Nov 8, 2012

Why do we cycle to work but not to the shops?

We're cycling to work in increasing numbers but we're less inclined to ride locally. On the face of it, local trips would seem better suited to cycling. Perhaps it's about the attractiveness of the alternatives

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The Dutch cycle for a wide range of purposes - commuting only accounts for 16% of all trips (source: David Hembrow)

Prompted by a reader (via Twitter), I’ve been wondering why it is Australians seem far more likely to cycle to work and university than the local shopping centre, or to visit friends in their neighbourhood.

I don’t know the answer but it’s an interesting and important question so I’m prepared to offer some speculations.

Many of us are happy to cycle locally if it’s for sport or recreation, but other than commuting (about 100,000 of us cycled to work on Census day last year), we don’t cycle much for transport. That seems strange, because on the face of it cycling should be ideal for relatively short trips.

Our pattern of cycling is very different to the Dutch model. More women cycle than men in the Netherlands and both sexes keep riding well into their seventies.

They travel in street clothes on built-for-comfort bikes. Cycling is primarily a form of transport rather than a sport or recreation.

It’s the mode of choice for local trips in much the same way as we use cars. Most trips are short and, importantly, bicycles are used for a wide range of purposes including shopping, taking children to school and visiting friends.

In fact commutes only make up 16% of all cycle trips in the Netherlands according to David Hembrow. I don’t have any reliable numbers to hand on the extent to which Australians cycle locally, but I’m pretty confident it’s a lot lower than the proportion who cycle to work and university.

There are doubtless any number of reasons why we don’t cycle much to the shops or the doctor. We worry about the bike getting stolen, adverse weather, or how to fit the groceries for a household of four on the bike. Yet as the Dutch show, there are solutions to these problems.

My conjecture is there are two key reasons why we tend not to cycle locally. One is the perception it’s unsafe and the other is the fact we have easy access to a car.

Unlike the Netherlands, we don’t have decent cycling infrastructure (yet) and we don’t have drivers who look out for cyclists. We don’t have what David Hembrow calls a strong sense of “subjective safety”.

Moreover, the great majority of households in Australia have at least one car. In Melbourne, for example, it’s around 90%, so it’s easy enough for most adults to plump for subjective safety and drive to local destinations.

Traffic congestion isn’t as significant a deterrent to driving for local trips as it is for peak hour commuting. More than 90% of capital city residents live in the suburbs and most non-work and non-education trips have a degree of flexibility in timing.

The Dutch experience shows it’s perfectly possible to fetch groceries and take multiple children to school or kinder by bicycle, but it requires good infrastructure. And cyclists have to be convinced drivers are sympathetic.

Of course it helps that car ownership rates in high-cycling areas of the Netherlands are much lower than they are in our suburbs (63% of Amsterdam households have no car compared to 14% in Sydney). That’s no doubt largely the result of a ‘virtuous cycle’.

On the other hand, although very few Australians cycle to work – cycling’s mode share in capital cities is around 1% – we appear much more inclined to do it than pedal to local destinations (excluding cycling for sport or recreational purposes).

Perhaps that’s because there’s more cycling infrastructure serving work places than shopping centres or parks. As most cycling commutes are in and around the city centre, there might be something to that.

Or maybe it’s because commuters travel regularly between the same origin and destination. They can drop a change of clothes off at the office each week, park their bikes in a secure area, and even leave their heavy D Locks on the office bike rack. They can amplify their exercise reward from cycling because many employers provide change rooms and showers.

These factors are probably somewhere in the mix but I don’t think they’re the key explanation. My conjecture is the main reason is public transport. Most commuters who cycle wouldn’t otherwise drive – they’d use public transport.

In Australian cities, public transport is often over-crowded in peak hour and unreliable. For those workers prepared to “risk it” in traffic – and they’re disproportionately young men – cycling to work offers many of the advantages of driving.

Unlike trains or buses, there’s no waiting, no stopping, no circuitous routes, and no sharing. Moreover, cycling is flexible – it’s possible to thread through traffic and take to the footpath to get around obstacles.

Even with the inevitable punctures, it’s more reliable than late or cancelled public transport services. Like driving and walking, cycling is an inherently private mode of transport.

