Last week it happened, I met the ground with a thud. Up until that point I had been doing pretty well, with it being well over three years since my last pavement kiss. While the previous ‘kiss’ I could at least lament over – yes, that chain should have been replaced, this time it was none of my doing. As Sam Simmons would say “things that shit me…”.
I’ll be upfront and say that I am not a fan of shared paths. It’s not that I think they are a bad thing, they’re not, it’s the ‘people’ on them that are the issue. For me, the largest local shared path is a loop known as the ‘Bay Run’ and for those that don’t know, it’s a rather picturesque loop around Iron Cove Bay in Sydney’s Inner West. As far as I know, the loop straddles three local council zones and probably has a bit of state controlled Roads and Maritime sections as well – it’s hard to tell with roads these days. Suffice to say, each of the three sections are quite different in terms of quality.
‘The Bay Run’ ➱ Google map if you’re interested.
I have generally tried to avoid riding the path anytime after 7.30am and even then, I only use it to get from one side of the bay to the other, a sort of ‘transport stage’ to start and end my rides. The past weeks though I have hopping on it early pm midweek, having changed my riding schedule to take advantage of the sunny winter afternoons. My avoidance of the loop very simply comes down to the people that use it, and the general disregard for the so called ‘shared’ path system. Even on the Canada Bay Council side, where the path is good quality, clearly designated AND segregated with markings and signage, walkers still seem to think taking up the whole path is ok, which is not for a reasonably moving cyclist. All I’ll say about it is that it’s often safer to ride on the road, as at last one can predict what cars are going to do.
My encounter with the pavement last week was a combination of two things – a failure to passively control shared path traffic and shocking surface conditions, “things that shit me…”.
So what happened? It was an innocent enough affair. On what I deem the single worst shared path I have ever seen, a section where cars, pedestrians (so walkers, walkers with dogs, children and runners) and bikes are all supposed to happily share a narrowish red painted section of road that is littered with cracks, pot holes and on this occasion, large areas of water, a mother with a pram and myself did the old you go left, I go right affair. Generally simple confusion like this would not have been an issue, there was enough distance between us, but as we both tried to avoid the large pools of water (that does not drain off after rain), we both headed in the same direction and as I banked that little bit harder to avoid her, the front when dropped into a pot hole I failed to see (my eyes were on the mother and pram). You can guess the rest.
This section falls under the control of Leichhardt Council and has been in this poor condition for as long as I have been riding it, so well over two years. When I usually ride it, in the dark, no one’s around so I can breeze between the pot holes, but with assorted traffic it becomes a whole different affair. Calling it a shared path is a stretch. It’s effectively a road painted red with some occasional stencils on it. There’s no demarkation, traffic flow control, nothing. It’s a free for all on the merry red road.
It’s piss poor.
The section in question + contact point.
I’ve thought about this since. I came off with lost skin, bruises and sore knees and hands but we all know how easy it is for things to go a lot worse for the same given scenario. It was in this thinking that I pondered the reasonable concept of ‘fit for use’. If a governing body decides, in this case, that everyone is going to use the road to bridge the sections of ‘proper’ shared path, who determines if what’s provided is actually fit for use? I certainly would have before, now even more strongly so, argue that in this instance what’s provided by Leichhardt Council as a shared path, road, whatever they want to call it, is anything but fit for use. As an older chap said to me (after asking if I was OK and all that), this road surface has been shocking for years, yet the Council seems to refuse to anything about it. It’s an argument only strengthened by the fact that 1. there’s ample room on disused grass fields to create a segregated shared path away from the road and 2. on the next section (following on from this ‘road’) they have replaced an older, yet far more adequate path than the one in question, with a new, wider section AND are installing lighting for the entire stretch. Yet, the stretch in question remains too narrow for the amount of mixed traffic, pot holed, cracked and incapable of draining water.
It would seem only fair that if someone somewhere is going to decide that ‘this’ is what everyone is going to use, then there is a duty of care to ensure that the infrastructure is up to the task. If it’s not and people get injured, then it’s only fair the responsibility should be squarely placed on the shoulder of those who made the decision to put the users in harm’s way. I won’t deny it, if I had been unlucky enough to break something, on either myself or my bike, Leichhardt Council would be now reading a letter from my lawyers – all the witnesses were in full agreement that the cause of this accident was the road surface and nothing else.
Fit for use.
It’d be easy to say that these are the words of a disgruntled cyclist, part of the reason I opted (eventually) not to send a letter of complaint to the Council directly. But it’s more than that. Sure, I came off due to a pot hole and hit the deck and that’s all, I’ve done a lot worse to myself due to… myself. What though if I’d come off in front of a moving car, or hit the baby in the pram, or another cyclist, fractured or broke a bone or my neck… get the gist? Who shoulders the responsibility? This is not about me as such but all the users of the area.
A governing body slapping some paint on the road, throwing up a few signs and quietly hoping everyone will play nice, then declaring they are building ‘infrastructure’ is just not enough, it’s a cop out and I am sure they’d back pedal as fast as they could if a big fat lawyer’s finger was pointed at them; excuses and blame shifting always abounds in such instances. If such infrastructure is to be implemented, as it increasingly is around Sydney and the country, then there needs to be more effort, design, consideration and thought put into it.
It also needs to be maintained so it’s safe to use buy ALL users.
While I came off and was a little worse for wear, I decided to go do my ride regardless – beat going home and getting progressively more uncomfortable! When I passed the section on the way home, low and behold there was a crew filling in the holes with bitumen. In the time that I was stopped to take some pics of the pot holes in question, I noticed that while the crew were filling the holes, they, for whatever inane reason, were only filling every second or third hole! As of the time of writing this, a week on, the hole that swallowed my front wheel was still there, as were several others.
Proof of danger:
On the ride home today through this now wearied section, I noticed a car coming down the hill as I was riding up – yes, there is also a long gradual hill on this stretch. The driver, for whatever reason, decided to stop halfway down and start to reverse back up the hill. Naturally another car came up behind, so they stopped but it’s what happened next that astounded me…
I am the only person on the road and in plain sight. As the car’s stopped, the driver finally notices the car behind and proceeds to wave them on with the ‘all clear’ wave (you know the one), on what is a marginal two lane road, with me in the opposite lane. The other driver takes the cue and, unaware of me being there, proceeds to ‘overtake’, only to find me smack in the middle of the lane.
Rude words were said through the open window.
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