Thursday, April 19, 2007

wheels and a way: the future of cycling in Queensland

Cycling is the ugly sister of Australian urban traffic management. Bicycle riding used to be totally excluded from the planning process in previous decades. Now there are signs it is becoming more seriously addressed as policy makers begin to explore its benefits in terms of sustainable development, climate change, health, air quality and social exclusion. But public support remains weak. When cyclists to protest against conditions they face on the road, they end up being media victims and portrayed as “berks on bikes” as in the Daily Telegraph’s vilification of last November’s Sydney Critical mass organisers.

Here in Queensland, there are some signs of change. In October 2003, the Queensland Government released a cycling strategy document (pdf). The strategy’s aim is to make cycling safe and convenient and to integrate cycling into government policies and projects from the beginning. The specific target of the strategy is to increase the proportion of all trips made by bicycle in Queensland by an additional 50% by 2011 and by 100% by 2021. If achieved, it would mean an overall increase of 3% of the total transport share but would still amount to only 6% of all journeys in 2021. The targets are greater for the South East Queensland (SEQ) region. Here the target is for 5% of all trips to be made by bicycle by 2007 and 8% by 2011.

The strategy had transport, health, economy, social equity and environmental goals. Ausroads estimated the cost of congestion to Australian roads as $5 billion a year in 1999. Healthwise, cycling can contribute to the prevention of a number of physical and psychological illnesses such as coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and depression. Bikes are also economical, about 1% of the cost of owning and maintaining a car. Finally, bicycles provide affordable, accessible and independent travel for a large number of people and are pollution free.

The Queensland Government issued its first implementation report (pdf) for the period 2003 to 2005. The state government body Sport and Recreation Queensland provided over $5 million for cycling initiatives including the provision of bikeways, education programs and user group workshops. But data on increased bike usage was scarce. The ABS estimates 37% of Queensland cyclists ride once a week. 32% of these were aged 15-24. 10% of male cyclists ride every day but only 4% of females. The study acknowledged available cycling data consists of relatively small sample sizes, which made benchmarking for various regional areas difficult.

The study praised the QUT Kelvin Grove TravelSmart Destination project which achieved a 150 percent relative increase in cycling participation. Kelvin Grove Urban Village (KGUV) was a $400 million joint initiative of the Queensland Government and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), One of the strategic goals of the KGUV Master Plan was to ensure that people using the urban village be less car dependant than the general Brisbane population.

The KGUV study outlined a summary of three infrastructure requirements with associated considerations for cycling. These needs are Shared and dedicated bicycle pathways, bicycle routes on roads and end-of-trip facilities. The considerations for it shared and dedicated bicycle pathways were: quality & accessibility, pathway surface & signage, transport connections and safety. Brisbane now has 500km of dedicated bikeways. But they remained disjointed and unintegrated. They are also badly affected by the current tunnel building exercise. There are clumsy and ineffective detours that will be in place for a long period at both ends of the North South Bypass Tunnel (NSBT).

The NSBT is part of Mayor Campbell Newman’s plan to build five bridge and tunnel crossings of the Brisbane River at the current estimated cost of $5.2 billion, though this will inevitably blow out. The lobby group Communities Against the Tunnel (CATT) is arguing the tunnel solution is 1960s thinking for a 21st century problem. It is advocating a mix of better public transport (busways, light rail, cheaper and more frequent services) as well as completing the bikeway network.

It claims expansion of the bikeway will cost a fraction of the tunnels but will add equally as much capacity to the city’s roads. As cyclists are not likely to be allowed in the council's tunnels, the Queensland cycle advocacy group Bicycle Queensland maintains that the existing roads adjacent to the tunnels need to be improved for cycling safety as part of the traffic reduction on 'above-ground' roads that the tunnels offer. BQ has stated this position to the Brisbane Council and in submissions regarding the tunnels.

End of journey facilities are another critical success factor for increase in cycling. The city of Perth in WA has developed an enlightened policy in this area whose aim is to “facilitate the appropriate provision of secure, well designed and effective on site bicycle parking and end of journey facilities to encourage the use of bicycles as an alternative means of transport and access to the City”. New or additional developments must provide on site bicycle parking facilities at a rate of 1 bay per 500 sq m of floor space while sporting venues must provide 1 bay per 500 spaces. There must also be a minimum of two female and two male showers, located in separate changing rooms, for the first 10 bicycle parking bays. There must also be change rooms with lockers located as close as possible to the bicycle parking facilities. Queensland would do well to follow suit.

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