All of this is motivation for those who David Hembrow describes as mostly “self-selected confident young adults” to cycle to work. However if the sense of subjective safety can be increased by strategic infrastructure investments on key commuting routes, particularly to the city centre, it’s likely the already very high growth rates (albeit from a small base) can be increased.

That’ll be hard enough, but growing a Dutch-style cycling culture of significant scale at the local level will be even harder. Some progress has been made in rendering parts of the inner city more amenable for local cycling, but Australia’s overwhelmingly suburban cities are still a long way behind their counterparts in the Netherlands.

Progress will require big investments in infrastructure and changes in the attitude of drivers. But I suspect the biggest constraint on Australians taking up “cycling to the shops” in significant numbers is the ease of driving.

As I said at the start, I’m speculating here: there’s not enough information about cycling to be definitive. Even so, I’ll stick by my earlier claim that “the journey to work is one of the most promising purposes for cycling as a means of transport.” In the short to medium term anyway.

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48 thoughts on “Why do we cycle to work but not to the shops?

  1. Dylan Nicholson

    Heh…‘lycra lizards’ from Hawthorn…that would be me, guilty as charged 🙂 But only for a few more weeks, moving to Kensington then, which is definitely a suburb that’s generally very good for casual cyclists – surprised I don’t see more people cycling there to be honest (it’s actually quite difficult to get around in a car!)

  2. John_Proctor

    Also meant to say that many local trips I make are with my partner or to meet friends and then dot my way around some different bars, food establishments, a market etc.

    Don’t want to have to lock/unlock a bike at every venue I attend. and 2 people in a car is easier than 2 people on bikes (particularly as my GF 9 times out of 10 can’t be bothered biking).

  3. John_Proctor

    wow – just the like cycling story gets lots of attention.

    I’ve recently moved to Collingwood from Richmond and would say that the biggest differnece I’ve noticed from East to North is the number of women cyclists.

    Eastside (Yarra trail) seems to be full of ‘lycra lizards’ from Hawthorn and further east on expensive road bikes getting into their office job. North side seems to be a much more equal mix of male/female cyclists and a significantly higher percentage of ‘casual’ cyclists wearing everyday clothes and on the bike.

    I have lived in the middle suburbs, Ricmond and now Collingwood and in all places have commuted to work daily by bike and riden irregularly to local trips. I ride less to local spots becuase the bike infrastructure is often not appropriate for my needs, not enough bike racks, suburban shopping centres with non-existant safe bike routes up to the front door, no end of trip facilities (ever sat through a movie after a 10km bike ride?), security of locked bike on street. This compares with very good safe biycle lanes into the CBD nowadays and off street bike parking and showers at my office.

    The mandatory helmet stuff I just don’t understand. If you have to lock your bike up you can just lock your bike to your helmet. When you get home you just hang the helmet over the handlebars. Preparation time? Maybe we can ask that guy who was hit on Exhibition Street a couple of weeks ago if he is happy about wearing his helmet that day (I’m sure there was at least one cyclist riding on exhibition the same day who didn’t wear a helmet).

  4. Dylan Nicholson

    Krammer, but that’s simply not true in just about any suburb within 10km of the city: you would be hard pressed to find anywhere such that the closest local store is over 1 km away.
    I have one about 300m away that I virtually never use – I wouldn’t be surprised to see it close down (or be converted to yet another cafe) within a few years, but it’s no great drama as within a 1km radius there’s probably 15 stores I can grab groceries from (though I will say both the local Safeway and Coles leave a little to be desired – but there’s 4 Indian grocery stores, 3 other Asian groceries, plus various specialty stores on top of that).
    In larger cities in many other countries (especially Japan and Europe) the same is true even for outer suburbs, so I don’t see any reason it shouldn’t be the same here.

  5. Krammer56

    @Dylan – not really the planning rules, just the history of retail. When we moved in (nearly 30 year ago) there was a local milk bar in the middle of the suburb (one of several scattered through the area) – maybe 300m away. However, the reality of competition and changing buying habits means they are just not viable any more. So for me its up to the local strip shopping centre (which only has a small convenience supermarket) or 2.5/3.6 km to the nearest Coles/Woolworths.

    Who is prepared to work 18 hours days, 7 days a week to sell a bit of milk. And how many of us are prepared to nip down to the local shop every day when, with cars, freezers, microwaves, etc, it is easier and much cheaper to do a weekly shop at the supermarket? Not enough – else Coles and Woolworths would be changing their business models!

