Thursday, 30 September 2010

A "new" strategy

Somewhere in Canberra, a copy of the Australian National Cycling Strategy 2005-2010 has been gathering dust on a shelf for the past five years. You can still get a shiny pdf version on the Australia Bicycle Council website.

It has just been replaced by the Australian National Cycling Strategy 2011-2015.

Both documents are on the same website.

The new cycling strategy aims to double the number of people cycling in Australia. The most interesting part for me is the section called Progress Over The Past 5 Years. Among commuters, the modal share has actually reduced from 1.9% to 1.6% - both woefully low numbers. Bear in mind also that most Australian cyclists are male so among women the numbers are negligible. And the numbers are of commuters. That is the time when you see most people riding. At other times of the day, it is probably safe to say that the modal share is close to zero. If you ask me, numbers like 1.9% are so low they are the equivalent of absolute zero in cycling numbers. Get rid of all cycle lanes and stop spending money on marketing and I cannot see that the modal share would get much lower. These are mostly the people who would ride a bike whatever you chucked at them.

Doubling the figure would make it 3.2% and that is described later in the policy as "ambitious". It isn't really. By way of comparison, starting from an already impressive 20%, the share of journeys made by bike in Malmö in Sweden increased by 1% every year for ten years. So how is the Strategy going to achieve this miracle? Easy - by following exactly the same policies that have failed during the life of the last Strategy.

The tragic thing is that the strategy at least gives the impression of some desire to change the ridiculous and wasteful way most of us get around but even though brief mention is made of some countries that have achieved it there is no mention of what exactly worked to achieve it.

This policy will not double the rate of cycling over the next 5 years and get people out of their cars. Why should they?

Let's have a look at some of the "priorities" of the strategy.

The first is Cycling Promotion. This has surely been done to death. Talk to anyone in the street and they can tell you the "benefits of cycling". The point is they don't do it. The plan says:

Marketing and education programs that promote the benefits of cycling and encourage people to cycle for short personal trips will continue to be developed and implemented. These programs should target:
i) underrepresented groups, such as school children, seniors and female commuters.

Why market to school children? We know their preferred way of getting to school is under their own steam on their bike. What's stopping them is not a lack of promotion. It's their parents. Roads are unsafe for children. There are way too few safe places to cross and traffic in the main is far too fast. Of course parents don't let their children ride to school. They're not stupid. Also, more and more people are choosing private schools which are not always around the corner. If you want those students to ride to school (and the distance could easily be 5 or more kms), there is only one way to do it. The answer is here.

You need to reclaim some road space from motorists and build a network of proper separated paths. No amount of promotion will convince people to allow their children to ride on roads with fast moving cars and trucks. They are not stupid and it is patronising to think yet more promotion will work.

The next priority is Infrastructure and Facilities. A paragraph is devoted to "end of trip" facilities which usually means bike racks and showers. Bike racks are easy. They should be in abundance at every railway station and shopping centre and all across the city. Showers are necessary if a person is in training but for most people, cycling should require no more exertion than walking. It should be able to be done in normal clothes without the need for showers at the end of every journey. "Facilitate" that and you will start attracting more people out of their cars. I have not seen any evidence for the claim in the Strategy that there has been investment in cycling routes. There are lines painted on parts of some roads and something approaching a proper bike lane on Frome Road but that is really it.

The third priority is integrated planning as it was in the previous plan. There are plans and strategies all over the place that pay lip service to this. I am sure my local council has some sort of plan or policy that claims it is "committed" to encouraging more people to go by bike. Again though, the evidence does not seem to be there. Every single new retail development is surrounded by car parks. One or two token bike stands might be installed but as always, getting to them is just unpleasant. Unless you are one of the 1.6% of the population who makes a conscious choice to get on a bike, nobody does. Integrated planning is what you see on the thousands of cycling and urban planning blogs splattered across the internet. Every new road or development has proper provision for cycling. Not just a token add-on at the end.

Fourth is "safety". After talking about more "educational campaigns", the Strategy says this:

Concerns over safety and aggression from motorists are seen as key deterrents, particularly for female participation, and it is important that road safety campaigns do not just target regular cyclists but also target motorists and pedestrians to increase their awareness of the rights of cyclists and understanding of how to interact with cyclists.

"Raising awareness"? Seriously? There is a great book called Stuff White People Like. Raising awareness is a favourite. Raising awareness is great because you don't actually have to do anything. As long as one person's awareness is raised, you've done your job.

A major deterrent to getting around on a bike is being forced to risk being hit by a car or truck. Minimise that risk and you might get somewhere. How do we do that? Well, without wishing to labour the point, what do those countries with the highest modal share for cycling do?

Priority 5 is monitoring and evaluation. That's actually a relief. I am glad whoever is in charge of this thing will be monitoring how ineffective it will be.

This new Strategy, which is filled with more of the same, will regrettably never achieve what it sets out to achieve. It certainly won't achieve the "ambitious" target of raising only cycling commuter modal share to a measly 3.2%. I would really love to be positive about this but can't. It is a great disappointment.

Main North Road
Original here.

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