It's been a while since I've regularly commented on road trauma but events of last Thursday have prompted some thoughts.
Firstly I'd like to add my condolences to the families and friends of both cyclists—loss of a loved one is always tragic but so much the worse when the loss is sudden and unexpected. My thoughts are also with the drivers; I've no doubt that the horrible moment will stay with them forever.
This morning I rode along Swanston St for the first time since the collision and on impulse I went over to have a look at the makeshift memorial at that scene and to pause for thought. What a melancholy sight.
It seems that the Swanston St collision was one of those most rare events: an accident in the true sense of the word. And it was interesting to note that most reactions (from cyclists and non-cyclists alike) reflected that. There seemed to be very little hysterical ranting about motorists and lunatic blaming of cyclists for everything that's wrong with the roads.
The notable exception was the usual troll-trap: the comments pages at the little paper and the big paper. I didn't read more than a few; I don't know how anyone can justify the "cyclists deserve it" line of argument—do you ever here that sort of sh*t spoken when a motorist or even a pedestrian is killed? I was also quite horrified to read that Gray Line's call centre had received abusive phone calls from people who told staff they were "murderers"—that is lunatic fringe behaviour.
Otherwise the reactions seemed to be moderate and respectful. Of all the responses, the impromptu gathering at the scene on Thursday night, according to TV news reports, seemed to carry a suitable mix of respect and sadness, with a touch of anger. I wish I'd been able to attend.
Planning and policy
While this death was accidental, as Dr Nick Low rightly points out, from a planning point of this was completely preventable.
[Judge Campton] said the company's failings were not uncommon.
"The problem had been identified, someone had been hurt previously, the solution was known and it wasn't fixed until after a man had died. The opportunities to make improvements were repeatedly deferred."
In Swanston St, the problem had been identified, people have been hurt previously, the solution was known and it wasn't fixed. A woman has died. The opportunity to make improvements had been deferred.
It is true that the Melbourne City Council has been looking into relocating bus parking out of Swanston St—I recall submitting comments to a public consultation on the matter in May last year. It transpires that the bus operators later extracted a delay on the relocation until the middle of next year.
It seems unlikely that a further delay will be granted but while I support the relocation of the bus parking I don't see much point in making a knee-jerk response to the sad event of last week. Let's get the bus parking moved as quickly as possible but plan it carefully so that John So's rather fatalistic prediction that "it doesn't matter where you park the buses, accidents do occur" is absolutely minimised, or preferably eliminated. Also recognise that the bus operators will need time to reorganise their inner city operations, remembering that they have known since last year that Swanston St would eventually become off-limits to large buses and they should already have alternative plans in place.
It's easy to point at the way that the Copenhagen-style fully-separated bike lanes on Swanston St north of Victoria Rd act to funnel cyclists into more hair-raising stretch through the CBD (where this collision occurred). That is most definitely not a good thing, but the optimist in me would like to think that this is a streetscape in transition, and that more will be done to make Swanston St from end-to-end into a complete and safer thoroughfare for everyone who uses it. The pessimist in me suspects that this is unlikely.
I trundled along Swanston St fairly early this morning. It was quiet and a relatively pleasant ride. There was one bus parked there: inevitably a Gray Line vehicle, not an enormous coach but something much smaller (it looked like a 20-seater Coaster minibus). I guess that's a small gesture, but a move in the right direction.
Sometimes if a road has been relaid without being dug out first, you can end up with a similar problem where you can't get out of the gutter...
I like every other cyclist was shocked at the news of the deaths and even more by the comments that were aired on the Herald Sun website. I found your comparison to the industrial manslaugher case interesting because here in NSW a coroners inquest into the deaths of a family that were killed after their fell into a sink hole in the Old Princes highway found the local council responsible for their deaths. It was hinted in news reports that the family were looking at suing the council for damages.
"almost everyone who cycles in Melbourne has taken a tumble on the tram lines once or twice"
I certainly have. I once wedged my wheel in the tracks coming up Swantson Street (around a taxi) and popped back out at a 45 degree angle to the ground - my bike and I headed in slightly different directions (but ultimately into the road) at about 20kph. I've since learned which angles of approach are too shallow (and re-learned it in the wet).
Even then, in a moment of panic with a bus coming at me I can't say with any surety that I would have faired much better... I don't think any of us can.
Also, I've noticed that the crease between tram tracks and the adjacent lane (where the asphalt has been cut and re-sealed) can sometimes throw you off balance in much the same way. If I were going to raise that with somebody as a potential hazard, do you think it should be the council, or BV, or VicRoads? I've ignored it in the past, but feel obligated now.
It's been a black week for cyclists in Melbourne, with another cyclist "found dead" on Queens Parade in Clifton Hill.
I think what really resonated with many cyclists about the death in Swanston St was the knowledge that it could so easily have been any one of us. The cyclist was just an ordinary commuter going about her business, and almost everyone who cycles in Melbourne has taken a tumble on the tram lines once or twice.
So sad to hear two more cyclists killed... it's chilling to read.
Thursday was a black day in London too, with one fatality and another serious accident in which a cyclist had his legs crushed by a HGV.
Interesting to read Nick Low's piece -- he was one of my lecturers when I studied planning at Melb Uni back in the late 80s/early 90s!
I was shocked to read some of the comments in the Sun Herald website. I didn't know there was anything from the Age. I hope you are right and the streetscape in Melbourne is in transition. It will (hopefully) influence the powers that be here in Sydney.
This story is terrible to hear. Sobering. I feel for the families of those involved. And yet to hear that it could have been avoided.... i live on the other side of the world. Yet it makes me mad. Life is too valuable to take flippant.... oh accidents will happen attitude. My prayers for the families. May they find peace.
Great post as always. Hopefully you won't have cause to return to the subject any time soon.
It wasn't until I saw the pictures of the bike with the basket on the back that it hit home for me. She was just a regular person on her morning commute.