4 April 2022

On yer bike! Greens' active travel proposals not for everyone

| Ian Bushnell
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Cyclist on the Australian National University's Acton campus

The Greens suggest bicycle helmets should be optional. Photo: Lannon Harley, ANU.

Active travel – riding a bike or walking – has lots of benefits. It’s healthy, as long as a car or slip hazard doesn’t terminate your journey and the more people who ride to work, the fewer cars or on the road.

That reduces congestion, and while we have the petrol burners, it will also help cut emissions and make Canberra’s air even more rarified, although on that point, the sooner we transition to electric vehicles, the better.

So elements of the Greens discussion paper on ways to make active travel safer and more attractive are welcome.

Extensions to and better maintenance of pathways are always a good thing, but the evidence would need to be compelling to fix spending at the equivalent of 20 per cent of the capital works road budget on dedicated purpose-built infrastructure for walking, cycling and active travel, as suggested.

READ ALSO Bike-riding with no helmets, reduced parking, car-free days floated as active travel ideas by Greens

The discussion paper also suggested that an audit of footpaths and shared paths be publicly reported on an annual basis with a target of 90 per cent to be maintained in ‘good condition’.

A path audit would provide a clear picture of the network, but the 90 per cent figure may be an ambit claim. The costs could be prohibitive.

The Greens also want to lump in e-scooters and e-bikes, even calling for the Sustainable Household Scheme to cover the latter, but there aren’t too many health pluses in those, and the paths will get very crowded.

Pedestrians have enough issues with the lycra crew and vice versa without both having to contend with zero-emission speedsters.

But the reality is that’s what is starting to happen will only become more common.

The paper also suggests that traffic-light sequencing preference pedestrians and riders over cars. Perhaps it could also suggest extra road rule training to riders of all ilk who regularly flout traffic lights and fail to indicate.

The more “innovative” proposals include trialling car-free days and car-free zones in each electorate, removing some roads or at least reducing their size to make more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Reducing urban car parking, decoupling parking from apartment sales, introducing lower speed limits, and amending mandatory helmet laws were also suggested.

READ ALSO Politics needs to change for regional success story to get its fair Budget share

Most of these just don’t pass muster in a city as spread out as Canberra and with such a quality road network.

Car-free days would be mere gestures, and restricting access to cars in some places other than pedestrian malls is impractical and would infringe on people’s rights.

To expect people to give up the car entirely in a city like Canberra for a bike or the tram, and therefore not need a parking space would be a gift to developers and arrogantly assumes anyone can adopt a lifestyle limited to inner-city bohemians who won’t need to cart home a weekly shop or want to travel beyond their urban village.

Instead of reducing parking, the emphasis should be on charge points for EVs.

And when it comes to helmets, the Greens point to how making them mandatory lowers cycling participation rates. They suggest helmets be optional. They also helped reduce the number of deaths and brain injuries. So forget it.

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This comments section ably demonstrates why Australia is still stuck in the 50s. Everything is too hard, solutions have to be 100% right now, oh boo hoo how dare some people be given the option to do things differently.

The real problem with the Greens’ Transport Plan is that it is ideological and represents their view of a utopian society.

A more mature political party would have identified opportunities that were achievable and presented them. But that’s not how activists operate.

By presenting a grandiose utopian plan, any possibly achievable portions within that document have now been tarnished by the overall lunacy.

Richard Burton8:41 pm 04 Apr 22

“..but the evidence would need to be compelling to fix spending at the equivalent of 20 per cent of the capital works road budget on dedicated purpose-built infrastructure for walking, cycling and active travel,…”

That’s good, because it is extraordinarily compelling, and is by far the best value of any transport spending. Spending on active travel gets a return of somewhere north of 20:1, vastly outperforming any other transport benefit:cost ratio.

“They suggest helmets be optional. They also helped reduce the number of deaths and brain injuries. So forget it.”

Not true. The death rate of cyclists in Australia and New Zealand rose when the helmet laws were introduced, and the safest countries to ride a bike are Holland and Denmark, where no-one wears a helmet.

We have to change the way we approach transport, as continually planning solely for drivers has failed dismally, so we need to try something different, something that has been proven to work; Active Travel.

