Q&A discusses urban cycling

Some aspects of the discussion of cycling on Q&A last night worried me, but the big one was the apparent consensus that cyclists need to be physically separated from motorists at all times. (1)

I completely agree that in many situations cars and bicycles should be separated e.g. on arterial roads. Indeed, it’s unlikely the next cohort of prospective cyclists will take to pedalling unless they feel very confident about their safety.

But it would be a disaster if cycling were only seen as a legitimate activity if it is confined to segregated, dedicated bicycle paths where it doesn’t interrupt driving.

It took decades to build cycling infrastructure in receptive Dutch and Danish cities; it would inevitably take longer here.

The political cap on what can be achieved at the expense of motorists is also likely to be much lower in Australian cities. Many segregated paths will necessarily be at the expense of road space and therefore at the expense of the vastly more numerous population of drivers.

Bicycles aren’t trains; they can’t be confined to a relatively small number of dedicated routes. One of their great advantages is that, like cars, they can go virtually anywhere on demand.

We can think of high quality, segregated bicycle routes as being something like freeways. Cyclists must have a safe way of travelling on secondary and local roads to get from these “cycleways” to their ultimate origins and destinations.

Even in places like Copenhagen, only a relatively small proportion of the street network is made up of fully segregated paths. Those paths account for a high proportion of all kilometres of cycling, but most of the network still requires riders to share road space with motorists.

Sharing space on secondary and local roads demands deliberate measures to reduce conflict. There are plenty of options e.g. 30 kph speed limits, traffic management infrastructure, public education, enhanced legal status for cyclists.

Cycling will continue to have a very limited role in Australian cities if it’s effectively confined to “cycleways”. They’re necessary, but our cities have enormous road networks; cyclists must feel safe using them.


  1. I also don’t think Rachel Griffith’s reference to motorists “deliberately mowing down cyclists” was helpful. The issue isn’t the rare alleged psychopath; it’s motorists who carelessly and heedlessly scare, injure or sometimes kill cyclists. It’s usually unintentional, but it’s common.