  6. IkaInk

    @Michael Fink
    This kind:

    Pretty standard BMX style helmet, very common amongst the people I cycle with. No adjustment potential short of the old style velcroable things. I’ve also got one of the Melbourne Bike Share helmets I bought when another helmet was stolen off my bike (I guess one benefit of the MBS program was the subsidised helmets that I see much more frequently on riders sitting on their own bikes), and a cheap helmet that was given to me when I bought my latest bike. None of them have any retention adjustment systems, short of a strap under your chin.

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    Just checked with – actually only 9 fatalities in the month of November so far. None of them involved bicycles. There was one bicycle fatality last month, out of 34 total.

  8. Dylan Nicholson

    Doesn’t help when the Age all day has had as its second story on the home page that of a cyclist being hit by a semi-trailer. He wasn’t even killed, yet in the last week I haven’t seen a single story about the 9 or 10 people killed in automobile accidents.

  9. Cyclesnail

    Depressing … less than 1% of trips to work are done on a bicycle — and trips to shops etc is even less. As long as we need to argue about decimal points we are not getting anywhere….

  10. Kat C

    I started commuting to work just over a year ago as driving to work in peak hour was frustrating and public transport options were limited and a pain. I now ride my bike everywhere. To the shops, meet up with friends, going out to dinner, attending sporting games and training. The key is to have a crap commuter bike that u don’t care about if it gets stolen. Anything greater than 5k that isn’t my commute to work, I will travel on train for some of it. Get to know the local side streets to make your ride safer 🙂 I never have to spend ages looking for a car park now…just wish there were more bike parking facilities in th city of Maribyrnong.

  11. Dylan Nicholson

    I guess the other piece to the puzzle is block size allocation too…in many newer suburbs it seems the default is to assume that every block must be big enough for a 4 bedroom house. Where are the smaller blocks suitable for cafes and milk bars, or smaller townhouses etc.?

  12. Dylan Nicholson

    And I will say, I reckon it’s 80% zoning laws (and other council-imposed development restrictions, including parking requirements) vs 20% big retailers doing what they can to dominate the market. Indeed I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the government-imposed commercial development restrictions were supported by big retailers, given they mostly work against independent stores popping up at convenient locations. Personally I think anywhere you’re allowed to build a house you should allowed to open a similar-sized retail store too. The only issue I can see is delivery trucks choking up suburban streets, so by all means put restrictions on that.

  13. Dylan Nicholson

    None in particular, but I’d very surprised if all of them (and I include Coles & Woolworths) weren’t actively making use of the considerable power they have (consciously or otherwise) to ensure that independent stores have a very hard time staying profitable, which I don’t believe benefits anybody.
    There’s nothing wrong with retail agglomerating where it makes sense, but when it’s to the exclusion of everything else I do have a problem with it.

  14. Alan Davies

    Dylan Nicholson #34:

    Spoken like a town planner! (are you?). When transport costs are low (cars), retail will agglomerate at higher density. That offers customers the benefits of comparison shopping and complementary shopping. If you want shops close by, increase the cost of travel and forego the economies of agglomeration.

    BTW which anti-competitive big-box retail are you thinking of? At least as far as electronic goods are concerned, within 10 minutes drive from home I have JB, DSE, Retravision, Good Guys, Myer and Harvey Norman (then there’s the internet too!). Four of them also sell white goods. I guess they’re not all big-box but they’re all competing.

  15. Dylan Nicholson

    See Krammer I find the idea of your “local” shop being 1.5 km away completely ridiculous…honestly the only reason I can envisage that happening is because of some weird combination of perverse zoning laws and the unhealthy anti-competitive power of big-box retailers or shopping centre conglomerates. Well either that or you live out in the country.

  16. Krammer56

    I suspect even in the Netherlands there are areas where people drive rather than bike to the shops. If you have a megaplex shopping centre as the only spot you can get your shopping, whether it is here or in the Netherlands, you do it as infrequently as possible and in big chunks – hence the car.
    If I need only one or two things at the local shop it is usually urgent (damn, we’ve run out of ….) and even though its only about 1.5km, it is much faster by car – not because of the helmet, but because of finding somewhere to lock the bike up.
    Interstingly, traditionally Europeans have used pretty primative but very convenient rear wheel locks only – I guess if all the clunkers are the same, the chances of getting yours pinched isn’t high.

