Getting On Your Bike Isn't Always Good For Your Health

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Ok – I'm a happy to admit it! I'm an endorphin junkie. Anything with a ball when I was younger and then pumping weights in the gym. And sport was compulsory when I was in the Navy.

These days, at 56, with dodgy ankles and a dickie knee, my addiction is cycling, great low impact cardio-aerobic exercise. About five years ago I even dispensed with the trouble and cost of owning a car and cycled a 32 kilometre round trip to work every working day of the year, come hell or high water, and up to a hundred kilometres a day on weekends.

But my addiction has brought me undone. Despite my best efforts, as described in my blog, and through no fault of my own, I was taken out by an inattentive driver on the way to work and ended up with a broken wrist requiring eight weeks off work. The bike was fine thank God; it's worth $5K.

I bear that driver no malice. He made a simple, innocent mistake, just as any of us might. The Police did charge him with 'dangerous driving' which I thought was a bit much. I was as much upset for him as for myself.

My employer was happy to cover for me, but then a month after returning to work I was made redundant. They'd obviously managed to cope without me for two months and saved $10K in the process, so I guess it was fairly evident to them. I was well treated and bear them no grudge either.

I still love cycling and I'm firmly back in the saddle. But now I'm forced to consider whether cycling really is a viable transport option for working people considering the lack of infrastructure, the generally poor state of the roads, and the failure of successive governments, state and federal, to invest in public transport.

If I accept that I have some obligation to my employer to avoid injury during travel to and from work, this essentially means that my preferred and much healthier, environmentally sustainable and traffic congestion reducing transport option is denied to me simply because the government has not made the roads safe enough.

So this leaves me in a sort of 'Catch 22' situation. I want keep myself healthy by cycling but I can't because cycling on the roads is unhealthy.

I live in Roxburgh Park in the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne and used to work in Thomastown, only 16 kilometres away, about 20 minutes by car using the Hume Freeway and Metropolitan Ring Road (or about 35-40 minutes by bike). The same journey by public transport requires a bus and then a train and then another bus – about 90 minutes.

But this part of Melbourne, the northern industrial fringe, not far from the soon to be defunct Ford plant, is working class heartland, doomed forever to be taken for granted by Labor governments and ignored by the Coalition. There is a noticeable paucity of infrastructure, cycling or otherwise, compared to the more affluent parts of Melbourne and those more marginal electorates.

And we’re even ignored by cycling organisations like Bicycle Network Victoria. I’ve never seen a ‘Ride to Work’ day breakfast on this side of town, and it was only a couple years ago that I first spotted counters for the annual nationwide ‘Super Tuesday’ bicycle count.

The so-called Upfield bike path is a perfect example. It actually terminates at Box Forest Road in Hadfield on the northern perimeter of the Fawkner Memorial Park, at least five kilometres short of Upfield. To continue further means riding on the Hume Highway with all the heavy vehicles, but it doesn’t have bike lanes. That’s where I came to grief.

And the point is that the Upfield bike path is a project that was simply never finished; perhaps there was a change in government. There’s already a rough unofficial path accessible to mountain bikes, which continues north from Gowrie Station in Hadfield to Camp Road. It just needs to be sealed to make it all weather so it’s accessible to all cyclists.

The railway viaduct over the Metropolitan Ring Road already has a virtually unused shared pathway as part of its original concrete structure and the railway reserve north from Camp Road has more than adequate provision for a bike path the rest of the way to Upfield. All that’s required is about five kilometres of bitumen or concrete and job done.

But it’s been exactly as it is today for at least 20 years that I know of. There can be no other reason than government inaction. Meanwhile the tally of fatalities, injury and lost productivity continues to rise.

So I had no option, I spent a large part of my payout on a car because that, I knew, that would enhance my employment prospects.

But be honest; the last thing all you motorists want is one more car in front of you. And I can understand why. I had my first experience in years on the Western Ring Road at rush hour only the other day and, frankly, I’d rather slash my own wrists than drive it again. I just don’t understand how you can all keep doing it every day.

Building more roads just means more cars and more congestion – not less!

What’s required is a properly integrated transport system that has greatly improved public transport to encourage more people to leave their cars at home and supports alternative travel options such as cycling.

This would not only significantly reduce traffic congestion but would also enhance community health generally by reducing pollution, accidents and injury, and the effects, physiological and psychological, of the working person’s daily commute – a lot less stress and anxiety and far more harmonious and productive workplaces.

But the government can’t collect a toll from that, can they?

New Matilda

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