It’s a sad day. Today I rode to work for the last time. I still love bicycles. I still love cycling. But I love life more.
The beginning of the end
In my post How do we stop this happening?, I mentioned the death of Alberto Paulon on Sydney Road, Brunswick. That was a turning point for me. From that day I felt far more vulnerable on my bicycle than ever before. The realisation that a cyclist’s life could be wiped out in an instant by somebody else’s mistake hit me, and with each ride I would be paying greater attention to hazards that could affect not just me, but those on bikes around me. I became fearful for those who chose to ride without helmets or for those who chose to listen to music as they rode. These choices may be good choices in other environments, but not, as I see it, when cycling on the streets of Melbourne.
And then came the day I was knocked off my bicycle by a passing motorist. To recap…
I had been avoiding that stretch of Sydney Road, where Alberto was killed because was and still is too dangerous for cyclists. I would often avoid the parallel Upfield Bike Path at rush hour because it’s just too busy and I got two rear punctures in the week leading up to being knocked off my bike. Instead I took a hook turn at Brunswick Road. The first motorist in the left hand lane moved across as they passed me and knocked me clean off my bike as we crossed Sydney Rd. Lots of people stopped to check I was okay, including the motorist, who said, “I didn’t see you”.
I was wearing fluorescent yellow and the sun was beaming in the sky over Brunswick.
Other than the shock and grazing to my upper body, I was OK but that incident heightened my fears.
The motorist who hit me must have been distracted at the lights to not see a cyclist fluorescent yellow pass in front of them as they were stopped at the red light and to subsequently have been behind me so far across the junction after the light had turned green.
From that day on, each time I have stopped at a junction, I have paid particular attention to motorists at that junction to ensure that they have seen me.
On every single commute, bar none, I have seen a motorist handling a smartphone.
Some days it’s just one or two, but I have counted double digits on numerous occasions and my commute is under 10km.
I have asked motorists to put down their phones on some commutes but I only ever get abuse in return.
Cycling to and from work had ceased to be a pleasurable experience.
The final straw
This morning, as I cycled alongside Princes Park, a grey Mazda 3 swerved into the cycle lane ahead of me and crossed back and forth a few times. I caught the car up in the inevitable traffic and the motorist was staring at their phone. I gestured at them to put the phone down but I was invisible. How could I be invisible to a motorist? I was wearing my typical fluorescent yellow cycling jersey. I had flashing white and red lights atop my helmet. I had flashing white and red lights attached to my bicycle. All the things my family and friends recommend to me to “stay safe”. I was wearing a helmet and my bike was equipped with a bell and a reflector, as is required for my safety on the roads in Victoria. And yet I was invisible to a motorist who was more interested in the content served up by a smartphone screen than the direction of travel of their vehicle. I passed this vehicle three times in traffic. Each time, the driver was looking at their phone.
I had two other near-misses due to vehicles being in dedicated cycle lanes between Royal Melbourne Hospital and the City Centre but by that point my mind was made up.
Will I return to cycling to work?
I would like to hope so, but I think it unlikely. There is a “Towards Zero” campaign running but already in April twice as many cyclists have been killed on Victorian roads this year than in the whole of 2015, so it is not working.
I cannot see myself riding to work until the number of deaths on Melbourne’s streets is stable at zero.