Currently 11,000 cyclists ride to work in the city (RACV Royalauto Aug/Sep 2012). Imagine if they all decided to drive their cars in on the one day. Then you would really see traffic chaos.

What really needs to happen to make Melbourne a cycling city is to draw a 5 – 10k radius around the CBD, and make that whole area a cycling priority precinct.

Congestion is caused by too many cars on the road, and the vast majority of these are single occupant commuters. The solution is to reduce the number of cars on the road. But you also need to make non-car transport viable at the same time. This is cycling and public transport.

Any two lane road: make one full lane available to bikes only. Tear down all the car park high rises, and turn them into parklands for city workers and residents. Impose a congestion tax for non-commercial vehicles coming into the area. Make Public Transport a genuine Metro – trains/trams/buses every 10 minutes, no timetable. Change the law so that (as in the Netherlands) cyclists have generally right of way over cars, and motor vehicles’ insurance is automatically responsible if there is a crash.

Increase driver awareness of cyclists and cyclist behaviour – for example; as a requirement of getting a driving licence, it would be mandatory to go out on three two-hour rides with a guide through the city so that you can understand the interaction between cyclists and drivers.

All of this would be cheaper than the spending on traffic infrastructure, and would reduce congestion much more effectively. Commercial vehicles, tradies and so on would have much more ability to move around the city without being held up by traffic, and the benefits to the whole economy flow on from that. Currently congestion costs us all approximately 4 billion (Eddington, The Age, 8/9/2012) in “externalities” such as the wasted time for deliveries and trades people, etc.

Sydney Mayor Clover Moore has put the case to the Federal Government for funds to create an inner-city regional bicycle network, covering the inner 15 local government areas. Research commissioned by the City shows that such a network would deliver an economic benefit of at least $506 million or close to $4 for every dollar spent, over a 30 year span. A new motorway or freeway will return about $2 for every dollar spent.

In any case, once petrol reaches $5 a litre, we will still need to implement these kinds of measures in order to move people about, because most people will be unable to afford to drive. The difference will be that by then it will cost a lot more, and more people will suffer financially. The above mentioned externalities will also have skyrocketed, because the growth of Melbourne will place ever more cars on the road. The problem will not get better. Implemented now, it would take about 10 – 15 years to implement, and cost less than any new freeway because it utilises existing infrastructure in a more practical way.

Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been onto this since the 1970s. New York, L.A., Portland OR, Dublin, Seoul, Seville, even Bogota Columbia, are all transforming their cities away from motor vehicle dominated and into human oriented spaces.  Munich, Zurich, Hamburg, San Francisco, Tokyo, Helsinki, Stockholm, Paris Vienna, Berlin, Fukuoka, Geneva, Barcelona and Montreal all have high proportions of cycling.

Helmet laws, safety and numbers

“Spain is that country that obliges you to wear a cycling helmet ‘for your safety’, but it allows people to run in front of enraged and pointy-horned bulls protected only by a rolled up newspaper and a small red kerchief.”

Here’s a beautifully argued and dispassionate deconstruction of how the bicycle helmet succeeds and how it fails. (2013)

Dr Dorothy Robinson from the University of New England, found ‘enforced helmet laws discourage cycling but produce no obvious response in percentage of head injuries’ (Institute of Public Affairs).

Put simply, doubling the number of cyclists makes cycling 30-50% safer.

Cycling is a very safe activity. It is about as risky as taking a walk or watching TV.  Being hit by a car, on the other hand, can be rather bad for one’s health.  Helmet laws are bad for cycling safety because they fail to address the main source of danger, and discourage cycling as a normal activity.

After helmet laws were introduced in Alberta, Canada, children’s cycling halved and injuries increased per cyclist.

With only 44% as many children cycling, there should have been only 44% as many injuries. The observed post-law number of injuries was 2.37 times higher than would have been expected for the amount of cycling. In contrast, the safety of adult cyclists (who were not affected by the law) improved. (

“If even just 10 percent more people were cycling instead of driving at any given time, traffic congestion would be significantly reduced on Australian roads with a commensurate reduction in risk to motorists, pedestrians and cyclists,” (Professor Rissel, University of Sydney School of Public Health.)

