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The Narrow White Line of Death

"THE Far North is the most dangerous place in Queensland to be a cyclist, with more fatalities here in the past eight years than anywhere else in the state."

So wrote Grace Uhr of the Cairns Post on Monday the 20th of May 2013. Her article was in response to the tragic death of yet another cyclist on our local roads. It also heralds the start of the Cairns Post's campaign to improve this situation.

The discussion below is about that "narrow white line of death" that we see along much of our roadways, and the policy of the Department of Transport and Main Roads to place cycleways or bike lanes adjacent to busy motor vehicle thoroughfares.

There are two problems with this policy. One is the potential for collision between a cyclist and the driver of a much heavier vehicle, something we are all too familiar with. The other is the effect that exhaust pollution, emitted by the nearby vehicles, can have upon the health of cyclists over a period of time.

A Belgian study has found that because cyclists are often breathing heavily when cycling, they inhale more deeply. As a result, the petrol and diesel exhaust fumes breathed in from the vehicles could lead to serious health problems for the cyclists, especially later in life. Research by the World Health Organisation has found a link between diesel exhausts and lung cancer, and the information here is about vehicle exhausts and the general risks that they can impose upon human health. It is from BBC Health.

Presently, the responsibility for constructing cycleways near our major highways belongs to the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR). The Cairns Regional Council is responsible for the construction and maintenence of shared paths and bike lanes beside local roads and streets. The monitoring of air quality in Queensland is done by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP).

In this link, notice the location of DEHP's monitoring stations. Yes, it is true that they are placed in areas where air pollution may be a problem. But they are placed there permanently. This leaves vast areas throughout Queensland not being monitored, consequently, there is no quantitative way of knowing if the pollution levels elsewhere in the state have exceeded dangerous levels.


This contrasts with Victoria's Environment Protection Authority (EPA) who use mobile laboratories, shown on the left, which are placed temporarily at various locations. If the pollution levels are high then the EPA can pass this information on to the relevant authorities who would, one would hope, take action to improve the situation.


In Queensland, on the other hand, if you look at the DEHP's web page titled Hourly Air Quality data, the readings are always very good, good and sometimes, though very rarely, fair. BUT most people would have assumed that these readings would be "good". This is because we would have expected action to have been taken to reduce the high pollution levels - what we need to know are the pollution levels of sites that may or may not be excessively polluted.

If the Department of Transport and Main Roads were armed with knowledge, obtained from mobile laboratories, of the current pollution levels then they could go ahead and design dedicated cycleways that are at a safe distance from the roadway. And, of course, being at a reasonable distance away from traffic would also make the cyclists safe from the dangers of collision between them and motor vehicles.


What this article endeavoured to do was to point out the importance of SPACE between the cyclist and the the driver of a motor vehicle. If there is room, this space should always be at the maximum. However if that room is limited, either money should be spent to allow more space or, if that is not possible, then cyclists should seriously consider whether or not to use the road. We do not need any more cyclists dying on our roads. Therefore from now on, when our cycleways, shared paths and bike lanes are designed or reconfigured, we ought to make sure that there is sufficient space between cyclist and motorist.

This lack of space creates real problems for cyclists at roundabouts - especially if the roadway is four lane. Perhaps the Dutch have a solution (shown in the photo below) where these lanes merge into one lane just before the roundabout. This would result in more space for the cyclist and would lessen the chance of collision with a motor vehicle.

Had the roundabout below have had a similar design, then Jackson Martin would still be alive today.

This article is dedicated to Jackson Martin who was tragically killed when a semi-trailer clipped his bike near the Aumuller and Scott Street roundabout. This happened at 5pm on the 29th of September 2010.


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