Here Comes Another Annoying Crackdown in NSW

This time it's cyclists. From Tuesday fines for minor offences will rise, including a $106 price on riding without a valid ID.

29 February 2016, 12:00am

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Getting fined on a bike in NSW is about to get a whole lot more expensive. As of March 1, riding without an ID will cost $106, up from $71. Riding without a helmet or while holding onto a moving vehicle will incur a fine of $319. The fine for running a red light will be $425.

In anticipation, NSW Police ran a bicycle infringement blitz across Sydney on Thursday. The pompously named Operation Pedro 5 targeted Surry Hills, Redfern, Bondi Junction, and Bondi Beach where over 450 penalties were issued for a range of offences. According to this media release 210 cyclists were sprung without helmets, while 80 were caught riding on footpaths. Another 103 disobeyed traffic lights.

Police claim that the crackdown comes after seven cyclists died on NSW's roads last year. As NSW Traffic and Highway Patrol Commander, Assistant Commissioner John Hartley, said in a media release issued Friday morning after the blitz, "We are out there to make sure all road users share the road safely and that those that set out on their journey, make it home in one piece."

This is a reasonable goal, but in the same way that curbing street violence has unintentionally poured water over Sydney's nightlife, cyclists are worried what jacked-up fines will do to cycling. Pablo Columbi, a Redfern resident and director of bicycle courier company Urbanmind witnessed police pulling over several cyclists last week. He claims there was a general lack of manners about it, and an abundance of aggression. "I don't have anything against helmets but I don't understand the anger behind it," he said. "Why do they have to punish like this? Like a communist dictatorship?"

Columbi says he's heard similar accounts from others. A friend of his was stung Thursday for riding over the speed limit down a hill, which just seems a little uncompromising given most bikes don't have speedometers. "I feel like this is pushing Sydney cycling backwards," he said.

Sydney has half as many cyclists as Melbourne, which is a phenomenon US professor John Pucher wrote a paper about last year. He concluded Sydney polices cycling in such a way that discourages people from riding, and believes mandatory use of helmets actually encourages people to ride faster. As he told the Sydney Morning Herald, "I would be in favour of doing away with the helmet use law for adults."

Some research even questions the value of helmets at all. Back in May 2014 Dr. Henry Marsh, a neurosurgeon at St. George's Hospital in London, told the Telegraph that many bicycle helmets are "too flimsy" to be effective in preventing injury. He also highlighted research from 2006 at the UK's University of Bath that said the cyclists wearing helmets enhances the possibility of accidents, as drivers on average get three inches closer to cyclists wearing helmets.

Thursday's blitz occurred days before laws are set to officially change, but it also happened only days after one of Sydney's largest protests for Keep Sydney Open. The previous Sunday saw 15,000 people march against lockout laws that have flat-lined Sydney's nightlife.

The laws in each case are obviously different, but the overarching theme is NSW's increasing reliance on paternalistic regulation enforced with fines and over-policing. Sydney is slowly becoming a very annoying place to live.

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