In a recent article in the Canberra Time – ‘Can Canberra be like Copenhagen’, 18 September – Steve Evans rightly praised Copenhagen as a cycling city: a network of wide separated bike-only paths, cycle Super Highways, a special bridge, all of which make cycling easy and safe. Two of every five trips to work or study occur on a bike. They experience no parking worries, no hot steamy summers. He paints a picture of families riding comfortably with young children, old people trundling along. Well done the Danes!
Canberra, on the other hand, he thinks may be a different story: too hilly, too hot, car-dominated, too dangerous, too far, too spread out, too expensive to fix, would take too long, paths too narrow and not separated, too much Lycra, not a cycling city … I don’t think I’ve missed anything. On the plus side though, our winters are not as cold.
It’s true that Canberra has a long way to go. Taking the ACT as a whole, the cycling share of travel to work is low by world standards at just 3 percent (2016 Census).
Other cities are doing better. Hills? even hilly San Francisco is well over 4 percent; Too Car Dominated? car-dependent London aiming for 5 percent with a major investment program; the narrow streets of Paris heading for 15 percent with its monthly car-free days and scrapping of urban freeways; Hot summers? Seville with a fivefold increase after rapidly expanding its separated paths. Who would have thought it possible?
In the words of renowned Canadian planner Brent Toderian: “What are the 8 most unhelpful words in the English language? ‘We could never do THAT in OUR city!’ But successful cities replace excuse for action.”
We need to do the same. With political will, funding and community support, change can happen. Sixty years ago, Copenhagen was not like Copenhagen. As Evans points out, they planned for active travel and acted on a different transport future.
There is hope. North Canberra with good established path networks was at over 11 percent cycling to work at the last Census. The challenge for the ACT is to improve cycling rates in the other town centres. E-bikes are also changing the game. One of our volunteers (a 72-year-old with arthritis) happily rides his e-bike up hills and down dales the 14 kilometres each way to his appointments because it’s far quicker door-to-door than driving, and far more pleasant.
We applaud the ACT Government for committing to active travel in the new Climate Change Strategy. We now look to collective action to reap the benefits of more cycling for the whole city, including for those who drive.
Let’s spike the urban myths and just get on with it!