Cycling Down Under

A new paper by John Pucher, Jan Garrard and Stephen Greaves titled, Cycling Down Under: A Comparative Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies in Sydney and Melbourne is now available in PDF format.

Melbourne fared much better than Sydney in the report, with double the bike mode share, better integrated bicycling infrastructure, and more extensive bicycling programs, advocacy, and promotional events.

The researchers found Sydney to be unusually bike-un-friendly, with Pucher quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “Whether I was a pedestrian or cyclist I found the level of the hostility of Sydney motorists worse than I had seen anywhere in the world.”

Considering the above, it’s not surprising that the researchers found bicycles are predominately used for sport in Sydney, whereas they’re generally used for a wider range of purposes in Melbourne.

The paper is to be published in the Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 18, 2010.

Cycling Down Under
Sydney Morning Herald

12 Responses to “Cycling Down Under”

  • Simon de Beauvoir says:

    Cycle sport is certainly popular in Sydney, but utility cycling is also commonplace and, despite the difficulties, cycle commuting is nevertheless still growing rapidly in popularity here, despite lagging behind Melbourne. Oh, here’s a relevant photo:

  • mike rubbo says:

    John Pucher’s comment in his report about the state of war in Sydney, is making waves. As you’ve seen, it was on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. But for me, nobody is getting at root causes of the hatred The problem goes back to the introduction of compulsory helmets in the early nineties.

    Other countries, sensing, helmets might have a serious downside, did not follow our lead. The negative was surmised to be a drop in cyclist numbers, which did occur, dramatically, around 30% drop.

    But even worse and not mentioned, is that the helmet law worked like a selective herbicide. It killed off utility cycling, drove off the roads people who were used to cycle to the shops, who felt perfectly safe and saw no reason why they had to wear a helmet.

    These riders just dropped out of the cycle force when the law came in, leaving standing all those riders who actually love helmets, the sports cyclists.

    The result has been the growth of an out-of-control mono cycle culture here, all sport speed and leisure.

    Lathered in the ubiquitous Lycra, these are riders prefer roads and almost enjoy the present war. Enjoy in the sense that they are always in training , even going to work. This means they need speed , need to run red lights, and regard motorists as slalom poles in their personal urban velodrome. If they have to thump cars from time to time, so be it.

    Naturally, they infuriate motorists who see no reason why the roads need to be a sort of sporting field for these speedsters.

    Meanwhile, everyone cries about the need for separated bike ways because, as John Pucher, points out, not feeling safe keeps most people off bikes .

    What’s no realized is that this massive lobby group, the mono culture, has no interest in separate paths Pucher says are essential since they would have to share them with slower riders. They are happy with the roads and they speeds these allow.

    This mean that our potentially most influential cyclists as a body do very little to bring about the sort of infrastructural change, the network of bike ways, which John Pucher says is essential.

    The shadow Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, a keen sports cyclist , always photographed in his Lycra and dark shades, belongs to this mono culture. So it’s no surprise to me that since assuming that job, he has said not one word about building more bike infrastructure as his priority.

    What to do? I think we have to promote a different image of the bike and rider, namely the stately European way of riding. Sit-up bikes do fly a different flag. Instead of saying; “get out of my way” which is what the sports cyclist signals, , these bike invite , “Come ride with me.”

    They ride slower as is the nature of the bike, and they ride safer because they see better and are seen better. If we can wrest the image of riding from the Lycronistas, we can begin to build a saner bike culture, one that’ s simply interested in getting from A to , B and not in staging the Tour De France all week long

    Some of this in my new film, Bike it or Not.

    Mike Rubbo.

  • Gerard Hogan says:

    I live and ride in Sydney. I haven’t ridden in other cities so don’t have a strong point of comparison, but I have never experienced the level of hostility Pucher describes. My work commute is about 10 miles each way and covers roads with and without bike lanes, shared paths and separated bike-specific lanes. Generally I find motorists accepting or at least tolerant of cyclists (although I should add that I was nearly taken out by a *street sweeper* on a roundabout the other day…).

