the footpath and cycleways. This procession makes it possible for me to gauge my daughter’s ability to negotiate the traffic, how she reacts to obstacles and gives her a sense of independence. She does very well. We stay on the footpath and cycleways when my son is on his bicycle. On the road, my daughter rides next to me and my son is usually in the cargo bike. We have had no negative incidents with drivers going to vacation care, tennis, music and gymnastics camps all within a radius of 3km from Surry Hills. I have seen both of my kids fitness and confidence improve as we have travelled to the city, Paddington, Moore Park and Waterloo.
After arriving at our chosen activity, I have shown them how to lock their bicycles securely. Then I kiss them goodbye and continue to work.
While on my ride to work one morning, I saw this truck with the Metre Matters signage on Cleveland Street, one of the more congested roads in Sydney.
The best thing about seeing the Toll Group truck on Cleveland Street was that the driver smiled at me while I was waiting at the lights. When I took a photo, he waved and gave me the thumbs up. I did the same. I was so happy to have had my first positive interaction with a truck driver in Sydney.
Afterwards, I acknowledged that the Metre Matters legislation had made it possible for this interaction to have happened in Sydney – one of the most hostile places for bicyclists (according to the press anyway). Many have been critical of the Amy Gillet Foundation’s focus on safety for (primarily) sports cyclists. Furthermore, the launch of this campaign was linked to the dramatic increase in fines in New South Wales for cyclists.
As I continued on my commute to work, I reflected on what other changes would need to occur to change the prevailing negative attitudes the general public has towards all cyclists. I considered the factors that have resulted in the Netherlands unique bicycle culture.
Some of these factors include:
- Strict liability placed on drivers insurance companies in the event of a crash between driver and cyclist,
- No mandatory helmet law.
- Standards-based road design where conflict is eliminated or reduced between different modes of transport.
- Formal bicycling education for all children before high school entrance.
- Driver education which includes specific training for safe interaction with cyclists.
- A preference for utility bicycles which are more comfortable and provide better spatial awareness than sports cycles.
I mentioned these factors briefly in my interview on Nightlife with Matt Bevan recently on ABC Sydney radio. Today’s Netherlands is a product of an enlightened government that responded to its people and the oil crisis in the 1970’s and has resulted in cycling-friendly architecture and cycling-friendly policies. Long may it last!
In Australia, certainly in Sydney, we have virtually none of these. In Sydney, we have a series of separated cycleways which are improving. They do not yet all link. But it’s a great start.
The interaction with the truck driver has made me think that perhaps change is in the air here in Sydney. Will a new state premier help to make more positive changes which are more people-focussed? Let’s see. My husband and our kids will be ready.