It doesn’t take much to create a scene in traffic. Tempers can flare and frustrations emerge when things don’t go smoothly on our roads. But with a bit of respect we’ll all get where we want to go.
– A blog and video, by Rob Arnold
Tuesday morning ride. Gardeners Road at ‘tradie hour’. There were utes and vans everywhere I looked. It was early, the sun was just up and the mood on the street was one with a degree of urgency. These drivers had places to be, work to do. But what made the machinations on this patch of road in Sydney yesterday that little bit special was that, despite the haste of the tradespeople on their way to a job, there was also common decency on display.
There were hand gestures, but not the typical ones exchanged between tradies going to work early in the morning and bike riders getting out for some exercise (or riding to work). Instead of a raised middle finger, there were thumbs-up signals. “Thanks mate.”
It was busy, but there was room for everyone. The traffic lights ensured that no one got to rush anywhere. Instead of speeding along at over the limit (60km/h in these parts), we rolled from intersection to intersection at ±40-50km/h. The street lights were still on. The sun had poked its head up over the horizon and on the north side of the street, we were aiming east, into the bright sun.
It’s not always easy to see in these circumstances. And incidents can happen because of the lighting conditions. Or the urgency. Or simply because of the attitude of a motorist or a cyclist which doesn’t mesh well with those around them. Sometimes, there might be a mirror that comes damn close to the cyclist’s hip (or worse, and there’s actually contact). Sometimes the middle finger might get a work-out. And sometimes instead of ‘thanks mate’, the words used aren’t so pleasant.
– Thanks to the truckies too (follow-up video, below).
Sometimes, exchanges in traffic aren’t very pretty at all.
But this story is about a different kind of moment on Gardeners Road near Mascot a little after 6.00am yesterday. Tuesday’s ride offered some hope. It might have been a moment of serendipity or it might actually have been an indication that attitudes are changing.
There was respect amongst all the road users. There was still a sense of urgency from some in their vans and utes. There was also a high degree of caution with a quest for self-preservation from cyclists. But there was also respect. And onwards we rolled… all annoyed by the regular red lights, but all able to get to our respective destinations without too much fuss.
Approaching one intersection, the driver of a van in the middle lane wanted to turn right but missed the right-turn lane and so he indicated and his brake lights turned a bright red. The drivers of the ute and the van that followed needed to take action. In a split-second a decision had to be made: stop, or try to merge into the left lane?
I saw the minor kafuffle unfolding and instinct dictated my subsequent action: raising my right hand from the handlebars, I gestured: ‘Take the lane mate.’ And I braked gently with my left hand to ease off the pace and allow a gap between me and the ute ahead of me to open up.
Travelling at 48km/h at that moment, the drivers who could eventually have been held up by the right-turning van in the middle lane easily navigated their vehicles into the space in front of me. And onwards we rolled… no fuss and a thumbs up gesture out the window. ‘Thanks mate.’
Of course there were other obstacles to look out for beyond an errant right-turning vehicle and regular red traffic lights. There are always the cateye reflectors on the road that can bounce a bike around a bit (more so if the rider is an old-school thinker, still with 120psi in the tyres – but that’s another story for another day). There are also a few potholes and rotten patches of tarmac. Sometimes, on a road like this, there can be parked cars or buses stopping to collect or deliver passengers… and so on.
It was a scene in traffic not unlike what you might have experienced around the same hour on any given morning. It happens the world over… and we all manage to coexist and get to our respective destinations. Well, we usually do.
Of course, alas, sometimes things do go awry. Accidents happen. And it can be devastating.
But on this Tuesday morning on Gardeners Road, it all clicked and we all rolled east. No fuss. Space for everyone. Hold your speed. ‘Thanks mate.’
It was only a few kilometres of such cooperation but it made a world of difference. A few utes and vans had their windows open and words could be exchanged. Often, in a setting such as this, the dialogue isn’t terribly kind. Sometimes it’s actually really quite vulgar and I’m shocked at the variety of ways in which one word in particular can be utilised… I’ve even heard that word used almost exclusively to form a sentence, only using variations of the end to get the message across – eg. ‘You —-ing stupid —-, you’re —-ed. —- off!’
You probably know what I’m talking about. But when you hear it (or when you say it, or even when you read an example of such an exchange) it’s harsh and abrasive and not the ideal way to start the day. What’s better? ‘Thanks mate.’
That’s how it was on Tuesday morning. For a brief moment, there was cohesion and cooperation. There was respect amidst a degree of urgency. But there weren’t any hassles, there wasn’t any fuss. There was no touch on the hip with a mirror, no harsh braking, no swearing, and no crashing sounds… and onwards we rolled. ‘Thanks mate.’
There was respect. And that made a huge difference to what turned into a fabulous ride before work. It was oh-so easy. It was oh-so logical.
It is obvious that if we all show a bit of respect, we’ll get to where we want to go without much fuss. It might cost us a micro-second here or there. It might even delay us the amount of time it takes for the traffic lights to go through a sequence. But we’ll get there eventually. And we’ll get there in one piece, without incident, without consequence, without angst and without any need for abuse or aggression.
To all the tradies who were part of that gentle cooperative flow in the traffic yesterday, thanks!
– By Rob Arnold
- Ride Diary (01) – return to the roads – time to ride outside again
- Ride Diary (02) – joy of cycling despite taunts from dangerous driver
- Ride Diary (03) – quick pre-work work-out
- Ride Diary (04) – Saturday to Bald Hill and back to the city
- Ride Diary (05) – Riding to Bobbin Head and Berowra Waters from Sydney
- Ride Diary (06) – Riding to school… why can’t it happen every day?
- Ride Diary (07) – Vox Pop / Retro Review in Centennial Park
- Ride Diary (08) – Thanks to the tradies in traffic today