15 August 2019

How pedal power can reduce road congestion

| Ian Ross
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Cycling will help congestion problems

Cycling will help congestion problems. Photo by Pedal Power ACT.

The cost of congestion in the ACT and Queanbeyan is rising. Infrastructure Australia predicts it will increase from $289 million in 2016 to $504 million by 2031.

That is no surprise. Of the 178,244 Canberrans who went to work last Census Day, 144,611 went by car. That’s 81.1 per cent or more than four in five people.

Public transport and walking were a long way behind, at 8 per cent and 5.2 per cent respectively.

The lowest numbers of all? Cycling, with 5,358 people or 3 per cent – about the same as the 2.7 per cent who stayed at home or didn’t answer.

Yet the humble bicycle is the most efficient, most compact, most benign transport device ever invented. It produces no emissions. You can park 10 of them in the same space as one car. A two-way protected bikeway can take 7,500 people an hour; a two-way urban road less than half that.

Many people are now worried about worsening road congestion. They assume the only way to ‘bust congestion’ is to widen roads. Yet this will come at a huge cost to the budget, to the environment, and ultimately to our health and quality of life.

Worse, it doesn’t work. We can’t build our way out of congestion. It’s been known since the 1950s that making it easier and more convenient to drive just breeds more traffic. The congested 26-lane urban freeway in Texas proves that a widened road clogs up again in a few years.

Paris is concerned about congestion and pollution on the Boulevard Périphérique. The response? Cut the speed limit to 50 km/h and cut the lanes from eight to six, discouraging erratic driving and promoting the uptake of alternative travel options.

Building and widening roads won’t get Canberra out of its looming urban snarl, but getting people onto bikes will. Just a small increase in the percentage of our population who commute by cycle each day can take tens of thousands of cars off the road. Better for everyone, and definitely better for the ACT Government’s Net Zero Emissions target of 2045: once we decarbonise electricity by next year, 60 per cent of our emissions will come from the transport sector.

To change our habits, cycling must be resourced as the quickest, safest, and most convenient way to travel around our city: We need a joined-up, whole-of-city cycleway network. We need our network to offer direct routes that are separated from cars and pedestrians, and a well-lit network maintained to the same high standard as our roads currently are.

We need to increase the number of intersections and crossings that prioritise bikes, and more traffic calming on residential streets. We need more bike parking, much of it in car spots. We need to further incentivise the uptake of electric bikes, and invest in a cultural shift that values, supports, and encourages cycling in our community.

It’s all doable, for about the cost of a road-widening project. Many other cities are doing it now because they know they must.

The economic and environmental benefits are compelling. When a city works better for cycling, it works better for everyone – and for the planet. Like any change process, it will need leadership and community support.

Infrastructure Australia has seen the light. Its recent infrastructure audit joins many other voices in calling for governments to act on cycling.

The audit says:

“An integrated transport network has active transport at its core. Walking and cycling play a critical role in our transport networks…

“Active transport also has obvious environmental and health benefits. It produces no direct emissions and helps to improve people’s fitness and wellbeing.

“The benefits of active transport have been recognised by the World Health Organisation, which notes it is key to reducing the 3 million deaths globally each year that are caused by physical inactivity. New technology, such as electrification for bikes and scooters, is providing opportunities for broader groups of people to access the benefits of active transport.

“However, despite its benefits, active transport remains a challenge for Australian policymakers.”

It is also the challenge for Canberra. If we get it right, we can join with HG Wells and say,

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”


Ian Ross is the Chief Executive Officer of Pedal Power ACT.


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wildturkeycanoe11:41 am 24 Aug 19

“It produces no emissions” There is the first piece of misinformation in this article. Do humans simply not produce any carbon dioxide when they breathe faster and harder? Energy must be converted from food into power to move those pedals, that is a process much the same as burning fossil fuels.

Here come the anti-cycling trolls. I ride, not for ideological reasons, but bc it keeps me fit and saves on parking fees. I’m also a car driver. You should try it. Great way to start and end your working day. It can be challenging when the temp dips below 0C but worth it.

Yes! Let’s make Canberra a leader in sustainable transportation!

Capital Retro1:50 pm 23 Aug 19

It already is.

The use of private motor vehicles which is what Canberra was designed for is hugely dominant here. Other cities are jealous of our wide roads minimal congestion and housing which can accommodate usually several cars. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There is plenty of oil left in the world so they are sustainable too. There is also the choice to ride a bike, scooter or stand in the urban regeneration trams; even ride in a very modern and comfortable bus, when and if they turn up.

Let’s be clear, the only reason cyclists make the congestion argument is because they need those who will pay for this cycling infrastructure, i.e. the motorists, to believe it’s in their own interests.