    Re: MHL – I must be strange, but I wore a helmet before they became compulsory. I value being able to think over having the wind blowing through what’s left of my hair. There are many people who couldn’t be bothered using seat belts either – and some of them are dead or brain damaged, which I think makes seat belts very comparable to helmets.

  17. Michael Fink

    @ Burke John, Saugoof, St Etienne

    Frankly the entire “too much effort” argument about helmets sounds ridiculous.

    If you can’t be bothered taking ten seconds to put on a helmet that’s hanging on your handlebars then how likely is it that you could be bothered to use your legs vigorously to power your journey?

    Putting a helmet on is incredibly quick and easy to do. So to suggest that it’s the bother of putting a helmet on that tips the balance between making a journey by bike or car simply beggars belief.

    I’m not suggesting you don’t feel strongly about MHL. Clearly many of you do. Not ruining your hairstyle; political objection; too hot and sweaty – any of these make a semblance of sense. But too much effort? Come on…

    @ IkaInk

    What sort of helmets do you own? Nearly all modern helmets have an incredibly easy-to-adjust retention system which changes the effective size of helmet almost instantly. Readjusting to fit a new head is pretty quick and painless. I know from experience because I’m constantly doing so for friends and backpackers who stay in our spare room.

  18. Last name First name

    Parker Alan •OAM
    Australia you can park a car every where In the Netherlands you cannot. Go to a super market ( always small) with maybe 10 to 20 bike racks for every car space. Schools are the same are the universities and every rail way station Thereare 100s of bike racks . Go see, and study the same I did. You people who think you know about bicycle planning fail to understand that the deliberate constraint of car parking is the most essential too .

    The Dutch have been successful in achieving the trip substitution objective by the integration of demand management strategies, spatial planning strategies, the restriction of car parking and an innovative range of bicycle programs (Wellemen 1999). If, at some future date, oil were to be rationed, as it was in the 1940s, bicycle transportation would have obvious advantages. Most of the population in outer urban areas, who could no longer use their cars, could use bicycles and electric bicycles for journeys up to 10 km, on relatively safe roads used by very few motor vehicles legally travelling at lower speeds to conserve fuel. For longer urban journeys, bicycles could be used to access rail stations and bus stations.

    Metropolitan Melbourne has a disjointed network of bike lanes mostly on roads with speed limits of 60 kph or more, but lacks the Dutch close-knit bikeway networks on which it is safe to ride. Around one in four Dutch women choose to cycle to work on local roads with 30 kph speed limits, on bike lanes on roads with a maximum 50 kph limit and on separate bike paths alongside high speed main roads and freeways because it is safe to do so (Welleman, 1999). In the outer

  19. suburbanite

    Too much bike traffic has already been achieved on Melbourne’s tiny bits of bike infrastructure. When you have next to nothing it doesn’t take much to max it out in peak hour when the weather is good.

  20. Dylan Nicholson


    Of course not one mention of how much worse it would be with everyone in cars.

  21. LawrenceR

    Another reason why so few people go to shops on a bike is that shopping centres are not bike friendly: There should be zillions of bike racks: We should set a target of every shope being within 10m of a bike rack!

  22. Dylan Nicholson

    Ugh, ‘womEn’ in both cases above…

  23. Dylan Nicholson

    Daly, women in Europe seem to manage OK. Certainly in Paris I was struck by the number of very elegantly dressed woman happily pedaling around the streets. Accepted they probably don’t ride very great distances, but there are plenty of times woman make similar distance trips in Australian cities but never seem to get past the ‘just jump in the car’ mindset.

    Certainly, more incentives for companies to provide facilities for storing a change of clothes/shower rooms etc. would definitely be a good thing, but not strictly relevant to this post (which is about cycling for non-commuting short trips).

  24. suburbanite

    I commute on bike every weekday, but only occasionally ride to buy something locally. The main factor is probably local traffic conditions around the shopping centre. This is a busy shopping centre with cars pulling out from parking spaces or waiting trying to park, many of these are large SUV’s with appalling awareness about other road users. There are no bicycle lanes, the footpaths are narrow and crowded and there is no bike parking at all, except to chain my bike against a pole or railing.

