Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Politics of Cycling - Address to Bike Sydney Forum

Bike Sydney Forum Saturday 10 September 2005
Lord Mayor's reception Room Sydney Town Hall
Getting politicians to see the light
By Councillor Shayne Mallard, City of Sydney

Good afternoon, First of all I want to say thank you to Bike Sydney for organising today's seminar and inviting me to come here and speak on one of my favourite subjects of cycling. I thought today I would talk on 'the politics of cycling'.

We have all seen stickers on the bumper bars of cars (usually when we are stuck between their exhaust emissions on clogged roads) that promise; 'I fish and I vote' or 'I smoke and I vote' and my favourite 'I own a gun and I vote'. But I have never seen one that says, 'I ride a bike and I vote'.

I think this is because in the eyes of most politicians, the bureaucracy, media and the public the advocates for cycling in Australia are left wing environmentalists. For too long the advocacy and support for cycling in Australian politics has been viewed as the preserve of the left and this needs to be changed.

It is a disturbing development in Australian politics and in fact world wide that to be a 'freedom loving right winger' you must own a big 4WD and to scramble around on a pushbike you must be a tree hugging greenie.

And don't think that all the corporates who do the weekend rally rides - out there today as we speak in their new Lycra and hyper priced bikes are breaking down this divide. They are the hairy chested conservatives corporate types doing their bit for fitness and mental endurance with their mates. Most of them do not identify with our cause of Monday to Friday commuter cycling reforms. I would like to see a whole lot more of the weekend cyclists riding to their offices each day.

One of the biggest challenges we have today is to break down this counterproductive political divide.

It was recently reported that the state Labor government had slashed the budget from the RTA for cycling by as much as 50%. This came from a Labor government that has built more tollways and roads than any government in NSW history. The vast majority either without separate cycle paths or dangerous shared lanes.

You all know that I am a Liberal endorsed Councillor on the City of Sydney. I am one of the strongest advocates to turn Sydney into a city that embraces the cycling lifestyle. I see this as a ten-year mission. I set this as an objective over three stages.

Achieve political will for change
Change approach of bureaucracy, media and public
Set plan to deliver infrastructure.

We are well on the way on all three stages.

Yet when I ran for Lord Mayor I raised eyebrows not just in my party but also with the media when I advocated removing on street parking to create safer and separate cycle paths.

I recall an ABC journalist saying to me; 'your policies are not much different to the Greens or Clover Moore, shouldn't you be distinguishing yourself politically?' And of course I had the usual backlash from car owners, small business and tabloid media types against any notion to remove on street parking in favour of wider footpaths, more trees and safer cycle lanes.

Even those we think are our allies in trying to win over the hearts and minds on public policy can be just a little strange. I will never forget when I was fighting in the Council chamber to force a review of $60 million of gateway road contracts so as to incorporate safer cycle facilities when the Lord Mayor referred to cyclists as 'feral!'
And when working specifically on Oxford Street, the DLM stalled the plans with an argument about fast cyclists running down tipsy club goes late at night. Never mind the impact of cars and buses on the drunken clubbers or the concept of personal responsibilities.

I know I am preaching to the converted here today. But we all believe in the benefits that cycling can bring to the whole community and not just those on push bikes. Benefits such as healthier community members, reduced obesity and heart disease, reduced traffic congestion, reduced public transport congestion, environmental benefits as well as a greater sense of community cohesion.

Currently Sydney ranks amongst the lowest users of cycling in Australia and pathetically at the bottom of world trends. In Melbourne 6% of daily journeys to work are by bicycle and in Sydney less than 1%. Compare to that Amsterdam with 28% Hanover 16% and Copenhagen at 34%. Copenhagen has targeted 40% by the end of this decade.

At a time when our city population and density continue to grow and our public transport infrastructure is clearly suffering under the stress and roads continue to be bumper to bumper traffic jams, cycling presents a low cost complimentary option to help reduce the burden on the whole transport system.

I have always argued that if we could just aim to increase cycling journeys by 5 times ie up to 5% that would reduce pressure on other modes of transport. The cost benefit analyses of such a strategy are clearly apparent. I refer to this as the 'low hanging fruit' for transport infrastructure and reform.

This great vision of a sustainable, cleaner and less cluttered city of cycle ways and mixed modal transport is not as far fetched nor is it impossible, as it seems. It is only hindered by the ignorance and prejudice of our political leaders and their powerful road oriented bureaucracy.

The Politics of Cycling - is in fact confronting an attitude-based problem, where in Australia we are brought up with reliance on the car. That goes back to when Ben Chifley drove the 1st Holden off the production lines. Our culture is inextricably entwined with the journey and love affair with the motorcar. From holidays to consumer trophies the car is with us to stay. And somehow cycling has been painted into the corner as being an anti-car movement. And it's not just the private car.

