Jan 5, 2016

Pedal power: Better facilities for cyclists will help in the fight against congestion – Opinion – Sydney Morning Herald

On busy mornings in Parliament House at Canberra, you need to take extra care when driving into the underground car park.

You have to watch out for cyclists.

Inside the building, early mornings are busy as commuter cyclists shed their lycra and use showers provided in the building before changing into office gear and getting on with work.

It’s the same in big office buildings in our big cities.

The International Towers building, in Sydney’s Barangaroo development, will include 1000 bike racks and an on-site bike repair shop, but only 600 car parking spaces.

Owners of the Grosvenor Place tower, also in Sydney, reportedly spent more than $9 million recently transforming a basement into a well-appointed cycling centre, with space for 230 bicycles, as well as fancy showers and dressing rooms including ironing boards, grooming stations and shoe cleaners.

End-of-journey facilities, as they are known, are increasingly popular in Australia.

And in 2015, with our cities clogged by worsening traffic congestion, these facilities are looming large as an important weapon against traffic gridlock.

Earlier this year, Infrastructure Australia produced a report predicting that without action to ease traffic congestion, the problem will cost our nation $53 billion a year by 2031 in lost productivity and economic activity.

This represents a genuine economic challenge. Traffic congestion is not just a nuisance, it’s a handbrake on the economic growth we need to create the jobs of the future.

The challenge requires action on multiple fronts, including significant investment on better public transport and roads, as well as increased use of active travel options like walking and cycling.

Of course, not everybody in Australia wants to ride a bike to work. But many do.

And smart governments should be doing everything they can to identify impediments to greater use of bicycles and sweep them away in the interests of economic efficiency.

A study conducted in Washington in 2012 found that people who worked in buildings with showers, clothes lockers and bike racks were 4.86 times more likely to cycle to work than workers in buildings without such facilities.

But where a workplace had lockers and bike racks but no showers, workers were only 1.78 times more likely to cycle to work.

Clearly, showers are important. People don’t like to smell sweaty all day – and I’m sure their co-workers feel the same way.

Safe storage is also an issue. We need more bicycle racks in our cities, as well as in train and bus stations.

In Melbourne, the six new train stations on Regional Rail Link, which opened earlier in 2015 and connects the Melbourne central business district to Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, all include secure bicycle parking.

So do many stations in inner-city locations around the nation, including in my electorate in Sydney’s inner west.

But we need to do more.

Given the productivity gains at stake here, there is a strong argument for a more-concerted push to make cycling easier in every way that we can.

More bike paths will help, as well as greater efforts to address cycling safety by, where possible, separating cars and bicycles on busy roads.

Traditionally, traffic and transport investment have been seen as matters for state and local governments, which have prime responsibility in this area.

But in 2016, with our nation searching for ways to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable, it’s time for the commonwealth to play a greater role in terms of policy leadership and, where appropriate, direct investment.

In particular, the commonwealth should be working with councils in suburban areas to see what role it can play to boost cycling through existing and future community grants schemes.

Given that councils are best placed to understand local priorities, we need a strong partnership with local government, not just on transport but on all areas that can have an effect on improving our cities, including town planning and building design standards.

More than a year ago, Labor recognised the challenges facing cities when I released a 10-point plan for better cities, including proposals to facilitate more opportunities for active travel like cycling and walking by ensuring they were properly connected with other modes of transport.

At the time there was no interest in the issue from the federal government.

This seems to have changed with the recent change in the prime ministership – a development that is welcome if words are matched by action.

If we accept that the commonwealth needs to focus its efforts on the economy, and if we accept that traffic congestion is inhibiting economic growth, it’s time for action on congestion.

We need all hands and indeed, all feet, on board.

This piece appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday, 5 January, 2016.