    I think the more likely reason for the low rates of participation in Sydney are a combination of urban sprawl, the topographic issues cited on p10 and the perception of non-riders that it is dangerous. Almost every person I talk to at work about cycling first responds with “I could never do that – isn’t it dangerous?”. I do my best to convince them otherwise, but articles like the SMH one don’t help!

  • Brenda Borron says:

    I live in Victoria, Canada, where you see lots of cyclists because of our generally mild climate. We have a compulsory helmet law, and it doesn’t seem to have deterred people from using their bicycles. The main excuse for not riding is fear of traffic. We have a good cycling course (Can Bike) for handling traffic and road conditions, but the ones who need it most – the most fearful – are usually the ones who refuse to take it. We have some good multi-use, long-distance trails, but their cost places a limit on their number. What we have seen is a tremendous increase in the number of dedicated on-road bike lanes. I like these. I feel that at least I have my space, which is recognized by motorists, and on the whole our drivers are courteous. Should I fall, yes, I’m vulnerable, but at least I have my helmet, which has saved my head on more than one occasion! Nothing’s perfect, but here it’s pretty good!

  • randomray says:

    While I always wear a helmet and encourage others to , I think it should be personal choice after age 18 . I find there are some problems with bike paths . They don’t go where I want to go , another is they end up with lots of non-cyclists on them that get in the way of even slow cyclists like myself . Around here we have bike paths to nowhere that just drop you off at a random high traffic road or make you take twice the distance up hills that exceed grades permitted on roads . Only runners or walkers use them .

  • mike rubbo says:

    Gerard, I’m a bit outside Sydney, but like you, I never experience hostility. I think it’s a lot to do with the way one “presents’”

    That’s why I suggest that riding a sit-up bike as I do, looking like an Amsterdammer, I fly a different flag it i can put it that way. I can easily, and do, make eye contact with drivers.

    My upright position, and I mean really upright, also means that I can easily monitor my rear view mirror and act defensively when i see a P plater or a wobbly driver, coming up behind me.

    When we get vast nos. of people using these sit up-bikes to get from A to be, we’ll have a much calmed situation, I believe.

    But how to overcome the perception that they are less efficient and unacceptably slow? They are not, of course , or millions of Europeans would not ride them in all sorts of conditions, nor would they be the choice of every bike share scheme in the world, the Velibs in Paris, the Bixis in Montreal and now in London, which all use them exclusively

    These bikes have a perception problem in Australia which I’m trying to break through in this film, Bike it or not, which I mentioned above. What’s your opinion on this, Gerard and one who rides here with me?

  • AdamM says:

    I’ve not read this report yet, but will do so with interest, so here are my personal reflections on cycling in Sydney having recently moved here from London where I commuted (not in lycra) for 7 years.

    Firstly, I have been dumbstruck by the poor standard of driving generally in Australia, which is not at all limited to driver’s interactions with cyclists. London’s roads are much narrower and more heavily used than any in Sydney, yet I felt much safer there than in Sydney even 7 years ago when there were far fewer cyclists than there are now. Australian drivers in general seem to be largely unaware of what is happening around them, even when not using a mobile phone! Excessive speed and following too closely are also rife, in my experience.

    The geographical problems with Sydney’s urban sprawl are a major factor influencing my cycling now. In London I cycled everywhere and for everything. Now, in order to be able to afford to buy my own home I am living 35km away from where I work, which means at best, I’ll be cycling to and from work twice a week, with the journey split over two days. This is partly due to the effort involved, but primarily the time factor, as cycling home means I get there after my son goes to bed. It also means I’ll be wearing lycra for this commute, not because I want to but because it’s the most sensible option for a ride of that length which I have to do as fast as possible (it’s already a 90min ride, I don’t have time for it to be 2 hours).

    On the upside, my office provides secure bike parking in dedicated rooms as well as showers, so the long commute is at least practical from that perspective.

