May 19, 2016

Walking and cycling tracks should be part of all new road and rail projects – Opinion – The Guardian

Stuck in traffic in my Sydney electorate last week, I couldn’t help but notice that cyclists were moving much more quickly than I was in my car.

Watching cyclists moving though the traffic gridlock, I was reminded that if governments are smart, they do everything within their power to encourage people to cycle.

Cycling improves people’s health. But just as importantly, it reduces traffic congestion by taking cars off the road.

In February Infrastructure Australia warned that without action, traffic congestion will cost Australia $53bn a year in lost productivity by 2031.

Reduced productivity means fewer jobs are created. So we must act.

The most obvious point of attack is to invest in better public transport, knowing that one packed commuter train takes literally hundreds of cars off our roads.

But encouraging people to walk or cycle also reduces congestion, while also promoting better health outcomes for walkers and cyclists.

That’s why we need to address the barriers which discourage people from cycling in our cities.

In 2011, the former Labor government funded the Australian Bicycle Council to prepare a five-year national cycling strategy – a blueprint for the promotion of greater use of bicycles and greater safety for cyclists.

Since then the council has worked with state and local governments and interest groups to deliver road safety improvements, integrated government planning and investment in cycling paths, consistency in design guidance for bicycle infrastructure and the publication of research on cycling to inform policymakers.

The Turnbull government has failed to continue the funding, which runs out this year.

Labor will support a new five-year national cycling strategy from 2017 to 2022 and fund the Australian Bicycle Council to continue its work.

We’ll also use Infrastructure Australia to work with other levels of government to increase investment in cycling infrastructure.

Under existing arrangements, when states seek commonwealth funding for new roads and railway lines, the federal government requires Infrastructure Australia to review proposals to ensure they represent value for public money.

If elected on 2 July, I will ask Infrastructure Australia to add another criterion to its assessments – whether it makes sense to incorporate active transport infrastructure like cycling and walking tracks as part of new road and rail projects.

If, for example, we are building a new road, it makes sense to consider whether we might include an adjacent bikeway at the same time. That would begin to address safety concerns of some potential cyclists who worry about sharing the road with cars.

In the same way, when we build a new railway line, we should ensure new train stations are accessible via safe walking and cycling tracks and that they offer space for people to safely store their bicycles.

We should be aiming for a situation where networks of well-lit, secure walking and cycling tracks connect communities to schools, shopping and recreational facilities and, above all, to bus and train stations.

Adding the active travel mandate to Infrastructure Australia’s review process will help achieve this vision.

When last in government, Labor worked with other levels of government to establish the first-ever National Cycling Infrastructure Fund as part of our broad push to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of Australian cities.

Consistent with that approach, Labor is today announcing we would be prepared to jointly fund the Greenway project in Sydney’s Inner West – a 5.8km corridor of cycling and walking tracks along the area’s existing light rail route.

Another issue that effects people’s willingness to ride to work is the provision of end-of-trip facilities like showers, lockers and bicycle parking in workplaces.

Developers of big office buildings are already responding to tenants’ demands for end-of-trip facilities, with the International Towers building in Sydney’s Barangaroo development to include 1,000 bike racks and an on-site bike repair shop, but only 600 car parking spaces.

Cycling to and from work is not for everyone.

But I am convinced that sensible government policy can encourage many more Australians to leave their car at home.

It’s good for their health, good for the climate and also great for the economy.

This Opinion Piece was first published on the The Guardian website on Thursday, 19 May 2016.