It’s a simple fact that most people don’t ride bicycles.
Census data shows that about one per cent of all travel to work trips in Australia are made by bicycle. The British Social Attitudes Survey 2015 found that 69 per cent of over-18-year-olds never ride a bicycle. The 2015 American Community Survey showed a slight decline in commuter cycling.
Around the world studies show that men are more likely to cycle to work than women. Transport for London’s report Travel in London found that the London cycle hire is primarily used by white men from higher-income households, thus coined by the tabloid press as “Boris’ Posh Boys Toys.” A UCLA study from August 2014 suggested that women don’t bike because they need their cars to handle childcare responsibilities.
Other research suggests that women are worried about being hit by a car when cycling and are more concerned about personal safety than men. According to City of Sydney research (quoted at the 2010 Bicycle Victoria conference) 41 per cent of the Australian population are ‘potential’ cyclists; people who want to cycle but are concerned.
In some cities around the world, the bicycle is a central part of life for most men and women.
In Copenhagen, a city of 560,000 bicycles, 521,000 people and 35,000 cycle parking spaces, 85 per cent of residents own a bike, 70 per cent cycle all year around and 60 per cent use their bike every day. A huge 37 per cent of commuter trips are by bike (that’s more than 150,000 people cycling to work every day!) and a quarter of all families with two children own a cargo bike.
In Denmark, cycling is chic, stylish, and sophisticated. But Copenhagenites don’t only cycle because it’s good for their health or their environment, they cycle because it’s the fastest, safest, easiest and most convenient mode of transport, and because their city has a network of dedicated bikeways.
So what can Governments and Councils do when most American, British and Australian people don’t ride bicycles?
Make it normal
Cycling is not an elite extreme sport. You don’t need to wear a special Lycra outfits to ride a bicycle. You don’t need to ride your pushbike 200 kilometres before you eat your breakfast. You certainly don’t need to spend $15,000 on a carbon fibre all-singing-all- dancing bicycle to be able to cycle to work. When my mum was a kid, she rode her rusty old bike to the school bus stop - as did everyone else. It was the normal thing to do.
Make it hassle-free
Cycling should not be a high-stress, anxiety creating, and fretful activity. We don’t ask car drivers to get out of their cars and push their car through every intersection they need to travel through. But we think it’s perfectly acceptable for a person on a bicycle to dismount at every side road, street corner, intersection and pot-hole! I’d ride my bicycle to work if there weren’t so many “Cyclists Must Dismount” signs.
Make it safe
Cycling should not be unsafe. A 2010 study suggests that 46 per cent of regular cyclists think Sydney roads are ‘unsafe’ but 84 per cent of non-regular bike riders in Sydney say they would start riding a bike if they could use separated cycleways. People want separation from parked and moving cars. They don’t want skinny, unprotected on-road ‘painted’ cycle lanes.
When the Los Angeles Department of Transport said “for the bike to catch on we need a revolution in our bicycle infrastructure” they were right. If we really want cycling to be a central part of our lifestyle, our transport system and our cities we need riding a bike to be normal, hassle-free and safe.