There’s no better time to invest in cycling

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.

20 thoughts on “There’s no better time to invest in cycling

  1. Julie Anne says “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.”

    We need to spend on both. Our road system has had decades of under investment.

    The road north of Auckland that some try to dismiss as a holiday highway is an embarassment to the country. The road contition for the traffic level is appalling. It’s no wonder accidents and deaths are frequent.

    Our motorway system is third world, if there are even enough motorways to deserve the name “system”.

    So we need much better infrastructure for roading AND cycleways. And the cycleways need to be physically separated from the traffic – not right beside it.

    When that happens, they are significantly safer, and research has shown that their use is substantially higher.

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  2. Julie Ann says “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”

    Hastings is also dead-flat. Wellington is quite the contrary.

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  3. I couldn’t agree more, instead of continually pushing people to use cars, we should encourage more bicycle use. This should lead to less pollution and a fitter healthier population. Along with fitter and healthier should also come a better quality of life for all. Which should also bring with it a more productive nation.

    Just my immediate thoughts.

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  4. Some comments:

    The difficulty with cycling in NZ, from my experience, is the narrow roads. In a built-up area like Wellington this problem is obviously very hard to surmount. It’s a bit strenuous keeping yourself safe.

    ————

    On induced demand: Some researchers (can’t remember who – think they might be from Demographia) have claimed that induced demand is a myth. More roads as a ratio to population do provide less congestion, as is claimed. The confusion apparently comes from population growth overwhelming the roading development in sighted scenarios. This should be looked at closely because it does make sense that people don’t drive on roads only because they are there. If it was as simple as ‘induced demand’ then all roads would be congested at all times, as roads supposedly create their own demand. Clearly it’s not that simple.

    ————

    Quote: “They want safer neighbourhoods and more liveable cities, and the public health benefits that come from increased walking and cycling.”

    Just want to say that you’ve got to be careful how you get the kind of research that leads to these assumptions. You can ask a population a question like “what do you want your city to look like” with the effect behind the question being something like “So tell me, people of Mirimar, how do you wish for the people of Johnsonville to live?”…as if other peoples residential zones and lifestyles has anything to do with anybody else. There are decisions for the collective and decisions for the individual.

    Residential lifestyle is primary an individual decision, and that’s why planning should be primarily demand-responsive with respect to these zones. Planners should do surveys asking people how they *personally* wish to live. If they find, for example, that 70% of the market want to live in a “quarter acre paradise” then they should make their plans from there.

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  5. I sometimes wonder at the lack of restraint in the support of some for the building of roads, when the same people have objections to the cost of investment in other areas.

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  6. Does NZ have a target modal share for cycling? (Not that I have heard.) If we had a government that didn’t have such blind faith in the free market, maybe we could have targets say like other cycling enlightened (foriegn) cities mentioned – even 10% of journeys by bike by 2020.

    Then our government could lead with truly inspiring facilities like proportional spending for transport projects to match the desired (not current) modal share?

    NZ NEEDS to target at least a 5% modal share of all journeys by bicycle. http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday/audio/2511031/ideas-for-26-february-2012.asx

    10% of the transport budget would be a healthy injection for cycling infrastructure investment, especially with the return on investment for cycling being much higher. I hate to think how little is currently . . . / historically spent proportionally.

    @photonz1: if the billions spent over the last few decades still means our roading is underfunded, don’t you think that says something about the poor return on investment for private motorised transport? Why would you think another several few decades of wasted money would alter that trend in any way? If anything – we’ll have even more “underfunded” motorways requiring ongoing maintenance costs.

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  7. Good Onya Julie Anne

    If more people road bicycles or walked in their local area & only drove if going over about 4kms (?) we could reduce CO2 emmissions signficantly & reduce obesity too ! keep it up
    Kia-ora

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  8. zedd:

    Apparently the amount of energy that goes into producing human fuel (food) is pretty incredible on average, and to a point where the most energy efficient existing form of transport, over all other options, is the humble electric scooter (though you would have to include the electric pushbike with that).

    If it’s really all about carbon emissions then maybe the Greens should be promoting those things? The three-wheeled versions can take a big load of shopping with two people as well.

