When we think of bike loving cities, our minds immediately drift off to the canals of Amsterdam or the streets of Copenhagen — the type of cities with a cycling culture that generally come with no fuss or fury.
On the other hand, when we think about Australia's cycling culture, the first thing that comes to mind is the ongoing feud between cyclists and motorists on our roads. And with other cities around the world, even those outside of Europe, seemingly welcoming changes to make two wheels the preference over four, we have to wonder — why is Australia falling so far behind?
We take a look at how other cities approach cycling infrastructure and culture and the area's where Australia really needs to need to get a grip (pun intended).
In Denmark, education starts from a young age when it comes to cycling, both in regards to attitudes and safety. Danish children usually learn to bike before they begin school at age 6, and at times, much earlier. Until then, they are often carried about in small seats attached to one of their parents' bicycles.
Generally starting with a small pedal-free bike at age 2 or 3, Danish children are encouraged to learn how to balance before graduating to an actual bicycle. At school, children learn about traffic rules, road safety, and the importance of wearing a helmet, as well as good cycling habits. As a result of all this, cycling is adopted by Danish folks from the very beginning; from the early stages of getting dropped off to school as a child, all the way up until they become an adult making their own way to work.
Most cyclists in Australia will no doubt agree, that the necessary infrastructure is lacking in this country. Consequently, cycling on Australian roads used by motorists increases injury and death caused by a variety of reasons, including car doors being opened into cyclists, and other forms of collision.
Facing these same apprehensions due to lack of specific infrastructure, in 2006, San Francisco went on to install partially separated lanes, as well as additional on-street bicycle parking around the city. And the positive results are easy to see, when in four years, commuting by bikes rose by 53% for the city.
“I have no doubt that safety concerns are the primary barrier preventing a lot of people from riding. Painted bike lanes are a step in the right direction but don’t provide a significant increase in safety. — Former cyclist and SBS Cycling commentator, Matthew Keenan
In Copenhagen, Denmark, nearly half of the population commutes via bike, including those who live in the suburbs. This is due to the 390-kilometres of designated bike lanes, as well as Greater Copenhagen’s ‘Cycle Super Highway’, which connects the city to the nearby town of Albertslund, with extras such as air pumps, safer intersections, and special traffic lights.
A cycle-friendly city isn’t just found in Europe either; in the United States, Portland is leading the way to become a city driven by two wheels. For tourists, there are free city and neighbourhood maps, safety information, and other handy tips when visiting the city, as well as a public bike rental system. For those who call the city home, there are bike lockers, classes on learning to ride, and guides on cycling etiquette to make it safer for everyone.
Forget ping-pong tables and free yoga classes, it seems that employers throughout Europe and North America are now providing perks for employees who choose to cycle to and from work, all in the name of becoming more 'green'.
In Halle, Belgium, a company called Colruyt Group offers their employees free bicycles, in addition to a cycling allowance. The free bikes workers are given, also comes with a bicycle kit containing a raincoat, helmet, fluorescent tabard and repair kit. In Chicago, USA, SRAM’s workers are given the choice to park their bikes in one of their free parking spots, or, on bike racks beside their personal cubicles. Additionally, the company also offers a free bike wash station, a fully stocked bike repair area, and of course, super-sized locker rooms for riders to shower in.
And the incentives don't just stop at work, and perhaps, only get better in Bologna, Italy. For six months a year (April to September), an initiative called Bella Mossa (“Good Job”) operates within the city where users of sustainable forms of transport are rewarded with free beer, ice cream, and movie tickets.
"Bella Mossa aims to reduce pollution and offers residents and visitors an incentive to walk, cycle or take public transport, rather than travel by car." — Representative of Bella Mossa, Hannah Bowden
Choosing bikes over cars to get out and about is not only invaluable to our climate, but also to our overall health. For example, in Copenhagen alone, the cycling population contributes $261 million a year in public health savings — enough to then pay off the cost of protected bicycle infrastructure in under five years.
The World Health Organisation has found that cycling reduces depression and anxiety — being able to bypass the rush hour gridlock is good at that, making your commute shorter and more predictable, and saving money from costly city parking stations or bus tickets.
In a time where physical inactivity is a leading cause of illness in Australia and the talk of climate change is becoming all the more crucial — surely it's about time we start to take a better look at our own cycling culture?