Cycling the way to go in this overcrowded city
January 11, 2008
THE NRMA, unsurprisingly, claims that few cyclists use the Epping Road corridor each day. The NRMA, like the big oil companies, has a vested interest to protect, and it is depressing that private car use in Sydney is still rising, with vehicle kilometres travelled increasing at twice the rate of population growth.
We are past the day when we have any choice but to pursue alternatives: oil is running out and global warming is increasing at an alarming rate. Our streets are becoming impossibly congested, polluted and unpleasant to use. The health costs, in respiratory disease and obesity, to name but two, are well-documented.
Many people choose cars over bikes because they can get directly to any destination. Get on a bike, and you'll be lucky to find continuous safe passage.
Cyclists are expected to levitate through impassable gaps in the network and risk their lives inches from tonnes of speeding metal on car-dominated roads.
Despite this, nearly 1.5 million bicycles were sold in Australia last year, 40 per cent more bikes than cars. And this is the eighth year in a row that bikes have outsold cars.
At last year's C40 Large Cities conference in New York, I cycled with the mayor of Copenhagen. In the Danish capital 40 per cent of people use bikes to get to work and study. International experience shows that if you provide the facilities, people will use them - but it does not happen overnight.
Our top need is for a clean, efficient, sustainable and integrated transport system that includes cycleways and mass transit to move the million-plus people who use the city daily to their destinations.
Recent research by the City of Sydney indicates that Sydneysiders would be more likely to cycle if there were dedicated cycle lanes and better awareness by motorists of bicycle safety.
Even under the present, less-than-ideal conditions, the Roads and Traffic Authority has reported a 45 per cent increase in bicycle traffic in the CBD in the three years to 2005. The city's own counts show that about 500 cyclists use Oxford Street each weekday between 7am and 9am - a sixfold increase over the past decade.
While there are major recreational cycleways - such as the Sydney Harbour route and the planned Alexandra Canal path - the city's cycle strategy aims to create an effective and accessible network with major routes less than five minutes' cycle from every residence.
It also includes strategies to increase community awareness about the benefits of cycling, to provide better signage and safer, separated cycle lanes. We are encouraging end-of-trip facilities including the provision of parking, storage, change and shower facilities - which progressive firms like Lend Lease are now providing in their headquarters.
On the other side of the harbour, North Sydney Council has its own proposals for getting cyclists safely to the bridge, and local governments across the metropolitan area are looking at ways of creating a cycling network that can get people to work, recreation and educational destinations.
According to the British urbanist Charles Landry, the average US male devotes more than 1600 hours a year to his car - driving it, sitting in traffic, parking it. Adding in the time spent working to pay for it, for petrol, tolls and other charges, he calculates that same person spends over 18 per cent of his life on his car.
Sydney people have surely got better things to do with that 18 per cent of their lives.
Clover Moore is Lord Mayor of Sydney and the independent state MP for Sydney.
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