Cities with high rates of com­muter cy­cling have his­to­ries of pub­lic ac­tion in favour of plan­ning and in­fra­struc­ture. In Aus­tralia, writes Rose Dono­hoe, there has been more ac­tive op­po­si­tion.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - ROSE DONO­HOE is a Mel­bournebased jour­nal­ist and copy­writer.

Mel­bourne cy­clists have been on the look­out for the “Boulie Tacker” since 2014.

Over the years, the zeal­ous van­dal has dropped thou­sands of sharp tacks along a busy bike path on Yarra Boule­vard in the city’s north-east.

Im­pos­si­ble to de­tect at speed, the tiny shards of black metal have pierced count­less tyres, threat­ened se­ri­ous in­jury and cost the coun­cil more than $100,000 in clean­ing and sur­veil­lance.

Years of po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion have failed to re­veal the cul­prit’s iden­tity, but it is clear to cy­clists that they are the tar­get.

Over in the west, on Mel­bourne’s Cap­i­tal City Trail, a slick of diesel oil has been anony­mously dumped three times this year. In Syd­ney, a coun­cil­com­mis­sioned art­work pro­mot­ing cy­cling has been dis­man­tled. In Ade­laide, an­ti­cy­cling stick­ers have been dis­trib­uted around the city. And in Bris­bane, a pop­u­lar Face­book page has been ac­cused of in­cit­ing vi­o­lence against cy­clists.

With boom­ing metropoli­tan pop­u­la­tions, grow­ing traf­fic con­ges­tion, and the ever-present threat of fos­sil­fuel-has­tened cli­mate change, Aus­tralian cy­cling needs a good news story. But it has not been forth­com­ing.

Ev­ery day, 69 per cent of

Aus­tralians drive a car to work, usu­ally as the only pas­sen­ger. Mean­while, 1.1 per cent of us ride a bi­cy­cle – fewer peo­ple than five years ago.

Fif­teen thou­sand kilo­me­tres away, there’s a city with more bikes than peo­ple. Am­s­ter­dam is revered as a cy­cling mecca, where peo­ple mount their two-wheel­ers in rain, hail or shine, of­ten with a cou­ple of kids on the back. Much like its canals, bikes are part of Am­s­ter­dam’s charm. But this hasn’t al­ways been true of the world’s most fa­mous cy­cling city.

Rewind to the 1960s and ’70s, when many of the world’s cities were whole­heart­edly em­brac­ing cars as a favoured mode of mass trans­port. Cy­cling in Am­s­ter­dam fell from 60 per cent to as low as 10 per cent and the roads more gen­er­ally be­came a dan­ger­ous place. In 1971, traf­fic deaths peaked at 3300, in­clud­ing more than

400 chil­dren.

Cit­i­zen out­rage man­i­fested in the man­ner du jour: pub­lic protest. Un­der the ban­ner “Stop de Kin­der­mo­ord” – mean­ing “Stop the Child Mur­der” – pro­test­ers marched and rode on Am­s­ter­dam, de­mand­ing a re­newed fo­cus on cy­cling.

Dr Marco te Bröm­mel­stroet, aca­demic di­rec­tor of the Ur­ban Cy­cling In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Am­s­ter­dam, says the protests un­doubt­edly changed the course of Dutch cities.

“Main­stream plan­ners and politi­cians didn’t want a cy­cling city,” he says. “Quite the op­po­site – they were de­lib­er­ately work­ing on a city model that di­vided liv­ing and work­ing ar­eas, with fast mo­bil­ity in-be­tween. The cit­i­zens stopped this.”

Around the same time, Danes took to the streets of Copenhagen op­pos­ing the con­struc­tion of large mo­tor­ways. They be­gan plac­ing white crosses at the sites of traf­fic deaths. Again, the gov­ern­ment was forced to lis­ten. Bi­cy­cle traf­fic in Copenhagen has risen 68 per cent in the past 20 years. In 2016, bikes over­took the num­ber of cars in the city for the first time since records be­gan.

In the Span­ish city of Seville, in 2003, aca­demic Ri­cardo Mar­qués Sillero was one in a group of cy­clists who pushed hard enough to get sep­a­rated cy­cling lanes onto the po­lit­i­cal agenda. Sillero’s plan to in­stall 80 kilo­me­tres of com­pletely sep­a­rate bike paths was suc­cess­ful, and com­muter cy­cling has in­creased twelve­fold. New York, Ber­lin and San Fran­cisco are other ex­am­ples of cities where ac­tivism is forc­ing change.

Dr Bröm­mel­stroet says pub­lic lob­by­ing is “es­sen­tial” for the cre­ation of cy­cling cities. In short, gov­ern­ments don’t make cy­cling cities – peo­ple do.

But in Aus­tralia, we’re busier protest­ing against bikes than for them.

Mel­bourne’s lord mayor, Robert Doyle, blames a cul­ture of re­sis­tance.

“I don’t think we’re as com­pli­ant as the Scan­dies, so it’s go­ing to be a long haul,” he says, cit­ing the pub­lic’s treat­ment of the re­cently in­tro­duced oBike shared bi­cy­cle scheme.

“Peo­ple don’t like the bikes, so what do they do? They toss them in the Yarra. They turn them up­side down. There’s a kind of civil protest go­ing on.”

