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Cycling is no longer safe, unless attitudes change

THE tragic death of the 13-year-old boy Damianos Pachy, who was hit by a car while cycling with friends on a country road on Wednesday, has sparked accusations that the police had done nothing to protect cyclists. Chairman of the cyclists’ association, Giorgos Apostolou, said the police were going after cyclists, seeing them as a traffic problem, instead of educating drivers to show more consideration to people on bicycles.

This is easier said than done, but there seems to be a problem that will only get worse if it is not addressed. A week earlier, a 33-year-old cyclist was also killed, after being hit from behind by a car, strengthening the case of those protesting about the lack of measures. While denying that police were not doing enough, a spokesman conceded that a “change in mentality and culture is needed.” And the police will do what is expected of them – they will hold a meeting next week to explore what could be done to improve road safety for cyclists.

It was rather unfair though, to place all responsibility for unsafe roads for cyclists on the police. The police could be tougher on drivers putting cyclists at risk, if they see them, but the government has the main responsibility for making roads safer for cyclists. The police cannot decide the creation of bicycle lanes on our streets, for instance, because that is a decision for the executive. A much broader policy than what is in the powers of the police is needed.

Over the years, the authorities have completely ignored the existence of cyclists on the road because there were so few of them. This is in contrast with 30 to 40 years ago when all youngsters used a bicycle to go everywhere. Admittedly, roads were safer back then because there were much fewer cars on the roads. Nowadays, few parents allow their children to use bicycles on our chaotically busy roads, so the safety of cyclists was not an issue for the authorities.

There has been a surge in the popularity of the bicycle in recent years, primarily among health-conscious adults who consider cycling good exercise; it is also a cheap and clean means of transport that poses no parking headaches for users. In fact, the authorities should consider launching campaigns for bicycle use as it could ease the congestion on our roads. Of course, first, the roads must be made safer, and the idea of establishing bicycle lanes looked at.

According to one press report, a bill, governing the rights and obligations of cyclists and setting rules of behaviour towards bicycles by drivers, has been at the legislature since 2011 awaiting approval. Hopefully, the tragic deaths of the two cyclists would persuade deputies to get working on finally approving the bill, while the ministry of transport and police could start work on campaigns to change the road behaviour of car drivers.

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