I thought this month I would talk bikes. Not only because this burst of beautiful spring weather would encourage anyone to dust off the old treddly and go for a ride, but also because I have just been to a bike conference in Melbourne called Bike Futures. It was two and a half days of being reminded why bikes are so important in the transport mix, and why not enough people choose to commute by bike. The conference was not attended by lycra wearing road warriors (unless they were in disguise), but by people determined to make bike commuting and recreational riding a larger share of the transport mix.
So what are the issues? Firstly, in real terms less people are cycling than 15 years ago. Yes in WA there has been an increase of 21% of people on bikes, but this has not kept up with the population increase of 44% in the same period. The conference was told that the two overwhelming reasons people say in interviews they do not commute by bike are ‘I can’t be bothered‘ and ‘I haven’t got time’. Well we have to find time to be bothered, for the first time ever the next generation’s life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents. All due to the epidemic of poor lifestyle, now the most serious first word Problem (as opposed to the humorous ones currently doing the rounds). Cycling is one sure fire way of helping to turn this around, a daily dose of modest exercise provides health benefits the medical industry simply cannot match. In WA for every 220 trips to work by car as the driver there are only 20 corresponding trips by bike. Imagine how much less traffic congestion there would be if some of those commuters chose to cycle? Improving cycling infrastructure is the cheapest and best way to address congestion on the roads, far better by orders of magnitude than building bigger and more roads.
Melbourne has got the message, they recently turned Princess Bridge, the entry to the CBD from St Kilda Road, from 4 lanes for vehicles into 2 lanes for vehicles and 2 separated bike lanes. As you can imagine there was a huge amount of pushback from motorists before it went ahead. The outcome was a rush hour travel time increased into the CBD measured in seconds, but a reduction in travel time out of the city measured in minutes. Cyclists and motorists alike are congratulating Melbourne Council for this initiative.
While ‘I can’t be bothered‘ and ‘I haven’t got time’ is the response when interviewed there are two more crucial reasons here in WA for poor cycling numbers, that seem on first assessment counter intuitive. They are lack of safety and compulsory helmet laws. Hop onto the internet and you will find endless sites dedicated to the adverse health effects of compulsory helmets. My personal belief is that for adults, helmets should be a personal decision, but where it is having an large negative effect is with bike hire and share schemes. Out of town, interstate and international travellers do not bring a helmet with them, rendering a severe disincentive to those most likely to use the schemes. If we are, as it seems committed as a community to compulsory helmets then fashion designers need to come up with some cool designs, and maybe a ‘roll up’ one that is easy to carry. One feels such a dork in those angular numbers that look like they were inspired by science fiction movies of the 1980’s. On safety, Melbourne applies the triple S principle, increased safety for cyclists through slower speeds and separated bike lanes. They believe 40kmh offers close to highest vehicle numbers per hour on congested streets, and a huge improvement in both accident numbers and severity. They are also removing car lanes to install ‘Copenhagen‘ style bike lanes. These are dedicated bike lanes that are placed between the footpath and parked cars. I suspect many accidents and near misses are due to drivers simply not being alert to cyclists, the frequent response of a driver after an accident is ‘I just didn’t see them’. Having cycling ingrained in our community psyche is a sure fire way of improving that, maybe increasing the number of cyclists will reduce the accident rate?
I bought my current bike 5 years ago, after fuelling up a Land-cruiser I was using for work, it took $140 of diesel, 5 minutes later I passed Mercer Cycles near Fremantle Hospital and they had a new 21 speed Malvern Star out the front for $120. A new bike for less than the price of a tank full of fuel, now that has to be good value. I urge each and every one of you who does not consider the bike first when going somewhere to dust off the old treddly, pump up the tyres and use it for all local trips. If you have not got a bike then get into a shop, or onto the internet and buy one, it will save you money, make you healthier and make our city a much better place to be.