She Spoke

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By Jamal Ibrahim

‘How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?’ That was a discussion last month at The Great Provider on the impediments that stop more women cycling and how these impediments can be removed.

The event, organised by the City of Port Phillip, started with a champagne breakfast, followed by an expert panel of speakers. Next to the marina was also an impressive display of cargo bikes.

After acknowledging the traditional owners of the land, the General Manager of Place Strategy and Development at the City of Port Phillip, Claire Ferres-Miles got the ball rolling for the expert panel with the general gist of the strategy, “Taking the sport out of transport”. Woman should feel safe to use two wheels for short trips and reap the benefits. Claire also pointed out Port Phillip was one of the smallest municipalities in Victoria and most trips were under 2 kilometres.

David Shelton, Vic Roads Executive Director of Strategy and Planning and Road Safety Co-ordinator, also a cyclist himself, observed that we are simply asking too much of our arterial roads. The Netherlands was the most often cited example of a successful cycling nation. It had been the destination for a study tour in 2014. It is felt every child should be able to cycle to school in safety and the bicycle network is separate to the arterial road network. It’s a goal that will require intergenerational change here in Victoria.

Deborah from the Ministry of Transport spoke about her personal experiences – she rides every day. She explained it’s fun and good for mental health, but required practice to build confidence. Apart from the obvious need for better infrastructure, behaviour had to change, lower speed zones were needed and road rules reviewed. For example in a car versus bike incidents, in some countries the car driver is considered liable.

Bo Bjorkman Chiswell, freelance journalist, film maker and author of ‘Bike in My Life’, also spoke. She has travelled to 62 of the world’s capitals to study cycling and spoke passionately about the need for behavioural change from motorists and cyclists. Controversially, she pointed out that Australia is one of only two countries not to repeal helmet laws. Bo stated that helmets create a sense of invincibility. It was something panel members felt required a more nuanced discussion.

Dr Marilyn Johnson, a Monash University researcher associated with the Amy Gillett Foundation, who is reviewing every cycling fatality this century, says cars must give space to cyclists. Driver training had to be implemented and intergenerational change was required.

Georgie from Port Phillip Bug shared her experiences as a Londoner riding there and here. “Cyclists have the same rights as cars and trucks to use the roads, the key is confidence”, she said, “and this can be learned”. Port Phillip BUG offer bike-ed courses and their Facebook page is a good resource .

The consensus was that cycling would definitely be part of the ‘water table’ of transport in the future. To what extent is dependent on community activism and making your voice heard. A good place to start is online at the City of Port Phillip Environment Ehub.

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