Adelaide to Bendigo and back – Joseph Fagan reflects on the Australian Walking and Cycling Conference.

Having previously attended multiple AWCC’s in Adelaide, I was eager to visit the self-proclaimed bicycle capital of regional Australia, Bendigo for the conference this October.

 

Testing the claim, I started on foot to pick up my loan bike. Ambling down Hargreaves St I enjoyed ample footpaths and pedestrian oriented treatments such as zebra crossings on roundabouts, to reach Freewheeling Fun; Bendigo’s Bicycle recycling cooperative. Operating out of a bakery’s garage, Richard explains how recycled bikes are gifted to those in need, how a small grant each year covers costs and that they are in the process of up-skilling more volunteers. I’m reminded of Adelaide’s own community bike workshops; Adelaide Community Bicycle workshop and Adelaide Bike Kitchen. All do their part to empower communities through cycling.

 

On the ride to the conference I am again impressed with the space dedicated to active travel. Wide streets reserve decent shoulders for bike riders, even on the main road. I catch a glimpse of a separated path running parallel through town and make a note to come check out later.

 

We are welcomed to Dja Dja Wurrung Country by way of a Smoking Ceremony to commence proceedings. Leading us along the Bendigo Creek, Traditional Owner Auntie Marilyn reminds us all of the effects our habitats have on the wider world. She explained the ecological damage wrought on her peoples’ land which was only now undergoing a process of restoration through a series of catchment ponds and reed beds. The long-neglected Bendigo Creek we are told, is the proposed site 4.5 km of a separated corridor from north to south, coined “low-line” after the New York’s Hi-Line as it follows a storm water drain as opposed to a raised train line.

 

The following 48 hours involved a wave of national and international presenters. The following themes stuck out for me:

 

Benefits of active travel:

The Heart Foundation presented its Healthy Active by Design Guide. The guide contains handy resources for planners, and transport engineers as well as those seeking funding to promote active travel. Their evidence shows an overwhelming proportion (83%) consider walking as critical mode of transport, and that most users of public transport achieve the recommended 10,000 steps a day. Adelaide’s Sundance Bill Thompson (Freestyle Cyclists) posed the question; why 30 minutes of physical exercise per day was not mandatory, considering the massive contribution it would make to public health.

 

The conference presented notable case studies:

Brian Patterson from Vancouver compared Australia and Canada and what lessons we might learn from their approaches to implementation. Edmonton used a rapid implementation approach of adjustable treatments such as curbs and bollards to boost cycle participation in underrepresented groups such as Women. Taking a pilot approach allows chances to bypass bureaucratic processes and see results. By contrast, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps commitment to transform the city in two years, seeing permanent high value installations grow cycling numbers. Where there is a will there is a way.

 

City of Yarra in Melbourne (Yarra already has a number of  40 km/h zones) presented a trial of 30 km of streets. The public backlash so far had been mild and they are using low-cost methods and social marketing techniques to make the changes permanent after pilot stage, check out their site: https://thanksfor30.com.au/

 

A collaboration between RMIT and Bendigo unveiled impressive use of mapping software. Using 50 data sets, the project (Shadeways) determines the thermal properties of different routes and assists in predicting and planning cycling and walking routes. Cyclists and Walkers it turns out, choose routes not only based on the shortest distance but using senses of sight, smell, sound and feel. The software generates raster mosaics which intersect with google and apple maps to determine the most comfortable route from A to B.

 

Department of Transportation WA unveiled how cycle tourism had become central to its strategic plan. The WA government has pledged $129 million over four years to develop cycling and create new jobs in the wake of the mining industry. An ambitious state-wide transport hierarchy positions cycling as central to active streets, promoting 30 km/h limits as well as tourism and converting old rail trails.

 

Kate Wilson from Dunedin City Council discussed the politics of cycling. Her message was that councillors are powerless on their own and need their constituent’s direction, so write to them and don’t conform to stereotypes. Councils typically spend 70% on infrastructure, 20% on recreation and 10% on tourism. Submissions made should use effective messaging: focus on the economic impact of increased cycling, community development, sense of place/ownership/pride, economic development, social well-being, equality, access, relationships with communities, and the 50c per km. Be realistic about changing expectations, aim from bad to good, then good to great. Tell your own story and describe cycling in terms of universal appeals, using the senses you experience.

 

More than just numbers:

Numerous speakers stressed that while engineering and infrastructure were necessary they alone fell short of affecting mode share. Groups like Bike Bendigo work tirelessly in areas of culture, community, capacity and creativity to transform the transport culture of their town. The whole month of October celebrated Bike Palooza and was packed full of activities and events such as a bicycle film festival, ride to work day, not to mention a cycle tourism conference and the AWCC. This message echoes a keynote address from Ridhi D’Cruz of City Repair Project Portland; we all inhabit places for a time and are agents of change, and it is never too late to start.

 

Bicycle Mayors, an idea born in Amsterdam after the success of the Night Mayor role shines a fresh light on tackling local issues. Bicycle Mayors now exist within a global network supported by BYCS, a Dutch Non-For-Profit. They hold 2 year voluntary roles to plan and design projects to promote cycling as well as engage local stakeholders. Two Bicycle Mayors from India attended the conference and presented their inspiring stories. For them, bicycles are for transportation, and also transformation. Perhaps this is the sort of advocacy is something Adelaide could consider?

Bicycle Mayor Program

 

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