  25. Daly

    Woman’s point of view:
    try riding to work in high heels, tight skirt and suit jacket with designer handbag and hair/makeup done. Try arriving hot and bothered and having no time to shower, cool down, do hair/makeup etc because of madness of morning and evening family getting out the door! Not a possibility.
    try the morning/afternoon commute with two kids with big school bags who don’t think they look cool on bikes when their friends are dropped off in FWDs.
    try the shopping for a family on bikes, see hk above and other comments.
    try cycling in cities with hills and long distances.
    Holland is a small very flat country with high population density and a completely different living space and infrastructure.
    I cycle regularly on a 15km each way commute. I watch lots of people cycle at the gym.
    This conversation is about young fit men in lyrca but if you want more people to cycle you need to think about the woman’s point of view.

  26. Karey

    The shopping centre I go to often has an extremely crowded parking area, and is just as quick to get to by bike as car as I can take shortcuts. I converted my mountain bike with an extracycle extension so I could do a full weekly shopping by bicycle – it easily carries 6 fully loaded bags in the side carriers, and another 2 in a bag on top of the pannier. However it is quite difficult to get long/cargo bikes like the extracycle in Australia – there is a bit of a vicious circle because the demand is so low. So riders rarely see options like this in action. (See pictures of another rider’s loaded bike – ).

  27. Charlie Maigne

    “Casual” isn’t just about time, but also mentality. “Casual” means getting on and riding off. Anything you have to do before and after (like putting on a helmet, or carrying it around or finding a way to secure it) makes it feel like more of an undertaking, ie less casual.

    Speaking as a rider of both bicycles and motorcycles, the whole helmet thing generally doesn’t make a huge difference in reality (no more than, say, finding a spot and parking a car) but it makes a big difference in perception. And perceptions matter.

  28. Dylan Nicholson

    I have to say both my partner and I always use the bike (or walk) when we have smaller shopping trips to make – only if we need to pick up larger goods would we ever use a car. But we’re fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood where almost every shop we could conceivably want is <10 minutes' ride away. The sad reality is the vast majority of houses in Melbourne are far enough away from shops that getting on a bike just seems like all too much hard work, when the car is that much faster and easier. That shopping centres/strips are often mandated by law to provide copious amounts of free (or low cost) parking is a big part of the problem, despite the horrible waste of space it produces.

  29. IkaInk

    @boscome – Its as difficult as loading the cake or flowers into a basket if your bike has one. I can’t say I’ve taken many flowers on a bike, but cakes I’ve brought to friends plenty of times. I just take my wife’s bike for those journey’s as she has a big basket. Ditto a six pack, and a few bottles of wine. As for your grocery list, everything bar the watermelon would not be difficult with a basket, and even the watermelon would be possible, especially if you’ve also got a backpack.

    A big portion of the problem is the types of bikes Australian’s choose to ride. Which of course is tied into the type of cycling culture Australia has, which is very likely tied to the MHL.

    @Alan – As for your connotations that MHL don’t deter casual cycling, well I’d say rubbish once again. A number of people here have provided their own anecdotal evidence, which obviously is not conclusive evidence, but it is representative of at least some of the population. I’d also a few other reasons why MHL might interfere with casual riding:

    * Trips made by visitors. I’ve got 4 bikes at my house, but there are only two available helmet sizes, helmets that fit my head and helmets that fit my wife’s head. We regularly have out of town visitors and decide to ride places together, most of the time that involves at least one person riding sans helmet. Sometimes it involves opting for PT or taxi’s instead.

    * Casual trips where bike share is available, this one has been done to death already on this blog so I’ll just leave it at that.

    * Trips where appearance at the destination matters, heading to a bar and not wanting your nice hairdo all squished? Ride sans helmet… oh wait (this one has a strong impact amongst many of my friends).

    Now these reasons individually might not make much of a difference to mode share, but collectively these sorts of reasons add up. On top of that, these sorts of reasons change people’s habits.

  30. boscombe

    I started riding a bike to the beach each morning (10-15 stately minutes) about 8 years ago (and have recently gone back to the car) because I wanted to contribute less CO2 to the atmosphere. Couldn’t care less about wearing a helmet.

