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Giving more people the freedom to ride their bikes

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 22 Mar 2017

On a Friday night, just 10 days ago, in the suburbs of Melbourne, a young woman by the name of Arzu was riding her bike from her home in Moonee Ponds to Williamstown to visit a friend. While riding through Yarraville, just around the corner from my home in Footscray, Arzu was struck by a truck and died. She left behind two children, aged six and two. It hit many in our community hard, including my family and myself. Two days after Arzu's death I rode my bike with around 200 other Melburnians to finish her ride. It was an emotional event. For those of us who ride regularly it was a moment of, 'It could have been me'; for our friends and families, 'It could have been our loved ones'. Indeed, my family quite often ride along the very same route that Arzu was on. And for those who would like to ride more, it was another reminder of what puts them off.

Her death was preventable, but we can act in this place to make sure that it was not for nothing. While this government is still suffering from the hangover of the Abbott era, and only wants to plough money into great big polluting toll roads, we can make a commitment right here to end this needless division. We can make a commitment to start building the infrastructure that will mean people riding their bikes do not need to put themselves at risk on the roads. Around 50 people a year in Australia die while riding their bikes. But with investment into proper infrastructure at local, state and federal level, we can give many more people the freedom to ride safely.

Arzu's death shows that people who ride are not that tabloid image of middle-aged men in lycra, ridiculed in Melbourne's Herald Sun this morning as:

… encased in their ridiculous Lycra condoms, propelled around city streets by a moral and environmental superiority.

In contrast to this caricature, people who ride cut across every section of the community. We are young and old, fast and slow, rich and poor, And even though there is a gap between the number of women and men riding, the better the infrastructure, the closer to equality we get.

Tonight I want to share the stories of just a couple of people who ride, like 15-year-old Max from Yarraville. Max rides to school and back every day. And good on him! We hear a lot about childhood obesity and what we could be doing about it. We certainly hear a lot of accusations from some of the more conservative politicians and commentators about the so-called 'nanny state'. So it is great that Max has the freedom and the independence to be riding to and from school. Max's dad, Simon, approached me after Arzu's death. He described Max as a very responsible and experienced rider. But last November, Max was struck by a truck on the corner of Geelong Road and Williamstown Road. He was able to take last-second evasive action, but still he was injured and he was taken by ambulance to the Royal Children's Hospital.

Simon sent me an email with a photo of his son's bike. It was completely mangled. It is a complete miracle that Max was not killed. Simon said, 'I was just so grateful that he was alive, that I thought less about the wider issue of safety for all cyclists. Arzu's tragic death brought home this issue to me. I don't want another family to suffer as her family must be suffering right now. My son's story is an example of the dangers that face cyclists and the need to advocate for better infrastructure so that cyclists can use the roads safely.'

Then there is Jera, whose injuries were much worse. Jera was involved in a horrific crash with a truck on the corner of Sunshine Road and Geelong Road. Jera explained: 'I was going around the corner and the truck came around the same corner, a fully-loaded B-double. It turned way too sharp and the wheels actually went up over the curb. It hit me in the shoulder, caught my bike and I fell sideways and got sucked under the truck. The truck didn't stop, it just kept going, but got stopped a couple of kilometres up the road with my bike still attached to it.'

Describing his injuries, Jera said, 'My leg was totally messed up. It was a full leg de-gloving and I broke my tibia, fibula and femur. I was in intensive care for a week, and in hospital for five months. I had a lot of operations; it's hard to count how many. Every time they did dressing changes they had to knock me out because it was so painful.' Jera will need ongoing medical treatment.

And as if this trauma is not enough, people who ride bikes are constantly subject to vitriolic attack. But it does not need to be this way. None of these crashes would have happened if we had world-class infrastructure that separates people on their bikes from cars and trucks. As someone who rides to work every day, I know that there is no better feeling than being on a bike, wind in your hair, free of the constraints of traffic and pollution. But the only way we are going give that opportunity to more people is by giving them the freedom to ride safely.

There are legislative changes we can make, like requiring side underrun-protection rails on all heavy vehicles to stop bike riders and pedestrians from being thrown under the wheels. But, critically, we need serious investment. The Greens want to see $250 million invested each year for bike infrastructure. It is cost-effective and healthier, and would ease congestion and pollution. I urge all other parties to commit to similar levels of funding. For the sake of Max and Jera, and for Arzu and her family, we must work together in this place and with our state and our local counterparts to give people the freedom to ride.

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