Is Canberra ready to become Australia’s cycling capital?

Tim Gavel 19 May 2020 45
Canberra cyclist

Safe cycle paths are only part of the cycling story in and around Canberra. Photo: File.

At times during lockdown over the past two months, Canberra streets have resembled a European city as cyclists dominated the roadways.

With commuters concerned about physical distancing on public transport, there has been a marked increase in the number of bikes on our roads. No wonder. Cycling is easier (and safer) without traffic congestion. There’s also been far less antagonism towards cyclists from motorists.

It’s flowed through to the economy as well. Bike shops are reporting an increase in sales, which provides evidence to the anecdotal observation that there are more cyclists on the road and not just an increase in visibility because of the reduction of motor vehicles.

It’s Utopia for the cycling community.

Cyclists aren’t just on the roads.

Head to any nature park through the city and it’s literally Pitt Street (OK, figuratively). In the absence of spin classes, cyclists are heading to the hills.

Civic cycle loop

The Civic cycle loop. Photo: Supplied.

This visibility provides insight into what could be possible in the future. It raises the question: could Canberra promote itself as a cycling destination?

Look at the rail trails in regional Victoria. Although these trails are used by walkers and horse riders, most users are cyclists, and the economic benefits of cyclists to the community are well documented.

A study undertaken by La Trobe University’s Dr Sue Beeton some years ago found that during the Easter period, trail users spent around $240 each per day. And when it is estimated that more than 40,000 people visit north-east Victoria’s rail trails, it represents significant economic benefit to the region.

I’m not advocating a rail trail, but we could capitalise on the existing significant cycling infrastructure already in the ACT and surrounds, including the outstanding 145 km Centenary Trail.

With no international tourism likely in the near future because of COVID-19, and plans to launch the ACT’s largest-ever domestic tourism campaign post-pandemic, it would seem the perfect opportunity to heavily promote the city’s cycling attributes.

Not only do we have cycling-friendly streets and roads beyond the city itself, but there are also rides around our lakes and hills and, of course, there’s Stromlo Forest Park and the Arboretum.

In the minds of some motorists there remains an inherent antagonism towards cyclists and no campaign will ever convince them that it’s possible to drive on shared roads. By and large, though, the Canberra community accepts cyclists. That acceptance may be even greater once the benefits of cycling tourism are realised, providing a much-needed boost to the ACT economy.

Cycling could be promoted as a major drawcard for our city alongside our other attractions such as the wineries, public institutions, major events, and our magnificent local produce and restaurants.

We could even stage major cycling events through the streets and down the hills of Stromlo. Imagine our own mini Tour de France!


What's Your Opinion?


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45 Responses to Is Canberra ready to become Australia’s cycling capital?
Leon Arundell Leon Arundell 2:27 pm 23 May 20

Canberra is already Australia’s cycling capital.
22% of all trips in the ACT and Queanbeyan are walked or cycled – on par with Sydney, and ahead of Melbourne (12%), Gold Coast (10%, Adelaide (9%), Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast (8%) and Perth (7%).
Canberra also has a higher rate of cycling to work than the other capital cities.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 10:45 pm 23 May 20

    Can you provide the source of those claims and the parameters used, please eg, what is a “trip”?

rationalobserver rationalobserver 9:33 am 21 May 20

Are there enough cafes open to support such a proposal?
Will we need more red lights for these new comers to ignore, or are the current ones enough?
How much money could be raised if we installed paid parking for all these additional bikes?
Would photos of aged & frail pedestrians in promotional material encourage a macabre form of “dark cycle tourism”?
How many extra police would we need to employ to not enforce speeding rules amongst these additional riders?
We moved the tourism information centre down to a corner of the lake to make it hard for caravanners, so using the same logic can we put the cycling information centre on the top of Black Mountain?
When all the bike lanes are congested, will the cyclists be forced to use public tandems with smelly strangers?
I assume all riders would operate inside their own ego bubble, but not outside of it?
Why does social distancing and the 1.5 meter overtaking rule not apply to individuals in pelotons?
If this were to happen, would there be a nett gain in visitors to Canberra, or a nett loss due to normal people going elsewhere to avoid all the bloody bikes?
Canberra, the push capital? Make a great slogan for bicycle rego plates.

