Bicycles Network Australia's Christopher Jones discusses the future of cycle-culture in Australia

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Bicycles Network Australia's Christopher Jones discusses the future of cycle-culture in Australia
Bicycles Network Australia's Christopher Jones discusses the future of cycle-culture in Australia

Choosing a commute that will boost your happiness, fitness and your bank balance seems like a logical option. However, avid cyclist, Christopher Jones believes infrastructure improvement, cyclist safety and storage security are a few areas which need attention before more Australians ditch their cars anytime soon.

“Politicians and motorists tend to be fearful that by improving cycling infrastructure, it will disadvantage drivers. Instead, safer and convenient cycling infrastructure directly benefits motorists. Not only are there fewer vehicles and less congestion, but the traffic guidance is also clearer and safer for all road users.”

- Christopher Jones, Bicycle Network Australia Founder

Christopher Jones is the founder and author of Bicycles Network Australia – the country’s leading cycling platform, with 220,000+ monthly readers, and a thriving forum where passionate cyclists can connect and discuss pertinent topics. After noticing a significant trend towards amplified bicycle parking in brand new apartment developments, we reached out to Christopher Jones to find out whether Australian cities are equipped to cater to a reinvigorated cycling movement.

Urban.com.au: Have you noticed a growth in the cycling culture in Australia in recent years? Do you believe this could be due to environmental reasons?

Christopher Jones: Although Australia has a strong heritage in sports cycling, functional cycling is slowly coming back into favour because it can be the most convenient available travel option. The environmental benefits of cycling may still be a secondary benefit for many however consumers who are rethinking their lifestyles in the face of climate change (and taking action to reduce plastic waste or buying local produce), bike riding naturally aligns with the ideals of sustainability. On Bicycles Network Australia, we have recognised an interest in cycling for transport with the interest in the E-bike discussion forum and based on demand to create a new ‘Cargo and Utility Bikes” discussion forum.

U: Do you believe there are sufficient cycle tracks for commuting in Australia?

CJ: The state of cycling infrastructure in Australia is embarrassing when considering the comparatively low costs and wide-reaching benefits. With the exception of Canberra, Australian states/territories allocate less than 1.5% of their roads budget on cycling infrastructure. In New South Wales the combined budget of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is about 0.5% of the roads budget and Government doesn’t publicise how the money is actually spent. Without safe and convenient cycling infrastructure and facilities, travel by bike is simply not an option for people and the reliance on private vehicles remains. In Canberra, the spending on bicycle infrastructure is significantly higher than across the rest of the nation and the result is that there is also a higher percentage of people commuting by bike. As there are fewer cars, the roads are less congested and travel across the board (by car, public transport or bike) is more convenient for all. Some municipalities and regions such as Newcastle have however taken initiatives to improve local infrastructure for recreational and commuter bike riders. 

U: What are the best facilities new apartment developments could provide for cyclists?

CJ: Theft is a continuing risk for a bike owner, even when they have access to shared bike-storage rooms or private lockable cages. As a result, security precautions are also important and for apartments, this can include video surveillance, access control (to restrict access), permanent security attachments (such as rings/hoops to which a bike can chain) as well as screen/liners for cages to stop prying eyes from easily seeing personal contents. The adoption of utility bikes is increasing, for example, a family living in a city or town can replace a car with a cargo bike that has space to ferry young children about town and also go shopping. For these type of utility bikes, sufficient parking should be provided. A further consideration is that charging outlets for e-bikes should be provided. Electricity costs are marginal for e-bikes (typically a complete charge for an e-bike is well below 10 cents) so it would be reasonable to provide the e-bike battery charging outlets.

U: Which country do you believe best accommodates cyclists in terms of safety, routes and infrastructure/landscaping?

CJ: Holland and Denmark are world leaders in cycling infrastructure and social integration of cycling. Progressive transport, however, can also be very regional and in the example of San Francisco, the congestion prompted the city to move aggressively towards mixed-modal transport and reduce the reliance on private cars. 

U: You mentioned in an article on bicycles.net.au that "Infrastructure, and changing driver’s attitudes, are where we think the government needs to begin making a serious effort." What are some changes in government policy and infrastructure improvements that you would like to see made?