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  9. @Andrew Atkin: But it’s not just about carbon emissions; among the greatest societal benefits are raising health and fitness levels and offsetting HUGE public health costs and localised environmental impacts.

    Carbon emission reduction is just one of the myriad positive outcomes from a higher cycling modal share. Sure, some electric assistance to bikes and scooters is useful, just as long as everyone is doing a little more physical activity than twitching their ankles and rocking side-to-side while sitting in their cars.

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  10. axle_ryde:

    It doesn’t matter how well any given individual takes care of themselves, they will cost the health system, on average, a fortune in the last six years of their life. Keeping in shape only delays the bills to a later time. Your body will go to s**t in the end.

    From a government revenue perspective, it’s best if people die off somewhere between 70-75 years of age, to avoid excessive pensions costs after their working life. We don’t want people staying too healthy for too long. And this is why smoking is good. Smokers pay tax big time while alive, and bugger off quickly once they retire.
    The last thing we want is for human resources (er, people) to stop smoking.

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  11. I spent a week in Amsterdam a few years back.. the Dutch do two things that kiwis dont : actively promote bicycling (heaps of them do it) & allow adults only coffee shops.. they maybe onto something

    Kia-ora

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  12. Great blog, thanks Julie Anne. And good on you for your session with Brownlee yesterday in Parliament.
    Keep up your good work, we are proud of you.
    It is fabulous for Auckland to have a fully committed,articulate and well-informed champion for cycling in Parliament. Hooray!
    Barb Cuthbert, Chair/Spokesperson, Cycle Action Auckland

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  13. When will NZTA re-jig their demand models for cycleways? At present they seem to be geared towards inner-urban footpath extensions rather than ‘cycle-highways’. For example, counting the number of houses along the path as an indicator of how well it’ll be used seems ok if kids are biking to/from school in a suburb, but not if it’s a feeder track to get commuting cycles on separate infrastructure.

    Are there any good models for estimating use/demand for cycling infrastructure at present that will take into account the source populations and destination targets?

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  14. Your blog post says that the number of cyclists has doubled in THREE years.
    When you follow the link you discover the article claims that the number has doubled since 2006.
    When I was at school the arithmetic worked out to be 2012 – 2006 is SIX years. That might not be terribly important here but is, I fear, rather symptomatic of Green MPs cavalier attitude to mathematics.

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  15. Great blog, thanks Julie Anne. And good on you for your session with Brownlee yesterday in Parliament.
    Keep up your good work, we are proud of you.
    It is fabulous for Auckland to have a fully committed,articulate and well-informed champion for cycling in Parliament. Hooray!
    Barb Cuthbert, Chair/Spokesperson, Cycle Action Auckland

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  16. We should go by foot more often. Not only because of environment. Speed kills general satisfaction. Cars and Trains are important but sometimes you should take the alternative.

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  17. Here in Christchurch our public bus services are about be subjected to savage cuts by unelected Regional Council commissioners who very sadly have no clue at all about how to run a public service. All of the good work Ecan did in the previous 15 years or so building up the bus services from scratch will be completely lost if these services go ahead because Ecan really dropped the ball after the Feb 2011 earthquake with big losses of patronage and are set to multiply this with what is being proposed. See my blog for more info.

    We really need some way of getting a CBT type lobby going in Christchurch because the City Council here has such a negative attitude to public transport development and has had an easy ride for years.

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  18. Motorways dont solve congestion. All they do is make the congestion move faster for a short time until the motorway fills up again.

    Noone wants to take away your car or your roads Andrew Atkin. Just give me the choice not to use mine. Even in Copenhagen (in my opinion the best transport city on earth) only 70-80% of people take PT/bicycle to work. So that means 20-30% still drive.

    I would cite the dozens of papers written by transport academics who do nothing but think about this all day, but I see in other posts you have said you dont believe in citing evidence. That must make your opinions much easier to hold, niot having to actually back them up with evidence. Unfortunately I feel I do need evidence but fortunately there are stacks of statistical data and empirical evidence easily available hat supports my opinion.

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