In a front page story in the SMH today, the NRMA (NSW’s peak motorist lobby group) accused the government of wasting money on cycle lanes.
“The Iemma Government is building a cycleway alongside choked Epping Road, despite as few as 25 cyclists using that corridor each day. At $7.6 million for the Epping Road cycleway, the NRMA says that would amount to spending $300,000 per cyclist on a lane that is unlikely to attract many more riders, based on the experiences of the M2 motorway. The NRMA wants the Epping Road cycleway to be scrapped to allow lanes to be widened for trucks and cars.”
The SMH goes on to comment that
“The Westlink M7 cycleway added $60 million to the cost of that project, a legacy of the former roads minister Carl Scully.”
As a cyclist, my first reaction was anger, that one of the few places in Sydney that might get to effective cycle access is being targeted. But then I wondered why it is that the cyclist lobby seems to have so much success with getting a lot of money spent on long distance cycling solutions. Most people agree that the trips most likely to be replaced by cycle trips (going by what happens in cities where cycling is prevalent) are short trips of 1-5 km or so (here’s a typical example from an inner city Council website).
To improve the chances of people taking short trips, councils need to think imaginatively about marking out quiet, relatively flat streets as cycle safe places, with footpaths marked out as appropriate for cycling in places where the roads are just too dangerous. I’ve ridden on this path a few times, which is a good example (although not especially useful for transport compared with recreation).
But in Sydney as it is today, with a cycle route almost always involving some serious traffic at some point, the people who are most likely to cycle on the roads are the ones who really want to. They are also the cyclists who would really love a long distance ride, that lets them get up a good speed, without having to give way to pedestrians every 20 metres or so. And until we get cycle paths that less brave cyclists can use, they are going to be the main people putting the real effort into campaigning for better access.
In my ideal Sydney, there would be good cycle routes that I could happily take my children on all over Sydney. But the situation today is nowhere near that. It really annoys me that the NRMA is campaigning to stop spending money on cycle transport. The NRMA is implicitly saying that if you stop spending money on cycle paths, it would instead be spent on roads. And they may be right, the budgeting processes of any large organisation are rarely logical. But if we as taxpayers have a set amount of money to spend on cycling, I wonder if we’re spending it in the most effective way. Would it be more effective if it was spent on smaller projects dotted around the whole of Sydney?
Edited to add that the main point made in the considerable reaction to this story in the last two days has been more that bike lanes never join up to anything else. Cyclists are expected to live at the beginning or end of the cycleway, but if they want to go anywhere else, they take their chances on the roads like everyone else.