By Linda Laker
For decades, Pedal Power has been proud of Canberra’s unofficial by-line, “Australia’s best cycling city”. In fact, the USA-based cycling group PeopleForBikes scored Canberra as just that in its fourth annual City Ratings Report in 2021. But before getting too excited, Canberra came in at only 36th in the overall world city rankings. Unsurprisingly, it was a city in the Netherlands – Utrecht – which was number one (Canberra scored 59; Utrecht scored 83!). You can read more about the report at The Micromobility Report.
Just as in so many other areas of policy and community, we can learn a lot from what other cities and countries are doing. To stay informed about our cycling interests, Pedal Power is very fortunate to have the dedicated Roger Bacon trawling traditional and social media, websites and publications from around the world to produce the weekly Cycling News Roundup. This is a powerful tool for sharing what is working elsewhere in terms of cycling infrastructure and advocacy approaches. And it is not only our members who subscribe – fans of Roundup can be found in the ACT Government and amongst ministerial staff, other sporting organisations, bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and as far afield as the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Roger describes the aim of Roundup as being another branch of Pedal Power’s communication effort which uses ‘soft power’ to influence advocates and decision-makers. He also wants it to dispel our sense of complacency around Canberra’s cycling facilities, given our stagnating level of cycle transport usage and continuing comparatively low rates of women cycling. Although Canberra was a past leader in cycling infrastructure and culture, many other cities are catching up and overtaking our Territory. The recent Western Australian Budget, for example, allocated $347 million over four years to expand local cycling infrastructure and riding and walking facilities.
The scope of Roundup is wide-ranging: cycling related content from here and around the world across infrastructure, health, tourism, urban planning, road rules and behaviours, and more. Every week, Roger scans some 100+ resources and culls to a shortlist of 39 items (Why 39? “It’s less than 40” is Roger’s answer! 😊). The beauty of Roundup is each edition provides links to relevant articles. This means you can skim each issue quickly and choose to dip into whichever articles are of particular interest.
Roger became involved in Pedal Power advocacy in the nineties and has curated what is now Roundup for seven years without missing a single week (apart from Christmas-January summer break). At this point, it would seem appropriate to also acknowledge his wife, Leeta, for her patience and forbearance as Roger toils on Roundup for most of each weekend.
In all this time, he’s learnt a lot about initiatives helping cities to get more people cycling. He has seen over the years that building and maintaining good infrastructure, while essential, is not enough on its own.
His main takeaway is the need for two interrelated factors: the importance of leadership from the top; and getting community support. Overseas cities such as Paris, London and New York have achieved greater success implementing cycling reforms when led by their respective mayors. And they have taken politically difficult decisions reallocating road and car parking capacity when there’s a groundswell of local support. Building on that support– particularly in a car-centric city such as Canberra – needs concentrated communication and public education to change ingrained travel behaviour patterns.
Of course Roger has been in this game long enough to appreciate there’s a bit of a ‘ chicken and egg’ problem here – how do you get cycling to register in a car-centric city? He has seen attitudinal and some policy improvements that are promising: for example, more drivers appear to be giving a lot more room when passing bicycles; speed limits are being reduced. But he reiterates, “The strong message from around the world is that if you want to pursue active travel, you need to have the community behind you. Two-thirds of people might support such policies, but a vocal one-third minority can impede progress.” Roger sees a strong role for Pedal Power, to move beyond advocacy for the engineering/infrastructure issues, to persuade people to use bicycles and change ingrained travel behaviour patterns.
In addition to producing Roundup each week, Roger continues to ride his Dutch Gazelle electric bike which he’s had for almost 5 years. It is very heavy but it irons out the hills! He also has a wide range of other interests including as organ music, books, and movies. He continues to pursue cycling-related policy issues like the folly of expanding roads when it will just create more congestion. As he pointed out in his recent article published in the Canberra Times, the ‘congestion problem’ lasts for only about four hours a working day – totalling only about 1000 hours a year. For the remaining hours – over 7,700 of them each year, there’s no problem.
If you haven’t yet subscribed, brighten up your Sunday evenings with the very readable Cycling News Roundup by subscribing here.