How to increase commuting by bicycle

I argued yesterday there might be potential to shift a small but important proportion of workers who live and work in the suburbs out of their cars and on to bicycles. This is a somewhat novel view as most of the attention given to commuting by bicycle has focussed on how to increase work trips to the CBD.

The suburbs are an important potential ‘market’ because, unlike commuting to the city centre, the great bulk of suburban bicycle trips to work would be in lieu of the car, not public transport.

I also indicated yesterday that I would look further at possible concrete actions that could be taken to advance greater suburban bicycle commuting. Here are my early thoughts.

The key deterrents to cycling concern safety, compulsory helmets, security and personal hygiene. A possible way of addressing these obstacles could go something like this.

In relation to improving safety, I envisage a dense network of bicycle routes in the inner and middle suburbs which give cyclists and pedestrians (legal) priority over cars. For marketing purposes, these routes might be called Cycle Streets.

The network could be a 1-1.5 km ‘grid’ comprised predominantly of radial and circumferential local streets.  Through-traffic would be discouraged in these streets and residents’ cars subject to a draconian speed limit, say 30 kmh.

The key to network design is directness. Unlike recreational cyclists, commuters want to get from A to B – the value of the journey itself is secondary. Hence the network must rely on using roads rather than trails, as the latter are often too circuitous (for example, my route from home to the CBD is 25 km via the Yarra Trail but only 8 km via road).

This network would be superimposed on the existing arterial road bicycle network as in many parts of Melbourne there simply aren’t adequate alternative roads to turn into Cycle Streets. These arterials must have a dedicated bicycle lane. Any sections where the bicycle lane hasn’t yet been provided would be subject to a lower speed limit at peak hour, say 40 kmh, with clear signage that motorists must yield to cyclists.

Compulsory helmets are a deterrent for some potential riders. They object to the discomfort of a helmet in hot weather and to so-called ‘helmet hair’. Some riders think helmets are uncool. There is a respectable point of view (Whycycle) that the loss in health benefits to the wider society from people being turned off cycling by compulsory helmets is greater than those obtained from wearing them. A reasonable compromise might be to make helmets compulsory for minors only.

In relation to personal hygiene and bike security, employers and landlords should be encouraged to provide showers and lockable enclosures for storing bicycles. Perhaps Governments could run demonstration programs and even offer some incentives to building owners, but by and large I think this should be left to the market. Bicycle Victoria already offers an advisory bike parking service to employers.

Bicycle Victoria does good work, but its proposed network of bike routes is too sparse and too CBD-focussed. Yes, inner city residents who work in the centre of the city or nearby are the group most interested in cycling to work at present, but for the reasons I outlined yesterday, they don’t offer the greatest sustainability benefits. Note also that inner city residents only comprise 8% of Melbourne’s population.

I’ve focussed on the journey to work here because I don’t think cycling has much potential to substitute for cars for other types of trips.  The singular exception is school trips – most everything that applies to work trips should also apply to school trips.

5 Comments on “How to increase commuting by bicycle”

  1. Benno Spearritt says:

    Getting off topic from the focus of this blog:

    For safety and psychology, cars need to be separated from bicycles which in turn need to be separated from pedestrian traffic.

    A walk through the Parkville campus of the University of Melbourne involves a head check every time you want to “change lanes” or alter course in any way. The less conscientious pedestrians create problems when they fail to do this. Then again stupid buggers shouldn’t be riding on the campus proper anyway.

    Also bicycle lanes are a poor compromise. They don’t make things much safer on what they could be. Particularly as most of them put cyclists into the door zone of parked cars. Smart cyclists ride in the middle of the main lane.

    Brisbane has a fantastic network of bicycle lanes to separate cars from bikes. They also have an incredibly strong bicycle lobby unlike Melbourne and Sydney.

    Am I allowed to mention Sydney here? Or doesn’t it exist as far as this blog is concerned?

  2. ajh says:

    An interesting couple of articles on cycling Alan. I m certainly in your demographic, living and working in the NW suburbs of Melbourne, and am an occassional cyclist to work. My route to work is mainly bike track, and is 14km (smack on your average!) rather than 8km by road. This though is a good thing, an 8km commute by bike for me is too short to gain any exercise benefit and I will often cycle an extra loop of 8km to get a reasonable 20+km cycle in.

    Helmet wise I disagree, and think they need to remain compulsory. I cannot understand why anyone would not want to wear one.

    I agree with the previous poster about bicycle lanes, they are a poor compromise, and on this side of town are more often than not full of glass and other debris.

    Not sure about the idea of “cycle streets”. It may just be another way to piss off local residents and turn the general population even more against cyclists. Apparently we are already the most unpopular road users!

    Love your blog by the way!

  3. […] be needed to overcome the deterrents to commuting by bicycle in the suburbs. EDIT: see second post here. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)WE’RE GOING TO BE DRIVING FOR A LONG TIME […]

  4. hammer says:

    Melbourne’s transport modes do not connect. Having large-scale Netherlands-style bike cages at train stations would increase bike commuting throughout the metro area. The current locker system is available to only a couple of hundred commuters and, I believe, the cost of these is around $2500 a unit. To me, spending less than $10,000 a bike (at currently totally inadequate projected public bike hire rates) for thousands of potential hires a year makes much more sense than spending so much on so few.

    Tremendous idea of 30kmh limits for cycle routes and in the CBD too: for cyclists and cars. Bring on ROW for bikes on trails (I regularly see dozens of cyclists backed up waiting on the Capital trail for the odd rat-running car on Bowen Cresc), and the building of more direct cycle routes (through parks too…).

    There’s loads of public space for expansion of bike lanes: Melbourne is one of the few cities to still provide on-road parking for cars. Elsewhere it is seen as relatively uncontroversial that cars have to pay for the public space they use.

  5. Dan says:

    I would like to encorage you all to stay off public roads with your bikes. Bikes belong in parks and on sidewalks not on roads. I wish to no longer see you on the road. I am tired of sharing the road with you.

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