    The way in which Sydney’s suburbs are laid out also has an effect on my travel. The love affair with centralised large shopping centres rather than smaller local community shops necessarily increases travel distances and I’ve yet to see much in the way of cycle parking provision at them, thus encouraging car use. Meanwhile, the increasing focus on multilevel apartment buildings for inner city living can make cycle ownership more difficult in terms of finding somewhere to keep it at home.

    Overall, my initial impressions of Sydney are that it is a bloody awful place to be a cyclist. the distances are too great, the drviers appalling and in summer the weather just too hot. It won’t stop me riding a bike, but it has taken a lot of the pleasure out of it.

  • JIm Nariel says:

    Never been cycling down under but would love to try it. Good article BTW

  • mike rubbo says:

    Adam, what a woeful situation you are in. I gather there is no train station nearby which you can bike to?

    You’ll just have to move closer in, expensive as that will be. I have some super bike initiatives in the works in the Canada Bay council area. Come live there and be part of the action to come. Mike

  • AdamM says:

    Mike, I wouldn’t go so far as to say woeful. Although it’s far from the lifestyle I thought I might have when leaving London.

    The wife would love to live in balmain or Rozelle, but unfortunately, moving anywhere near Canada Bay is financially impossible if we want to own our own home (as distinct from owning an apartment). I also have 6 bikes, which therefore means I need a garage. And with Sydney property prices doing what they have, buying ain’t easy.

    The easiest public transport solution is a 10 min walk and then a 40 min bus ride to the office. It’s a very easy (too easy) alternative to cycling and soon to be cheaper than taking the overcrowded trains. Of course, in my perfect world, the M2 buses would have bike racks on the front so I could cycle to work every day and catch the bus home, thus being home in time to feed my son before he goes to bed. Such bus equipment doesn’t seem to exist in Australia though.

    The fact is that long commute times are an inevitable consequence of the urban sprawl of Australian cities and the desire of people (myself included) to not live in shoebox apartments or poorly designed town houses.

  • Paul Martin says:

    (Apologies for the long post but I hope this all helps)

    I am a 36 year-old medical specialist and I deal with road trauma in an operating theatre environment occasionally. When I was a child I used to cycle my BMX bicycle to school and to friends’ houses after school. The bicycle racks were full and injuries were extremely rare; in fact, they were largely confined to people doing silly things on their bikes and the injuries were mostly peripheral (broken wrists, grazes, etc. No serious head injuries).

    I cycled at university and helmet laws were introduced. Almost immediately there was a drop-off in cyclist numbers, particularly ‘normal’ people and many women and children. I, at the time, was one of the cyclists not killed off by the herbicide as Mike Rubbo quite appropriately put it – I was a lycra-clad fast racing cyclist who cycled quickly to university and would ‘train’ on the roads. The compulsory helmets didn’t bother me personally.

    Compulsory helmets really bother me now though. Firstly, I have read many good articles on bicycle helmets and there is just no credible evidence that they really prevent serious head injuries – cuts and bruises, sure, but not serious injury. They are certainly not in the same category as motorcycle helmets but if authorities were serious about head injury reduction, they would be. But then what cyclist would wear a motorcycle helmet!

    Secondly, it has killed off an enormous part of the cycling community – women and children – which, with hindsight, is a terrible loss. They still cycle of course, but it is either for ‘fun’ on a weekend, on the bike paths that don’t really go anywere, or for sport – and you’ll be hard pressed seeing this group ever cycle on the roads.

    What we need is quality infrastructure which positions cycling as a sensible form of transport. Good bike paths, direct routes, priority at intersections, etc. Only once this is in place, and the ‘normal’ people return to cycling as a utilitarian exercise (to the shops, to school, etc) will it ever be safer to cycle on the roads. Bicycle safety isn’t high visibility vests and helmets, it is safe routes away from motorised vehicles.

    We also need proper utility bicycles on sale here. I note that they are appearing (Gazelles for one) and that sales are increasing. These are the type of bike that the world rides (China, Europe, Japan) for utility – Situp Bikes as Mike Rubbo calls them on his wonderful Australian blog –

    I have one of the utility bikes now and it is what I choose to ride every day – I love it. I cycle in normal clothes and can do almost anything on it that I would need my car for. I also cycle almost exclusively on bike paths and footpaths in Brisbane as there is little safe room on the road.

