Australia Trip (2)

A week ago I returned from Australia and I’d like to update you on the events in Canberra and Perth, which I visited after Brisbane. The departments of Transport in these three cities had joined forces with the Australian Cycling Promotion Fund and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to invite me to the country. When you follow me on Twitter you will have seen most of what is to follow, but I would like to have a full recap on my blog as well.

Cycling in Perth (After the official program had ended, so I felt less compelled to adhere to the helmet obligation.)

After the first full day in Brisbane, on 21 March, which I described in my post two weeks ago, I flew to Canberra the following day. The torrential rains that I experienced in Brisbane the day before had travelled with me, shutting down the airport and that caused a considerable delay. The planned cycle tour that afternoon was changed into a bus tour, also because of the rain. Besides some bicycle crossings I was shown  developing ‘bicycle boulevards’ that go by the name of ‘Active travel streets’ in Canberra. In the early evening I was in a public forum organised by the Urban Synergies and Active Travel Office. The Netherlands Embassy had sponsored my stay in Canberra and the Embassy took the opportunity of my visit to organise a reception later in the evening at the Ambassador’s residence for a group of important officials.

Sunrise at the Canberra Park & Pedal location. Left Anna Gurnhill, who organised most of the Canberra leg of my trip.

Park & Pedal Video (Interview with yours truly at circa 6:30)

Very early the following morning I visited Australia’s first Park and Pedal project. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government tries to promote driving your car to a parking area at the edge of the city, where people are then encouraged to switch to a bike (that they bring in their own car) to continue their journey to work on a bicycle on the extensive (mainly recreational) cycle network. A creative and low cost project, or rather marketing campaign, that could serve as an example to other cities and countries. The idea already seems to spread to other parking facilities around Canberra. A very creative (first ever) live video for Facebook was made by the people from the department. After this early morning visit, I received another very warm welcome at the Netherlands Embassy, where I cycled with Netherlands Ambassador Erica Schouten. At lunch time I gave a presentation to an interested audience of people from all ACT Directorates, followed by a round table meeting with a smaller group of transport professionals to discuss and exchange ideas. There was barely time for all this, because I had to be rushed to the airport to catch my five and a half hours flight to Perth, early that same evening.

Tweet with a nice video by the Dutch Embassy.

Part of a poster for “An Evening With Mark Wagenbuur”, with very kind words from the Cycling Professor!

At 8 in the morning the following day in Perth, the program continued, when I attended the first Safe Active Streets National Workshop. It was good to have no real duties that first workshop day, but I did manage to give an elevator pitch to the newly appointed transport minister for Western Australia, who opened the two-day event. The afternoon program included a site visit to three ‘bicycle boulevards’ that go by the name of ‘Safe Active Streets’ in Perth, in different stages of development. That same night I tried to entertain a large group of people in a public event called “An evening with Mark Wagenbuur”. I showed some videos from my large body of work and that provoked some interesting discussions. All discussions stopped when a young man started a rather aggressive rant about the mandatory helmet law. He didn’t seem to sense that most people in the hall agree to some degree that mandatory helmets in Australia are not the way forward, but most feel now is not the time to start a fight about it. With better infrastructure that will be a different story. After an awkward silence from the hall, we picked up the evening again and it ended very positively.

With the bike in the train in Perth.

On Friday, I was the keynote speaker at the workshop and since this was now the fourth time I gave my presentation, it rolled out rather nicely. The official program ended with a video interview for the Cycling Promotion Fund that I will include here.

The intensive week-long program generated a lot of positive attention for cycling in the Netherlands and the Dutch Cycling Embassy, especially on social media. On Saturday I gave one last interview, after which I was shown some very interesting parts of Perth by fellow blogger Tim Burns aka @PerthBiker, who was the one who got me to Australia in the first place. I cycled on his Dutch Gazelle and it felt really nice to cycle upright again. The PSP network of red asphalt paths in Perth almost made me feel at home! We took our bikes in the train to cover more distance (Perth is vast!) and we also used his car to visit a more remote cycle route.

On the Principal Shared Path (PSP) network in Perth alongside the Swan River. (All pictures in Perth by Tim Burns)

To wrap up my stay in Australia I had a few hours to play tourist on Sunday morning and then I started a 25 hour commute to work in Utrecht, where I arrived Monday morning at 8:30 sharp! I had a great time and I filmed a lot. Unfortunately my cycle tour in Brisbane was cut short due to heavy rain, but you can expect blog posts about Canberra and Perth in the near future.

18 thoughts on “Australia Trip (2)

  1. Last night the California state legislature voted to fund road repair by increasing the motor fuel tax by $0.15 per gallon and increasing the vehicle registration fee. That will give the city of Los Angeles another 10 million dollars per year for bicycle infrastructure. Bringing the upcoming total for bicycle infrastructure to 6X what it is now, or $15 per every resident of the city of Los Angeles. The total transportation spending will be $350 per resident every year. That’s not at the level of funding per person for bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands but its a huge leap forward. Its cheaper to install bike lanes in the city of Los Angeles as the surface is funded from another source.

