Bikes are key part of the plan that many governments around the world are looking to roll out to combat pollution and congestion on the roads.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

2 Jul 2019 - 12:44 PM 

Australia has a transport infrastructure and culture built around automotive transport, a fact that is becoming increasingly inconvenient as policy makers look to switch to a more sustainable and healthy society in the future.

The transport sector emitted 102 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, representing 18 per cent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas pollution, with automotive travel responsible for 87 per cent of the transport sector emissions.*

Transport has the highest rate of emissions growth of any sector of the Australian economy since 1990. Without any changes to that trend, transport emissions are projected to continue growing to 2030 (expected to reach 111 million tonnes carbon dioxide by 2030).**

Compared with similar countries in terms of wealth, Australia consistently ranks at the back of the pack when it comes to tackling its transport emissions. Australia’s cars are more polluting due to the relative laxity of pollution standards compared to those of many other countries and relative investment in and use of public and active transport options (like cycling) is lower than other developed countries.

Bike riding uses minimal fossil fuels and is a pollution-free mode of transport, with the construction of the bike the largest environmental cost. Regularly used bikes also reduce the need to build, service and dispose of other modes of transport by reducing their use and in some cases the need for a owning a motor vehicle entirely.

To that end, cycling’s most critical role in any policy to reduce emissions from the transport sector is by replacing cars on short-distance journeys as well as for the daily commute to work for Australians.

Driving remains the most popular method of travel to work in Australia, with the 2016 Australian Census counting 69 per cent of the working population (over 6.5 million people) commuting by driving a vehicle to work with 5 per cent (490,000 people) travelling as a passenger. Just six per cent of Census respondents used active transport like cycling or walking to work.

According to a Queensland government report, one person cycling 10 kilometres each way to work saves 1500 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions each year.*** 

Getting more people on bikes has the added effect of reducing the greenhouse emissions emanating from traffic congestion. Traffic delays and interruptions to traffic flow in Australia's six major cities account for around 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year, cycling to work during peak hour greatly reduces an individual’s impact on the build-up of traffic.

Every bike that replaces a carbon-emitting vehicle on a commute reduces emissions significantly, from the direct replacement of the commuter’s method of transport, plus flow-on effects to the easing of bumper to bumper traffic snarls.

None of this will happen overnight, and a cultural shift that allows cycling to work to be the norm rather than the exception will only happen incrementally as cycling as a part of regular commute is more greatly accepted and appreciated.

Current barriers exist to people considering cycling as a viable option with rider safety, ease of access to cycling safe infrastructure and the difficulty of the trip raised as reasons why cycling is considered unfeasible for many.

There are very few true problems with embracing cycling as a method of commute, though social angst and hyperbole within the media tends to flare when cyclists are in the news. Again cultural perceptions, like infrastructure aren’t going to change overnight and instead an incremental approach seems the only viable one in effecting change.

What is certain is that without action, transport emissions will continue rising into the future. Australian transport has a lot of potential to make relatively easy gains by establishing infrastructure that makes it easier to make cycling a regular part of regular Australians’ lives and it could well be the (bike) path to a more sustainable Australia.

Teachers, explore the benefits of sport and exercise in your classes with SBS Learn’s curriculum-aligned and ready-to-use resources. Made by teachers, for teachers, get started with our First Gear resource on staying safe and healthy with cycling.