The Sydney Morning Herald from Australia recently reported that Sydney is "the city that hates bikes." Cycling rates are low all across Australia, but Sydney is the city which has "the lowest rate of bicycle ownership of any major city in Australia as well as the lowest proportion of people who cycle every day." Melbourne has double the cycling rate of Sydney, with 2.1% of commutes by bike vs. 0.8% in Sydney.
John Pucher, who I wrote about previously, spent a sabbatical year researching ways to boost cycling in Sydney, and wrote a detailed report which looks into the reasons why Sydney has so little cycling, making comparisons with Melbourn and with the rest of the world.
The graph shows the relationship between the bicycle modal share for commuting and the proportion of bike trips which are by women for various areas of Melbourne. Women are typically more cautious than men, and where subjective safety is lacking, fewer women will cycle. It is noted in the article that cycling rates for women are very low in Australia, while the highest rate of cycling by women is here in the Netherlands where 55% of all cycle journeys are made by women.
Normally I would note here that the commuting rate is usually a lot lower than the modal share for all journeys. This is true in most instances because children, parents with children and the elderly are even more affected by subjective safety issues.
However, Australia's cycling rate is so low that other effects come into play. In Sydney, fully 53% of cycle journeys are made for recreational purposes. This is quite an unusual situation. Conditions are such that utility cycling by "normal people" who don't identify themselves as "cyclists" has almost been eradicated.
Pucher's article (please read it) spends a lot of time looking at the factors which make cycling particularly unattractive in Sydney. Topography and climate, population density and urban form, trip distance, socioeconomic and demographic factors. I've covered most of these issues before, and none really add up to a reason for no-one to cycle.
I've covered these excuses before, so I won't go over them again, except for one. The problem of trip distances is so commonly over-stated that I will write about that. The average work trip length in Sydney turns out to be 16.9 km. That's quite a high figure. However, 32.9% of work trips are actually under 10 km, and 15% of trips to work are under 5 km. Even with such a large number of short commutes, only 0.8% of all these commutes are being made by bicycle. Journey distances may put off some potential cycle commuters, but they are clearly not the real reason for the cycling rate of Sydney being so extraordinarily low.
It is often believed by people from low cycling English speaking countries that the Dutch only make short journeys. That of course is not the truth. Across the whole of the Netherlands, 35% of all trips for all purposes that are under 7.5 km are made by bike. So are 15% of journeys between 7.5 and 15 km and 3% of journeys over 15 km.
So what is the problem ? Why do Australians cycle so infrequently ? Section 5 on page 14 of the article gets down to it:
"Concern about the danger of road cycling is a serious deterrent to getting more people to cycle—especially for children, the elderly, and women, but also for anyone who is risk averse (Bauman et al, 2008). A recent survey of 1,150 Sydney residents living within 10 km of the CBD suggests that perceived traffic danger is the primary reason why non-regular cyclists do not cycle more often (City of Sydney, 2006). Thus, improving cycling safety is an important approach to encouraging more cycling among a broader cross-section of society. Of course, reducing cyclist injuries and fatalities is an appropriate public health goal in itself, but the potential impact of improved safety on people’s willingness to cycle is yet more reason to pursue this goal."
There you have it. There is a lack of Subjective safety. Or to put it another way, "It's the infrastructure, Stupid."
It doesn't have to be like this. In the Netherlands we have infrastructure which supports cyclists by giving them direct journeys with a high degree of subjective safety making cycling easily accessible to all. The result is not only an enormous difference in the number of short and slow journeys made relative to other countries, but increases interest in all types of cycling. You also see it reflected in the very high rate of participation in racing, and the resulting success in international racing vs. other countries, and the high rate of long distance cycle commuting. The latter particularly benefits due to infrastructure specifically designed to support it. The quality of Dutch provision has made a great difference to my own commuting speed. For keen cyclists, there is no down side to the type of infrastructure which exists in the Netherlands.
The story about Sydney came to me via the Crap cycling and walking in Waltham Forest blog.