    The city of Los Angeles is now building two miles of protected bike lanes per year using city funds. That will soon rise to 50 miles of protected lanes installed per year. To put that in perspective, neither the city of Montreal or New York City have more than 80 miles of protected bike lanes. The city of Los Angeles has less than 250 miles of standard stripe only bike lanes.

    1. Correction: That was a $0.12 per gallon increase in motor fuel tax.

      California will soon dominate the top ten cities in North America for miles of protected bike lanes and LA county will be a big part of that.

      The top tent cities for the percentage of trip of bicycle in North America will also quickly be dominated by California cities and LA county will be a big part of that.

      Two years ago the city of Los Angeles was only spending two million dollars annually on bike lanes. The rest of the ten million dollars per year budget on bicycle infrastructure was from grants that were mainly spent on off-street paths. What changed was that a new general manager for the department of transportation arrived from San Francisco. To her, protected bike lanes are worth 50 times more than unprotected ones. Hence, the shift of grant applications from off-street to on-street.

      The amount of money that LA spends on bicycle infrastructure now is about $10 million per year. That will increase starting July 1st when funds from Measure M, the LA county sales tax, begins coming in. The city of LA has proposed quadrupling the amount of local return from that sales tax measure that goes towards bicycling. There is also 2% of Measure set-aside for active transportation and millions of dollars annually to complete the bike path next to the LA river.

  2. The one thing all cities and governments fail to notice is that not all cyclists are riding to work. For many like me we are retired and ride to the shops , cinemas etc; in Canberra there is No safe ,small, pay parking station. There are boxes(need to book them?) and the usual stainless steel rings to lock your bicycle to, which is easy pickings for thieves. None of us like to leave bicycles with price tags up to $5000 parked in Canberra’s streets, kids are devastated when their bikes disappear. . Every year since 2007 I’ve toured Japan and it’s cities and parked a fully loaded tourer in underground and above ground bicycle parking areas , most are pay ones and supervised by retired or semi retired individuals. Paths alone are not the only need.

  3. Thanks for the post Mark. I quite enjoy riding in Perth when I get back there, and while they still have MHL, Perth lacks the public hysteria and fascist police response that exists in Melbourne and Sydney. People do get quiet worked up about it, because getting fined for riding a bike and listening to endless promises about bike infra/spending/etc that never materialize is goddamn maddening. Why don’t we have a mandatory-cycle-track law if we care about safety? That, and the general perception that riding a bike is for weirdos, exacerbated by the law. So now our advocates are ‘wheelrunners’, and so a lot of our infrastructure completely fails for mundane trips by everyday folks. The road types don’t see the need to change the law, because they’re the ones that don’t care about having to wear one all the time. Everyone else just jumps in their car, demanding more roads and less bikes. (I have no beef with the road guys, I think we have a great culture of that in AU, but it is not solving our transport issues)

    And what could illustrate our backwardness more than the ACT idea?
    NL: ride to station – catch train
    AU: drive to a carpark, and then ride a bike that you somehow put in your car?
    There’s a special kind of stupid right there.

    1. I don’t agree it’s a special kind of stupid. There is a place for both of these approaches, even in parallel.

      I live in London these days, and from where I live I ride a bike to a station and then catch a train into the city, which makes perfect sense here.

      But I lived for several years in Melbourne, and the geography of the place, the population density, and the distribution of public transport are simply not the same as older European cities. For a while when I lived in a certain area of Melbourne, I would take a bike in my car, park about 10km from the city centre, and ride the rest of the way into town. My home was too far out to easily cycle all the way into the city, so the alternatives would be to drive to a train station or drive all the way into town. In that case, driving and then cycling made perfect sense, keeping cars out of the city and extending the range from which is was practical to use a bike to get into town.

      I don’t know Canberra well, but I can see that the location of the park and pedal location is between the inner city and the low-density outer suburbs. So I can see the logic of people driving from areas where public transport may be limited, and then cycling into the city.

      Perhaps not perfect, but we have to be pragmatic in the way cycling solutions are tailored to the physical and human geography of different places.

      1. Hey Andrew, for an individual to do it is completely reasonable. And certainly didn’t mean to disparage people who do it – I agree that is good given the circumstance. However it highlights the extremely poor planning that takes place in Australia. (‘stupid’ is directed at the government, not my dear fellow citizens). Melbourne is still building satellite suburbs with no public transit at all ( And expecting the public at large to park-and-ride just seems unrealistic to me. But I’d like to be proven wrong. Bike infra is much cheaper to build than PT!