Recently I met a senior taxi industry person and decided to discuss cycling with him. I suspected he might not be a regular cyclist. I asked him the attitude the industry had to cyclists? - his response was not positive. It was the usual cars need the entire road and cyclists cause delays argument. I then asked him his views on the Danish system where a cyclist can order a taxi with a bike rack so he or she can put their bike on the rack and travel home in a taxi. This might be necessary if say you had worked back late at night - or been out for dinner and had a few drinks. He had not heard of this concept before but was not opposed to it when demand became evident. I had suddenly made a cycling opponent look at the issue in a different way - a new market in fact. He was now less hostile to cycling.

The advocates of cycling are faced with those unable to see or don't want to see the benefits that cycling can bring.

We do have the space, resources and skills to make fundamental changes in Sydney. What we need is bipartisan political will.

When I was elected to the City of Sydney I was confronted with a mindset that cycling was unsustainable, impractical, an annoyance to city planning. This was dramatically made clear when in the early part of the council I stood up and fought against the design of the multimillion dollar gateway projects one of which Broadway had no provision for cyclists, Oxford Street had a 70cm wide cycle lane wedged between buses and cars and William Street where cyclists dodged parked cars, buses and T2 clearways.

With the help of other councillors such as Chris Harris and the ALP we were able to force through a review and make the bureaucrats pay attention to our calls for a cycle friendly city.

It was inexplicable and disappointing that the independents led by the Lord Mayor took so long to join us in this sustainability quest. And it appeared all too hard and too late to wind back the change and design of the gateways.

Can it work?

For Sydney, cycling for work purposes and leisure with dedicated cycle lanes is a possibility. The infrastructure is starting to be rolled out. It is not perfect and it is under-utilised but itÂ’s a start.

Sydney is relatively flat (compared to the US/Europe and Australia is arguably the flattest continent), Sydney has enjoyable outdoors weather, sunny but not unbearably hot most of the year. Australians enjoy being in the outdoors. For tourism Sydney is one of the most attractive cities in the world - and that gives rise to the growing market of cycling tourism.

Sydney and Cycling go hand in hand and I believe will I the future

For cycling advocates there needs to be a real effort to unite the political divide? To break down the notion that cycling is some sort of left wing issue.

I have a few practical suggestions on how to do that.
Inviting a diversity of politicians to speak at events like this
Identify cycling champions across the political divides
One on one development of champions - like one on one rides etc
Make the business case for cycling - eg retail studies
Make the economic case - transport reform and cost effectiveness
Make the lifestyle and stronger community case
Support your champions - in media- in their forums
Creation for my part of 'Liberals for cycling' group

My partner is Danish and I have visited Denmark twice. I have taken the opportunity to spend a day with Copenhagen's cycling planners. I even rode around city on their official GPS monitored bike. I came to really appreciate the difference it makes to that city. Cleaner streets, less cars, more people, safer streets, greater sense of community.

And cycling is not a partisan political issue. I spent an hour or two with the Infrastructure and Planning Mayor of Copenhagen, Liberal Soren Pinn (traditional Liberal such as myself) and asked him about the politics of cycling. How did the Danish make the decision in the 1970's to be less car dependent and how today cycling was a brad and butter issue for any politician. Mayor Pinn said to me that 'Anyone who ignores cycling damages their political career.'

That's where I would like to see us arrive. When cycling is a bread and butter issue for day-to-day politicians in Sydney no matter your side of politics.

With the will, intelligence and energetic commitment between us in this room today we can achieve that goal and make Sydney 'a city of cyclists' to challenge Copenhagen.

Images - top to bottom. Copenhagen visit 1. Shayne with 'City Bikes' for tourists - note bike parking chaos in background - a growing issue in the CBD 2. Blue painted bike lanes in priority and danger zones 3. Bike retailing is big business 4. Bike parking is an ongoing issue 5. Bike lanes have their own traffic signals to give cars turning right a fair go 6. Cars, buses, bikes, people - all have their own lanes 7. Mayor Soren Pinn and Shayne (Pinns staff were very amused by our similar appearance).

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Kim said...

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Shayne Mallard said...

Well it is not compulsory to read my blog and I do have the editorial last say. Shayne

PS Why don't you use your real name - this is your 8th alias?

Phil said...

The ABC journalist was right- your policies are no different from Clover Moore's or the Greens. It is unlikely you will get re-elected.

Shayne Mallard said...

Thank you Anthony Green. SM PS If I decide to stand gain - this is my second re-election so far.