By WestCycle CEO Matt Fulton
Anyone who has read the news or glanced at social media over the past few days would be forgiven for thinking people who ride bikes and people that drive cars were about to go to war. The sensationalised headlines forget the fact we are all people, who simply choose different modes to get around. Most people wouldn’t know if a person they are agitating on social media is in fact their neighbour or a parent of the person they work with but when it comes to cars and bikes, the gloves are off and nothing is sacred.
The ‘Idaho Stop’ laws have been the catalyst to the latest stirring of the road war pot, but why are we talking about it? It’s been a farcical storm in a tea cup that has erupted. As the peak body for cycling in Western Australia representing 35 cycling organisations and the 500,000 people that ride a bike each week, we have never raised the concept of introducing the Idaho Stop laws in WA. I’ve seen the Minister for Police and Road Safety, Michelle Roberts, three times in the past two weeks, she has never mentioned the law change, nor have we. We consult regularly with the Government on such initiatives and they will seek feedback from us.
I can categorically say it is not on the agenda WA from politicians or cyclists. Does the ‘Idaho Stop’ law have merit? Absolutely. Is WA ready for it? Sadly not. The laws in Idaho allow for bike riders to treat stop signs as give way signs and red traffic lights as stop signs. It leads to a 14% reduction in crashes involving bike riders when introduced. Paris has similar laws allowing riders to treat stop signs as give way signs but they exclude the part about red traffic lights. There are clear safety benefits as it allows riders to merge with traffic in a far safer way.
Here is the bit that I don’t understand. People driving cars are commonly stuck in congestion. We have a solution and it involves getting more people on bikes, yet whenever there is media coverage about cyclists we end up in a battle of entitlement. The Government spending more money on bike paths is a beautiful thing for drivers sitting in traffic. Getting people out of cars and onto those paths is another stupidly simple way of easing congestion. Yet there is a culture of objecting to any such idea because until riders pay “road tax” they aren’t entitled to anything.
Now that I’m onto it, I have to set the record straight. There is no such thing as a “Road Tax”. Don’t believe me. Try Googling it. The roads we ride and drive on are paid for from revenue mostly derived from income tax. Unfortunately your mode of transport doesn’t allow you a tax deduction come July 1, so if you are sitting in a car or riding a bike you are paying the same amount for that road. You could argue that riders save non-riders a lot of tax because the wear and tear they create on the road is far less than a two tonne vehicle. Which takes us to the second common fall back position…rego. Your registration is calculated based on the weight of your vehicle. A two tonne car versus a bike that’s 10kg makes it impractical to impose a registration fee on bikes. It would cost more to administer it than it would raise revenue and guess who’s rego fee’s would increase as a result? The heavier vehicles.
I’m not suggesting that all bike riders are angels, nor am I suggesting all car drivers are menaces on the road. Far from it, but WA needs a cultural shift. More people riding is a great thing for everyone. For every km a cyclist rides the economy generates $1.42. With half a million people riding each week averaging say 5km’s per day we are talking in excess of a billion dollars for the economy. Now imagine if we could double the number of people riding. Hospital beds would free up, the Kwinana Freeway traffic would ease, there would be less pollution and we’d be making a dent in the budget deficit we have.
We all need to accept things will change. The road network is not an entitlement, it’s a privilege that is there for everyone, so lets move on from storms in a tea cup, let’s mature as a community and acknowledge that everyone has the right to use the roads and everyone will benefit from it, not just bike riders.