    But I could never use a bike for shopping. On the way home I stopped tonight and bought a watermelon, some soft luscious peaches, apricots and cherries, milk, yoghurt, frozen blueberries, bread and eggs. Impossible on a bike. When I go to the shops on the weekend I buy similar stuff, but also always go to a garden centre and buy some punnets of seedlings and a bag or two of manure or mulch etc.

    I can’t say I always take a cake or flowers when I visit friends nearby, but quite often do – I don’t think this would be too easy on a bike.

  31. Saugoof

    You’re right St. Etienne. The thing to keep in mind is the motivation behind riding a bike. If you’re riding for fitness then the goal is the ride itself and obstacles like having to take a shower, having to wear a helmet, etc. are a small price to pay. But if your goal is to get to the shop or the movies, or the pub then the bike is just a tool to get you there. We are genetically wired to always seek the best option and we respond to incentives. Any little thing can tip the balance one way or the other. If we try to get more people riding bikes for utility trips then we should look at people who have no strong inclination one way or the other and provide the right incentives and remove obstacles for them.

  32. St Etienne

    Alan, I’m very much in the utility cycling category. I was riding before the law was introduced and carried on in defiance of it (unlike a number of people I know). People often wonder why it’s so hard to chuck on a lid every time you get on a bike. With utility cycling you’re on and off a bike for a number of short to medium local trips each day and it simply becomes an uncomfortable and impractical annoyance to be forever wearing or carrying a helmet. Utility cyclists also tend to prefer more practical bikes that aren’t designed for high-speed riding down major streets, and because the trips are shorter there simply isn’t the same level of risk involved. As such, I totally reject the notion that every single trip by bike justifies the use of a helmet. It’s an excessive and irrational requirement that punishes the safest riders.

    I also agree with Saugoof in that the comparison between seat belts and helmets doesn’t make sense. I don’t think any motorist would ever suggest that a seatbelt deterred them from driving, whereas there is plenty of evidence to suggest that helmets are deterring a number of people from using bikes for transport.

    My theory as to why more people are happy to ride to work with a helmet is similar to what John and Saugoof have already stated. Riding to work is very much more of a fitness ritual here than in Europe, and the increase in end-of-trip facilities at workplaces allows riders to shower and/or freshen up after a ride. (You don’t get the same luxury at shops or restaurants.) R2W is also heavily promoted here by organisations such as BV, who see it as a great way to promote themselves and get more members. (Indeed, Harry Barber often talks about bike infrastructure for the benefit of workers, as if people like me don’t exist.)

    Of course, there are other factors involved here. Not denying anything you’ve already mentioned Alan, but please don’t discount the negative effect of MHL on transport cycling.

  33. Saugoof

    Cyclists have to find their keys as well. I never leave the house without keys and wallet.

    Sure, wearing a helmet is not a lot of extra preparation, just like walking up the two flights of steps to my front door is nothing when you only do it occasionally, but having to do this day after day and the lift becomes a tempting alternative. It just all adds up and when there’s such an easy choice it doesn’t take much. Certainly for me it became a “can’t be bothered” thing and the only thing that eventually brought me back on the bike is that I was starting to get fat. So now I wear a helmet wherever I expect that I’d get fined otherwise, but take it off as soon as I am somewhere where there’s little risk of coming across cops (bike paths, quiet country roads, etc.). Whenever I take off the helmet, riding the bike goes from “fun” to “absolutely awesome” in an instant.

    I don’t have numbers so this is entirely unscientific and personal observation is always biased, but from my observation casual bike riding, while never anywhere near the levels you see in other countries, practically disappeared within a year of helmet laws being introduced while it seemed to have a much smaller impact on the fitness riders.

  34. Alan Davies

    Saugoof #13:

    So commuters who ride are prepared to wear a helmet (want to even) but many potential local cyclists find helmet “preparations” so inconvenient they don’t ride?

    Motorists have to find their keys, cyclists have to find their helmet. Not much of a “preparation” in my book.

    I get there’s a selection effect – those who choose to commute on Australian roads are a different breed.

    I also get that some riders resent being compelled to wear a helmet, but excepting the odd unabomber, I don’t agree that a large proportion of them actively forgo local cycling because of it.

