Cycling in the doldrums: Hansard 23 June 2021

A strong political wind would push cycling forward in Canberra. The lack of political will has left cycling in the doldrums. ACT Transport’s paradigm lags behind best practice. A “one size fits all” approach fails to recognise that different modes of transport have different needs.

Why culture matters: We can link this one straight back to Australia’s metaculture. We consider ourselves to be “egalitarian’, whatever that means. However, “fairness is not sameness”!

The doldrums

“The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.”

Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth, Random House, 1961

The Intertropical Convergence Zone is where the trade winds from the northern and southern hemispheres converge and, as they meet, the air rises, leaving a sailing ship stuck without wind. Spending days becalmed, leaves many sailors feeling dull and depressed: the doldrums.

Low cycling countries

Why it matters: Low cycling countries are countries where using a bike for transport for normal daily activities is not common. In low cycling countries the share of those travelling daily with the bike daily is just a few percent of the population, compared to high cycling countries, where it sits between 10-30%.

By the numbers: Canberra is a low cycling city. The cycling participation has hovered around 3% of daily trips for decades. Compare this with driving, which makes up over 80% of all commutes (2018 ACT Transport Strategy). Over 80% of ACT households possess at least 1 or 2 cars (ABS, 2016). Just a few percent of Canberra households are without a car. Bicycle ownership is much lower than car ownership, and it is probably safe to assume that many of those bikes are not ready to ride for lack of maintenance.

In the ACT (2017), most trips were in a car (77.6%) either as a driver (54.7%) or passenger (22.9%). Walking was 13.6% of the trips, bus 4.3% and cycling 2.4%.

2017 ACT Household Travel Survey

Wind in the sails

Going deeper: Cycling in the ACT is politically in the doldrums, as there is not much to be won due to a severe lack of wide-spread community activism, and without any real debate during the last 2020 ACT Election regarding cycling. Cycling remains on the “nice to have” list in the 2020 ACT Legislative Agreement, with no commitment from ACT Labor beyond what little has already been promised.

Future focus: To give cycling a real boost, the political wind needs to change. Political leadership creates a movement that will carry cycling forward, inject investment in off-road cycle networks, and introduce change leadership. Culturally, Canberra has an ‘immature’ car culture. We would like motorists to ‘see cyclists as human beings’ and to give them the respect they deserve as vulnerable road users. The recent bill introduced into the ACT Legislative Assembly is systematic of the need for change.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798.

What they’re saying: Minister for Transport, Chris Steel, reiterates at every opportunity that more roads are a panacea for Canberra’s woes. He has yet to understand that cities built for the motor car is a failed 20th century experiment. To future proof our cities, we need to take a different approach. We need to change the paradigm from fast to slow cities. You cannot build your way out of congestion!

What to do: To encourage cycling commuting between town centres, we must reserve direct routes and build world standard cycle highways between them. This is the essence of reserving and preserving cycle corridors and building a network for cyclists that is designed around the characteristics of a bicycle and priorities of a cyclist. A network of cycle highways is much faster and cheaper to build, as we do not need to build any roads. Recent projects in the ACT would indicate duplicating a road costs 30 times as much per kilometre than a cycleway.

Beating the drum

Transport Minister Chris Steel’s speech from the Hansard, ACT Legislative Assembly, Wednesday, 23 June 2021.

Our government is also investing in strategic transport corridors which support our city’s growth. As I have said before, when we build roads, we are actually establishing the backbone upon which we deliver all forms of transport for Canberrans. Our roads connect our new suburbs to the rest of our city, they provide routes for our buses to drive along, they provide the direct connections between key locations for our shared path network to follow and they are increasingly used by Canberra’s expanding zero emissions vehicle fleet.

Without these strategic transport corridors, residents in our new communities would be disconnected from the services and facilities that all other Canberrans enjoy, and isolated from different transport options that help make Canberra a liveable place. That is why we are building the last stage of John Gorton Drive, extension 3C, and a new bridge over the Molonglo River, to better connect residents of the growing Molonglo Valley to the city and Belconnen. The new bridge will be equipped with on-road cycle lanes and an off-road shared path and will accommodate future stages of light rail.

Transport Minister Chris Steel, Hansard, ACT Legislative Assembly, Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Chris Steel would have us believe we need only build more roads and attach pedestrian and cycling infrastructure to it. The design of the corridor and road itself is from the motorist mindset – looking through a windscreen, as a driver, and not the view seen from the saddle. The result of such thinking is that the infrastructure is good for motorist but poor for cyclists. Canberra’s roads were never designed for cyclists.

A state or period of stagnation or depression.

Definition of doldrums. Lexico.com.
‘How much space we give to cars!’
(by Karl Jilg for the Swedish Road Administration).

The new paradigm

Behavioural insights: A new paradigm is essential. High cycling countries promote the idea “Think 3“. The infrastructure for the pedestrian, cyclist and car have to be separated from each other. Networks suitable for walking, cycling, and driving have different, specific requirements. The purpose, the design, and the experience of the user is different. Pedestrians, cyclists, and cars move at different speeds (5 km/h, 20 km/h, and 80 km/h). The speed differences make conflicts between the groups dangerous and – if for not any other reason – each must have its own infrastructure. The characteristics (physics) of a bicycle and car are very different and cannot be compared to the experience of pedestrians walking, and more broadly, the disabled, very young and very old that belong to this user group.

User groups – Pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians are made up of different groups of users that have different values and needs. Pedestrian user groups include walkers, joggers, people pushing prams or strollers and those using wheelchairs, both motorised or non-motorised. Cyclist user groups include primary and secondary school children, family groups / recreational cyclists, commuters, neighbourhood / utility cyclists, and touring and training cyclists (refer AGTM04 Table 4.12).

Active Travel Facilities Design – Municipal Infrastructure Standards 05 (MIS05) (ACT Government, April 2019)

ACT Transport’s view of the world is simplistic: roads built for the motorist are good for everybody. This is not the case. Cities built for the car will have people driving everywhere. We need to build our cities differently. It is time to start!

Sailing ship stuck in the Doldrums, 1938 Film 95219

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