Since I started cycling to work a couple of years ago, I have come to love and fear cycling in Melbourne in almost equal measure.
I love the feeling of freedom, flexibility, agility and reliability I get from my bicycles. I can get from point A to point B in a reasonably predictable time, take in the sights of our trails when time permits and get some exercise and fresh air while I commute. It beats waiting for an overcrowded train on the Upfield line every day of the week.
Cycling in Melbourne is dangerous, though. At almost every intersection, I am aware of motorists distracted by their smartphones. Bike lanes on our highways, where they exist, are too narrow, have uneven surfaces and usually contain a stationary vehicle or two. Car doors present a threat on every stretch. Since Alberto Paulon was killed while cycling on Sydney Road last year, VicRoads has painted new markings along the stretch warning cyclists and motorists about the risk of car doorings but segregated lanes that were talked about have not materialised. I don’t really see what good these signs do: cyclists are acutely aware of the danger and if car users can’t see cyclists at eye level, they’re not going to pay attention to markings on the ground next to their cars! I have avoided cycling along there since, favouring quieter roads through Brunswick.
Avoiding that stretch didn’t prevent me from being struck by a car on my ride home from work one evening in November, alas.
And yet, when my elder child started school in January, I encouraged him to cycle to school. I want him to share my love of cycling and enjoy the benefits of an active lifestyle as well as taking an environmentally friendly mode of transport to school. He does love it and cycles almost every morning with his Mum (the other days he has taken his scooter).
This morning, I rode with him. It was great to be able to share this ride with him. He parked his bike at school, ran off to the yard excited and I pedalled off to work, joining the shared path from Pentridge Boulvard along O’Hea St. A cyclist passed me as I crossed Sydney Road and I followed behind them at about the same safe distance I would normally follow my son along the green bike path. The other cyclist wasn’t travelling particularly quickly but he maintained a constant velocity as he approached intersections.
As he crossed the fourth intersection, I saw a white car turning right from O’Hea St into Gilmour St as he was crossing. The car didn’t slow as it cut the corner and I think I shouted something like “BRAKEJESUS CHRISTNO!” as a saw the car hit him, scoop him up, in to the windscreen and, a short time later, come to a stop and throw him onto the road, mangled with his bike.
I felt sick. I thought I’d just watched a person take their last breath.
To my utter relief, the cyclist was conscious and moving as I ditched my mountain bike and ran to his aid. He sat up and was visibly shaken, bruised and grazed. There was some light bleeding but he was in remarkably good condition. He was wearing a helmet (one of the first questions the ambulance crew would later ask) and this probably saved his head from a traumatic injury.
The resident of a nearby house came running out to see why a shoe (his, that had left his body in the collision) had hit her window.
The driver of the little white car uttered the words that no cyclist ever wants to hear, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you!”. Just like the evening when I was hit, visibility was not an issue, the sun was high in the sky. I was livid. I couldn’t look the driver in the face or say anything.
I called an ambulance (the second time I have called an ambulance on my way to work after a car has hit a cyclist within 2km of my home since I’ve lived in Coburg) and the motorist called the police.
I stopped traffic coming into the road while the victim lay there and even received some abuse for doing so from a motorist. I’m sorry for the inconvenience I must have caused.
After the ambulance crew had cleared the cyclist to carry on with his day and the police had taken the driver’s and my details, I headed off to work, very cautiously. I counted four motorists with smartphones in their hands at junctions and two blocking crossings during my ~10km ride. This is fairly typical.
For the rest of today I have thought of little else (I guess hence this blog post). I can’t help but think how easily that could have been me, K, or, worse, one of our kids. I don’t want that ever to happen and I feel absolutely powerless to prevent it.
So… how do we stop this happening?