  35. hk

    Our family’s pharmaceuticals, greengroceries, groceries, meat and fish purchased regularly on Saturday morning weigh more than 30 kg and take up more than 40 litres of space.
    The NMT and health-benefitting transportation solution is walking with a shopping trolley plus shoulder bags.
    However a level of community trust is required when shopping at specialist shops, as the already purchased products cannot be conveniently locked in a car. For some of the shopping trip time the already purchased goods remain in the open trolley outside the shops.
    Thankfully by living close to shopping facilities the option of PT need not be relied on. The experience from years ago while providing the provisions for large young families and using the QVM plus PT as part of our no car household supply chain has left painful memories of the disadvantages of not living within walking distance of retail outlets and service providers.

  36. Saugoof

    Alan #6
    The reason it deters casual bikers much more than the fitness nuts is that for a casual biker, there is no preparation needed. You just hop on the bike and go. The key is that it’s incredibly easy and there is no fuss required. But bike commuters and people who ride bikes for fitness are ones who usually already go overboard in their setup. They wear special clothing, shoes, have their bikes equipped with all sorts of gadgetry, etc. For them wearing a helmet has practically no impact because they already go through a lot of preparation.

    Helmets were certainly the thing that discouraged me for a long time. I used to ride the bike everywhere but stopped for a good 15 years or so when helmets became mandatory. That wasn’t a conscious decision and it’s such a small thing, but suddenly when you had to wear a helmet there was just that extra bit of hassle and it became easier just hopping into the car to go to the shops.

    I often hear the “bike helmet laws = seat belt laws” argument, but that does not hold for me. A seat belt requires no preparation and will not put anyone off from driving a car.

    The seat belt argument also makes me think of another interesting argument. Despite crumple zones, air bags, seat belts, ABS, etc. one of the most common injuries for car drivers and passengers remains the head injury. So if we make bike riders wear helmets, why not car drivers?

  37. lomlate

    Re: bike parking. It’s true there isn’t much of it at shopping centres, but it is usually at the front and is usually not overflowing. The shopping centres I go to will usually make bike pretty convenient.

    For street shopping it’s even more convenient since you can park on street poles and don’t need parking money.

    One big exception is the large centres, which tend to have one area for bike parking and 10 entrances. If I have to park half way across the centre I’m not interested, sorry. Parking underground is also best avoided where above ground parking is available since it’s just not very pleasant!

  38. Tom the first and best

    Both bike and PT use for shopping and leisure trips to shopping centres would be increased by charging for parking.

    Bike use would also be encouraged by bigger, better and more numerous bike parking facilities.

  39. Burke John

    Alan wonders why MHL might deter casual local cyclists more than cycle commuters but intuitively I don’t think it is so hard. A commute involves some pre-committment by its very nature-the 3 S’s for gentlemen as a starting point to demonstrate the routine nature. Strapping on a helment could be seen as an small extension to a routine thats going on anyhow…we are in the mode as it were.

    The casual trip to the shop is entirely different affair. Even a weekly shop to a major centre is a more casual affair in nature, less beset with routine or a sense of duty than a commute.

    If I need a helmet for playtime, I choose to go white water rafting over shopping.

  40. IkaInk

    I had to re-read your paragraph about public transport encouraging people to ride to work as it was counter-intuitive to my own gut feeling, which unsurprisingly comes entirely from my own choices and observations of my friends. I’ve cycled to my work a total of two times since working in the city. Both times because I’d been informed before I left the house that the train line was completely down. Both times the journey to work on the bike was horrible, I don’t enjoy riding in choking traffic and it was really choking (peak hour compounded with the extra traffic of people who would usually catch the train).

    However, I ride to shops, friends houses, bars, etc really regularly. Mainly because Melbourne’s cross suburban public transport is so horrible that biking is just much faster. That said, I don’t own a car and even when I do have access to one (I get lent family vehicles often enough) I don’t tend to use them because I find riding gives me more flexibility. I rarely have to worry about parking and I can easily adjust my plans to include a pint or five.

    Many of my friends have similar habits. It is a pity that there isn’t good information on travel outside of the journey to work. I’d bet that between about the 15-35 demographic there is quite a high rate of cycling for general purpose trips, at least in inner suburbs of Melbourne.

  41. SBH

    when I ride to the shops I don’t wear a helmet but I tend to walk (Inner-northern middle-class [email protected])or drive. Although I was surprised when I found out how easy it is to get to Bunnings or Northland by off-road path.

