Australian metropolitan areas are way behind the world’s leading cities in terms of the share of trips taken by cycling.
However in some areas of our major cities cycling has an extraordinarily high share for one kind of trip: the journey to work. In Melbourne, for example, the inner north stands out starkly against the rest of the metropolitan area, with as many as 30% of commuters in some parts choosing to go to work by bicycle on Census day 2011 – see first exhibit.
Although the proportions aren’t as high as Melbourne, small areas of Brisbane (e.g. West End) and Sydney (e.g. Inner West) also display a relatively high spatial concentration of work trips by bicycle – see second and third exhibits.
I think there are a number of reasons for cycling’s astonishingly high mode share in the inner city.
In part it’s because, compared to the rest of the metro area, the inner city has better cycling infrastructure. It’s also close to the large concentration of well-paying jobs in the CBD, making trip lengths attractive for cycling and making driving to work an unappealing option because of high parking costs and traffic congestion.
The demographics of the inner city also suit cycling. There’re high proportions of young, well educated professionals with few or no dependents.
But that doesn’t explain why Melbourne’s Inner North performs so much better than the rest of the inner city. My surmise is part of the explanation is the values of the population: the Inner North appears to be an area that’s relatively homogeneous in terms of its shared tenets and beliefs. (1)
That theory is consistent with the high vote for The Greens in Saturday’s election in those parts of Batman and Wills electorates that show high cycling levels for commuting. The primary vote for The Greens was 8.4% nationally, but much higher in Melbourne’s Inner North (2).
In Wills, for example, The Greens captured 44% of the primary vote at the Merri polling booth and 49% at North Fitzroy. In Batman, the party’s primary vote was 44% at Northcote and Northcote South polling booths, 45% at Clifton Hill, and 51% at Northcote West.
Although still high relative to the national vote, The Green’s primary vote drops off sharply in Wills and Batman to the north of the high cycling areas. For example, the party attracted 20% of the vote at the Preston polling booth, 17% at Preston East, 15% at Reservoir.
The southerly part of the high cycling concentration shown in the first exhibit lies in the seat of Melbourne, won by incumbent Adam Bandt for The Greens. Mr Bandt attracted more than 40% of the primary vote at most of the polling booths where cycling levels are high.
For example, he got 50% in Abbotsford, 51% in Carlton, 53% in Fitzroy, 55% in Carlton Central, 56% in Brunswick South East, and 58% in both Fitzroy North and Fitzroy East.
Mr Bandt did well at all polling booths compared to The Green’s national vote, but it appears he didn’t generally do quite as well at those polling booths where cycling doesn’t have an extraordinarily high share of commutes. For example, The Green’s primary vote was 31% in Docklands.
City managers need to be concious that the high levels of cycling observed in the inner suburbs of our capitals are in part the product of attributes that aren’t amenable to planning in the short to medium term. Characteristics like proximity to large job concentrations and sympathetic demographics and values aren’t easily replicated elsewhere.
Two caveats. The connection between voting Green and cycling to work that I’m proposing here is only suggestive. A more thorough analysis that includes looking at all sub areas in terms of their voting pattern and cycling levels is required before a definitive conclusion could be drawn.
The other is that most trips are for non-work purposes. The journey to work only comprises around one fifth of all trips. Nevertheless, it appears to be the trip purpose where cycling has by far the highest mode share.
- The relatively low level of diversity in the Inner City on a number of dimensions is an important issue I’ll come back to another time.
- The voting figures I’m using are as shown by the AEC on Sunday 8 September 2013.