One thing is really clear when you look at the statistics: build it and they will come. There’s no doubt about it, the cycling infrastructure that has been delivered over the last few decades has had a huge impact on the numbers of people cycling.
If you want to see some evidence, look to the figures on the right. They were produced by the Department of Transport and Main Roads based on Census statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and show the percentage of people cycling to work (or place of education) from each suburb in Brisbane, measured at intervals starting back in 1986. The blue line is the edge of the CBD and fringe, and the red line is a rough 12 km radius (an easy cycling distance) around the CBD (adjusted to suburb boundaries). The darker the suburb is coloured, the higher the percentage of people cycling from that suburb. The green lines show the presence of significant cycling infrastructure.
It’s certainly clear that the numbers of people cycling to work have increased significantly since 1986, but what’s more interesting is where those increases have occurred. In 1991, after the opening of the Bicentennial Bikeway between the CBD and Toowong, the numbers of people cycling from inner western suburbs such as Milton, Toowong and St Lucia increased dramatically, much more so than in other areas of the city.
Similarly, in 1996 the new bikeway along the South East Freeway had a clearly visible and disproportionate impact in increasing the proportion of people cycling from adjacent suburbs such as Woolloongabba, Greenslopes and Tarragindi. The new sections of bikeway in the northern suburbs were fragmented, offered a much lower level of service (in terms of being much less separated from cars, and much more subordinate to them), and did not have anywhere near as significant an impact on cycling modeshare.
In 2001 the new Western Freeway bikeway and Jack Pesch Bridge helped extend cycling further out into western suburbs such as Indooroopilly, Chapel Hill and Graceville, while the Kedron Brook bikeway brought improvements to nearby Wooloowin, Lutwyche and Grange, and better facilities along Wynnum Road similarly boosted numbers cycling from Norman Park, Morningside and Hawthorne.
In 2006 there was little new infrastructure, with the significant exception of the Goodwill Bridge. South of the river not a single suburb declined in cycling modeshare, and there were significant increases in cycling from suburbs ranging from Kangaroo Point to Yeronga and even Salisbury. North of the river was a different story. Without any changes to infrastructure there was no real pattern of change. Some suburbs gained a little while adjacent suburbs declined a little. Overall numbers increased, but there was no major gain (or loss) in any particular area.
Across the whole series, from 1986 to 2006, there have been some impressive improvements in the southern and western suburbs. Suburbs such as Tarragindi, Chelmer and Corinda have jumped from less than 1% in 1991 to 5–7% in 2006. The southern and western suburbs are relatively well connected by the Western and South-East Freeway bikeways, and by the Bicentennial bikeway and cycle-friendly bridges in the inner city. However the eastern suburbs are still struggling a bit, and the north-eastern suburbs have been all but forgotten about. They lack safe and convenient routes to access the city, and the results are clear in the figures to the right, in the pale yellow quadrant contrasting with the darker red suburbs around the rest of the city. Even inner suburbs such as Bowen Hills, Windsor and Albion, only a few kilometres from the city centre, still have less than 2% of trips to work being made by bicycle, essentially the same as back in 1991, and in some cases actually worse.
What about since 2006? We’ll have to wait until the results of next week’s Census are available to be sure, but in the meantime we can make some pretty good guesses. We’ve had a whole series of new cycle-friendly bridges built (the Kurilpa and Go Between bridges in the city, and the Eleanor Schonell Bridge to the south west), the Bicentennial bikeway is undergoing a major upgrade, the missing link of the Western Freeway bikeway has been completed at Fig Tree Pocket, and the South East Freeway bikeway has been extended. Meanwhile the most significant change in the northern suburbs is the destruction of the few existing routes into the city by the construction of the Clem7 and Airport Link tunnels. It shouldn’t be too hard to work out what the result is going to be.
Is there any hope for the north side? Some of the important connections through the tunnel constructions sites are starting to be re-established, but at best that will only get levels back to where they were in 2006. What is really needed is a high-quality ‘veloway’ from the northern suburbs, comparable to the Western Freeway bikeway, South-East Freeway bikeway or Bicentennial bikeway. The CBD BUG has been lobbying for this for some years now, and some progress is being made by the Department of Transport and Main Roads in cooperation with Brisbane City Council. It has been slow going, and the project is still in early stages, but we’re hopeful that if we keep it up we’ll be able to see the benefits in the 2016 Census results.