• At least as far as men are concerned, 'Ride to Work' days seem to preach to the converted. (AAP)Source: AAP
More than ever in our capital cities, traffic gridlock is a thing of the present. So why, then, are four out of five of us still travelling to work by car, asks Anthony Tan?
Cycling Central
14 Dec 2017 - 10:55 AM 

For all the talk about the health benefits of cycling to work and the efforts made to encourage such activity, it doesn't seem to have sunk in. At least for men, anyway.

Between the 2011 and 2016 ABC Census our population increased by 2.6 million, yet in that period just 200 more males rode to work on census day: 92,900.

Conversely, there has been a 16 per cent increase in the number of females who chose the bike over other forms of transport, who now number 32,000, or 25.6% of total bicycle commuters in 2016 versus 22.9% in 2011.

124,900 bicycle commuters comprises just 1.4 per cent of all commuters in 2016.

What really shocked me, however, was that the overwhelming majority of Australian workers - 81 per cent - still rely on private car for either part or all our their journey to a workplace destination.

That public transport in the form of train, tram, bus or ferry, or walking or cycling, is either unavailable or unpalatable to most shocks me.

Wednesday morning in Sydney just past, I drove my better half to a day surgery clinic because public transport would have been unsuitable. It involved an 11 kilometre route from the Lower North Shore to East Sydney via the Harbour Tunnel, and despite a number of schools already on Christmas break, the traffic was, in a word, crap.

Stuck in a vehicular rut, I remarked to my missus how few people car pool - even though so many of us are moving in a similar direction but instead choose to drive, or rather crawl along, on their Pat Malone. I expect tradies to need their own transport, as they're often on the move throughout the day and have a load of bits and bobs in the back. But surely someone can create an app which pools people together and at the same time improves traffic flow and prevents a few less pollutants entering the atmosphere... How hard can it be?

I calculated our average speed to be 14.6km/h. I would've gone faster if I could.

Almost any cyclist can match or better that. Yet 124,900 bicycle commuters comprises just 1.4 per cent of all commuters in 2016, albeit up 4% since the 2011 Census.

Demographer Bernard Salt observed in last weekend's Australian newspaper that "bicycle commuting isn't for everyone; it's an option for a highly localised and specialised segment of the population."

Salt also notes cycling hot spots are, rather unsurprisingly, "in the central parts of our flattest cities" - which explains why there are 70 per cent more bike commuters in Melbourne than Sydney (34,000 vs. 20,000) and "within both cities the places from which this community is likeliest to stem always flank the central business district."

Importantly, he says - and probably why I see far more hire bikes being parked (or dumped) than ridden - "Not only is Sydney hillier than Melbourne but its original town planning never made provisions for the kind of broad streets that are so favoured by cyclists in the southern capital's north side."

So my home town is a cycling commuting basket case. I get that.

Unless, of course, the New South Wales government sets aside a small fraction of what they spend on creating new roads and light rail options and rebuilding sporting stadiums that don't need to be rebuilt - and place it towards widening roads to incorporate proper bike lanes and a series of dedicated, interconnected, cycle paths within a 10km radius of the Sydney CBD. "If Sydneysiders had access to Melbourne-style town planning (and a flat terrain), CBD bike riders would likely top the 11,000 mark," suggests Salt.

If only... The plethora of topographical obstacles otherwise known as hills can be sorted by acquiring an E-bike, getting an extra cog or two, or getting a little fitter. As for the situation out on the roads, until Hell freezes over, riding to work in Sydney comes with a caveat: Beware of the Car.

No revelation, then, that the largest cycling-to-work community is in one of the least busy locales: Lowe Howe Island, where 31 per cent of the 168 commuters pedalled to work on Census day 2016.

It's not all doom and gloom. Besides Melbourne, Salt notes "other city centres also attract large numbers of bike commuters", so Sydney aside, the infrastructure and terrain is, for the most part, conducive to cycling to work; it's more a question of will than way.

Speaking of which, I was slightly taken aback to learn that the majority are no different to your Rapha-clad, Pinarello/Colnago/(insert dream-bike-I-would-like-to-own)-powered weekend warriors in terms of income profile. My impression was that the largest segment of human-powered workers on wheels did so because it was an effective cost-saving measure, and were mostly down-and-out bohos.

Turns out, in fact, the proportion of bike commuters earning $104,000-$155,999 and more than $156,000 is pretty much double that of all commuters. Between the $7,800-$15,999 and $65,000-$77,999 income brackets, though, bike commuters make less dough than all commuters in general.

Still, no one said you needed to needed to look the part to ride to work: as far as I'm concerned the only prerequisite is a bike. Ruminates Salt: "Imagine the wellness and the fluidity dividends if that (1.4 percent) proportion could be lifted to two or even three percentage points."

Don't imagine. Just go!