Back in March, on an otherwise forgettable day in Sydney, Thomas Kerr drove his Nissan SUV into a bunch of cyclists from the Eastern Suburbs Cycling Club. The impact, which came from behind and at speed, ploughed so heavily into the cyclists that the trail of bike debris left behind stretched more than a hundred metres. Seven cyclists, out on what had been a pleasant Sunday morning ride, were left with serious injuries. One is facing two years of rehabilitation. The only stroke of fortune was that none lost their lives.
The incident hit me hard at the time. Shaking me up enough to write a piece that resounded with many of you; Spooked. It could've been me. It could've been people I knew.
But in reflection, Southern Cross Drive crystallised a thought that had been bubbling away in my head for sometime - that cyclists aren't seen as people on the road. We're inhuman. How else can you reconcile the sheer insanity of an incident that occurred in broad daylight, with a bunch - not a lone, vaguely visible ride - but a bunch of experienced cyclists on an open road. Insane.
Once you don, lycra, high-vis, throw on a helmet and set out, it's apparent your humanity is stripped. You're no longer someone's son, brother, father; sister, daughter, mother, but a common object of rage and abuse. Cyclists aren't people, they're cyclists. And cyclists, are worthy of little regard, appreciated only as cockroaches of the road. Insignificant, expendable, beings, that only serve to annoy and impede the flow of traffic. Or something like that.
Yesterday, in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, Thomas Andersen, a Danish cyclist traversing the world by bike; some 19000 miles deep; through 25 countries on five continents, was asked, "where were you treated the worst?" and brought our attitude problem to global attention.
"I think the worst attitude I met towards cyclists was the day I cycled into --"
Wait for it.
"Sydney, Australia," said Andersen. "A couple of people rolled down the window and yelled "F...ng cyclist"."
Yep. From a guy that's ridden here, there and everywhere, Sydney is the pits; where attitudes, are the worst.
And as much as separated infrastructure and tighter regulation; laws like mandatory metre passing distances, or say, helmets, might go some way to solving cycling safety issues, the overarching issue, the thing we keep coming back to - is attitude.
In an interesting parallel, taking on the much broader fortress of hate, discrimination, and general bad manner that is the internet, games reviewer Alanah Pierce, recently hit back at abuse she was copping online by sending several of her most vicious attackers a response via their parents.
The point of Pierce's response was that she disarmed her attackers not with an attack of her own, but through a proxy, she established her own humanity. Behind her twitter avatar, or Facebook profile, was a real person. A person that can be damaged by online abuse. That is affected by threats, and thoughtless attacks. A person.
Too often in the "battles" that "rage" on our roadways we we get mired in a circle of abuse. Both sides feed what is, a malicious environment. In doing so we only further strengthen the resolve of bad attitudes, and predjudices, and we further dehumanise both sides. Cars are monsters; cyclists, nuisances.
But, if cyclists and cars are going to properly coexist in Sydney, and more broadly in Australia, we need to overcome that. We need to take a deep breath, and appreciate that behind every motor vehicle, is a driver, a person; on every bike, the same. We need to rehumanise the inhuman, just as Pierce did.
It wouldn't even be that hard. The Australian government need only take a cue from the Canadians, and institute a clever road safety campaign that targets our rotten culture. It's a void that we've never properly tackled, a concerted campaign, akin to what we've already done with speeding, tobacco, and alcohol. So why not cycling?
It'd go a long way to diffusing the tension - and it sorely needs diffusing.