Making cities fit for cycling: low cost solutions from Down Under
“Increase the number of people cycling in our city? We would if we could.”
Many are the local governments who, struggling with budgets, shy away from this priority for their cities for fear of the cost involved. Laying down effective policies, launching bicycle-friendly programmes and improving cycling infrastructure requires funding.
The optimal investment in cycling is in the region of 15 to 20 euros per head of recurrent annual funding. The Netherlands spend EUR 30 per year per person. But such level of funding can be out of reach to many cycle campaigners. Even in Great Britain, a nation that’s very serious about building a bicycle culture, outside cities such as London the annual spending on cycling infrastructure is about £2 a person.
This is where Austroads come in. This enterprising association from Down Under groups together Australasian road transport and traffic agencies. All local governments and practitioners seeking inspiration on how to encourage cycling in their territory on a shoestring budget may be interested in the association’s latest report.
The paper presents 15 case studies showcasing low cost interventions that have successfully encouraged cycling in Australia and New Zealand: from signage plans, cycle-friendly street treatments, park and ride bicycle storage facilities, through to effective promotional campaigns that encouraged people to get out on their bicycles.
Projects singled out included a cycle parking facility ($15,000 to install) that delivers local shopkeepers four times more expenditure than the car spaces they replaced; bike storage (around $55,000) that boosts inter-modality; a bike-network signage plan ($10,000) that helps cyclists find their way…
Not all projects involved building infrastructure. Campaigns promoting cycling were also identified, such as a Cycle-to-Work incentive programme for train drivers of Western Australia’s Public Transport Authority, and the production of maps of Sydney’s bike network ($7,500 for 13,000 printed maps).
Despite these lower-cost initiatives, there is no doubt that campaigning for dedicated funding is a necessary step towards increasing cycling in cities.
The UCI position is that cycling should not settle for the transport budgets’ consolation prizes, but work instead to achieve a cultural and behavioural change at societal level. However, even the tiniest of improvements should be praised, as long as it is clear that it is just an intermediate step on the path towards something bigger (such as London’s Cycle Superhighways, whose construction was recently approved).
A recent debate on the blog of PeopleForBikes, the world’s largest cyclists’ association with more than 1,000,000 members, has compared the “Incrementalist” approach to bike infrastructure with the “completionists”. “How much imperfection are we willing to settle for on the way to something better?” – asks the author. Probably cyclists’ dreamland is reached through a few intermediate Realpolitik stages.