Human powered transport

I love cycling, always have. No matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always had a bike. I’ve had them trashed in accidents, backed over them, had them stolen and repaired more than I can remember.  They’re a way to meet people, discover new things about where you live, an excellent form or travel, a way to stay fit and more. For my money, they are more than the sum of their parts. They’re a social and cultural phenomenon than can bring people together.

Aside from the shear beauty of a bicycle being a human powered form of transport, it’s also a more socially responsible form of transport too. Don’t get me wrong, our society will always require roads and there will always be some people whose jobs will require them to use a car. However, but if you look at the data provided by the ABS, the average daily commute for Australians is less than 17Km. Perfect distance for a bike ride don’t you think, and it doesn’t really leave a lot of room for excuses does it? But if it’s so great, why aren’t more people riding to work? The answer is infrastructure. Sadly in this country, we are not very good at including infrastructure for active transport into either our existing communities, or new ones. On top of the inescapable fact that the majority of Aussies do not like sharing the road with cyclists, you can understand the average persons aversion to cycling somewhere that they don’t feel welcome.

To include new infrastructure takes a lot of effort, time and money. At least, it does in the short term. the long term benefits are enormous, but we’ll get to them later. It often involves cutting down access for vehicles to certain areas of a community, such as town centres, major access routes etc. Also, on-street parking is often sacrificed to provide space for cycle ways, in order to have them separated from vehicular traffic. Further to this, a reduction in local speed limits is a big part of the changes many cities make. In short, someone has to give up something in order for the active transport infrastructure to gain a foothold. Again I hear you ask “why do it”. Read on..

Benefits to a community

Thousands of studies into the benefits of reducing local vehicle traffic have been done in hundreds of cities across the globe. They all come to very similar conclusions with the list of positives far outweighing the negatives. I’ll list the benefits here in briefly and there will be a list of links to some recent studies from different cities about speed limit reductions etc. below.

  • Reduced speed limits – calm local traffic. Less noise, safer streets. Reduces the chances of fatal crashes.
  • Encourages more active forms of transport, from cycling, walking and scootering. The data shows that this happens across age groups so it’s inclusive of a wide cross section of community members.
  • More people out and about in a neighborhood has shown to be a factor in reduced crime rates. Early in the 2000’s, there was a program in Bogota, Columbia to install more street lighting, repair existing walking infrastructure and install new paths where none existed before. In the areas this was done, the crime rates actually went down.
  • Increased revenue for local businesses. The data shows that when traffic is restricted or excluded from the centre of shopping districts, revenue for local businesses goes up. People are more likely to spend money if they walk through the shopping district rather than drive. Also, more footpath space means more space for cafes and restaurants to have alfresco dining which most people find very attractive.

So why cycle to work, or anywhere for that matter? Great question. Noteworthy benefits include saving money on fuel, managing your weight, increased fitness levels and having a way to unwind or work out your stress on the way home. You’ll also help reduce the daily greenhouse gas emissions by not contributing to them. You don’t need to believe in climate change to understand the benefits the environment. Also, if you ride a bike, parking is rarely a problem.

Now I’m not saying we need to take all cars off the road and become some sort of cycling utopia, but if you imagine the image of all of those cars jammed together on the road in front of you during peak hour; and now imagine 35% of them not there. The owners are no somewhere else, on a cycleway heading to work. Not bad eh! Imagine that everyday.

So what to do? You could choose to do nothing. Or, you could choose to do something, starting with your local government. Here are some starting points, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. So much has been written and recommended by smarter people than I, so this is just a primer.

  • Contact you local government and find out if they already have a plan for creating or increasing their cycling/active transport infrastructure.
  • Head over to the Better Streets website for ideas of how to get started.
  • Form a local advocacy group to tackle the issues or areas that are important to you.
  • Run for local government. You may find that being part of the solution at the coalface is for you.

I’m going to do what I can in my local area. Not sure what will happen, but I’m hoping a positive change can come about in this community. Wish me luck


  • Transport for NSW fact sheet on speed related fatality:
  • Speed reduction in London streets:,1.3.
  • Speed reduction in Bristol streets:
  • University of Edinburgh study showing reduced fatalities after lowered speed limits:
  • WHO “myths” about lower speed limits:
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