“Let’s be clear”? That’s about as clear as mud. Ratepayers pay for motoring and cycling infrastructure; so, depending on whether or not a motorist or a cyclist pays rates, they are paying for the infrastructure. Pretty simple really.

Then you don’t understand how road funding works. Let me illustrate. Governments are worried that the uptake of electric vehicles will mean reduced revenue for roads because electric vehicles don’t contribute fuel excise, which effectively pays for the roads. Yes it all gets washed through consolidated revenue along with rates, so it’s not as simple as you suggest, but i reckon you know that. Cyclists are getting a free ride.

I’m happy for cyclists to have their separated paths if they pay for them.

The fairest way would be all to pay for the wear and tear that the mode of transport makes, and for the environmental damage it does. Do you think you will still be able to drive if a fair system was introduced.

Sounds like pedestrians should be licensed/registered too. Just look at the bill car drivers have to foot for crossings, lights, footpaths, bollards, signs and all the rest of the infrastructure they currently get for free.

Wow. I see five people cycling in the one photo. Let me check, ah yes, the sign says Barry Dr. The ANU precinct is the only place you’ll see this.

The cycling lobby keeps feeding us this utterly embellished fantasy. The rate of take up of cycling is less than the rate of increase in population, so no, cycling will not even come close to easing congestion. In fact it has increased it considerably after speed limits were lowered and road safety features such as merging lanes were removed in order to facilitate cyclists on the roads.

And you simply will never get most of those who do cycle to do it five days a week every week rain hail or shine. The roads still need to cope on those days when all but the very few who believe that cycling will deliver them into a higher caste in the next life leave the bike at home.

Queanbeyanite5:06 pm 22 Aug 19

Ratepayers have to drive to work because their workplaces are in the city. You could have spent $1.2 billion on shared secure office space on the old town centres with childcare facilities but NO car parking, people would have to walk to them.

If people’s workplaces are in the city, most wouldn’t need to drive, because buses generally connect to the city. It’s when the workplace is away from the city that it’s often harder to catch public transport to work. Mine was a away from the city, so on days I caught a bus I would get off near Civic and then walk 2kms to work. Though to be honest the kms made for a pleasant walk and wasn’t hard.

As well as bike lanes, there should be Express Bike Lanes that can only be used by Tandem bikes…this should ease the bike congestion.

Capital Retro10:20 am 21 Aug 19

Why stop at tandems when there is this:


Capital Retro9:44 pm 20 Aug 19

Re the Netherlands, you said “at one time the car dominated” which means by inference that the car no longer dominates there so given that there is a never ending global battle between cyclists and motorists, anywhere that cars no longer dominate would be a utopia for cyclists.

Perhaps you haven’t mentioned the Netherlands before – maybe it was one or two of the other many places you have cycled and that being the case I apologise for any offence I mayhave caused you.

Capital Retro12:36 pm 20 Aug 19

“Let’s not start that again.” says Julie Macklin who constantly refers to the Netherlands as bicycle utopia which is totally irrelevant to what happens in Canberra..

Capital Retro7:01 pm 19 Aug 19

“Kerry Mulgrue have you ever ridden an e-bike? They flatten the hills for cyclists.”

They also flatten anyone who gets in their path.

they don’t flatten people nearly as much as cars and heavier vehicles …

Well, there goes the cycling is healthy argument. It’s pushing up those hills that is the health aspect.

But even without an e-bike i think the health argument is very exaggerated. I rode my bike all over Canberra several times a week for several years and did not lose more than a few kilograms, and most of that was water.

There’s a reason pro cyclists look more like jockeys than the rest of us.

Capital Retro10:49 pm 23 Aug 19

Cars and heavier vehicles don’t share the bike paths though.

Capital Retro10:42 am 18 Aug 19

That image shows one helmet-less cyclist, already mentioned elsewhere on this thread and one pedestrian with head down looking at her device; could be booking her funeral actually.

Both are potential lawbreakers.

Thank you Pedal Power ACT for supplying the image.

I think the cycling infrastructure is pretty good, and I commute every workday. Unfortunately, I don’t think people want to cycle more or the cycle paths I use would be busier and Canberrans wouldn’t be so overweight on average.

Unfortunately, with Canberra’s population growth I can only see car costs increasing and at some stage they’ll be tempted to tax car parking, or put some type of toll road system in. It happens to every city that grows eventually

Capital Retro11:52 am 17 Aug 19

Pedal Power conveniently ignore the fact that only a minority of commuters can even ride a bike let alone have a practical use for one.

It’s high time that cycling enthusiasts started to pay their own way instead of sponging off the rest of us.

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