A few weeks ago we asked members to write to their local council and state government candidates asking them about their support for cycling. In response we had a number of people ask for some sample letters they could use as a basis for their own letters, so we’ve put together some examples kindly supplied for the purpose by other members.
Remember, it’s much less important exactly what you say than simply that you say it. Pick some issues of interest to you (either of your own or from our list of suggestions), or don’t even bother doing that — just tell your local candidates that you think supporting cycling is important, and ask them what they’re planning to do.
A few days after our previous post the Premier announced that the state election would be held on 24 March, and the local government elections delayed until 28 April. Obviously this makes the state election the immediate priority, but the local government elections aren’t far behind.
Lists of state election candidates for each party are available from the ALP, LNP and Greens, while combined lists are available from Wikipedia, Crikey and the ABC. If you’re not sure which electorate you’re in, check the ECQ’s maps.
Sample letter 1
Here’s one sample letter you might use as a basis for your own. It’s quite long, but of course you can add or remove things as you see fit:
As we approach the election, I, like many people who ride bicycles, would like to know the positions of my local candidates on important questions relating to making travelling by bike safer and thereby enabling more people to leave their cars at home.
As an active member of the Central Business District Bicycle User Group (CBD BUG), a key Brisbane cycling advocacy organisation, I am well aware of the importance of politicians in achieving outcomes for cyclists at the local level. These outcomes impact on the utility and safety of cycling, feeding into the health of our population, environment, community and economy. Some questions for you based on my principal concerns follow.
1. Driver competence – with a national review of driver training underway, I think it is extremely undesirable that Queensland drivers, whose competency/knowledge has not been tested in many years or even decades, are able to act as layman instructors for learner drivers. In Sweden, to train a learner driver a current driver must participate in refresher course with the learner driver they intend to instruct as a layman. This has the dual purposes of both refreshing the “old” driver and ensuring that they don’t impart their bad habits and lack of current knowledge to the learner driver. We know that many drivers have a very negative attitude to cyclists, and it is not even required of learner drivers that they are trained in awareness of cyclists. In no other hazardous activity can just anybody provide the training. What is your view on this refresher course for Queensland drivers?
2. Urban speed limit – it is very well established that limiting vehicle speeds is a key factor in improving road safety. During the last Christmas holidays it was stated in the media that police were are at their wits’ end trying to curb the skyrocketing level of bad driver behaviour. Drivers are ignoring speed limits, not only endangering and costing lives but also intimidating cyclists and pedestrians. I understand a large part of the problem is “pushing the limit”, that is, driving up to 10 km/h over the limit on the basis that it is “ok” because they won’t get caught. I am tired of drivers thinking they “own the road” because they are in a car, and that “physics matters”. I want our streets to be safe so we can rebuild our community. In many European cities the limit is 30 km/h in built up areas, but in Brisbane we regularly see relaxation of the 50 km/h limit to 60 km/h. What are your views on reducing the default speed limit for built-up areas to 30 km/h?
3. Bike route connections – in surveys of what matters to people to take up cycling, again and again it is found that people want safe and more direct cycling routes. This means the roads need to be safe in most places, because bikeways are often indirect and slow. However we routinely find bike lanes on roads are built below standard, being too narrow, or having pinch points where cars go too fast to be able to react. How well do you know the bikeways in your electorate and what is your plan for their further development?
4. Road rules – cyclists are very conscious of the bias against cyclists throughout the road rules. I strongly suggest that with the growing participation in cycling and the lofty goals for increasing the share of cycling in local trips, the time is right to review the road rules to remove the provision that create additional and unnecessary risk and inconvenience for cyclists. I have a number of specific concerns but feel the right way to address it is to look at how the rules serve cycling, as a major review. One key change I seek is to adopt “strict liability”, present in several countries where cycling has been accorded a higher priority than has been the case so far than in Australia. This would mean drivers would have a default duty of care and responsibility towards cyclists, which currently the law allows them to evade regularly. Do you support a review of the road rules to make them cyclist friendly?
5. Red light running – I often hear motorist criticism of cyclists that they “run red lights”. A recent study by the Amy Gillett Foundation found that around 6% of cyclists ran red lights, in nearly all cases turning left when there was no one around. As road users we notice that on pretty much every light change, motorists are speeding up on the yellow, rather than trying to stop. They are driving through red lights with impunity, yet all I hear is how badly cyclists behave. I can tell you, it is not cyclists endangering lives. What are you doing about motorists running red lights in your electorate?
I would be very grateful to hear your responses on these five questions, and also on any other points you feel are important for achieving the common goals of increasing the use of bicycles in transport.
Your cycling voter
Sample letter 2
Here’s another one, not quite so long, but still quite substantial:
As a voter in your electorate I look to you to support a sustainable future for Brisbane by advocating measures that would allow more residents, commuters and school-children, to choose active and public transport alternatives to the private motor vehicle. Even a small change of behaviour would lead to significant reductions in road trauma and illness from lifestyles that ignore the need for moderate exercise. Add these to lower pollution costs and lower government investment and debt costs as road construction is delayed or avoided and we can see the major benefits to Brisbane, Queensland and Australia of reducing private motor vehicle usage.
Governments at all levels have policies that aim to increase the importance of active and public transport, but in South East Queensland none of these have had any effect on the proportion of journeys taken by active and public transport. Real policies are needed, rather than the pretend policies of governments present and past.
The most significant advance that you could advocate is reduction of speed limits on local (non-arterial) roads within Brisbane from 50kph to 40 and ultimately 30, which is a speed at which a car is much less likely to kill a pedestrian or a cyclist, not to mention other motorists. This reduction would allow many thousands of would-be pedestrians and cyclists to use our roads as they are entitled to do, rather than being frightened to do so.
The second advance for active transport would be to support the overhaul Queensland Road Rules to remove the numerous bike rider hostile provisions e.g. dismounting to use pedestrian crossings and dangerous rights of way on multi-lane roundabouts.
I would appreciate hearing your personal thoughts on these matters, and what actions you will take if elected.
Sample letter 3
Don’t feel you have to write an epic letter like either of the above, though. Just a quick email of one or two lines is enough to make the point to your candidate that you cycle and you vote:
I live in your electorate and am trying to work out who to vote for at the upcoming election. One of the biggest issues for me is how to make Brisbane and the local area safer and more convenient for people to get around by bicycle. Could you please tell me what your plans are in this regard?
Or you could call their offices, or try to catch them at a local shopping centre or public event. Just don’t do nothing!