30/05/2011

Cycling in Sydney

Door: Jonathan Verschuuren (TLS) | Categorie: Australia, Emissions abatement

Cycling to work in Sydney is only recommended if you get a real kick out of danger and don’t really mind whether you arrive in one piece or not. Basically it involves dicing with death. In an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and relieve the pressure on Sydney’s overloaded traffic infrastructure, the government is trying to encourage people to take up cycling. Policy papers are being drawn up, short sections of cycle paths are being constructed here and there, and they have even produced a very nice plan of the city which shows the location of all those little pieces of cycle path. Many companies have installed showers for employees who cycle to work and want to shower and change before starting work, because cyclists here generally use racing bikes and wear cycling gear.

But it’s a risky undertaking. Those stretches of cycle path begin and end abruptly. When you do come across one, you’ll be happy that you can cycle safely for a while, but then when you suddenly reach the end of that particular stretch of cycle path, you’ll have to work out how to cross five busy lanes of traffic so you can continue your journey on the correct side of the road. Many roads in the city center are full to capacity. There is limited space, with as many lanes of traffic are squeezed in as possible. Basically, there’s no room for cyclists, and if you decide simply to ‘make room’, the best you can expect is to be hooted at by irritated motorists. In the worst case, car drivers will simply take back the space that you are occupying and run you off the road. Motorists tend to get angry with cyclists, which is understandable to some extent when you see how cyclists behave on the road. They are mostly tough young guys (think: broad-shouldered, tattooed Australian surfers). They use the footpath to avoid queues of traffic, cycle diagonally over intersections, ride straight through red stoplights – basically, they ignore all the rules of the road. And even the more cautious cyclists – and I count myself among them – often choose to cycle on the footpath. That is not allowed either, but in reality the police tolerate it because they understand that it is safer than cycling on the road.

Sydney still has a long way to go before cycling becomes as easy and as normal as it is in the Netherlands. But there is one similarity: on the very first day I used my bike here, it got stolen…

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