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Why don’t we ride bicycles more often?

Cycling was more popular during the pandemic but now less than one in six people ride a bicycle each week. One in five people who don’t ride a bicycle feel it’s just too dangerous. Part of the problem is the lack of dedicated cycle paths and unsafe speed limits on local roads. Meanwhile, negative driver attitudes to cyclists don’t help.

Who is riding bicycles?

The Cycling and Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ) survey in early 2023 looked at who is riding bicycles. It found only 15% of respondents cycled in the previous week, compared to 18% during the pandemic. The share of people who cycle regularly is now smaller than in 2011.

The main riders of bicycles are men and young children.

Today, only a quarter of children walk or ride to school, compared to three quarters of children 40 years ago. The likelihood of cycling at all declines as young children become teenagers and falls dramatically as they become young adults. The cycling rate does not pick up until age 30-49 – 34.3% rode in the past year.

Even so, people differ on where they are willing to ride their bicycles:

  • Only 5% were confident riders who would take the shortest route even on a busy street.
  • Just over 14% said they always avoid busy streets.
  • The biggest group, 41.6%, said they ride off-road only.

While the main reason given for not riding was not owning a bicycle, one in five said it was too dangerous on the roads.

Is it dangerous on the roads?

In the year to June 2023, more than 12 times more drivers than cyclists died on NSW roads. This is because there are far more drivers than cyclists and they travel at higher speeds.

However, recent figures show cyclists had twice the chance of serious injury.

  Number Deaths Jun 23 Injuries Dec 22
Cyclists 881,102* 13 1,687
Drivers* 5.998 mill 152 3,106

*Based on the number who say they cycle weekly (could be overstated) and number of NSW drivers with unrestricted licences.

No doubt, drivers and cyclists are vulnerable. The “us versus them” attitude is not helpful when they have to share the roads.

Latest national figures from BITRE show 43 cyclists were killed in the year to September 2023, up one third on the previous year. This was the biggest single increase of any road users and, in the past 5 years, the highest number of cyclist deaths in one year.

So what can be done to make these journeys safer?

Create low risk networks

Cycling groups are calling for “low-risk networks”, which are off-road. For example, bike paths with low barriers to separate cyclists from traffic, and dedicated walking paths so pedestrians and cyclists are not competing for space. They want to see bike lanes through parks, creeks and along disused rail lines, and alongside other transport corridors, such as freeways.

They also want to see speed limits on surrounding streets at 30 kph. While 50 kph may seem slow to a vehicle driver, it is very fast for a cyclist, pedestrian or child. Lowering speed limits to 30 kph in built-up areas would increase road safety for cyclists and others.

Encourage children to cycle to school

Cycling would be safer for children if there were fewer cars. It works both ways – the more children who cycle, the fewer cars there would be at school times.

Most students live within 3kms of their school, a 10-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk. One solution is to create safe walking and cycling routes with pedestrian “priority crossings” within 500–1,500m of schools. A priority crossing includes Give Way or Stop signs to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists over motor vehicles, like zebra crossings.

Cycle in groups rather than alone

Many cyclists feel more secure when riding in a group than alone because they are more visible to other road users and have potential support in case of trouble. But even riding in a group has problems – having to ride close to others, the larger space taken up on roads and potentially higher speeds.

Even so, groups of cyclists tend to ride in a safer manner than individual cyclists because they cycle as a team and create rules for safety.

Cycling in groups means taking up more space on the road and this may annoy drivers more.

Change driver attitudes to cyclists

Driver attitudes to cyclists are not always positive. For example, a UK survey found:

Monash University in Victoria has studied cyclist safety on the roads using video cameras mounted on cyclist helmets. It found:

  • Drivers were at fault in 87% of incidents with cyclists.
  • Drivers who changed lanes and turned left without indicating or looking caused more than 70% of incidents
  • Most drivers didn’t realise they had been reckless or unsafe.

It seems cyclists have a long way to go to feel safe or accepted when sharing the roads.

Replace short car trips with cycling

Most car journeys in Australian cities are short – school drop-offs, going to the shops or visiting the local park. Two-thirds of these trips could be done by bicycle in less than a quarter of an hour.

For example, in Victoria, half of all trips made that are less than 2 kms are made in a car – over 2 million every day. If only 10% of these trips were cycle trips, that would take 200,000 cars off the road. This would make the roads safer and less congested for everyone.

Of course, the more you choose to cycle, the less it costs to run your car. You can then save it for longer, fast-moving trips, which are more fuel efficient and better for your engine.

Make sure your registration and green slip are current.

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Corrina Baird

Writer and Researcher, greenslips.com.au

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years in financial services and over 8 years with greenslips.com.au, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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