Sunday, 16 February 2014


Our family recently had a beach day with close friends. While the children were doing their thing, we dads were staying cool by standing in the sea. Dad 2 told me about a book well worth reading; by Don Miguel Ruiz, it is called "The Four Agreements". Without spoiling the book I can tell you the four agreements are these: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best. It's the how and why you should do these things that make the book worth reading.

I haven't read it - yet - and so I am in so position to comment on what it all means. If I tried, I would most certainly be breaking the third agreement about not making assumptions.

But you can see assumptions being made all of the time. On a topic I am interested in, there was an article not long ago on the local newspaper site. Despite our unique in the world life-saving mandatory helmet laws, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people on bicycles killed or injured in the last decade. If you go by the comments, the answer to all of the carnage is bike registration.

Another article (in which the headline set out clearly the assumption) spoke about the daily "battle" on our roads. The answer to that one, suprisingly, is the same.

And then on top of that, I was driving one day just after the new year and listening to talkback in the morning. The usual guy was away so they had a stand-in - quite a well known radio personality. I got the impression that it was not a busy day and that the lady who had rung in and was talking was the only one. She had almost a free run to talk about all of her gripes.

All the usual topics were there and it did not take long for her to get to "those" cyclists. Billions of dollars were spent on thousands of kilometres of bike lanes - which were never used - and roads were narrowed everywhere because of it. What made it worse is that the idiot presenter did not challenge or question any of it. I thought about pulling over and responding but there is honestly no point.

From my very helpful discussion in the sea, a couple of things can be said about all the garbage on the comments pages and on talkback radio. The first is that it should not be taken personally. Even though it seems to be targeted personally it is not. What we are reading and hearing is a whole bunch of assumptions and out-group homogeneity bias. Which leads to the second point - when you hear and read this stuff, how many assumptions are being made?
  • Is there a "battle"?
  • Will registration reduce injuries?
  • Does everyone run red lights?
  • Do motorists pay for roads?
  • Is removing parking bad for business?
Just on the topic of that last one, you might think just a little bit of research or just looking around might reveal an answer to that one. This is Magill Road on a Saturday afternoon:

It is one of the main arterial roads travelling east-west and linking the eastern suburbs with the CBD. It has two lanes each side and a speed limit of 60 km/h. As you can guess, during rush hour traffic does not reach anywhere near that speed. At other times of the day, cars can park on the outer lanes as you see in the picture. Now the picture shows just part of the road - a group of shops. You can see seven cars parked. You could maybe fit 8 or 9 along that stretch.

The stretch consists of about 6 businesses - let's call it 8 or 9 to be generous. That means one car per business. Let's be generous again and assume that each car brought five people. If our assumption is correct, that means five people per business (those people arriving and leaving together) as long as the cars are parked there. And we don't know how long they will be there. For all we know, the occupants could have nipped across the road to the pub for a couple of pints.

Is it really that good for business or is there perhaps another more effective way of getting people to come past?

Note also how the road is too narrow for anything but four lanes of motorised traffic.

Assumptions. Not only that but as we all do most of the time, when you call into talkback or put a comment on a news article, you are generally having a conversation with yourself. A bit like writing your own blog.

Toltec wisdom says ignore it and don't take it personally. Although 300-odd comments on one article seems like a lot, in reality it isn't. And many of those comments are from the same people. I know I posted about 5 while I was having a conversation with myself. For all we know, we're looking at a single bus-load of people.

I should say I am equally guilty. I remember standing at a bbq talking about an airline, how crap it is and how it could easily use larger aeroplanes for busy morning and afternoon flights. A short discussion with someone who had just a basic idea revealed just how little I knew (zero) and how much of what I was saying was just a bunch of garbage I had invented while talking to myself. Stopping, listening and properly researching can sometimes pay handsome dividends.

We should simply ignore all of that white noise on talkback and on the whingers pages of the newspaper. Speak to most people and they support changes. The objectors I think are a loud minority.

Rather than trying to answer the repeated nonsense based on false assumptions and biases, the focus of course needs to be on decision makers. Each time a transport plan or other change is the subject of consultation, we should write our own submission. There is no end of well written supportive argument. Just go to any of the blogs in the top right hand corner. Two quick examples: Charles Sturt Council is inviting submissions on its transport plan for the north west (due date in 7 March). The closing date for submissions on the State Government's Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan has passed but hey, there's no harm in writing anyway even if you're late.

From hearing one of the responsible people speak one day, I can tell you they really want this feedback.

That clever fellow Dr Behooving recently published a post on Cycle-Space that made a similar point about targeting decision makers. I promise I did not copy. I have been mulling over this for some time. Honest. I think it is just another case of odd (but not necessarily great) minds thinking alike.

Can I also say that I would have no problem at all with bicycle registration. I would have no difficulty putting a small licence plate on my rear mudguard (just don't try and force me to wear a plastic fluoro jacket with the licence number on it). But please do not try and kid yourself that licensing cyclists will all of a sudden change things.