The Null Device

Fietsstraat: auto te gaast

There's a piece in BBC News' Magazine section about the bizarre upside-down world of the Netherlands, where the bicycle is king and cars are grudgingly tolerated; where bike lanes and bike parking are ubiquitous, cycling safety is a compulsory school subject, cyclists have priority at roundabouts and roads are labelled “fietsstraat: auto te gaast” (“bike street: cars are guests”). Consequently, near everybody cycles, and nobody wears a helmet or lycra like some kind of extreme-sports nut whilst doing so:
Cycling is so common that I have been rebuked for asking people whether they are cyclists or not. "We aren't cyclists, we're just Dutch," comes the response.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world (both geographically and culturally), there is gradual movement in Australia towards the acceptance of cycling as a normal activity, with infrastructure being slowly provided for cyclists. However, not all are happy with this; after the Melbourne City Council opened a bike lane on the Princes Bridge, right-wing shock jocks and the Murdoch press have launched a campaign against bike lanes, arguing that they take away the motoring majority's roads to pander for a tiny fringe of (radical/politically correct/trendy) inner-city hipsters in lycra.

Indeed, the limits of how bike-friendly Australia can become may be fairly low, as long as motoring is the default (and, in most places, the only practical) means of transport (one could, indeed, reverse the Dutch formula to “we aren't motorists, we're just Aussies”), and elections are decided by car-dependant marginal seats. They don't want large numbers of cyclists getting in their way and slowing them down when they drive to the supermarket, and certainly don't want some politically-correct latte-sipper lecturing them that they should leave the 4WD at home and cycle to the shopping centre, and they decide elections, so policy is designed partly around the goal of suppressing the rise of cycling as a non-fringe phenomenon. Take, for example, Australia's near-universal and strictly enforced mandatory bike helmet laws, which serve the purpose of raising the economic and psychological barrier to entry from cycling, marking it out as a moderately dangerous extreme sport that requires special safety equipment, and is only for the hardcore.

There are 5 comments on "Fietsstraat: auto te gaast":

Posted by: Greg Thu Aug 8 15:06:00 2013

Personally I have given up on the idea that the helmet laws might ever go away. I came to the conclusion that they are basically unrepealable, for this reason: the politician who repeals this law will be blamed for every death and serious injury that occurs on a bike thereafter. I mean blamed as in major media scandal. The concept that a greater evil is being done by the law keeping most people off bikes is too subtle for most people to get. It's a law that, once passed, cannot be repealed.

Posted by: Greg Sat Aug 10 15:22:52 2013

I may have spoken too soon, according to today's Age

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/trial-helmetfree-cycling-zones-says-brisbane-city-council-20130809-2rmrq.html

Posted by: acb Sun Aug 11 15:11:54 2013

In Queensland no less? That's some Nixon-in-China shit right there...

Posted by: acb Sun Aug 11 21:13:59 2013

And from those infamous bleeding-heart leftists in the Institute of Public Affairs: http://ipa.org.au/publications/2019/australia's-helmet-law-disaster

Posted by: Greg Fri Aug 16 13:54:31 2013

That is remarkable. The IPA article summarizes the several distinct arguments nicely. I would post this to FB but the source might put people off.

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