    I also do not wear a helmet.

    I have found a wonderful site which looks at Dutch cycling infrastructure from an ex-pat Englishman’s perspective – highly recommended:

    A few comments in reply to others:

    @Brenda Borron
    Where you say: Should I fall, yes, I’m vulnerable, but at least I have my helmet, which has saved my head on more than one occasion!

    I can assure you that if you fall onto the road and your head is hit by a car, the little styrofoam lid is going to do little to save your life. When you say it has “saved your head”, may I suggest you have a read of this:

    I can really empathise with your position and it is sad that this society of ours lets you down. This is a problem with the way our society has headed for the past 40 years. It is not too late to change it. We have had access to cheap oil and as a result have built poor quality houses in the middle of nowhere, that require residents to travel great distances to their workplace – almost always by car, by necessity. This doesn’t happen in the old world, or where oil is expensive. At least you don’d live in the USA – it is even worse there and they’re heading for a brick wall.

    My solution is different to the solution the politicians seem to like. They either want massive highrises or more urban sprawl – one extreme or the other. What we need is a more village-like inner city suburb structure, with local shops (no large centres) and medium density housing. Townhouses are perfect for this and they can be wonderful but many are poorly designed.

    We live in a 100m2 townhouse in Brisbane and it is more than enough, but it was designed and built by an architect, not a building company and it was no more expensive in the end than the rubbish out there. It has the benefits of both a house and a unit and has been designed to take advantage of passive cooling and heating – we can count the numbers of times we’ve turned on the heating/cooling on one hand in the past 12 months. The windows, the awnings, the spaces and volumes are all there for a reason, not just to look fancy, but most of the trades just moaned during its construction. I’ve never had such a low power bill. Architects are fading away which is sad and many that are left just give in to clients demands for more, more more (for less money though)! What we need is more quality and less quantity, but only a profession that understands how a building really works can help there…

    These areas all need high quality outdoor public spaces (parks, etc) for people to enjoy. The world of cheap oil has meant that we are less sociable on the whole – people don’t go to the movies, they use their ‘home theatres'; they don’t play in the park, they play in their own backyard; they don’t go to the public pool, they swim in their own. This is all made possible because all of this is ‘cheap’ for us by world standards – but we do pay, eventually, as you’re finding out with your long commute.

    The other solution is to stop making people feel as though they’ve failed for not owning their own home. There is nothing wrong with renting but we need to improve the relationship between tenants and landlords – long term leases are commonplace in European countries. There needs to be some give and take from both sides and we can all be happier!

    James Kunstler gave an excellent talk at TED (I can recommend you read his book ‘The Long Emergency’) about this. Well worth a look:

    I agree that many cycle paths lead to nowhere or they simply meander through parks. These are of little use to the cyclist that wishes to cycle as a serious alternative to the car. Your concern about people getting in the way on shared paths is misdirected. Pedestrians have every right to be there but perhaps the problem is that the shared path is far too narrow in the first place, thus making it unpleasant and dangerous for all. Again, the infrastructure needs improving.

    Kind regards and happy cycling,

    Dr Paul Martin

  • Angus Kingston says:

    I used to live in Sydney where I commuted by bike a bit but did drive and I know I wouldn’t want to be out on some of those roads (Parramatta Rd etc).

    I draw your attention to recent broadcasts on Radio National. Australia Talks ‘Cycling Safety Talkback and Background Briefings ‘ On Road Cycling’ … then of course you might have seen 60 Minutes on Sunday that wasn’t as anti-cycling as on might have expected but still a little sensationalised –

    Now in Adelaide things are a lot better – due to city size, better planning and a massive number of cyclists due to a great riding environment. Saying that things can always get better and as we are upon an election the ALP has released their statement just today on greenways and cyclepaths. I haven’t read it yet but at least it is an election issue!

© 2011 EcoVelo™