With traffic congestion increasing in urban centres all around the world, commuters often find cycling the fastest alternative to travel in a dense city. However, only one to three per cent of Australian commuters choose to cycle to work, as they do not feel safe riding, especially in traffic.
In addition to being a relatively quick mode of transport, cycling also helps people save money on fuel and parking, helps to reduce traffic congestion, is good for the environment and offers health benefits.
One of the most frequently cited reasons for the low levels of bike riding in Australia is fear of collision with motorised vehicles. Cyclists' safety fears are well-founded; 46 cyclists were killed this year on the streets and many more were injured.
As part of the National Cycling Strategy 2011 – 2016, the Australian Bicycle Council recently undertook the largest ever survey of bicycle riding participation in Australia. The data obtained showed that commuting to work by bicycle in Australian is not very popular; 3.4 per cent cycle to work in Darwin, 2.6 per cent in Canberra, and between 1.1 and 1.8 per cent in Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Only 0.7 per cent of Sydney workers commute by bike.
Australian cities fall well behind the bike-friendly cities of the Netherlands and Denmark. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, 34 per cent and 36 per cent of workers commute by bicycle daily.
In order to significantly increase cycling rates, safety must be prioritised through the implementation of new measures, such as the reallocation of road space and bike lanes, the lowering of speed limits, and the implementation of awareness and education campaigns.
Conscientious planning of bike lane networks and the materials used to build them can help make bike paths safer.
In Britain, they are experimenting with the concept of bike paths that emit a blue glow to light the way for riders, making their trips safer at night. The material used is a type of solar-enhanced liquid and aggregate made by London-based company Pro-Teq Surfacing.
The material, which is currently being tested on a 140-metre path running in a Cambridge park, absorbs UV rays during the day and releases them at night as topaz light, helping to make the city more sustainable and allowing municipalities to reduce their night-time energy bills.
The new material has a high safety margin with its anti-slip properties and installation is fairly quick - the Cambridge job took about four hours.
Furthermore, because it is a resurfacing technique, it does not involve the disassembly and disposal of existing pathways.
While cyclists' safety concerns are very real, solutions like the one currently being tested in the UK could help turn Australia into a far more bike-friendly country.