AUSTRALIANS have long been enthusiastic cyclists. Old photos of the Newcastle steelworks in its boom years show hundreds of riders, massed at the gates, ready to depart for the afternoon commute home.
A rise in wealth in the post-war years saw the bicycle give way, to a large degree, to motorised transport, but in recent decades, the health-related benefits of cycling have given rise to a new push to havechildren and adults alike pedalling where possible.
In this way, cycling hasbecome a popular urban pursuit, with lycra-clad cyclists a familiar sight on most roads.
The rise of cycling has a down-side, however, when measured in the number of people killed and injured in cycling accidents, mostly with the involvement ofa motorised vehicle.
A spate of cycling fatalities in 2014 led Roads Minister Duncan Gay to say he was “increasingly convinced” of the need foradult cyclists to be licensed, but the eventual package of law reforms, rolled out by Mr Gay on Monday, opted for the compromise of havingriders carry photo identification.
After a 12-month period of grace, adult cyclistscaught without appropriate identification face a fine of $106.The fine forriding without a helmet is set to skyrocket from $71 to $319.
The pro-cycling NSW Greens have criticised the size of the no-helmet fine, andit does seem harsh.It is the same amount that a driver not leaving the appropriate distance –one metre if the speed limit is under 60 km/h, and 1.5 metres over 60 km/h –when passing a bicycle.
No matter how much attention is giving to tweaking the laws governing cyclingon roads, the sad reality is that road riding is an inherently dangerous pursuit. The only truly safe bike riding occurs when cyclists are on dedicated cycle ways separated by a barrier from road traffic.
In Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, so-called cycle ways are often nothing more than yellow lines painted on the gutter side of the road, with much of an already narrowcycle space taken up by parked cars.
In an ideal world, the state would build a duplicate network of cycle ways to maximise rider safety, but until (the unlikely) advent of such infrastructure, motorists and cyclists alike must continue tokeep a keen eye on each other. The unequal nature of the contest means that alight fender bump from a motorist can spell death to acyclist.