    If I drive it’s because I have more to carry, traffic (even for this daily commuter) is problematic at best. There’s a lack of convenient racks but lots of parking and it’s just easier to take the car for a short trip.

    I have lots of bikes so finding the right one is not a problem but for all that I don’t have a good shopping bike. only one has a basket, a couple have racks none have panniers and a bakefiets!? no way. Maybe it’s just the ease of the car.

  42. Samuel

    I think you are on the right track with ‘access to a car’.

    Having ‘access to a car’ allows you to link trips and we plan our shopping/recreation trips to take advantage of this. Yes, the local shops are only 1km away, which is a short drive, but many won’t ride there to pick up the milk, but will include it as one trip in a longer journey in a car. Going to the bulky good retail precinct? That uses the car, but also is near where I go to the gym, so I will use the car for both trips.

    I think this is also why people quoting the proportion of trips under 5km as a good indicator cycling could achieve a higher mode share haven’t had more success getting this to happen. Lots of short under-5km trips form part of longer journeys, that aren’t so convenient by bike.

  43. Alan Davies

    Burke John #2, Saugoof #5:

    To the extent the MHL is a factor, the relevant question should be: why does it deter local cycling to a much greater extent than it deters commuting by bike?

  44. Saugoof

    As Burke John mentioned, while far from the only reason, the mandatory helmet laws certainly have had an impact here. Australia has never had the same cycling culture that Europe did and has for a long time been very car-centric. But still, with helmet laws we’ve essentially eliminated casual bike trips. Sadly this means that the group of bike riders that would be the safest anyway now no longer rides and what remains are the fitness nuts. Nothing wrong with fitness nuts, I’m somewhat one myself, but it’s sad to see that there are so few casual bike trips.

    That said, I am someone who does both. I ride to work, head out into the country on the weekend, do my shopping on the bike, go to movies, see friends, etc. all on the bike. (And yes, I am proud of that!)

    One area that highlights the difference between us and Europe (or Japan) nicely is shopping centres. I work near Southland in Melbourne and often ride the bike there for lunch. There are thousands of car parking spots and a grand total of 5 bike parking racks! Earlier this year I did a tour on the bike through Europe. Go to a shopping centre there and you’ll see at least as many bike spots as you do car parking spots.

  45. Alan Davies

    Richard Bean #3:

    Just had a quick look at that chapter. This was interesting: on page 347 they say “Chapter Four shows that cycling for transportation is often faster than motorized alternatives…” Doesn’t prove it of course but that’s consistent with my hypothesis that cycling is a substitute for public transport in the case of commuting, but not for cars in the case of local trips. Pucher and Buehler understand the obvious: that utilitarian cycling competes with other modes.

  46. Richard Bean

    Alan, have you read Pucher and Buehler’s new book “City Cycling”? The last chapter is entitled “Promoting Cycling for Daily Travel: Conclusions and Lessons from across the Globe”. It is very heavily referenced and has sources most not often mentioned in books on the subject, like the Netherlands’ “Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic”.

    To get back to your heading: I think it might help to look at Australia’s best capital for cycling, Darwin, and contrast it to the other cities in Australia. Looking at the Census 2011 modal share figures for cycling to work, the NT is heavily over-represented in the top suburbs. (Along with the usual suspects – Rottnest Island, Lord Howe Island, Canberra, Byron Bay, and lots of places in the City of Yarra).

  47. Burke John

    Dear Alan,I know you’ll be delighted to have a MHL comment straight up without you even mentioning the subject but really of all questions asked concerning cycling in Australia, and this is as usual a poignant and interesting question, MHL are clearly a highly likely factor if not the prevailing influence.

    Also there is “enough information about cycling to be definitive”, its just that the plentiful sources of information tend to be in Euro countries like the Netherlands. All sorts of genuine cycling experts can be found there but I can already tell you they would laugh and say “Of course they are not riding to the shops or anywhere else because of MHL”…just as they predicted the failure of Australian bike-share programs on the same basis.

    Of course that is not evidence, but I’m also happy to believe the moon is a sphere, though that is also speculation based on heresay from my part.

  48. nick

    Ironically – parking at shopping centers [around my area anyway] for bikes is pretty lousy – That said there are a few examples in Yarra and Moreland of car parking spaces being turned into bike parking zones and that makes a really big difference.

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