Richard Burton wrote: “The death rate of cyclists in Australia and New Zealand rose when the helmet laws were introduced”
Can you help me out here please Richard? I tried to find your data but kept finding studies showing lower risk of injury or death rather than higher from helmet-wearing. Please provide references overriding this other information.
Although I note you refer specifically refer to a rise at the point helmet laws were introduced, which was thirty years ago in Canberra. What data has subsequently been collected?
“and the safest countries to ride a bike are Holland and Denmark, where no-one wears a helmet”. Is your argument that not wearing a helmet causes fewer crashes? Or less risk per crash? What if the answer were that there were fewer crashes per person or per kilometre where cycling was more prevalent? What if high rates of localised city cycling entailed lower speeds compared with the swooping paths of Canberra? Those would be risk factors independent of helmet-wearing. Do you have some clear data on cause and effect after removing confounding factors please?
It might also be helpful to profile risk by age group, given some people’s concerns raised here. Some groups may not see the same benefit to cost ratio (whatever it is) as might the broader mass of society.

As an afterthought, I looked for images of cycling in Holland and Denmark, curious whether Richard was right that “no-one wears a helmet”. There appeared something of a demarcation. Country road pics showed helmets to be common. City pics showed them to be uncommon, although woolly hats were prevalent for warmth. These are consistent with my conjecture earlier about risk context.
Perhaps we need less evangelism and more analysis for risk.

Greens – will they give up air travel. No
Greens – will they give up holidays overseas. No
Greens – will they refuse to use the Chairman’s Lounge at airports. No
Greens – will they prove that they all have EVs. No
Greens politicians – will they ride their bikes to Parliament. No

consumeradvocatecanberra1:52 pm 04 Apr 22

I used to travel from Weetangerra to Russell on bike paths. I live in Theodore and there is no way I would hit the Monaro if I were commuting-too bloody dangerous. We have to get serious if we are serious-that means dedicated off road cyclepaths so we don’t have to practice “poweer gives way to sail”. Now how do we achieve it. Obviously the elephant in the room is the red rattler. It needs to go and it is not too late. Save the money, do an audit of commuting bike paths for each of our town centres and build and spend to get it right.

Started watching the Tour of Flanders to give me some training ideas for riding through Canberra. If you see a 60 plus year old curmudgeon riding in lycra tearing along the cycle paths endangering walkers and dogs to get to his next coffee stop then…..no bugger that, you won’t see me on a bike at my age. I will be waving to you from my car on those chilly Canberra morning when it is bucketing down rain. This is not Holland you know.

Yeah sure Earthdog it never rains or is chilly in Holland eh! You can certainly ride a bike at 60 plus years and probably would keep the knee joints supple too. You don’t have to ride in the rain though. Canberra certainly has plenty of days when it doesn’t rain – probably more than Holland.

ChrisinTurner1:27 pm 04 Apr 22

Every street needs to be suitable and safe for active travel. Bicycle lanes that just disappear are not suitable.

thoughtsonthesubject9:58 am 04 Apr 22

One must wonder why someone as concerned about the environment as Jo Clay claims she is, can be representing the ACT Greens with a good conscience. This party which is insisting on extending the light rail to Woden where the construction of the infrastructure (including raising London Circuit, the new bridge and stops that can only be reached by elevators like that projected for Deakin) will produce a massive amount of greenhouse gases. So will importing 16 additional trains from Spain, not to mention the pollution from idling cars stuck in traffic jams for years to come. The Green’s failure to produce an independent comparison of the ecological and financial cost of electric buses and light rail shows that they are neither concerned for the environment nor the running down of essential public services due to the multi-billion dollar expenditure for the tram.
Jo, before asking everybody to get on a bicycle – quite impossible for many of Canberra’s aging population – please think about the monumental financial debt you are putting on the next generation for the slow train to Woden.

ACT resident8:24 am 04 Apr 22

The Greens could better spend their time advocating bike only paths in concern for pedestrian safety, make a proper public transport analysis of zero emission electric buses over an existing network instead of more trams and decide what their exposed heads are worth in any bicycle collision.

Capital Retro7:53 am 04 Apr 22

At the next election, let’s all vote for a Green free day, every day.

Paths getting crowded should not mean we want less people on bikes, it should mean we want better bike paths (including more that are separated from pedestrians on busy routes). And on what grounds are there no (or little) health benefits to e-bikes?
Obviously cycling won’t ever work for everyone, but that is no reason to not make it better and more accessible for more people!
And while helmets are pretty good and I’ll always wear one, they are much more needed for some bicycle types than others. I don’t think removing helmet requirements should be a priority, though.

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