Peddling the right message for Melbourne

THIS morning Melbourne glimpsed what the future could, and should, look like. About 25,000 bicycle riders were expected to pedal to their mettle as part of Ride-to-Work Day.

Published October 17, 2007 by The Age

AU–THIS morning Melbourne glimpsed what the future could, and should, look like. About 25,000 bicycle riders were expected to pedal to their mettle as part of Ride-to-Work Day. For the first time bike riders in other cities nationwide were doing the same. On yer bike is now no longer a pejorative term, but one that should be embraced. This should be equally true not only of residents, but of planners.

Melburnians are rightly proud of many things about their city: its literary and arts festivals, its sports events, its gateway for tourism. In this context, however, the city faces a challenge: can it recast itself so that it is recognised as one of the great cycling cities of the world?

Melbourne only needs to look to Copenhagen to see how a city can realign its transport priorities successfully. The city has adopted a 10-year policy to fully realise the potential of the bike as a commuter vehicle.

A key factor is having the infrastructure in place that makes riding a bike safe. Another is the elimination of the "us and them" mentality that pervades both sides. In Copenhagen, authorities are looking at ways to change the attitudes of drivers and riders towards each other.

The 2006 national census found that of 2.1 million Melburnians who made their way to work on the most recent census day, 27,500 rode a bike — an increase of 6000 on five years earlier. If, as Bicycle Victoria says, the number of bicycles being bought is outpacing cars then surely to keep the momentum going facilities need to keep apace to demand. Some city councils, such as Yarra, are heading in the right direction.

The advocacy of cycling has resulted in much more than a boom in Lycra sales. Riding a bike has benefits for the person and the environment. Most obviously, a bicycle emits no carbon nor does it consume petrol. Its tread on the earth is light indeed. Melbourne, with its relatively flat features, also has an advantage of geography.

In 1835, John Batman thought the region a place for a village. The Age believes it is a place now where bike and cityscape must evolve, and revolve, together.