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Shock as Australian cycling participation rate falls since 2011

Alia Parker's picture
Cycling participation in Australia falls as fewer kids ride bikes. Cycle Traveller

Cycling participation has declined in the past two years led by a drop in the number of children riding their bikes, with only inner city areas experiencing overall cycling growth, new figures show.

“The latest national cycling figures are a wake-up call and a warning that we can’t hope to address high incidence of overweight and obesity in our kids if they are less active than ever,” said Cycling Promotion Fund spokesperson Stephen Hodge.

The Australian Bicycle Council's Cycling Participation Survey, which is conducted every two years, showed 16.6% of Australians had ridden a bike in the seven days before being surveyed, down from 17.8% in 2011. Likewise, of the 10,052 households comprising 25,471 people surveyed, 37.4% had ridden at least once in the past year compared with 39.6% in 2011.

A decline in children cycling – the largest cycling demographic – weighed on the figures, with 44.4% of children aged 2-9 having ridden in the seven days prior to the survey, down from 46.2% in 2011. Meanwhile, 32.2% of children aged between 10-17 had ridden a bike in the corresponding time frame, compared with 33.6% previously.

“This result is contrary to our expectations, particularly given the growth in cycling for transport that has been observed and measured in the inner city areas of many of the larger Australian cities over recent years,” the Australian Bicycle Council said.

However, it said the growth of cycling in inner cities only represented a small proportion of Australia's overall population.

“Most cycling is for recreation, and a large proportion of this recreation cycling is undertaken by children. Small changes in participation by these large populations would quickly saturate any growth in transport cycling by adults in the inner metropolitan areas of the larger capital cities,” the Australian Bicycle Council said.

It said the shock decline could partly be skewed by small changes in the survey language between 2011 and 2013, however, any impact was likely to have been small.

Regardless, one thing is for sure: Australia is nowhere near to meeting its target of doubling cycling participation between 2011 and 2016. The Australian Bicycle Council said growth of 15% a year was needed to achieve that target.

In the past two years, NSW and the ACT were the only two of the states and territories to record an increase in cycling in the period, keeping with other data that has shown Sydney's investment in better cycling infrastructure in the central business district has encouraged more people to ride to work. Interestingly, the sample size for those surveyed in metropolitan Sydney was significantly larger than in other parts of the country as a separate survey containing the same data conducted by Transport for NSW was used.

However, if the latest data is anything to go by, unless parents feel comfortable getting their kids back onto bikes, Australia will struggle to boost its cycling participation rates.

Mr Hodge said recent bicycle import figures appear to confirm the decline in children cycling, while at the same time indicating that adults are buying bikes to exercise and ride to work in inner city areas.

“Our most recent figures for bike imports show that while adult bike sales have hit a new record, children’s bike imports fell by 7% over the last three years,” he said.

Mr Hodge said a recent study by the Cycling Promotion fund and the Heart Foundation found only one in 10 children ride to school, despite nearly two-thirds of parents saying they would let their children ride to school if there were safe bike routes.

“It’s time we made it easier for kids to cycle to school again,” he said.

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