Cycling as an active, free and environmentally-friendly mode of travel, has been touted as the revolutionary way to avoid traffic congestion, improve public health and one of the ways to reduce pollution and improve the environment. Initiatives such as the nation-wide ‘Ride 2 Work Day’ aim to increase the number of people riding to work every day, and have seen huge success not only with high entrant numbers, but with the growing support towards cycling that these events help generate. Councils across Australia are supporting this growth by dedicating bike paths in city areas and offering free cycling courses for new riders. Sydney in particular has seen a 100% growth over the past three years in the number of people using bicycles as a form of transport. According to Transport South Australia, the perception that ‘cycling is unsafe’ is commonly the sole reason why non-cyclers avoid taking up this form of transport. However, the risk of serious injury or death from cycling on roads in major built up areas is not something that should be understated.
Cyclist Matthew Fitzgerald was riding in a Bicycle User Groups (BUG) last month in New South Wales when he crashed into a rock, a fatal collision that marked the state’s third death from cycling in November, and fourteenth cycling fatality of the year. As The Guardian reported, the number of cycling accidents in Australia this year is up by forty per cent from last year, and despite an increase in the number of riders wearing helmets, many of the fatalities resulted from severe head injuries. With five cyclists killed within nine days in London in November, the issue of road safety in Central Business Districts and densely populated cities spans world-wide.
While Transport SA stated in their ‘Cycling Strategy for South Australia 2006-2010’ that encouraging more people to cycle more often would “reduce the risk of crashes”, it is clear that a strategy is needed to support the safety of the growing community of cyclists. There is a need to limit cyclists’ risk-taking behaviour such as running red lights, not looking out for traffic before changing lanes, and unexpectedly changing speeds. All road-users must be aware of the presence of cyclists, and care must be taken particularly with such increases in the sport’s popularity.