How to increase commuting by bicyclePosted: March 12, 2010
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.