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.
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!