“The most likely major deterrent to more people cycling is helmet legislation, which is a significant feature of the cycling environment in Australia. Well over half a million more Australians could be riding bicycles if we didn’t have mandatory helmet laws, according to research conducted last year which showed one in five adults surveyed in Sydney said they would ride a bicycle more if they did not have to wear a helmet”. (

Another study recently published in the journal World Transport Policy and Practice demonstrates that on a per capita basis there were 37.5 percent fewer Australians riding bikes in 2011 than in 1985-86. This is despite Australia’s population increasing by 58.4 percent from 1986 to 2010.

While Australia’s reported cycling ‘boom’ over the past decade has seen increasing numbers of cyclists, there has been an effective decline in per capita cycling participation over 25 years, according to the study.

Overseas research is in concord with the Australian experience:

Major head injuries per year, Ontario, Canada 2004 : (CIHI, 2004)
Motor vehicle involvement, including pedestrians but excluding cyclists 49%
Falls 35%
Homicide 6%
Suicide 2%
Other causes 6%
Cyclists less than 2%

As the proportion of major head injuries that are cyclists is lower than the proportion of all head injuries (although the populations differ), it would appear that on average head injuries to cyclists are less severe than those to other groups.

In the U.S., a similar pattern appears (

Average number of deaths per year over the period 1997 to 2007.

Activity Average TBI fatalities/year % of total
All causes 53014 100%
Motorists 7955 15%
Pedestrians 1825 3.4%
Motorcyclists 1361 2.6%
Cyclists 325 0.6%

Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by passing vehicles, new research from Bath University suggests.The study found drivers tend to pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than those who are bare-headed.

Cycling is a very safe activity, more so than walking, swimming, climbing ladders, and only slightly less so than golf.

“Cycling without a helmet may lead to higher costs to society in some situations. However, the total costs involved here are dwarfed by the costs generated by those who smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat unhealthily and fail to exercise regularly, [not to mention the on-costs and economic externalities of motorised transport which are enormous.]

As such, it seems mighty odd to create legislation prohibiting people who are engaged in a healthy activity from taking a relatively small risk of creating a relatively small cost while allowing other people to engage in highly risky activities that will generate enormous social costs. Indeed, the whole thing smacks of discrimination against the cycling minority.”(Carwyn Hooper)

Attitudes to cycling

My main concern whilst riding is driver awareness and driver attitude towards cyclists. Most of the time I find drivers to be pretty good about cyclists. But.

It is also very common for drivers to be unaware of the presence of cyclists on the road, and this is the cause of most crashes. One very typical situation is where a driver will pass a cyclist, and then turn left directly across the cyclist’s path. I have been in this situation many times, and seen others crash because of this as well, including at the intersection of Smith and Queens (inbound), where there is a green bike lane marked. Very bad infrastructure design here.

There is a small minority of drivers who are antagonistic towards cyclists, believing that somehow cyclists are not entitled to be on the roads. This is often because of the misconception that “rego pays for roads, cyclists don’t pay rego, therefore are not entitled to use the roads”.

This group thinks it is OK to throw objects at cyclists, to push a moving cyclist, to abuse cyclists, or to threaten cyclists with their vehicles. I would like to see the police be more responsive to cyclists who report this behaviour. At the moment the police response is: “tell someone who cares”.

It would be great to have an education program for drivers to raise awareness of cyclists rights, the particular laws that apply to cyclists (e.g. passing on the left), and the responsibility of drivers to be aware of other road users.

Perhaps it could be as a requirement of getting a driving licence, it would be mandatory to go out on three two-hour rides with a guide through the city so that you can understand the interactions between cyclists and drivers.


The 5 – 10k radius is really just a start. It is geared towards reducing car congestion as much as encouraging cycling. It also gives a very clear focus and provides a model for further development by local councils (which are already pretty much on board with cycling infrastructure anyway). My hypothesis is that radial bike priority roads and crosstown roads would naturally be developed as the bike use to the inner area creates an increasing demand. Given the inner city areas are where the most bike use is currently occurring; this is the logical place to commence.

It’s time we took our city back from the domination of the motor vehicle and really made the CBD and inner Melbourne the most liveable city in the world.


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