The silent swoopers of NewQuay

The silent swoopers of NewQuay

By Julian Smith - NewQuay resident

Dr John Officer was a venerated family physician. Tall, kindly, grey-haired, avuncular, and authoritative, he was a neighbourhood GP wholly dedicated to the wellbeing of his patients.

Early one sunny spring morning, he was walking to his surgery in Hawksburn when he stopped and turned to negotiate the peak-hour traffic on busy Malvern Rd. As he stood at the kerb and looked east towards the stream of oncoming cars, he shielded his eyes from the glare of the low, rising sun.

Seeing a break in the traffic, he stepped off the kerb to cross the road. But dazzled by the sun, Dr Officer had failed to spot a fast-moving cyclist barrelling down the side of the road. Bike and rider cannoned into him, knocking him down. His head hit the concrete kerb. He was killed instantly.

I knew Dr Officer well and the manner of his untimely demise has always made me wary of speeding cyclists. There’s certainly no shortage of them around NewQuay. Many fail to confine themselves to the designated bike tracks. Instead, they weave their way, at speed, through the joggers, families, kids, mothers pushing strollers and oldies ambling idly along the generously-wide footpaths on the waterfront side of Harbour Esplanade. Especially around Central Pier. A few malevolent cyclists seem to delight in startling the strollers.

A couple of weeks ago a friend and I set out for a morning jaunt, striding south towards the river. We’d been walking for just a couple of minutes when a young rider swooped past, his bike less than 30 centimetres from my left hip. This prompted a spontaneous expletive and set my heart racing. By the time I yelled after this rogue rider, he was already 20 metres away. He glanced back over his shoulder with what I swear was a smirk.

I’d been relating a funny story to my walk-mate and I’d hate to think what would have happened if I’d been buoyant enough to, say, exuberantly bust a sideways dance move to illustrate a point. I’d have ended up like Dr Officer. You just don’t hear cyclists coming from behind. They are silent swoopers.

Though it wasn’t the first time a cyclist has intentionally startled me, hoons like this are in the minority. Thankfully. Nonetheless, it seems that the courtesy of a warning bell from cyclists approaching pedestrians from behind is the exception rather than the rule these days.

The fat-tyred electric food delivery bikes with their insulated boxes perched high on the back are the most silently sinister. They’re steered flat out by resolute riders with stationary legs. Measured by sight against the traffic on the road, these electric bikes often appear to be powering along footpaths at more than the prescribed 40 kph road speed limit for cars.

At the other extreme, I have often encountered riders pedalling lazily along as they hold their smartphone screens up at eye level, while distractedly negotiating a jagged path through ambling pedestrians. I have even spotted an electric skateboard whizzing down the bike riding track with the occupant, unbelievably, also holding his phone up at eye level as he sped along. I feared for his safety among the serious lycra-clad Armstrongs, their helmeted heads down and their tails in the air, intent on their own personal Tour de Lance. They seem reluctant to shift or slow down for anyone.

A promenade (as in NewQuay Promenade) is, by definition, a public area set aside as a pedestrian walkway. Attached to posts on our promenade at NewQuay are signs reminding cyclists of this fact and urging them to ride slowly. But slow riders are very much the exception. A rarity, in fact. All bike riders seem stubbornly reluctant to check their momentum. They weave around pedestrians, heedless even of the children who frequently play among the white sculptures outside the waterfront Berth restaurant.

There are also signs on the promenade banning motorbikes. These have certainly succeeded in keeping the Hondas, Harleys, Suzukis and Kawasakis at bay. But perhaps we need a new definition of what constitutes a motorbike. A battery-powered electric motor between two wheels rather than petrol-power is, technically, a motorbike. Surely.

NewQuay is the most vibrant of Docklands’ four precincts. It has the best amenities, restaurants and the most colourful street life. But I fear that it’s only a matter of time before there’s a casualty due to a silent, speeding, swooping cyclist. Heaven forbid, perhaps even a fatality.

So, join me in yelling “Slow down!” whenever you are swooped by a cyclist. If we all do it, we may eventually make a difference. After all, there are many more pedestrians in NewQuay than cyclists •

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