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Bicycle Safety

Death of Cyclist Shocks Melbourne, Prompts Bus Ban

11:46 AM EDT on September 22, 2008

swanston_street_crash.jpgAs I wrote in a post last week, the City of Melbourne, Australia, is working hard to make cycling easier and safer -- but not quickly enough to save the life of one cyclist. The day after my post a 33-year-old Melbourne woman was killed when her wheels slipped on tram tracks on Melbourne's main thoroughfare, Swanston Street, and she fell into the path of an oncoming Gray Line tour bus.

Swanston Street has been partially pedestrianized, with trams, taxis and tour buses the only vehicles currently permitted during the day. According to news reports, the city was aware of the danger posed by buses on the street and planned to ban them sometime next year. Ironically, the street also has Melbourne's first Copenhagen-style protected bike lane, but the lane extends only one kilometer and ends well north of where the woman was killed.

Melbourne's reaction to the death of a cyclist on one of its streets may be instructive for New York City residents. The death was major news in The Age, one of the city's two main daily papers. The 1,200-word article quotes a city council member, a former mayor, the head of the bus line, and a representative of the transportation department. About 200 Melbourne cyclists rallied near the corner where the crash occurred. Even more remarkable, the next day The Age reported that "stung by criticism he failed to protect cyclists from the thousands of tour buses that choke one of the city's main thoroughfares, an emotional Lord Mayor John So last night banned buses from Swanston Street."

Contrast this with the remarks of our own mayor after two cyclists were struck and killed by vehicles in separate incidents on the Hudson River bike path, a car-free space. As reported by Streetsblog, Bloomberg expressed his sympathy, but said bikers also have to watch out for themselves in interactions with cars. "Even if they're in the right, they are the lightweights," the mayor said of cyclists. "Every year, too many people are hit by cars - and bikes have to pay attention."

Photo of crash scene on Swanston Street: The Age

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