“Cyclists and Vehicles Share the Road” – am I missing something here?

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Vicroads think that it is a good idea to warn road users that they may encounter one another, after doing its level best to ensure that they never meet, and that cycling gets the Cinderella portion of the deal: bad and fissured cement path, for the main. This sign was encountered at the start of the new path which is under construction, adjacent to Moreland St and Whitehall Rd. in Footscray, or ‘Footscrazy’, as the local wags have dubbed it. It’s a nice wide concrete path, but funnily enough, the sign stood astride the on-road bike lane that the path is meant to supplement (I moved it onto the grass verge, out of harm’s way).

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I’m not really rapt in riding long concrete paths on my bike. Concrete has many qualities – hardness, durability, ease of laying, relative smoothness, which make it a good choice for any horizontal surface which has to withstand a lot of wear and tear.

However, the qualities of this material mean that they are traded on by path builders, and foundations are quickly laid, in an often inadequate manner for long-term durability. Paths are often badly graded, with no crown to allow water to run off after rain.

The upshot of this is that paths deteriorate after several months, due to water runoff, bad drainage, tree roots and nearby truck traffic, and the surfaces become rough, uneven, unpleasant to ride on and even dangerous. The surface of the Federation Trail is one such example of this. I know the Fed Trail is bitumen, and it’s a bit better graded than some other tracks, but it’s still showing signs of bad foundations as it cracks as it settles. As I’ve said before, if these were roads for cars, the equivalent of highways, they would be fixed through the night and on weekends. It’s not as though it’s as hard as doing the Monash Freeway.

Consider this statement from the badly grammatised national representative body of petrolheads:

‘The National Motorists Association Australia . . . believes cyclists cannot safely integrate with fast-moving vehicles on busy roads.

“Motor vehicles and bicycles are fundamentally incompatible,” spokesman Michael Lane says.

“Cars are fast and heavy. Bikes are slow and flimsy. The two do not mix. It’s dangerous and it’s not fair to either cyclists or the motorists.”‘

So the road-building authorities listen to chumps like this one, and continue to construct our very own version of aparthied townships for bikes – off-road concrete paths. Cars get billion-dollar chunks of smooth bitumen (EastLink, CityLink) and cyclists have to subsist on rutted, pedestrianised and narrow ‘paths’.

Riding down Footscray Rd. on Sunday, I got my very own little shock of schadenfreude. The steadily deteriorating conditions of the cycle path along Footscray Rd where it runs in front of the new Co$tco mega-warehouse – more and more traffic lights and slip roads and right angled turns and pedestrianised crossings makes me ride on the road, which is probably safer than having to endure the vacant wanderings of the bloated shopping trolleys of bargain shoppers. This time out, however, I was riding with a couple of people who aren’t so keen on riding on busy roads, so we took the path. I got ignored, walked into, stopped in front of about 5 or 6 times in about half a kilometre, as these bloated bargain shoppers ferried their oversize purchases to their cars parked illegally and adjacently to the bike path. There was no other parking, you see, and police were turning people away from the carpark, which was full. So they parked almost on top of the bike path.

On the way back from our ride (the Westgate punt wasn’t running, so we rode back the boring way through Port Melbourne) we retraced our tracks along the path in front of the White Elephant, each of those stupidly parked cars had a parking ticket on the windscreen. Suddenly, that trip to Co$tco isn’t so cost-effective after all. I hope it puts them all off the whole idea of financially dubious, needless overconsumption for a while, as well as parking across bike paths. Like I said, schadenfreude – but they deserved it, every one.

Cyclists, for better and more efficient, and yes, more pleasant riding, need better graded and smoother surfaces than do motor traffic. This is due to tyre size and suspension. Paradoxically, new road projects usually have much smoother surfaces on them than the bike paths that are sometimes built alongside them. Is this a subtle attempt to turn people away from riding, giving the scraps, and poor scraps at that, to the more efficient form of transport? Road construction is a self-perpetuating activity – more roads, more cars, more cars need more roads, ad infinitum into hell. They are not necessary. And if we were a less lazy and stupid society and culture, that we have become in the last sixty years, we would see that.

I will continue to ride my bike on the road. It’s the public highway, and I am a member of the public, and that is my chosen means of transport. I chose carefully, which the brain-dead petrolhead in the Pajero Grande did not, as he drove that insurmountable kilometre to the shopping centre, and looked for a parking spot for 10 minutes,  for a packet of cigarettes. He may one day kill me. I hate him for that, and the corrupt, unacknowledged shit that bred that choice I hate also. But I’m not going to ride on those rutted, compromised concrete paths unless I’m in imminent danger, or they’re better than the alternative. They’re not, yet, usually. The Fed Trail is not a bad start.

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