CJ: In 2013, the Australian Government published the 'Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport' report which shows that on a federal level they understand the benefits however they have not taken any substantial action.  Most of the transportation infrastructure is guided by State Government policy who traditionally prioritise private vehicles above all else. This needs to shift towards a mixed modal transport focus which is about providing people with accessible, convenient and sustainable transport options. The advantage is that this doesn’t simply take away private cars, rather it introduces other transport options such as improved public transport, pathing the way for electric cars and autonomous cars and building convenient and safe cycling infrastructure. The result is the transport balance is improved and it delivers option and convenience for people travelling.  To accomplish this, State Governments need to significantly increase their budgets for cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. They also need to be accountable and be able to show how the money has been spent. New road developments along with private developments and public facilities need to be evaluated for accessibility and end-of-trip facilities. Local councils need to be supported particularly for creating linked cycling networks the crossed different municipalities. In addition to spending, road user education is a significant challenge as there is a concerning trend of animosity towards bicycle riders; too many drivers do not drive with an awareness of bike riders (e.g. safe passing) and some behave dangerously. Road user education begins with “safe travel” curriculum in schools, continues through to licensing of new drivers and public safety messaging. Law enforcement needs to be improved so that traffic violations can be reported and that the police are proactive in enforcing the laws which protect the safety of bicycle riders. Financial incentives such as tax deductions for bike commuters would also encourage more people to travel by bike. And finally, following the lead of New Zealand, Australia has an untapped potential for cycle recreation and tourism. Increasing the availability and attractiveness of cycling for recreation goes hand-in-hand with functional cycling.

Thank you to Christopher Jones for providing insights and commentary. Lead image credit: Mark Haughton


THE LOW DOWN ON CYCLING

  • The Australian Bicycle Council took a look at the amount spent on cycling per capita in the years 2011 and 2016. They found that while there was no change in NSW, there was a substantial drop in Victoria and rapid increase for Northern Territories and ACT.

STATE20112016
NSW$10$10
VIC$11$7
QLD$15$17
SA$7$5
WA$12$14
TAS$2$9
NT$15$36
ACT$10$79

Source: The Conversation

A common reason for a lack of cycling infrastructure investment could be due to the anticipated effort associated with retrofitting our roads to accommodate cycle lanes.

"Our cities, which have some of the widest roads in the world, are supposedly too difficult to retrofit for walking and cycling. Many older cities overseas have redesigned much narrower streets for active transport."

- The Conversation, Cycling and walking are short-changed when it comes to transport funding in Australia

Bicycles Network Australia's Christopher Jones discusses the future of cycle-culture in Australia
  • Monash University recently embarked on a research study which saw 60 cyclists in Melbourne carry a MetreBox while riding to establish how closely motor vehicles would get to them in passing. Results found that one in every 17 passing events came within one metre of the cyclist, and 124 of the 18,500 passed with less than 60cm. In zones with a speed limit greater than 60kmph, almost one in every three passing cars was considered a 'close' pass. 

“We know that vehicles driving closely to cyclists increases how unsafe people feel when riding bikes and acts as a strong barrier to increasing cycling participation."

- Dr Ben Beck, Monash University's Deputy Head of Prehospital, Emergency and Trauma Research and President of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network 

The study concluded that in order to keep cyclists in Australia safe, there would need to be something more substantial installed as opposed to a strip of paint on the road.

  • Cycling two abreast (side by side) is currently legal across the country and encouraged by authorities, despite its controversy.

  • Car spaces within an apartment building can add anywhere up to $100,000 to the cost of your apartment. While many people specifically require motorised vehicles for a number of reasons, recent data shows that parking spaces outnumbered vehicles by approximately 40%, with up to one-third vacant residential parking spots.

  • There has also been a recent request by Bicycle Network to incentivise cycling to work, through the form of government grants. The request asked that commuters receive a government benefit of $5 for every trip made to work via bicycle.

  • Another recent study conducted found that of the 1,121 employees surveyed (based in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) felt more "relaxed, calm, enthusiastic, and satisfied with their commuting trips, and were more productive".

Will we see a shift from car-centric infrastructure to a 'complete streets' which incorporate cycling as a main mode of transport?

As dialogue regarding the safety and inclusivity of cycling is regularly brought up in the mainstream media, it's clear that there is room for improvement and investment. Newcastle Cycling Campaign Chair Sally Watson commented that she wouldn't let her children cycle in the designated lanes on the roads as they are not safe enough and don't give everyone the option of cycling if they wish to commute this way.

"We need to design cycling infrastructure that works for everyone, not just the 3% of the population who cycle already."

- Sally Watson, Newcastle Cycling Campaign Chair

The concept of complete streets is an infrastructure design which provides a safe and efficient way for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to navigate roads in a harmonious way. A great example of this is the Bondi Junction – Waverley Council in NSW engaged placemaking and urban design firm RobertsDay to design a Bondi Junction Complete Streets Strategy that would transform the area from car-centric to people-centric.

Bicycles Network Australia's Christopher Jones discusses the future of cycle-culture in Australia
Bondi Junction Complete Streets NSW. Credit: RobertsDay

The strategy involved a 20-year masterplan, however, a pop-up demonstration enabled residents to experience what the transformative project could be like. The trial resulted in 60% of retailers reporting an increase in business in the first 3 months, and the project received overwhelming support from the public. 

What infrastructure upgrades would you like to see made in Australia? Share your opinion in the comments.

Lead image credit: Mark Haughton

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