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The Greens vision for active transport

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 17 Mar 2016

 

When I first arrived in this place, I did so by bike. With the support of a dedicated team of volunteers, we rode from Melbourne, through Victoria to the New South Wales border and then from Yass through to Canberra. It was not a journey that I ever planned to take regularly, and nor was it meant to say that everybody should ride 700 kilometres on a bike—although I can highly recommend it. It was meant to signal a fresh approach to transport policy and a commitment to lead by example. Because business as usual will not fly. We live in a world with finite resources. Our cities are built for cars, but with a growing population and the worsening impacts of global warming the status quo is simply not sustainable.

Take my home city of Melbourne. If you want to commute into the central business district and back, the train and tram networks, although chronically overcrowded, are generally efficient ways to commute. But if you want to get from one side of town to the other or move from one outer suburban area to another, your options become more limited. Bus services are infrequent and the roads have become clogged. A large part of the problem is that half of the car trips in capital cities are less than five kilometres.

There is a better way, and it is a fairly simple solution. It is economically smart, it will reduce pollution in our cities, and it will even create healthier communities. Our vision is to move away from the old, tired fallback of more and more toll roads and to rejuvenate our cities by making it easier and safer to travel by public transport, walking and cycling. And it is our vision for these last two active transport options that I want to focus on tonight. Investing in facilities for people to ride and walk is the smarter option. One car takes up the same amount of room on the road as around 10 bikes. Picture yourself stuck in a traffic jam. Then picture, instead of people fuming in their cars, people on their bikes, with smiles on their faces. Picture your local street being much quieter, and the air much cleaner.

Creating the sort of infrastructure that is needed for this to happen saves the taxpayer. An investment of $1 million can create roughly 1,000 metres of bike path—and a pretty fancy bike path that would buy you, too. In comparison, the failed East West Link in Melbourne was going to cost around $1 million for every metre of road. So for the full price of the toll road we could have invested in over 1,000 kilometres of bike lanes.

It can save families and people who have just moved out of home, too. It is not unusual for a family of four to churn through a couple of tanks of petrol a week. Even with a lower petrol price, this costs thousands of dollars a year. But imagine if it were easier and safer to make just a few of those journeys by bike or foot—say, taking the kids to and from school, popping down to the shops to buy a few groceries, travelling to the gym. It would put more money in people's pockets to spend on things they actually want, like holidays. And it makes everyone healthier. We all know about Australia's obesity crisis. Almost two-thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese. I can think of nothing better than a brisk walk or a ride a few times a week to help address our country's weight problem. It would also improve our mental health.

This is not just something for the inner city. Bike trails and walking trails are becoming more popular every year. Just look at the hugely successful east Gippsland and south Gippsland rail trails, or the recent push for the 14-kilometre roof of Melbourne walking trail through the Dandenongs. Let's make it happen. These facilities create huge opportunities for local communities to create new ways to make money. We just need vision and courage from our leaders to take action. Big countries like Transurban have a lot invested in the same old, same old roads addiction. But the longer we wait, the harder it is going to be in the future.

 

So what does this look like in the real world? It is going to mean all levels of government working together to create the sorts of facilities that mean more people feel comfortable and, importantly, safe using these facilities, so they hop on their bike or pull on their walking shoes more often.  

For one thing, it is a matter of gender equality. Many women simply do not feel safe for cycling and walking to be a viable option. But if you have the right infrastructure in place, that number rockets towards equality. For instance, only one-quarter of the people riding along Swanston Street in Melbourne were women before the separated Copenhagen bike lanes were put in; now that number is sitting at 45 per cent.

We cannot leave this to local and state governments alone. To achieve these outcomes, we need a whole-of-government approach. We could start here in parliament. On top of the Comcar service, we could add a 'Combike' service. It would ease the belt buckles of us politicians, ease the congestion on Canberra's roads and ease the strain on the public purse. Canberra, like Melbourne, is a great city for cycling; it is flat—mostly flat—and the distances are easily cycled. As I ride my bike to and from Parliament House each sitting day, no matter how early or how late I have, sadly, never yet seen one of my parliamentary colleagues on the road with me. There is a lot more room for leadership here.

The Greens have a vision that will see the growth of cycling and walking as a transport option. We are committed to: accelerating the construction of the principal bicycle network so that no matter where you want to go, you have a safe bike route to travel on; increasing clearly signed designated road space for cyclists, including signalling, equity and protected cycleways where demand and risk are high; giving cyclists priority over motor vehicles in areas with high concentrations of people, such as schools; laws addressing driver behaviour to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety; and better integration of cycling with other transport options, including bicycle access to trains and secure bike storage at public transport stops and stations. And we are committed to establishing a dedicated fund for cycling infrastructure. New Zealand are a shining role model for us. They are committed to spending $100 million a year on cycling infrastructure because they see it as an investment in their economy.

Perhaps our biggest challenge is to end the view of 'bikes versus cars', the view that people riding their bikes are somehow 'others'. Even for those who do not ride, people who ride bikes are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our friends and colleagues. When a driver rings a talkback station to complain about a cyclist, it divides the audience. And when a host reinforces that division with comments like 'cockroaches on wheels', it puts lives at risk. Last year 31 people died while riding their bike in Australia. Every single one is a tragedy. There is no doubt about the safety imbalance between cars and bikes, but, appallingly, some drivers see that as an excuse to attack people on their bikes—like when a full 1.25 litre Coke bottle struck Melinda Fisher when she was riding on Beach Road in Beaumaris in January, leaving her with physical and mental scars. Car drivers demonising people on bikes makes about as much sense as a rhinoceros attacking an oxpecker bird on its back. Not only is it doing no harm it is also helping out drivers by reducing the congestion on the road. We must get away from the idea of bikes versus cars; we must look to bikes and cars. Fewer cars, yes, but a healthy mix for our planet and our infrastructure to cope with.

 

Car drivers need to have the right attitude, but there is no doubt that we need a coordinated effort from decision makers to prioritise easier, cleaner and safer transport choices. The appalling anti-cyclist legislation that the New South Wales government has introduced is the exact opposite of what is required. Vastly increased fines and requiring the carrying of ID demonises cyclists and will discourage cycling. In contrast, organisations like the Cycling Promotion Fund—who have organised the annual bike summit that has been taking place in Canberra today—Bicycle Network, Bicycle New South Wales and Pedal Power ACT are doing terrific work in advocating for cycling. The Greens are doing our bit by hosting the Bike Blackspot app. You can search for it in the App Store on your phone. The app enables you to report any unsafe conditions for cyclists. 

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