This is prompted by something that happened to me a few weeks ago. As some of you may know, I pull on the hat of Advocacy Officer for the local Bicycle Users Group (MazzaBUG) sometimes, and get all fired up about the fairly mediocre conditions us inner westies have to put up with getting anywhere on bikes, and fire off letters to various bureaucracies about their inertia and lack of interest in making Melbourne more cyclable.
Anyhoo, the issue I am exercising myself about at the moment, under the aegis of MazzaBUG, is the completely sub-standard conditions for cycling over Shepherd’s Bridge on the Maribyrnong River, carrying Footscray Road (in Melbourne, Australia, in case you’re wondering. Zoom right into the Google map, they’ve laughably designated it as a ‘bikeway’). Here it’s included in a Melways map of the Bay Trail West Link Alignment, another of our pet projects, that seeks to connect Spotswood with Footscray Rd.:
It’s diabolically bad, narrow, rutted and unsafe for a major link to the city for nearly everyone who cycles to the east from the west. We had a BUG meeting a month or so ago during which we discussed the bridge, and someone mentioned that the opposite bridge footpath was a possible way to spread the cycling load, and so on my way to town, I gradually pulled up to a slow stop on the left hand side of the existing path to look over the road at the other path. After being stopped there for a few seconds, an (obviously closely) following bike rider looked up from his iPod-induced trance just in time to narrowly avoid hitting me, veered to the left, almost crashed off the path and into the path of a reasonably distant but oncoming truck. He got back on the path, then started to have a good old go at me. After his fuming, shoving, threatening to punch me and kicking my bike wheel had subsided a little, I rode off, whilst advising him to do the same, after leaving him to put his own chain back on. After his red-faced jumping up and down and him calling me what my mother never has, I wasn’t going to a) say sorry; b) give him a hand ; c) explain why I had stopped: although the irony might have given us a giggle (although before he got all arced up, I was ready to do all three). I was majorly put off by his immediately aggressive attitude toward what he obviously (too late) saw as a threatening situation – not the narrow and badly provisioned path, nor his inattention to his environment thanks to the little white PCAD (or Personal Contact Avoidance Device, as I ended up dubbing them during my time as a tram conductor) in his ears, nor his inability to read the road situation, but me. I had looked behind me as I stopped, but the hump of the bridge seems to have hidden me from his distracted attention for those few seconds that it took him to close the gap, and the rapidly-approaching him from me.
So, who’s at fault? Globally? Locally? The crappy bridge:
the bad cycling behavior, the bad reaction in a slightly hazardous situation? I didn’t see him till he whizzed past me, even though I looked, and slowed to a stop gradually. I’ve been in much more scary situations in races when nary a cross glance was exchanged. The perception of constant threat to his safety on the bike that this guy who shirt-fronted me seemed to have, had the effect of both making him more scared, and hence more aggressive. It wasn’t helping his riding at all, even though he was trying to block it out with the little white earbuds.
So the lessons learnt, by me:
a) only reinforces this once again after numerous other instances: Do Not Wear a Personal Stereo Whilst Riding. The thing you might not hear (or see) could be driven by a sleep-deprived long-haul truckie who won’t or can’t care;
a1) don’t stop on Shepherd’s Bridge under any circumstances;
b) lobby for better bike riding facilities by whatever means possible, and don’t let the bureaucrats built yet another committee-designed camel when what we sorely need is a horse;
c) don’t expect cyclists not to be uptight, aggressive individuals who need a cat to kick to supposedly work out their frustrations with the world (although most of them aren’t);
d) Ignore, stonewall, disdain or assertively try to educate such individuals, don’t buy into their perverted and negative worldview by ‘giving as good as you get’ – this works (well, better than most cycling behaviors) for skill-retarded and careless motorists as well. See the following post by what I mean by “assertively educate” negligent road users.