by Julie Anne Genter
There’s things going on all over the world at the moment that tell us that using bicycles for transport is more than just a fad – it’s a growing phenomenon that offers all sorts of solutions to our transport woes. Cycling is a win-win-win for transport. It reduces congestion. It reduces fuel use. It makes our towns and cities more liveable. It improves public health, even saves lives. It creates jobs. And it’s really cheap.
Here at home, Wellington City Council’s latest figures show that the number of people commuting by bicycle has almost doubled in the last three years. This is despite little dedicated cycle infrastructure in the capital, and little action from the Council to improve it, especially in the CBD. If cycling numbers are growing despite a lack of encouragement, how fast would they grow with better facilities – proper bike lanes, more bike racks, and lower speed limits?
We know now that getting people riding bikes is about providing the right infrastructure for them to do it. The latest published research shows that having bike paths and lanes available is the biggest determinant of cycling rates in a city. It’s pretty clear what we need to do to get the huge benefits of a high bicycle mode share.
Hastings has had dedicated investment in cycling and walking infrastructure from NZTA as one of its ‘model communities’, and cycling figures there have shown the results – a rise of 23% just a year after the iWay program began. Portland’s entire cycling network has an estimated replacement cost of one mile of urban motorway, and that city has seen a 400% rise in cycling numbers in the past 20 years (check out the PDF here). It now has the highest bicycle mode share in the US. In Copenhagen, a city where the bicycle is used for 37% of trips, they’ve just opened a set of ‘Cycle Super Highways’ to create better conditions for commuter cyclists, for the benefit of all road users – because cycling investment doesn’t just help people who use bicycles, it also helps those who choose to walk, drive or take public transport.
The popularity of cycling was demonstrated in London and Europe earlier this week. In London, ahead of the upcoming mayoral election, 10,000 people braved the British rain to show their support for proper cycling infrastructure. The ride was organised by the London Cycling Campaign, who are urging the mayoral candidates to support its calls for ‘Dutch quality’ cycling infrastructure – check out the photos here. In Edinburgh, 2,000 people cycled together. In Rome, 50,000 (!) people made it out on bikes, at one point laying their bikes down to protest the deaths of cyclists and pedestrians on the city streets. This echoes 1970s protests in Holland, shown in this video, which provided the catalyst for that country to become world leaders in cycling for transport.
The problems that Holland faced back then are the same that New Zealand is facing now. Spending billions on new motorways kills our communities and creates more congestion, wasting valuable land on concrete and parking. With fuel prices expected to rise even further, New Zealanders want alternatives to burning up their incomes in their petrol tanks. They want safer neighbourhoods and more liveable cities, and the public health benefits that come from increased walking and cycling.
There’s no better time to stop spending billions on the National Party’s so-called ‘Roads of National Significance’ and start investing in cycling.