Aus­tralia’s big cities each have some form of cy­cling ac­tion plan, but none any­where near as am­bi­tious as they could be with pub­lic sup­port. Cur­rently, Canberra and Ho­bart lead the na­tion in ac­tive com­mut­ing – 8.4 per cent and

8.1 per cent, re­spec­tively. Perth and Ade­laide have the low­est num­bers of peo­ple rid­ing or walk­ing to work – 3.7 per cent and 4 per cent.

City of Syd­ney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has made cy­cling paths a pri­or­ity, but ad­mits it’s an up­hill bat­tle – lit­er­ally, in the case of Syd­ney’s ter­rain.

“We’ve his­tor­i­cally had gov­ern­ments in Aus­tralia that have pro­moted cars, and peo­ple still like to park their car out­side their ter­race house,” Moore says. “We also have a lot of chal­lenges com­pared to [flat] cities like Mel­bourne and Copenhagen.”

As for the City of Syd­ney’s pro­posed 200-kilo­me­tre cy­cle net­work – com­pared with Bris­bane’s plan for 1700 kilo­me­tres – Moore says it’s “all we can fit in”.

There’s no doubt­ing Moore’s pas­sion for bikes. And de­spite cy­cling rates in New South Wales drop­ping 5 per cent in the year to 2016, cy­cling in the

City of Syd­ney rose 6 per cent last year. This trans­lates to one in five in­ner-city dwellers get­ting on a bike at least once a week. That’s enough for Moore – who’s fought push­back the en­tire way – to claim a win.

“De­spite the Tele­graph and Alan Jones, we’ve made Syd­ney a cy­cling city,” she says.

Moore has in­tro­duced cheap cy­cling and bike main­te­nance cour­ses, in­clud­ing spe­cific cour­ses for women – an im­por­tant ac­knowl­edge­ment of the hefty gender gap in cy­cling lanes.

In Mel­bourne, less than 20 per cent of cy­clists are women, al­though the use of some sep­a­rated cy­cling lanes sees that per­cent­age grow to 50.

Ge­or­gia Booth, a 27-year-old woman liv­ing in Syd­ney’s in­ner west, says her cy­cling ca­reer ended af­ter a dis­as­trous first at­tempt.

“I was rid­ing in a bike lane, and a car tailed me for a while, then pulled up next to me and [the driver] screamed at me to get off the road,” Booth says. She stopped rid­ing af­ter that.

Anne Ver­laek, a Dutch woman who moved to Aus­tralia in 2015, says cy­cling in Syd­ney is “a dif­fer­ent ball game”.

“It’s not like cruis­ing around in Am­s­ter­dam – you have to be fast,” she says. “And be­cause there aren’t enough bike lanes, you get yelled at for slow­ing down traf­fic.”

In Mel­bourne, Robert Doyle says bike riders need to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own role in the on­go­ing cul­ture war.

“There is a sense of en­ti­tle­ment from some of our cy­clists,” he says, as he re­calls be­ing ver­bally abused re­cently. “We were of­fer­ing bike re­pairs and wanted to talk to cy­clists about shared spa­ces, and a cy­clist sped past at about 30 kilo­me­tres [an hour] and shouted at me, ‘Get off the bike path, you dick­head.’”

Doyle yelled back to in­form him it was ac­tu­ally a shared path.

Fur­ther north, the anti-cy­clist Face­book page “Bris­bane and Cy­clists” has come un­der fire for vi­o­lent com­ments, in­clud­ing threats to run cy­clists, re­ferred to as “road toads” and “ped­dling [sic] ter­ror­ists”, off the road.

Plumber James Reynolds says he cre­ated the page, which has reached 5000 mem­bers, af­ter hav­ing “a num­ber of near misses with cy­clists who dis­obeyed the road rules”. He claims to have re­ceived pos­i­tive re­sponses from peo­ple all over Aus­tralia – in­clud­ing cy­clists.

Asked whether cy­clists, such as the man who yelled at Mel­bourne’s lord mayor, need to check their at­ti­tude, the pres­i­dent of the, Ed­ward Hore, dodges the ques­tion.

“Well, I’d rather he was speed­ing on a bike than speed­ing in a car,” he says.

Un­like his afore­men­tioned coun­ter­parts, Hore ad­mits he spends more time on the de­fen­sive than proac­tively forc­ing pol­icy change.

“We’re con­stantly put­ting out fires,” he says. “We spend a lot of time show­ing peo­ple what hap­pens to us on the roads.”

When it comes to cre­at­ing cy­cling cities, Aus­tralia is be­hind other coun­tries. Cy­clists blame reck­less driv­ers, driv­ers blame ego­tis­ti­cal cy­clists, cy­clists blame un­sup­port­ive gov­ern­ments and gov­ern­ments blame ma­cho cy­clists.

Doyle says the an­swer is to aim for “a shared road­way, for ev­ery­one”.

Less diplo­matic is Dr Bröm­mel­stroet, who thinks the pre­ferred hi­er­ar­chy is ob­vi­ous.

“Cars and bi­cy­cles are not equal. Es­pe­cially not cars in their ad­verse ef­fects on oth­ers, safety and air. It’s a choice

• be­tween cars or peo­ple.”


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