Stepping off the plane in Melbourne last week was a bit of a rude shock for this sunny Queenslander. As a Sydney sider for almost a decade, you’d think I’d be accustomed to the cooler climes, but alas, it seems I’ve been happily ensconced in a mild Queensland Autumn forgetting just how brutal those icy southern winds can be. Nonetheless, Melbourne has plenty to distract oneself from the biting chill, including, of course, the good coffee and fine food. But this trip it wasn’t the double ristrettos or cannolis I had come for (although those were good too!), this time, I was delighted to be attending my first Australian Bicycle Summit.
Hosted by We Ride Australia and held at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium - a national treasure for footy fanatics - AKA, the whole of Victoria - the event was well attended by industry folk, city representatives and academics alike. It’s always great to be in a room filled with passionate people, so clearly committed to getting more people on bikes in Australia – all bushy tailed and bright eyed! The focus of this year’s event was smart tech, active transport, and the ‘Towards Zero’ message - a theme reiterated through much of the summit and a welcome one to all.
For any interstate or antipodean readers who may not be aware of this campaign, Towards Zero is a combined partnership between the Transport Accident Commission, VicRoads, Victoria Police, the Department of Justice and Regulation and the Department of Health and Human Services. Working alongside the community, they share a belief that zero deaths and serious injuries on Vic Roads can be a reality. In line with this, we heard from the CEO of the Transport Accident Commission, Joe Calafiore, who reiterated their commitment to safer roads for Victorians and Australians.
As Melbourne continues to urbanise and the demand on the public infrastructure sharply intensifies, Melbournites eagerly seek alternative modes of travel. The TAC is committed to ensuring that those of us choosing to embark on active travel, equally and increasingly find the roads conducive and inclusive: An important message not only for those of us on bikes but for everyone using our roads. And, as we heard, we are now sharing our roads more than ever….
It’s true we share our roads with cars and pedestrians, but cities globally are recognising the importance of micromobility: bikes; scooters; e-bikes; as the future of transportation too. As delegates, we were treated to a broad-ranging and thought-provoking speech by Tim Papandreou who has lead projects on automated and emerging transports for Waymo and Google X. By 2050, 75% of the world is predicted to urbanise and cities are already struggling to move people and things around on a road network that cannot expand (although we can go up, yet flying cars are not in our short term future!).
A strategy increasingly adopted by smart cities who recognise this is the reuse and repurpose of the existing road to maximise the space. After all, there are a number more bikes that can fit into the same space as a single occupancy car but encouraging more cyclists and other types of micromobility, means offering them the same prime infrastructure offered to those driving vehicles and the same direct routes.
We also heard from Tim on how San Francisco had managed to grow their bicycle mode share to 6%, in part, by restructuring the layout of many arterial roads enticing more modes to use them. This also contributed to the rise and proliferation of new transport options never seen before, primarily enabled by smartphone technology and driven by the on-demand and sharing economy.
It was also interesting to learn about the new Ride to Work Scheme being launched by Swisse. This is a 'salary sacrifice' scheme that gives employees big savings on new bikes and enables them to pay in monthly installments. Based largely on the very successful and popular Cycle to Work Scheme in the UK that has been running since 1999, we look forward to working with employers and providers across Australia to promote this scheme as a great way to make cycling really affordable from the outset, potentially removing the purchase of a bike as a barrier to riding. Love to Ride is working with Cyclescheme in the UK and we hope to emulate this work in Australia too.
Coming away from the summit I had much to think about and what a better way to ruminate and the warm the cockles of my (now frozen) heart but to wend my way around the Yarra on my bike. I recognised the summit and the speakers had given me a sense that the greater vision is shared by so many and if we can continue on this path, I feel confident for the future of an ever metropolitan, micro-mobile, Melbourne and our Australian cities beyond.