Monday, June 26, 2017

Council deputation

Below is a deputation I made to Unley Council on Monday, 26 June

Good evening Councillors,

I am Dr Angus Wallace, and I am here as a representative of the Unley Bicycle Users Group. I wish to speak briefly to you, regarding the Rugby/Porter bikeway, given the report in the Eastern Courier about the priority for cycle commuters being reconsidered.

Cycling has many benefits. The chief benefit is health. Cycle-commuters are 46% less likely to die of any cause than otherwise-similar people who do not cycle-commute. That is an incredible statistic, and shows the power of “incidental exercise” to make our population healthier. The other clear benefit is, or course, cost. Cycling is at least an order of magnitude cheap that car travel -- money that can be spent in the local economy. Cycling is also more convenient -- the increased density that bicycles afford means that even narrow paths can carry many people. Also, cycling is often pleasant and fun, social, communitarian and spontaneous in a way that driving in a car never can be.

Unley Council has been one of Adelaide’s far-sighted councils in encouraging cycling. Truely, you have made great strides in the last decade, and the City of Unley has reaped the rewards — quieter suburban streets, more usable spaces for children, more money being spent locally, better health of the population. And of course, the tourism that events like the Tour Down Under brings.

But we can go much further.

There is much untapped potential, and it is excellent that Unley Council recognises this. The decision to build the Rugby/Porter bikeway will be seen, in years to come, as a watershed moment, though not the only one. Right now, 500 people commute along the Rugby/Porter bikeway at each end of the day. Unley Road carries 30000, making that 500 people sound like not much. But, it is important to remember that traffic congestion is non-linear. A few extra cars make a very big difference. Who notices how much worse their driving commute is on a rainy day, when some cyclists drive instead? It is significant. But, if the Porter St bikeway was a genuine arterial cycleway, we could, in a few years, take 1000 cars OFF Unley Road, getting those motorists on their bikes instead. Imagine the effect that would have on commuting times.
For example, reflect on the proposed Adelaide Botanic High School. The school will be serviced by the Frome St bikeway, which connects to the Rugby/Porter bikeway. Empowering students to cycle to this new school frees their parents from the burden of driving them. This decreases traffic congestion and increases our productivity. I believe there is broad community support for such works.

But, for this to happen, it is imperative that an arterial cycleway has priority. It needs priority like Fisher St has over its side streets. No one would dream of giving a small cul-de-sac priority over Fisher St. This is not about safety — it is a simple, utilitarian question of the greater good. Roads with more traffic have priority over roads with less – whether the vehicles are cars or bicycles. Also, we must remember that the status quo is inherently dangerous. Commuter cyclists on Unley Rd are sharing a contested space: there are obstacles to navigate, buses and trucks. Every car passing a cyclist will be slowed by the cyclist, and every such passing is an opportunity for error. Providing a dedicated, connected, arterial cycleway is the only way to increase the safety of these cyclists, and to increase the uptake of cycling..

Unley Council’s leadership in the promotion of cycling has had great benefits already. We are on the cusp of realising yet more benefits. All that is needed is to provide the space, and the cyclists will come — decreasing demand on our over-crowded roads — increasing safety, health, our sense of community and the local economy. To allow this, dedicated arterial cycleways are needed, and they need to have appropriate priority over side streets.
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