Acton Acton 7:34 am 21 May 20

The orange Clockwise is Covidwise signs around the lake were put up at the behest of Pedal Power. By having people walk in one direction it gives cyclists their own high speed overtaking lane. Some cyclists have abused pedestrians walking counter clockwise in the ‘wrong’ lane. The signs were not put there because Pedal Power is concerned about your health, but to intimidate pedestrians into making way for cyclists.

Lewis P Owlay Lewis P Owlay 7:30 am 21 May 20

Hopefully not

Brad D'Arnay Brad D'Arnay 6:18 am 21 May 20

If they stay single file and stay in the frigging cycling lane.. then yes

Martin Miller Martin Miller 9:56 pm 20 May 20

Where are the cycle friendly streets that Tim Gavel is talking about? All residential streets are 50 -60km/h! If you want cycle friendly streets they need to be 30km/h or less!

Woden Valley Community Council Woden Valley Community Council 8:41 pm 20 May 20

Cities round the world have been freeing up space for people on foot and bikes in response to COVID and concerns with crowding on public transport.
For those that like to cycle, 9.5km (Woden to the CIty) is very doable.
We should build a cycle highway down the centre of Yarra Glen and Adelaide Avenue to move the cyclists off the road (with 80km/h cars) and connect the southern suburbs with the city centre.

    dukethunder dukethunder 12:57 am 21 May 20

    Hi Woden vcc. While there could be some improvements, Adelaide Ave’s bike lanes are already amongst the best arterial commuting lanes I’ve come across in Canberra. Wide,smooth and Adelaide Ave is a relatively flat track so I can’t see how a strip in the middle will attract new cyclists to the route. The biggest hindrance with the current City bound lane is the Dudley street crossing where the cycle lane ends abruptly and when it’s busy, you have to wait til someone flags you to cross(typically less than a minute and I’ll add, I find Canberra drivers generally overly courteous in these situations, sometimes slowing to a stop!) Precovid I’d take that route 2 times a week and do Belco to civic by bike 1-2 times a week. Belco to civic is fit for purpose (and usage levels) but in my opinion well ahead of Woden to civic for improvements if they were being handed out. I understand you want to seperate bikes n cars but a bike lane in the middle of Yarra Glen and Adelaide Ave will create more Dudley street scenarios and more interaction between cars n bikes. As an aside, what I think is worth pursuing in that area is an off ramp that links city bound Yarra Glen to Cotter road so you can access Lady Denman drive without rat running through Curtin.

Maxine Moffitt Maxine Moffitt 8:34 pm 20 May 20

I drive, ride and walk extensively throughout Canberra. During C19 I have walked in small groups away from the busy areas. I’m very disappointed with bike riders who don’t slow down near walkers, don’t use their bell etc. It’s been very hard as a rider to justify the poor cycling behaviour. Riders can’t expect better respect from car drivers when many (not all) don’t respect pedestrians. We definitely need seperate infrastructure because we can’t seem to share.

    Alastair McKenzie Alastair McKenzie 2:55 pm 23 May 20

    At last! At last! Thank you, Maxine, for being a cyclist that tells it as it is. The lack of consideration by cyclists for pedestrians more than equals their own treatment by motorists.

Ray Ez Ray Ez 7:16 pm 20 May 20

Maybe if they paid to use the road like cars, they would be done money to help..

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 8:56 pm 20 May 20

    The old boring furphy. I'm sure you know that the more people who cycle on the roads instead of driving, the less money need be spent on roads. Of course you know this, as people who write this don't write it in ignorance (surely you can't be that ignorant...could you?), but because you somehow feel challenged by seeing a person on a bike. Most people do know that most adults who cycle also have a car and pay costs for that. They also pay taxes. Bikes cause much less damage to roads than bigger vehicles, so be grateful for all who cycle and save you money. Now if you and others like you would leave you car at home more, and walk, cycle, take public transport instead of driving everywhere, you could save us money too, both on wear and tear of the roads, and needing to build more and bigger roads, which certainly does cost us all money. Now I wonder if Ray Ez is a real person, or are you not willing to use your real name?

    Ray Ez Ray Ez 8:57 pm 20 May 20

    Julie Macklin so if no one uses the roads, no one pays for the roads...

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:00 pm 20 May 20

    Ray Ez I never said that. "Now if you and others like you would leave you car at home more". More doesn't mean never. Read more carefully.

