How pedal power can reduce road congestion

Ian Ross 15 August 2019 217
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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217 Responses to How pedal power can reduce road congestion
Peter Mackay Peter Mackay 6:07 am 17 Sep 19

I walk, drive, cycle, and use public transport according to my needs and desires.

As does everyone I know.

If someone is trying to dictate that I should use one mode of transport exclusively, stuff 'em. I don’t need that sort of stupid in my life.

Bikes have a lot of advantages, but they can’t handle every situation. If it's cold, or I have a lot of stuff to transport, I’ll use a different mode.

I can’t say I incline to the council's vision of a Canberra where the population ride bicycles through canyons of medium density housing.

Nor to the sprawling car-centric American cities. Kansas City is a good example where it’s all about the journey and there’s no real centre to the place.

Amsterdam is often cited. That is a good model. I’ve used all modes of transport there - except cycles - and it makes for a pleasant experience. Gothenburg, Mainz, Bordeaux, Copenhagen and so on are all places where people come before cars. You can drive a car if you want, but cars don’t dominate, and other modes are often more convenient.

We're too car-oriented in Canberra. A function of the city design, of course, but the negatives are readily apparent. A lot of our open space is motorways, and the environmental cost is appalling. Not to mention the economics. How much of one's personal space and income is given over to housing and caring for cars?

wildturkeycanoe wildturkeycanoe 11:41 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.

Ctl_Alt_Del Ctl_Alt_Del 8:42 am 23 Aug 19

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.

Wendeborg Wendeborg 8:25 am 23 Aug 19

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

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 1:50 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.

BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 12:24 am 23 Aug 19

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.

    astro2 astro2 6:21 am 23 Aug 19

    “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.

    BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 10:08 am 23 Aug 19

    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.

    Maya123 Maya123 11:34 pm 16 Sep 19

    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.

    Arthur Arthur 2:09 pm 20 Sep 19

    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.

BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 11:23 pm 22 Aug 19

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.

Queanbeyanite Queanbeyanite 5:06 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.

    Maya123 Maya123 11:38 pm 16 Sep 19

    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.

Kevin Hodder Kevin Hodder 8:53 am 22 Aug 19

Thought the light rail was going to reduce congestion 😂

Il Padrone Il Padrone 8:51 am 22 Aug 19

Cyclists blocking traffic is a complete myth perpetrated by the car-centric bike-haters. Bicycles do not block traffic; they ARE traffic!

Every person riding a bicycle is one less car jamming your road.

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:41 am 21 Aug 19

Capital Retro, I appreciate your last entry. I think it always shows strength of character when someone can apologise, especially with someone they disagree with. Hard though it might be. But I never doubted you on that score. I too have made myself do this on occasions when I have got something wrong and it's been pointed out. Sometimes because I have been too lazy to read the whole conversation, and have 'piped' in. Other times when I have just been wrong. Thank you :).

maxblues maxblues 2:16 am 21 Aug 19

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 Retro Capital Retro 9:44 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.

Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:15 pm 20 Aug 19

[Capital Retro 12:36 pm 20 Aug 19 wrote:

“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..]

Please show me where I have said that “the Netherlands as bicycle utopia” (your words; not mine). You won’t be able to, as I have never said that the Netherlands is a "bicycle utopia". (However the Netherlands is often mentioned in different people's conversation, both for and against improving cycling infrastructure.) And then you say I have "constantly refers to the Netherlands as bicycle utopia" (I quote you again) when you won't be able to find one example where I said the Netherlands is a bicycle utopia. If you are going to make an argument, please don’t make it up.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:36 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..

Randy Goldberg Randy Goldberg 11:52 am 20 Aug 19

What if you're a person who can't ride a bike because you physically unable to?

