Michael Singleton, Tyagarah
I’m thinking about running a workshop in Byron on near-death experiences. It’s really, really easy to set up. For a mere, say, $545-$529 concession, all I’ll need to do is take people on a push bike ride through the shire.
Take, for example, the Myocum Road raceway from Mullumbimby to Ewingsdale. That’d be good for starters. I’m sure I saw my long gone grandfather reaching down from the clouds just after that guy in the Pajero almost ran me off the road near the Tyagarah Road T-intersection.
And that white light I saw as I was almost shredded by an overtaking Suburu. Well, I suppose it could have been just the sun in my eyes.
Maybe I’m to blame. I mean, I’m the one who still clings to the fantasy that cycling can be fun, keeps you fit and is good for the environment. I’m just a casual mountain bike rider who enjoys getting around in the fresh air. Perhaps I shouldn’t.
The harsh, spine-chilling reality is that in this shire getting on your push bike is darn right dangerous. And that’s no matter how many flashing LED lights you’ve got, and whether or not you’re wearing fluorescent clothes and a helmet. You can look like Tokyo at night and it still won’t save you as many have found. Do all the right things and, it seems, you’re still dicing with death.
Now this is not to say that all bike riders are perfect roadway citizens. I’m a car driver too – and I too get freaked out when I suddenly find some bloke on a bike is riding towards me on my side of the road, then without warning crosses in front of me and nearly gets wiped out by a truck coming in the opposite direction.
There’s plenty of examples of bike riders not doing the right thing and putting themselves and others at risk, no doubt about it. Bike riders have a responsibility to ride according to the rules of the road.
However, the problem is more complex than simply pointing at riders who don’t do the right thing. Because part of the reason they are breaking the rules may be that the options for bike riders in terms of safe, well-planned bike paths are severely limited in this shire.
Come with me on my regular death-defying ride from Kennedy’s Lane at Ewingsdale, west of the highway, to Byron Bay and you’ll see what I mean.
To get into Byron I cycle along Kennedy’s Lane, a small one-lane road through the countryside. You’ll get lulled into a false sense of security and safety as you ride east. The road is gently undulating with few if any cars.
But ahead is your first challenge – the Pacific Highway. You need to cross it and, eventually, you’ll find a gap just big enough for you to get across the four lanes to the eastern side.
Then you need to get on to the Old Pacific highway which runs parallel to the new highway because the alternative on the highway itself is truly a near-death experience – or worse.
But hang on, the RMS, in its infinite wisdom, has created a steel barrier between the two roads without even the smallest gap for you to squeeze through. So what you are going to need to do as you stand on the narrow kerb on the side of the motorway with cars and trucks rushing past is lift your bike over the steel barrier in order to get to safety.
Great. You’ve made it. You feel like some kind of virtual warrior in a computer game. All good as you peddle towards Ewingsdale Road on the quiet, almost abandoned old highway.
But now you are approaching roadworks and a temporary set of traffic lights. It shows red and you stop and wait. Finally they change to green and off you go on the 300 metre or so single, one way road.
But wait! Half way along you meet a car coming fast in opposite direction. Shouldn’t it have stopped at the red light at the other end of the roadworks? Well, the answer is that it had stopped. But the timing of the traffic lights is calibrated for cars – not bikes. And that means that as a cyclist you don’t have time to get through the roadworks before cars start coming in the opposite direction.
You survive that one and find yourself turning on to Ewingsdale Road. No bike path here and you try to hug the edge of the road as cars, trucks and buses leave only the slightest margin for error as they pass you.
The road is narrow, and the only other alternative for them apart from nearly wiping you off the face of the earth is to hang behind you until there is a gap in the ongoing traffic. But then behind them is half of Brisbane so the pressure’s on.
Incredibly, you survive that one too. But now, as you head further down the road you remember that you need to cross the road in order to get to the bike path and, you think, relative safety.
You have limited options at this point: get into the middle of the road as if turning into McGettigan’s Lane and take the bike path, or stop and cross the road pushing your bike.
You take the first option. Cars stream towards you out of Byron. Cars stream from behind you as they head into town. You feel like you’re going to be shredded (again). But at last you make it. You’re on the bike path!
This is good, you think. You start enjoying the ride. But then you realise as you reach the sports centre roundabout that the bike path is ending and you need to cross the road again!
And so it goes all the way into town: you’re going to have to cross the main drag again at Belongil Creek after having been on a bike path that crosses several roads. Then you’re going to arrive in town. Good luck with that one! Oh, and then you’re going to have to ride home.
The commitment by Byron Shire Council with respect to creating safe bike paths is questionable for several reasons. First, as the above example of the dubious pleasures of riding a bike in the shire illustrates, the construction of bike paths seems unplanned and incremental.
How could anyone seriously suggest that the bike path from McGettigan’s Lane to Byron Bay town centre was anything but the result of a distinct lack of planning? It is simply dangerous – and more so because of the illusion it might create in first time users that the route has been planned with safety in mind. It would make a great town planning or civil engineering project: ‘How not to build bike paths’.
The second reason why Byron Shire Council’s commitment to creating safe bike paths is its failure to maintain the current infrastructure. A good example of this failure is the Kennedy’s Lane to Tyagarah Road ‘cycleway’ (as BSC call it) which is impassable due to vegetation growth for around 50 per cent of the year. When it isn’t passable, cyclists (and walkers) are forced to risk their lives on the highway.
This bike path also serves as an excellent example of how ad hoc the creation of these paths is. This particular path runs for about 300 metres parallel to the highway. It doesn’t connect with any other bike path but simply links two roads. Again, no sense of planning here along with no commitment to maintenance.
I could go on – but I won’t. Except I need to do two things. First, acknowledge the drivers and riders who respect the rules of the road and thank those drivers (and there are many of them) who act with care when approaching cyclists. Second, ask Byron Shire Council to take their responsibilities for public safety seriously in relation to this important and urgent issue. Surely bike riding should be encouraged in the Shire and made as safe as possible for everyone?
Meanwhile, I’ll let you know when my inaugural ‘near-death experience’ workshop will be on. For some reason, though, I’m not expecting big numbers.
Michael Singleton, Tyagarah