Because Tasmanians' health is riding on it

This article first appeared as an opinion piece in The Mercury, Thursday 8 March 2018.

HOBART acting Lord Mayor Ron Christie couldn’t have been further from the truth when this week he called the proposed Battery Point pathway a luxury.

Far from being luxuries, separated cycle and walkways are necessities if we are going to get more people moving and reduce preventable disease.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates 2.6 per cent of the country’s disease burden is caused by physical inactivity, with diabetes, heart disease and some cancers topping the list.

About 60 per cent of Australian don’t get the minimum daily recommended 30 minutes of moderate physical activity. The Australian guidelines actually recommend five hours of activity a week, preferably taken daily.

One of the easiest ways to get people moving is to incorporate activity in daily routines, such as getting to and from work, school, shops and home.

Many people have seen or heard about high bicycle use in the Netherlands and Denmark, however, the experience of US cities can sometimes be more useful to us in Australia because of our similar car dependencies.

The city of Portland took the lead in the US when it created a network of on-road and separated cycleways and lowered the speed limit on designated local streets to 32km so they are suitable for riding and walking.

In 2009 it had built close to 500km of bicycle lanes and has set itself a goal of another 580km by 2030. With a population close to 640,000 and a city cut in two by a river, it’s a relevant role model for Hobart.

Portland’s transport bureau estimates that only up to 8 per cent of people will ride on roads without any physical separation. However, some 60 per cent of people would ride more often but only if separated from moving traffic.

When we are planning bicycle facilities we should be thinking of that 60 per cent of people who want to ride, not the up to 8 per cent who do ride.

This century many more cities have implemented separated cycleways with great success: notably Seville in Spain, Bogota in Colombia, London with its cycling superhighways and New York with more than 650km of on-road and separated bike lanes.

One of the reasons for introducing separated cycleways is to get enough people riding to reduce traffic congestion.

Between 8am and 9am in London’s city centre, bicycles are now the single largest mode of transport and walking is the most popular way to get around.

Interestingly, the huge increase in bicycle facilities in New York and London were led by politically conservative mayors Michael Bloomberg and Boris Johnson.

In Hobart we have the great assets of the Intercity Cycleway and Hobart Rivulet Track that deliver people to the edge of the city, separated from traffic.

In the south we have the Sandy Bay bicycle lanes that finish suddenly just before Wrest Point and leave no clear way of getting to the city.

The Battery Point pathway is a missing link that would connect a well-used bicycle lane with Hobart’s separated waterfront pathways.

Perfect for those people who want to ride but are worried by the intense traffic on Hobart’s inner-city one-way multi-lane roads.

It is also essential for the increasingly separated University of Tasmania campus. Students and staff have to move between Sandy Bay and the city to get to and from the new accommodation building, medical precinct, art school and the soon to be built performing arts building.

Separated bicycle facilities are more expensive to build than painting lines on the road, which is why the state and federal governments should step in to help out local government.

During the election the Liberal Party promised $2 million in matched funding for southern councils for bicycle facilities and another $2 million for bicycle connections on state and local roads.

Any City Deal for Hobart should include federal government money for separated cycling infrastructure to help ease traffic congestion and improve the community’s health.

Separated cycleways allow a wide range of ages and abilities to ride, from primary school children to old-age pensioners.

We can choose to view facilities that allow all of our community to exercise easily as a luxury, or we can choose to build cycling and walking infrastructure that will get people moving and save lives.