One bright sunny day I stepped out on to Sydney rd in Brunswick to be greeted by a surprising and pleasurable sight, no cars! It was Moreland Council's first Cyclovia, with one of Melbourne's busiest, cramped and most hectic roads open only to bikes, pedestrians and public transport for several hours.
The previous night I had cycled up Sydney road into the wild lands of Coburg experiencing a more typical journey including reckless drivers attempting to take my life, hollers, shouts, honks and other utterances from individuals who's idea of a good night out is to drive round the streets in their cars all night.
I have spent time in many countries apparently inhabited by some of the worst drivers such as Paris, Rome and New York and can confidently say that the drivers of Melbourne are the worst I have experienced in the world. They are reckless, rude, lack consideration, posses no respect and are highly dangerous to share a road with. Sadly all of these qualities are generally shared with Melbourne's other road users and pedestrians, most lack respect for anyone else they share public thoroughfares with, everyone's in a hurry to go nowhere as fast as possible.
I can't speak for other major Australian Cities, but Melbourne is currently experiencing a boom in numbers of Cyclists, I get strangely excited (but also slightly and selfishly annoyed in equal measures) by the queues of cyclists I now encounter on my journeys, despite the fact that they of course are still vastly outweighed by the numbers of car drivers. Whilst many local councils are endeavouring to aid and encourage cyclists, Melbourne's streets surfaces are also some of the worst I have encountered in the world, they are uneven, bumpy, pitted with pot holes and usually littered with the remnants of broken bottles and numerous car crashes, with generally the worst conditions found on the far left of the road, where most cyclists (should) be found.
What is the source of Australia's obsession and love affair with the car and when and why did it become so insidious a part of culture? In these days of rising petrol prices, climate change and supposed ecological consideration what does society actually have to do to convince those for whom their car is not just a mode of transport but also their life and their culture, to actually abandon them? National travel is understandable, Australia is unique in its vast distances of nothingness between major cities, and it's massive tracts of disparate and sprawling remote communities where car driving really is essential. The recent troubles for the Government illustrate this point, the general gas guzzling populace seem unaware and unwilling to accept that fossil fuels are running out, but still expect their leaders to pull of some kind of magic trick to make the issue go away without making any kind of lifestyle sacrifice. Whilst Public transport is far from perfect is it really necessary to drive four wheel drives, Utes (with nothing in the back) and massive farm jeeps in the inner city? Do your kids really need to be ferried backwards and forth between school and home? I'm sure we can all think of many ways that everyone (ourselves included) could be less lazy and do something to help each other in the long term.
But it's not all bad news, Melbourne has a buzzing cycling 'scene' to suit every keen two wheeler from the absolute beginner wobbling along the street holding up traffic to the hardcore fixed wheel, one gear, crumpler wearing 'Urban Cyclists'. On Winter Solstice I found myself in the midst of a forty strong throng of riders cycling en masse through the CBD and out into Docklands, holding up traffic, listening to mobile sound systems and enjoying a companionship and comradery that is simply not possible from within the confines of an enclosed tin can on wheels. The experience was only marred by the lonely journey home when I sorely missed the reassurance found from within a group of like minded individuals, the previously stunned car drivers were now back to their usual exploits of honking, speeding and endangering my life.
Buy your bike from the wonderful bike co-op at CERES in Brunswick (www.thebikeshed.org.au) or from one of the many independent bike retailers around town, find helpful tips and route planners at VicRoads (www.vicroads.vic.gov.au/Home/BicyclesPedestrians) and Bike Victoria (www.bv.com.au) and when you're ready for taking your riding one stage further why not try attending such events as Bike Polo (www.urbanbicyclist.org), group bike rides (www.bikefun.org) or the infamous Critical Mass (www.criticalmass.org.au).
My Dad always used to (and indeed still does) say that the bike was the single most important and revolutionary invention of the past few centuries, I'm not sure if I completely agree with that statement, but one thing is for certain in my mind, for a remarkably cheap, convenient, fast (I always beat my girlfriend back home when she catches Public Transport), healthy and clean method of transport, nothing beats the bicycle, so what are you waiting for? Get on your Bike!
Published in Aduki