Not everyone can be mobile on two wheels, electric or manual pedal.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:17 pm 20 Aug 19

    Let's not start that again. That question has been well answered. NO ONE is forcing you to ride. An easy concept to get, so why is that so difficult. It's been answered and answered. Better to read previous comments first before asking the the same question again. Besides, what makes you think that someone will march up to a disabled person and say, "You must ride." Hopefully work places will supply a suitable free parking spot for the disabled. And even those who don't qualify for a disable parking spot, no one will walk up to them and say, "You MUST cycle" either. The idea is to improve cycling facilities that will encourage most able bodied people to cycle, which is likely to be most working age people. But still there is no compulsion to ride a bike. It's just that with improved facilities, it's been shown that more do cycle. Even in places like the Netherlands, at one time the car dominated, but when facilities for cycling were improved, cycling numbers increased.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:24 am 21 Aug 19

    Sorry to come on so heavy handed. I had just finished a long winded 'discussion' with someone else about this and thought it was finished. You wouldn't have known that. So it was more in reaction to that discussion than your comment.

    Bill Mulger Bill Mulger 1:45 am 22 Aug 19

    Do you fit that category or care for someone who does?

    Have a disposable straw

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:01 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.

    rodk rodk 5:08 pm 22 Aug 19

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

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:49 pm 23 Aug 19

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

    BlowMeDown BlowMeDown 11:48 pm 22 Aug 19

    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.

Daniel Howell Daniel Howell 7:09 pm 18 Aug 19


Mathew Mendo Mathew Mendo 5:29 pm 18 Aug 19

Just can't get over the look of enthusiastic joy on the face of the guy leading the pack in the photo😂

Trev Astle Trev Astle 2:45 pm 18 Aug 19

Vespa are a cheaper answer than a new tram line. Bicycles are for whimps!

    Garrin Ross Garrin Ross 3:16 pm 18 Aug 19

    Trev Astle riding a Vespa is easy. Riding a bicycle is harder.

    Vespas are for whimps!

    Mathew Mendo Mathew Mendo 5:27 pm 18 Aug 19

    Trev Astle Garrin Ross litre bikes are the answer 🏍. Both bicycles and Vespas are for wimps😂

    Garrin Ross Garrin Ross 7:37 pm 18 Aug 19

    Mathew Mendo you need bigger balls and much more stamina and fitness to ride bicycles on roads. Especially around 300 km per week.

    Mathew Mendo Mathew Mendo 8:39 pm 18 Aug 19

    Trev Astle why don't 'scooter bros' ever give biker nods. Are you guys too cool or something? I have a mate who rides a CBR1000RR but commutes to work on a scooter. So you guys must be human. Start nodding back and join the two wheel community.

Andrew Zarb Andrew Zarb 1:28 pm 18 Aug 19

Sounds fun to jump on a push bike at -5

    Paul Casimir Paul Casimir 1:32 pm 18 Aug 19

    Which happens what? Twice a year? Imagine the improvement if we could reduce congestion on the four days out of five when the weather was fine. Wouldn't that be a good outcome?

    Andrew Zarb Andrew Zarb 1:39 pm 18 Aug 19

    Ok lets make it 2°

    Still won't be a fun ride.

    Paul Casimir Paul Casimir 1:44 pm 18 Aug 19

    Andrew Zarb It's not a problem at all. I wear gloves.

    Andrew Zarb Andrew Zarb 1:47 pm 18 Aug 19

    How do you keep the air you breath warm?

    Andrew Zarb Andrew Zarb 1:49 pm 18 Aug 19

    Has its time and place. Saying it's a magic bullet to solve an issue that hardly exists ain't it.

    Paul Casimir Paul Casimir 1:56 pm 18 Aug 19

    Andrew Zarb there have been days in Canberra when I've got to work with ice in my beard. It wasn't a problem, and neither was breathing the air.

    Just how soft have we become as a society?

    No-one is saying it's a magic bullet. It's part of a broader solution.

    Or just carry on as you are and don't complain as the traffic gets worse and worse.

    John Hawkins John Hawkins 2:41 pm 18 Aug 19

    There's no such thing as bad weather just the wrong clothes.

    Robert Knight - Canberra Progressives Robert Knight - Canberra Progressives 3:36 pm 18 Aug 19

    The Danish laugh at our temperatures.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:13 am 22 Aug 19

    Andrew Zarb I wore a silk balaclava (I found a wool one too warm). It's just a matter of the right clothing for the weather that day.

    Andrew Zarb Andrew Zarb 9:14 am 22 Aug 19

    Everyone ride a bike. Will make my trip to work nicer.

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