Duncan Gay considers cyclist licences
Roads minster Duncan Gay tells 2UE radio he's "increasingly persuaded" he needs to look at a licencing system for cyclists.
In more than two years as Fairfax Media's cycling blogger, I've had a fair bit to say about all things bicycle related.
But the statement by NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay on Friday morning that he is "increasingly persuaded that we need to look at licences for cyclists" had me stumped at first.
It's not that I didn't have anything to say - it's that I have so much to say, so many questions to ask, that it's hard to know where to start.
Has Gay thought this through - a cyclist licence system that, to the best of my knowledge, does not exist anywhere in the world?
Is this a hasty announcement in the wake of a bad few weeks for cycling on Sydney's roads, with some detailed cost-benefit analysis to follow?
We shall see.
Nevertheless, the most curious thing is that, in his interview on 2UE, Gay seemed to undermine the motivations behind his statement.
"It is a very small section of cyclists that don't do the right thing," he said. "It would be probably under 1 per cent."
Is it really a good idea to attempt to license bike riders because of a minuscule number that are seen to be a problem?
It's understandable Gay is concerned, as we all should be, at the rise in cycling deaths. Last year, 48 bike riders died on Australia's roads, with 14 of them in NSW - a shocking 100 per cent increase on the seven who were killed in 2012.
But is bad cyclist behaviour to blame for these deaths? A study by the University of Adelaide of serious collisions between cyclists and motorists over a three-year period, using police data, showed motorists were to blame 79 per cent of the time.
That's four out of five incidents.
And for all the talk of law-breaking cyclists, a bicycle rider who does the wrong thing tends to put their own life in danger - not the life of an innocent motorist.
Like most adult cyclists in NSW, I have a valid driver's licence. How will acquiring a new licence protect me on the road?
Will everyone wishing to ride a bicycle in NSW have to take a new exam? Surely the implementation and administration costs will outweigh whatever price is put on a cycling licence? Will interstate or foreign visitors be banned from riding?
And most of all, what about the casual user? Keen cyclists might be prepared to bear the hassle or the cost, but it's the occasional rider, not the Lycra brigade, that will be discouraged.
The people who might think of riding to the shops, instead of taking the 4WD. Parents contemplating cycling to school with their kids. Spontaneous weekend trundles along our gorgeous coastline.
The O'Farrell government's Sydney's Cycling Future report, released last December, showed 70 per cent of NSW residents say they would like to ride a bike more for everyday transport - and would do so if cycling was made safer and more convenient for them.
How will a licencing system encourage those wannabe riders? Will you and your family rent a holiday house on the coast, find bicycles in the garage but be unable to ride them to the beach or the local cafe because you don't have a licence?
Gay also suggests that cyclists should be banned from certain roads. If so, will alternatives be guaranteed?
The completion of the separated cycle ways in the Sydney CBD was stalled for two years after the Liberal government took office.
Despite this, counts of cyclist movements in the CBD have more than doubled in the past three years. The government is once again building the lanes.
But what of safe routes to carry cyclists to the city? The Sydney's Cycling Future report is detailed but the implementation times are depressing.
A much-needed safe conduit for the masses of people who ride through North Sydney is seven years away - four years to plan, three to build. We'll be waiting until 2020.
There has been an increasing call by uninformed people in Australia for the registration and licensing of cyclists. It is a divisive and dangerous debate, this so-called "war on our roads", spurred on by some motorists angry about congestion, who feel their car registration pays for roads. (In fact, roads are paid for by general taxes and council fees. We all pay.)
So it's a pity that Gay's statement will give ammunition to these complainers.
Because, in truth, bicycles are a solution to many of the challenges of modern life.
Cycling reduces congestion. It frees up parking. It doesn't pollute. It improves health. Cycling commuters save the economy $21 every day they ride a bike (there's your rego, right there!).
Rather than restrict the use of bicycles, we should be encouraging people to ride, and finding ways to increase the safety of those that do.
It's hard to see how a licensing program will achieve this.