It is hard to think of an activity with more benefits than cycling, for cyclists and for the wider community. There are clear economic, health and environmental benefits. Increases in the number of people cycling can for instance help to reduce traffic congestion, lower vehicle emissions and reduce health costs through a healthier and more physically active community.
Cycling infrastructure and safety has received considerable media attention in recent years. The community interest in this audit became obvious when we received a record number of responses to our online survey, as well as a range of community submissions. Our survey asked the community about issues facing cyclists and motorists sharing roads, and connectivity between pathways, roads and destinations.
The popularity of cycling is evident early in the morning when large groups cycle around the Swan River and on weekends when riders head to the hills, the beachfront and river foreshores. Although popular, cycling is not yet a major transport option.
In other countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, cycling is a major form of transport. This is generally due to well-designed and well-connected cycling infrastructure and cycling safety education and promotion programs.
To promote cycling as a transport option, the Government produced the first bicycle network plan in 1985 and a second, more comprehensive plan in 1996. For many years, there was minimal progress, but this began to change around 2000 through an increased focus on cycling infrastructure. The latest Western Australian Bicycle Network Plan was adopted in 2014.
We found that completion of cycle paths along major transport corridors and more clearly defined cycle routes through local neighbourhoods was critical to cycling becoming a significant mode of transport. Local routes provide a way to cycle from home to school or work, to the shops, library or park, or public transport hubs. It is also important that these routes allow cyclists of all abilities and ages to ride safely.
While it is not feasible to construct dedicated cycle paths through established inner city areas, there is scope to upgrade existing facilities to current national standards, and to ensure new facilities use current good practice designs and will accommodate future demand. Maintenance of facilities to national standards is also important.
Transport agencies and local governments require greater knowledge of where people are cycling, along with the collection of timely and consistent crash data. Improved data collection will allow state and local governments to work together to construct and maintain safer cycling routes and ultimately reduce the number of crashes involving cyclists. Safety issues are a disincentive to increased cycling.
Earlier this year I completed an audit on Main Roads Projects to Address Traffic Congestion. Perth’s worsening traffic congestion is requiring Main Roads to make significant changes to the way its business currently functions.
Removing impediments to the growth in cycling will assist Main Roads and the Department of Transport to create a truly integrated transport network. This will be critical as Perth continues to expand to an estimated population of 3.5 million by 2050. Collaboration between stakeholder groups and state and local governments will also be essential to cycling’s future.