SA allows cycling on the footpath

23 Oct 2015

The South Australian government has made an ill-considered move to allow all cyclists to ride on the footpath.

It's hard to see how this decision will make cyclists safer.  The international and Australian evidence shows that cycling on the footpath is more dangerous than cycling on the road.

Exactly what is driving the push for footpath cycling is unclear, but some bicycle advocates appear to see it as a way to promote cycling, peddling a false hope of 'safe' cycling on the footpath. Proponents of footpath cycling have included motoring organisations, who are obviously happy to get bike riders off the roads and out of the way of cars.

Offered an 'easy win' in the apparent battle bettween motorists and cyclists, politicians have not let the facts get in the way.  It allows them to avoid the tough decisions like taking road space from cars to provide dedicated cycle paths.

The SA decision means there is now little consistency in Australian policy on footpath cycling, with cycling allowed on footpaths in the smaller states and territories but not permitted (except by children and in other limited circumsances) in the major population areas of Victoria and NSW.  Footpath cycling is currently prohibited in WA, but they are reviewing this position, due in part to lobbying from Bicycling Western Australia including the misleading suggestion that "Western Australia is currently the only Australian State which does not permit people 12 years of age and older to cycle on the footpath. "

The push for footpath cycling is particularly sad, because it forces walking advocates into a confrontation with bike advocates, when we should be natural allies.  There is so much that walking and cycling groups can agree on, such as the need for traffic calmed local streets, lower speed limits and dedicated cycling paths (the safest way to ride a bike) to take the growth in bike riding to the next level.

By comparison, the low significance of footpaths to cyclists has been starkly illustrated by the media coverage in South Australia, which has given little attention to the footpath decision, instead focusing on the introduction of minimum passing distances of cyclists on the road (a genuine win for cycling safety - congratulations to the Amy Gillett Foundation).

Particularly confronting in the media coverage is the level of attention given to walkers in decision making on fotopaths - none at all.  The Adelaide Advertiser ran the story as its front page lead, yet there was no mention at all of walkers on footpaths, let alone a comment from a walking advocate. The ABC news was similarly oblivious to the fact that there might be pedestrians on the footpath.

It seems that walkers are effectively invisible to the media and therefore the public.  Victoria and NSW may soon be left as the only states with footpaths free of adult cyclists.