        1. Definitely. The development of this type of far-flung new suburb is completely insane, and only reinforces the problem of total car-dependency. My argument is certainly not that the errors of sprawl should be perpetuated, but that we also have to make the best of what we currently have – while designing better cities for the future and taking incremental steps to move in that direction. That has got to mean significantly higher density, hard limits on sprawl, and serious re-engineering of the urban environment to make alternatives to cars a realistic option for many more everyday journeys.

        2. You might like to look at the planning details in Canberra before lumping it in with the rest of Australia (particularly Melbourne/Sydney). In Canberra there is extensive walking/cycling permeability and an honest effort to reduce car dependency which has been planned into the city throughout its history and to the present day. Lets wait for the upcoming posts from Mark to hopefully show some of their efforts.

      2. Canberra has an awful lot of bicycle infrastructure (and allows cycling on footpaths) but the very low population density makes for roughly 20km commute distances for those who work in the city/government centre while living in typical suburbs. The impetus for the park and ride is the lack of space to add more capacity for roads or parking around this central part of the city, so its a compromise of asking the public to take a portion of their journey by bicycle or public transport. The busses and upcoming light rail have bicycle facilities on them so there are many options to break up the distance including a bicycle if people wish.

        1. In my life, I have generally found that there is a way to do almost anything if society wants to find it. I do not see why this is different. No traffic lights on bike paths, perhaps linking cul-de-sacs with cycling and walking facilities (but not driving facilities) in key places to shorten distances, converting some stop signs to yield signs, and it suddenly seems an awful lot easier to ride a bike to work (and everywhere else one might go). It would also help to build on the unused space in ridiculously oversized parking lots I often find.
          By the way, I do believe, based on what I have heard, that prevailing development patterns in Australia are similar to what they are in the US. If I am wrong, please correct me.

          1. You should look more at Canberra (google maps includes pedestrian/bicycle facilities). While it still has the urban sprawl and low density development common in Australia its doing all the things you suggest, car parking is very constrained which is the reason for promoting alternatives.

  4. Great interview! When he asked if the kids in The Netherlands were happy you should have told yes, when they are riding most have big smiles on their faces! Cycling on ultra-flat land is fun. Add the good, healthy food, safe, progressive, modern and prosperous society and why would you not be happy?

    I think every part of the world should be connected by bicycle paths. But there is nothing like cycling in The Netherlands. It is an joyous experience that few places can ever match. Hills are hard and not fun. Hot weather with scorching sun and hills are worse! Still it’s better than riding in a car.

  5. There’s no time like the present to attack our mandatory helmet law. Those who dream of infrastructure solving safety concerns of those who lobbied for helmet laws are misguided. Infrastructure changes are lifetimes away from being satisfactory. Useful levels of bicycle mode share wont occur with a helmet law, and without those levels, the infrastructure cost wont be justified. It’s a chicken and egg problem. The difference with the helmet law is that it doesn’t require billions of $ or decades of public works to change. It could happen with the stroke of a pen. Sadly our government roads departments still cling to the long ago discredited 85% injury reduction claims made by T&R. At least the US is ahead of us there!

    I so wish we had Chris Boardman in Australia.

    1. Couldn’t agree more James. I wasn’t at the talk, so can’t say whether the young man was aggressive or not. I am however so used to the embarrassed “let’s not talk about that now” that you get from the Cycling Promotion Fund and anyone else who wants the ear of government. It is tiresome and stupid. We have had twenty seven years of this nonsense – the time to talk about it and attack the helmet law is yesterday, today, tomorrow and every day- until this overarching impediment to our cycling future is gone. I’m sick and tired of the pussy footing around “wait till we get the infrastructure”. Without a significant increase in riders first, you’ll never get it anyway. Cycling organisations that keep silent are giving their tacit consent to the continuing attack on cycling that the helmet law is. I’m frankly not interested in those representatives who privately say they don’t agree with the law, but won’t speak up. They are collaborators in the continued fining of healthy transport.

      1. What these folks said. To put it in a broader context… when I was a teenage school kid, I was victim of a #CowardsRun – or a ‘hit and run’ – a guy in a van collided with me in an intersection. He didn’t drive off immediately, he got out of his van to verbally abuse me first, then drove off (this to a school kid I remind you). Despite getting his license plate and having several witnesses, the police just COULDN’T FIND the driver. ‘Too hard’. So screw me and I had to buy a new bike. This is around the time MHL came in. While the Dutch government approach was to take real action to prevent bike riders being involved in collisions, the Australian government just told us all to armour up. Think of all the money they saved! The poor victims had to pay for their own armour! Now that I’m a parent, I consider the prospect of my kid getting hit by a 3 tonne SUV on the way to school, and the governments belief that he’ll be okay because he’s wearing a styrofoam hat. Totally preposterous, and utterly deplorable. You bet I’m mad at the government. And the jokes on us, while the NL has good rates of health and the world’s happiest and most independent kids, Australia is fat, sick and miserable with the world’s most obese children.

        It’s a massive policy failure. It’s repeal is well overdue.

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