    Ray Ez Ray Ez 9:06 pm 20 May 20

    Julie Macklin so we all leave our cars at home, eventually, as no one uses cars, they won’t pay rego and licence fees (or the inflated taxes charged on car sale) and the cycle fairies make up the difference in revenue and the roads last forever! Now that you mention your idea, I love it!

    Ray Ez Ray Ez 9:18 pm 20 May 20

    Julie Macklin but of course you know that a cyclist pays no rego or licence fees to use the road (surely you can’t be that ignorant or are you?). Sure you pay other taxes, sure you might have a car too, but only cars (and trucks, buses, motorcycles etc) pay to use the public roads. Still, that old furphy never gets old, especially from the car driving cyclists.

    Rob Langridge Rob Langridge 10:25 pm 20 May 20

    Ray Ez Rego and licence fees don't pay for the roads. Roads are funded by fuel excise and general revenue. If you were really upset about users getting a free ride then you should be complaining about those freeloading electric car drivers.

    Ray Ez Ray Ez 10:27 pm 20 May 20

    Rob Langridge I merely make the point that cars pay for the privilege, cyclists don’t. But what’s this about ev’s you mention?

    Ray Ez Ray Ez 10:27 pm 20 May 20

    And fuel excise is general revenue too I believe.

    Rob Langridge Rob Langridge 10:34 pm 20 May 20

    Ray Ez EVs don't use petrol but each litre of petrol bought donates 42c to government coffers.

Mac Ka Mac Ka 7:14 pm 20 May 20

Hardly. There no connection between Queanbeyan and Canberra.

Dan Rayner Dan Rayner 10:41 am 20 May 20

Cue: ridiculous, tired old arguments from both sides of the cycling debate

John Hutch John Hutch 9:36 am 20 May 20

Canberra has been considered to be the cycling capital of Australia for many years now. The optimal example of a cycling capital would be Netherlands because of the long standing cycling culture and infrastructure. There is a focus on having segregated cycling paths, similar to what has been introduced to ACT in recent years.

The one issue with cycling is the clash between motorised vehicles and bicycles or other non-motorised roller equipment. Some cyclists say that they like on-road cycling because of the dramatic difference between cycling and walking on the cycling paths and footpaths, even in cases where there is an existing segregated cycling path, but there’s also a dramatic difference in the speed of motorised vehicles and bicycles on roads. I think that on-road cycling is suitable for quieter urban roads and rural roads, but it can create hazards on the busier urban roads and mountainous roads with blind spot hairpin curves.

There are also legal issues to be aware of in different states/territories. For example, cycling on footpaths in many circumstances may not be allowed in other states, when it is in ACT.

    Maya123 Maya123 11:43 am 20 May 20

    Only NSW and Victoria ban cycling on footpaths by anyone over 12 years old, unless accompanying a child. Cycling is allowed in all other states and territories on the footpath, so allowed on the footpath in most of Australia.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:46 am 21 May 20

    Yet only the ACT encourages cyclists to play chicken with cars by riding across marked pedestrian crossings? Can’t have it both ways.

Monty Ki Monty Ki 9:05 am 20 May 20

Yes! More cycling and more accessibility to cycling.

Matthew Windebank Matthew Windebank 8:34 am 20 May 20

I thought Canberra had been called the cycling capital of Australia for years. If it isn't yet the capital of cycling, where in Australia is at the moment?

    Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins Alex Troy Elsworth Adkins 8:47 pm 20 May 20

    Matthew Windebank Broken Hill?

Elias Hallaj Elias Hallaj 8:34 am 20 May 20

Great article Tim! Some would argue #CBR is already Australia’s cycling capital. But like many of the wonderful aspects of Canberra it’s a well kept secret for most Aussies. There is definitely huge post-covid domestic tourism potential. Pedal Power have been banging on about this for decades 😉

Juz Hawke Juz Hawke 8:09 am 20 May 20

I'd be happy with this....as long as drivers are kind to cyclists, walkers stay on the left, cyclists show common sense when on roads, and kindness to walkers when on shared paths!! Surely that's not too much to ask!!

