Some residents of New South Wales (NSW), Australia, are selling their bikes and telling visitors not to cycle because “if it’s not the abuse from drivers it’s the fines” that make cycling too risky a prospect.
Fines for cyclists increased by up to 500% on 2 March, for misdemeanours such as not wearing a helmet (A$319), not carrying a bell (A$100), and ‘dangerous driving’ in a bid by Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, to crack down on supposed dangerous cycling among anyone aged 12 and over.
Although the fines were, according to Gay, supposed to improve safety of people on bikes, academics believe it will make NSW the “worst state in the world” for cyclists.
One Sydney student who decided to sell her bike, told ABC she couldn’t afford the risk of a fine, which would force her to choose between eating and paying up.
Natalie Synnott told ABC she preferred to ride on footpaths for safety reasons but was afraid of getting caught and fined, which would be a financial disaster for her: "I just know that I will get fined because I have terrible luck," she said.
"It would f*** me up... I actually live week to week. For the most part, I have $100 bucks a week to live and then the rest just goes to rent... I would just be f***ed".
Adrian Plius, a Sydney bar manager, sold his bike because he didn’t want to risk a $300-$500 fine for a 10 minute commute. He walks now instead.
He said: "A 10 minute ride has turned into a 40 minute walk so it definitely has changed my lifestyle.
“I don't mind walking but it is a bit sad not to have the option in a major international metropolitan city, to be scared to ride your bike for both financial and safety reasons”.
The first person to have been fined under new laws, which came into force on 2 March, was restaurant manager, Ben Ackerley, who recently moved from New York, and was returning from the bike shop where his bike was repaired following a crash with a taxi.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “I knew about the no helmet laws but I was just riding about a mile and a half home.
“I’ve just come from living in New York City. The cops there have got better things to do than worry about this sort of stuff.”
Two Sydney cyclists were reportedly fined a combined A$425 last month for track standing. The laws have, in many cases, been the tipping point that means they no longer see cycling as a viable option in New South Wales, and warn others against doing so.
In a recent Guardian article one Sydney resident, Gianni Wise, said: “Our city is becoming a total joke. People stay here with me in Sydney - they are from all over Europe. What do I tell them? Forget riding. If its not the abuse from drivers its the fines.”
At the same time as fines increased, a minimum one metre passing distance was made law in the state, though some cyclists believe cyclists will continue to be targeted, rather than motorists. Shocking dashcam footage of a cyclist sent flying after being clipped by a driver at speed in a Sydney suburb last month has only heightened concerns.
Another Sydney cyclist was quoted by Guardian Witness as saying: “A lot of the joy has gone out of cycling with this punitive anti-cycling legislation. Now, even to go to the shops 200 metres up the road, I have to put on an annoying helmet. Only Australia and NZ have compulsory helmet laws, and NSW's new fines are so ridiculous as to make the Government's anti-cycling agenda obvious. Helmets laws discourage cycling. It should be a cyclist's choice.”