The National Cycling Participation Survey for 2017 was released this week, showing that the ACT leads the nation with higher participation rates than any other place in Australia.
While the ACT figures are better than the national average, we must not be complacent. Our cycling participation rates have remained steady, but they have not risen. There were only a small number of respondents who indicated they had taken up cycling in the last year. In order for the ACT community to fully realise all the benefits of being the best place in Australia to ride a bike, we need to get more of our population riding regularly.
Making it easier for people to use their bikes for transport is one way that we can encourage all Canberrans to ride more often. The survey indicates that the biggest barrier to people riding for transport in the ACT is that people perceive the distance to be too far. Compared to other jurisdictions people who ride in the ACT feel safer doing so than increases in perceived danger in NSW and elsewhere.
One way to address the distance problem is to fix the missing links in our bike path network, to allow people to ride a more direct route to where they need to go. Examining the full-text responses it is clear that the number one action that people want the ACT Government to take is to build more off-road paths for bike riding.
103,000 Canberrans ride a bike weekly, meaning that just over a quarter of us are getting out on our bikes regularly. In comparison, just 15.5% of people ride weekly Australia-wide.
The 2017 Austroads survey results show that 3.47 million Australians ride a bike every week. When the last survey was taken in 2015, 4 million Australians rode once a week – a marked decline.
In the ACT, our cycling participation numbers are steady but are much stronger than the declines in other states and territories. The survey shows that 43% of Canberrans used a bike for transport in the last month – significantly more than the national average of 31%. More men than women ride bicycles regularly, indicating that we have work to do in order to make our cycling infrastructure safe and welcoming for women and families.
The good news is that cycling participation rates are highest in the ACT among the under-10 demographic. 57% of Canberran children are out on their bicycles regularly, compared to 47% Australia-wide. Participation drops as children move into their teens and twenties, indicating that there is work to do to make cycling a lifelong interest.
The survey did indicate that there may be a slight increase in teenagers riding bikes since 2013 – particularly teenage girls. The proportion of males who ride is higher across all age groups, but a jump in the number of young women riding bikes is a movement that we should actively encourage.
With preventative health being a strong focus of our current government, now is the time to encourage more people in Canberra to ride bikes.
The Heart Foundation says that 63% of the adult population of Canberra is overweight or obese. Increasing the number of people in Canberra who get out of their cars and onto their bikes for transport will directly affect health outcomes for the ACT - in terms of reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer to individuals, and reducing the pollution in our atmosphere.
More investment in cycling infrastructure and promotion will allow more people to ride bikes, and help Canberra become not just the cycling capital, but also Australia’s healthiest city.