With high quality roads and established cycling infrastructure, Canberra is ideally placed to reap the economic, social and health benefits of ‘active transport’ according to one of the world’s leading experts.
Speaking at a public forum, San Francisco's Head of Strategic Planning and Policy (Sustainable Streets Division), Timothy Papandreou, said Canberra already has many of the essential elements a city needs to encourage and support active transport options (transport options other than a private vehicle).
“Much of the premise of active transport is about making people feel safer and more confident about walking or riding their bikes in city areas, and designing or modifying streets to better recognise this. When I look around, especially in Canberra's CBD, there are encouraging steps towards supporting active transport through clearly marked or physically separated cycle lanes,” said Papandreou who, upon arriving in Canberra, took to his bike with some Pedal Power representatives for a first-hand look at existing cycling infrastructure.
In San Francisco’s case, Papandreou said the city had made considerable efforts to not only respond to the growing number of citizens seeking alternative transport but also recognise and promote the broader economic benefits of such a move.
“Often, in responding to one problem, we create another. For many businesses in San Fransciso, there was concern that reducing or removing vehicles from city streets would adversely affect trade. But instead, what we found was the opposite – by making it faster and easier for people to get into the city by bike or foot, business and trade actually increased."
And while many of the improvements to support active transport involved introducing new infrastructure such as dedicated cycle lanes, Papandreou said he believed success also came from efforts to change perceptions.
“One of our early initiatives was to get rid of labels such as ‘drivers’, ‘riders’ and ‘pedestrians’ and call them what they are: people.
“By removing labels, we changed the existing and often incorrect perceptions – that cyclists hated drivers or vice-versa – and instead focussed on people, the transport options available to them and the requirements to best meet this in an urban environment.”
But despite the many benefits active transport can offer a city like Canberra, Papandreou stressed the process ‘wouldn’t happen overnight’ and needed long-term commitment from a range of stakeholders.
“While local governments obviously play a critical role in developing active transport strategies, the design and development process is a much longer one. Ideally, the process should involve as many different users as possible, with efforts to break down the traditional barriers or discipline divisions often seen between them.
“In our [San Francisco] situation, town planners work almost hand-in-hand with road engineers and our Board members undertake a monthly bicycle ride around the city to see how active transport designs actually work in practice.”
The public forum, Planning, Coordinating and Providing a Better Cycling Environment for Canberrans, was jointly organised by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA), the ACT Heart Foundation and Pedal Power ACT.