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Cycling participation declines despite record bicycle sales

Simon Parker's picture
Cycling participation is declining in Australia. Cycle Traveller

Bicycles have outsold cars in Australia for the 14th consecutive year even though participation levels have dropped, likely due to the increasingly inactive lifestyles of the general Australian population, a new report has revealed.

"The 2013 survey shows a slight overall decrease in cycling participation which is a surprising result given the increasing levels of cycling being measured on many inner-city cycle routes," The Australian Bicycle Council report, National Cycling Strategy Report 2011-2016 - 2013 Implementation Update, said.

While the report revealed numerous examples of state and territory government initiatives aimed at getting more Australians onto bikes, the percentage of the population that participates in cycling declined in the two years from 2011, dropping from 17.8 per cent who said they had ridden a bike in the previous week, to 16.6 per cent in 2013.

"It seems that while cycling is becoming more popular in dense urban areas, there is a general decrease in participation which may be related to the general decrease in activity seen in the wider population."

Women and children were key targets for improved participation, while more bike-friendly workplaces were also highlighted as an area for improvement.

The decline in cycling participation comes despite a rise in the number of bicycles sold for the 14th straight year. According to the report, almost 1.4 million bikes were sold in 2013.

The report found safety remained a key barrier for many Australians when considering cycling, with 50 fatalities recorded in 2013, or four per cent of the total road death toll.

"Providing an environment that 'feels' safe to ride in is critical to encouraging cycling participation and should be one of the primary objectives of all cycling-related policy," the report said.

"The cycling environment includes not only bicycle infrastructure but also non-tangible factors such as the attitudes and behaviour of other road users."

Following up on the first report, published in 2011, the latest update revealed a number of positives including increased state and territory government investment in cycling.

"In recent years there has been a change in the way cycling has been treated by policy-makers in Australia," it said. "Cycling has transitioned from being a recreational activity reserved solely for the weekend, to being an important mode of transport to be considered in planning decisions alongside walking, driving and catching public transport."

Overall investment by state and territory governments has increased from $93.8 million in 2011-12 to $112.8 million in 2012-13. While NSW spent the most on cycling infrastructure with $31.3 million in 2012-13, just pipping Victoria with $31.1 million, Queensland led the way in terms of per capita investment at $5.95, just beating Western Australia at $5.94.

"Infrastructure expenditure in 2013 focussed primarily on building shared-use paths and fully-separated bicycle facilities," the report said.

"This continues the evolution of bicycle planning towards providing infrastructure that separates bicycles from motor vehicles. This approach is being implemented not only to separate bicycles from moving motor vehicles but also to separate bicycles from parked motor vehicles. This recognises the danger that parked motor vehicles (and their doors) pose to bicycle users."

Acknowledging that cycling is a key component of public transport was another step forward, with the report referring to a 2013 Ministerial Statement issued by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, titled “Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport”.

"In this Ministerial Statement, and in a number of state government reports published in 2013, the bicycle is no longer seen as simply a recreational device but as a viable mode of transport," the report said.

"This increasing appreciation for the bicycle as a mode of transport is being driven not only by the fact that short trips are usually much quicker and easier by bicycle. It is also underpinned by research that shows that increased bicycle use results in economic benefits to society, particularly in terms of health care savings."

Comments

What about the fact that it was the hottest year on record? Surely that has to be a factor? Increasing inactivity is a description of an effect, not a cause.

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