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Tag: sydney

Single-file vs Double-file and the Curious Case of DFROC

The people who run Australian media outlets love stories that can be framed as “drivers vs cyclists”, and a real beauty has just dropped in their laps. It’s an online petition calling for double-file cycling to be outlawed. This is currently legal, despite many people believing otherwise.

The Project on DFROC
One of the better treatments of the issue was from The Project. Click to watch their segment.

The cycling social media world is up in arms and some are even trying to shut the petition down on the grounds that it’s “endangering lives” or even that it’s hate speech.

Where you stand on this issue depends on one question – is it safe for drivers to overtake people on bikes in the same lane? The answer to that essentially comes down to how wide things are. Can a bike, a car, a 1 metre gap between them, and some margin for error all round fit within a lane

How wide are these things? Let’s start from the left of the lane, and move right:

0.5 mWhen riding a bike you need a buffer from edge of road/left lane in case of debris, potholes, or just to give room for a slight wobble.
0.6 mWidth of my bike
1.0 mMinumum mandatory passing distance been driver and bike (it’s 1.5 m for roads with a speed limit over 60kmh
0.5 mDrivers need a margin for error to ensure they maintain the minimum 1 m gap (which is not quite wide enough anyway)
1.9 mWidth of 2018 Holden Commodore. Some cars are narrower, but then buses and trucks are much wider.
4.5 mTotal

And guess what? The standard urban lane width in Australia is 3.5 metres. It’s often narrower, particularly in inner-Sydney where I live, and particularly on main arterials where widths of 2.7 – 2.9 metres are common.

The upshot is that drivers need to change lanes to overtake people on bikes, whether single- or double-file. But single-file riders are roughly double the overtaking distance of double-file riders. Be careful what you wish for DFROC.

Single-file vs Double-file

Like so much of the “popular” reaction to cycling issues in Australia, this petition isn’t based on practicality. It simply an attack by one group against another they perceive to be less powerful than them.

The curious case of DFROC

The petition appears to originate from a Facebook page called “Drivers for Registration of Cyclists”, which until about a year ago was a satire page filled with cleverly faked news articles showing moronic motorists becoming bewildered as they were faced with the negative implications of their own demand for registering cyclists.

And then about a year ago the page abruptly did a 180, and became filled with cleverly faked photos showing cyclists doing supposedly “wrong things”, mixed with strident demands for “single file please”. It was hard to understand. Were we all being subjected to an elaborate, but obscure experiment in manipulating our assumptions and our emotions? The Photoshop fakery style before the switch was identical to that after the switch, suggesting that if it wasn’t the same author it was somebody who had closely studied their style and had the skills to copy it exactly.

An example of the "new" DFROC
The “new” DFROC showing their competent Photoshop skills, cutting and pasting riders from one part of the road into another.

It was weird. After a few weeks of it I unsubscribed, dumping it in the “unsolved mysteries” department in my mind.

The petition has brought the mystery of “Drivers for Registration of Cyclists” (or DFROC as they’re known by cyclists) into the limelight. The general consensus is that it is the work of an Australian sports cyclist named Ivan Vetsich, but some believe it is connected to a man named Ivan who lives in Ireland. Are there two Ivans? Did Australian Ivan move to Ireland and become Irish Ivan? If he did, why is he still banging on about Australian cyclists and trying to get the Australian law changed?


Update: August 8, 2018

Cycling Tips has gone deep into the rabbit hole with this piece on DFROC: Finding Mr X; The story of an anti-cycling hate page (and the cyclist behind it).

Pedro is not about money. It’s about power.

Vote for Pedro

No, not this Pedro

Operation Pedro” actively targets people on bikes in inner-Sydney, with regular blitzes to hand out $319 fines for not wearing a helmet and $106 fines for not having a bell.

Revenue-raising!” is the standard response from everybody bar the small legion of bike-haters who inhabit the comments section of any article mentioning cycling in the MainStreamMedia. It’s easy money – a couple of cops hide behind a corner at a busy cycling intersection and start writing tickets.

Bike cop looking ridiculous

This cop isn’t hiding, but he is looking ridiculous perched on the narrow cycleway separator.

But if the state government or NSW Police wanted to raise money, would they think to target people on bikes? After all, there’s not that many of them; roughly 1% of trips to work in Sydney are made by bicycle, and most of them wear helmets these days.

