IT’S 7.30 on a chilly autumn morning, Lake Burley Griffin is showing the first ethereal signs of its foggy winter blanket, and 2CC radio’s afternoon presenter Mike Welsh is standing on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.
Welsh wants to tell “CityNews” readers about a problem he has with the path over the bridge: a small minority of cyclists, he says, do not share well with others in such limited areas, and are giving the rest a bad name.
According to Welsh, and several others, the typical offender is almost always the serious type, dressed in road cycling gear and furiously pedaling a late-model road bike. They don’t use bells, they go too fast and they hurl abuse at people not keeping to the left, he says.
Welsh vowed in April that he “won’t stop ranting until something is done”, during a broadcast interview with the Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Shane Rattenbury. In the same program, he implied the Government is reluctant to address the issue, because “the pedal lobby in this town’s just too bloody strong”.
To some, this is a trivial issue being hyped up by a commercial radio host, but his concern is genuine and what’s more, it appears he has a point. It only took a cursory half-hour on the bridge one Friday morning to see a couple of close shaves caused by reckless riding, and to find one walker who strongly agreed there was a problem.
As well as every Canberran’s right to feel comfortable using public facilities, there is a safety issue, particularly on the western side of the bridge, where a recent accident between a pedestrian and a cyclist left at least one person lying on the road, luckily, without a car speeding towards them.
Both Minister Rattenbury (himself a bike rider) and Pedal Power ACT spokesman Matt Larkin agree that shared areas such as the bridge – especially in peak hour – are not the best places to go hard on a bike.
“It’s just as if someone’s going to go for a training run, you’d probably advise them not to run through Garema Place at one o’clock,” says Larkin, adding that most cyclists use quieter roads for training and serious exercise.
He also rejects the idea that there is an attitude problem exclusive to cyclists.
“Most of the cyclists also walk on the paths, and drive cars on the road,” he points out. “Probably, the people who are inconsiderate are inconsiderate in any mode of transport, so I think we have to be very careful saying the problem is bike riders; the problem is inconsiderate people.”
Along with Rattenbury and the disgruntled walker we spoke to, Larkin disagrees with Mike Welsh’s rather radical suggestions, which all involve new regulations. His favourite is a speed limit, but he’s also floated ideas like making cyclists get off and walk through such bottlenecks, or even making one side of the bridge for walkers, the other for bikers.
Instead, education is the more popular solution.
“I think its beholden on bike riders to behave responsibly and pull each other up on it sometimes,” says Larkin. “If you see one of your fellow riders behaving in a way that isn’t considerate, I think it is worth saying: ‘You feel vulnerable on the road; think about how the pedestrian feels.’ I think that is a reasonable conversation to have.”
With the ACT Government working towards increasing the three per cent of people who ride to work to six per cent by 2016, and the new Civic Cycle Loop’s unbuilt Bunda Street section to cut straight through the heart of the city, Larkin says this is an issue that will only come into sharper focus in years to come.