Image: Sydney Cycleways
Previously I wrote about Australia’s biggest bike count, Super Tuesday, which I participated in earlier this year. Well, the results are in!
Melbourne and Sydney are going gangbusters, but the big story according to the event organiser, Bicycle Network, is that less than a quarter of Australia’s bike riding population are women:
“Women are considered an ‘indicator species’ of the health of the riding environment – the more women who are commuting by bike, the better the bike facilities. In the top international cycling cities women comprise more than half of all commuting riders. This is thought to be because women are generally more risk averse, with safe bike infrastructure being a prerequisite for riding.”
How did Lake Macquarie and Newcastle fare?
Not so good. We had a drop in the number of cyclists at the count sites: -2% and -16% for Lake Macquarie and Newcastle respectively, though Newcastle had more women cycling than the NSW state average, which is good stuff. The drop in numbers overall is strange as it was a fine, sunny morning on the day of the count. Still, we must remember its the long-term average, combined with other data sets*, that gives us the best indication of ridership rates. Perhaps there was some event on the count day that produced an anomaly, who knows?
More importantly, we know the number of commuting cyclists is still low relative to other transport modes.
Why does this matter? There are many reasons, but there is one very BIG reason.
This week there was an article in the Newcastle Herald about the Hunter region’s incredible obesity rates, with one third of the population obese.
How many of us are guilty of jumping in the car to pick up something from the shops less than a 5 minute drive away? We need to rethink how we value time. Time is money, yes, but how we use our time clearly affects our health. Imagine if everyone replaced 1 in 5 car trips less than 2km by biking or walking. Now imagine 2 in 5 trips. 3 in 5. More.
To achieve this, we need to make these modes inviting. This means safe, sheltered, pleasant, convenient, direct. Street trees for shade in the hot summer. Lighting and populated streets and places for safety. A smooth footpath without trip hazards. A bike lane protected, separated, from the traffic. It means you should be able to cross the road without fear for your children’s lives.
Infrastructure like this will help tackle the obesity crisis by making it more inviting and enjoyable for people to walk and cycle. For bicycling, a network is paramount to ensure people feel safe getting all the way from A to B in one piece.
Hopefully Super Tuesday 2016 will see an increase in the number of people commuting by bike. And if you’re a ‘sometimes’ rider, consider getting out on the count day to help show the government that more and more people are cycling!
In the coming months we’ll explore how other Australian cities fared in the count.
*The Super Tuesday count mainly captures morning commuters and some morning recreational cyclists. The data complements data generated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics on cycling activity.