Compare it to driving, which accounts for 65% of all trips to work in Sydney, and the fact that almost all drivers break at least one road rule every trip they take. Exceed the speed limit by 1 kmh? Stop 1 cm over the white line at intersections? Indicate for 1 metre less than the required 30 metres before turning?

Sure, those offences are trivial. But so is cycling without a helmet or a bell. If money were the object they’d be going after the driving majority, not the cycling minority.

One possible reason cyclists are targeted is because pulling them over to fine them doesn’t stop traffic to the same extent that pulling motorists over does. A cop booking a cyclist doesn’t block the path of other people on bikes because people on bikes take so little space. Compare that with the space required for a cop, with cop car, to stop somebody in a car. In the inner-city there’s almost nowhere this can be done without blocking traffic, and making other drivers mad.

Cop busting a helmetless rider

When a cop busts somebody on a bike, the rest of the city flows around them. Nobody is held up.

Recently I had lunch at the Bourke St Bakery (the original, in Bourke St), and watched as cars travelling east on Devonshire St navigated the dual STOP signs at the intersection with Bourke St. The traffic was slow, but constant, and I didn’t see a single driver come to a complete stop at either sign. At 200 cars an hour, a small team of cops doing an 8-hour shift could hand out 3,200 stop sign fines, which at $330 each makes a total of $1,056,000.

A million dollars over eight hours for just one relatively quiet intersection. If the goal was raising revenue, the police wouldn’t be futzing with the occasional cyclist.

Twin STOP signs at the Bourke St Bakery

Dual STOP signs outside the Bourke St Bakery. No driver stops at either. C’mon NSW Police, you’re leaving money on the table here.

Is there enough space on Bourke St to stop all these drivers without blocking traffic altogether. I think so, as long as the police managed to keep a few of the nearby parking spots reserved for pulling over all those errant motorists.

So if it’s not about money…

If money isn’t the driving force here, what is? I see two forces; one general, and one specific.

Convict Flogging

Whip a few cyclists to keep ’em in line. And to keep the crowd happy.

The general is that Australia is a former prison colony, and has a deeply embedded authoritarian streak that manifests itself in a dizzying array of trivial rules and laws that are often enthusiastically policed because enthusiastic policing is what you get in a prison state.

But the specific force is that Australia’s society and roads are deeply car-centric, and people on bikes are seen as outsiders. There are votes to be had in “cracking down on cyclists”, and this is an easy, high-profile way for governments to be seen doing that. The motoring majority see themselves as burdened by traffic congestion, speed cameras, and red-light cameras. Operation Pedro is welcomed by them in terms of fairness – it spreads the burden of our messed up road system to those of us who appear to have opted out by not driving.

The bit of cash it raises doesn’t hurt in this equation, but it’s way down in the mix.

Do you ride a bike in Sydney and are sick of being fined for riding a bike unhelmeted? Join Helmet Cops to receive real-time notifications of Pedro-style stings from other group members .

Welcome to the first post of my new blog

If you squint hard at the bottom of this blog’s header image you can just make out my home. The photo was taken during construction of the Kings Cross tunnel in the late 60s/early 70s. The tunnel destroyed a major swathe of the Cross, which is Sydney’s traditional red-light/bohemian/drug/crime district.

Kings Cross used to be here
Kings Cross used to be here

Today the Cross is largely gentrified. The actual drugs and crime have been replaced by council-sanctioned memorials to drugs and crime, which have been embedded in the stone used in the Kings Cross footpaths. It’s the same grey stone being installed in all the “nice” areas of Sydney.

Kings Cross Footpath Plaque
A plaque to remind you of what’s no longer there
It's a long and bleak walk across that footbridge, and always sad to imagine what was lost to build this massive road.
Google Street View shows the long and bleak walk across that footbridge. It’s always sad to imagine what was lost in order to build this massive road.
A new tunnel required a few more lanes to be squeezed in alongside the old lanes.
In the 2000s the “Cross-City Tunnel” was added alongside the old Kings Cross Tunnel. At the tunnel’s exit the new lanes were somehow squeezed in alongside the old lanes. My home is now 150 metres from 10 lanes of traffic.

Well, that’s my first blog post, just in time for the end of the blogging era 🙂 I’ve started with something small and close-to-home, but I have a handful of broader topics I’m ready to roll with. So read on.