    Elizabeth Izatt Elizabeth Izatt 9:56 am 20 May 20

    Juz Hawke it might be unfortunately 😏

    Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell 11:21 am 20 May 20

    Juz Hawke you used the word Common Sense in story that has been missing for years now it's no longer Common. I was in the city the other day and on Barry drive I seen two cyclists run the red lights but that OK isn't it.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:54 am 20 May 20

    I would like to see all walkers stay on the left of the paths. I do when walking on paths, so I don't know why some others have a problem doing so. Maybe it's because I both walk and cycle and can see the problems from both angles, while some only walk and don't see it from both sides. Yesterday I cycled and most people kept to the left, but a minority spread right across the path, even though the path had a line down the middle and very obvious arrows and signs to keep left. A couple I rang my bell for as I approached them and I was going to the right to overtake, then stepped right in front of me. What was wrong with them that they didn't know to keep left and step left? People all around them were doing the right thing. I wouldn't have been the first person who would have wanted to pass them on the right on a busy path.

    Randy Goldberg Randy Goldberg 1:36 pm 20 May 20

    Julie Macklin in the ACT, under normal circumstances, we have visitors who have grown up in places where driving on the right is the norm. As a pedestrian, you build certain habits to move in a direction away from the traffic flow.

    Perhaps you encountered a family that was from overseas and is now resident in Canberra and they just reacted to your bell.

    It's difficult to break a learned habit. I've learned to look both ways when crossing a street, regardless of country, just in case.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 1:41 pm 20 May 20

    Randy Goldberg It was an adult couple, and on that day being used to the right is no excuse, as the cycle traffic was heavy and I would not have been the first one. Also there was no excuse for them to be walking on both sides of the middle line, except they didn't care. I have cycled in several countries where people keep right, and I kept right there because I realised I must and was careful to do so, and also walked on the right.

    Rachel Hill Rachel Hill 5:10 pm 20 May 20

    I would ideally love the ACT to work towards proper cycle roads away from walkers and cars in spots like some European cities.

    Juz Hawke Juz Hawke 5:12 pm 20 May 20

    Good points all. Think you are right Colin in that the missing link for all is common sense. Sadly lacking for many people, cyclists, walkers and drivers.

    Gregg Heldon Gregg Heldon 11:36 am 23 May 20

    Randy Goldberg agreed. All North Americans and Europeans walk on the right hand side and give way to the left. Especially the Europeans and their wonderful network of cycleways. Even the English, on escalators, stay to the right and allow people to walk past on their left.

    I had that explained to me, in a very brusque manner, the first time on went on the underground in London. I didn't know but I learned quickly.

    These people could have been the same.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:01 am 20 May 20

Why would cyclists from other parts of Australia (most with adequate infrastructure for cycling) want to load their bikes onto their air- polluting cars and come to Canberra?

Other “cycling destinations” also have rides around places like our lakes and hills, Stromlo Forest Park and the Arboretum. The cost of getting here and accommodation is not competitive with other cities either.

    astro2 astro2 12:29 pm 20 May 20

    i can think why cyclists from Sydney may want to load their bike onto a train (non-polluting) and come to Canberra. Many parts of Sydney are choked with traffic and air pollution whereas Canberra has better cycle paths and cleaner air. The cost of a train fare from Sydney to Canberra is certainly not prohibitive.

    Maya123 Maya123 2:39 pm 20 May 20

    Unfortunately the bike needs to be dismantled and boxed before it is allowed on the country service to Canberra. It wasn’t always like this. Years go with the older trains, bikes could travel as-is in the guard van. I travelled on the train for a long-weekend of cycling around the Bungendore area and my bike and two others all travelled in the guard van. And they can still on the Sydney rail network wherever that runs, such as to south of Wollongong and up to Newcastle…and Goulburn. But the bike needs dismantling and boxing to get it to Canberra. And then what to do with the box and heavy tools.
    A few years back I considered a holiday around NSW by train with my bike, I dropped that idea when I found I had to pull my bike apart. I drove instead.

    rationalobserver rationalobserver 10:50 am 21 May 20

    Hate to tell you this, but all non urban trains are diesel electric. They are hardly non polluting.
    And then, factor in the energy & pollution cost of construction and maintenance.
    I’m gathering you also believe green energy any hybrid cars are pollution free?

    astro2 astro2 6:22 pm 23 May 20

    The line down to Wollongong is fully electrified I think you’ll find and it’s non-urban.

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