19 May 2020

Is Canberra ready to become Australia’s cycling capital?

| Tim Gavel
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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!

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I used to cycle to work in Barton from here at the North end of Kambah. Later on I used to ride down to the Health Insurance Commission. on Lake Tuggeranong, in each case I felt a LOT safer riding the any-user paths than riding public roads. Did depend on whether it was peak hour and what routes I took. Even with the occasional broody magpies hitting the helmet, I was a lot fitter, which didn’t hurt my ability to see necessary changes and get them adopted. Viz? Making it unnecessary for people to queue at Medicare/Centrelink for their rebates. Which could go direct into their bank accounts.

Leon Arundell2:27 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 Retro10:45 pm 23 May 20

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

rationalobserver9:33 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.

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.

Woden Valley Community Council8:41 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.

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.

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.

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.

rationalobserver10:46 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.

Capital Retro8:01 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.

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.

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.

rationalobserver10:50 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?

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

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