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A view from the Sydney Bike Future

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So what the hell am I doing here? Well . . . .I thought I would come along to see what the various cycling groups and government bodies are doing  to improve the acceptance and safety of riding a bike in our city.

Unfortunately, what I found instead was a plethora of information and ideas with an abject absence of funded plans to do anything with them. 

Here are a couple of key facts which probably wont surprise any-one:-

  • The estimated cost of congestion in Sydney was $12.8bn last year
  • 60% off Sydneysiders are Obese or Overweight
      • Active travel (Walking, cycling) has dropped from 80% in 1970 to just 25% today
  • Only 15% of cyclists in Sydney are Women compared to 35% in other large cities
      • 89% state safety concerns as the main barrier
  • 1 in 5 drivers have NO understanding of cycling road use laws (eg 2 abreast)
      • Another 3 in 5 have a vague understanding

These simple and commonly accepted statistics tell us there are two issues we need to solve:-

  1. Australians are getting more and more unhealthy and this is going to be a big problem for a health system already under pressure.
  2. Sydney’s population and its density are increasing, and its road infrastructure can’t handle the current load, let alone the forecast growth. Alternate solutions are required.

Hmmm. . . . . .I wonder if I can think of anything that would help us solve both problems? 

So why aren’t more people riding bikes? People don’t want to be unhealthy, no-one wants to sit in traffic!

Simple – They don’t feel safe or welcome on Sydney roads.

  • The infrastructure isn’t there to support them
  • The other road users aren’t tolerant or understanding of cyclists and the law
  • There is no desire on the part of our law makers to make real investment – that cycling is a real solution to the issues and requires them to lead the change.

So what else is the data telling us?

There is a lot of data out there, telling us where and how often people are riding. Check out City Future research site - https://cityfutures.be.unsw.edu.au/cityviz/cycling-sydney/

 

Bicycle Network also do annual Super Count days of commuter and weekend riders, and UNSW regularly completes studies and surveys of attitudes and usage. This, along with the Census data provides and wealth of information about who is riding where and when, as well as their experiences and inhibitors.

All of the data out there is fed to the government agencies to tell them exactly where to build the infrastructure for cyclists to use. In other words – no guessing whether it will be used, no expensive and long lasting ‘studies’ to suck up time and funding. Just government apathy and lack of will to do something with it in any significant sense.

Take the Protected Intersection as an example - specifically designed to make crossing safer for cyclists, providing buffers from cars, joining to separated cycle paths that run beside the road. (See below) They have been used successfully throughout Europe and now in the US. Here in Sydney, our separated bike path mostly end at the intersections, expecting cyclists to merge with traffic at precisely the most dangerous point of the trip. Why? So motorist can have slipways for turning. Practically these slipways are just car queues. And for the cyclist, no bike path at the intersection means the trip is simply too unsafe for most potential commuters. Melbourne has funded plans to build two trial intersections with this design in the next 12 months. Sydney has its head in the sand – no plans, no idea! The last thing it did was to start removing separated Cycle Paths.

 

One last little rant on e-Bikes from the dumb and dumber crew – our road laws are pretty clear – 200 watts without Pedal Assist and 250 Watts with Pedal Assist and you don’t need to get it registered. In fact – you can’t get it registered! National Parks laws however haven’t aligned to this, requiring all powered bikes to be registered before they can be ridden. In other words, a hole in the bureaucracy means you cant legally ride a Dirty e-Bike in a national park because two bureaucrats don’t talk. Discussions with said bureaucrats are ongoing . . . . .

 

It’s not all bad news though . . . .here is some of the good stuff happening. 

On the policy front, Greater Sydney Commission  seems quite pro cycling and are a funded research and advisory body for the government in its future planning and development. I recommend having a look and getting involved if you have the time. Their aim is to design a 30 minute city . . . .good luck with that!

Bicycle Networks Ride2School program is a real beacon for the future. They work with local community and schools to identify and develop safe routes for getting to school and encourage the kids to get more active with some awesome results. I REALLY encourage you to have a look at the program and get your school’s P&F association involved. 

Construction has also started on the Green Bridge last month, a dedicated Cycling and Pedestrian bridge over the Nepean river. It will be a while coming (Mid 2018) but a boon to those of us who have had to ride with the cars across the current bridge.

High quality End of Trip facilities are on the rise with their inclusion as a key rating point for new buildings looking for that 6 Star Green Rating. Having worked in the Barangaroo Tower development not long ago, I can support the difference they making in increasing the attractiveness of the daily commute.

 

 In Summary

I feel like we have made some great leaps forward in recent years with more bike paths and important new laws like the ‘Meter Matters’ legislation and campaign.

But these are getting old now, and the more recent changes like ripping out the bike path on College street, and one sided ‘nanny state’ fines for not having a bell on your bike are a good indication of a government which doesn’t take cycling as a serious solution to both the increasing population density and health issues being faced by our city.

So the Bike Future conference was full of good ideas, but sadly lacking in concrete commitments to do anything with them. The only way to change that will be for all of us who ride a bike, or want to ride a bike, to get in our local politicians ear about the lack of infrastructure and real commitment to making riding safer for every-one.

 

Author: Dayne Smithett of Two Monkeys cycling store Alexandria Sydney

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