Big city congestion: How do we make cities more cycle-friendly?

The issue of traffic congestion in Australian cities was brought into sharp focus again this week. In an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, experts suggest that major cities such as Sydney were built on a ‘low-density model’; they prioritise cars, and have now expanded to the point where residents have become ‘car dependent’. This has resulted in growing congestion which not only increases travel times and has productivity costs, but also has negative health and environmental impacts including poor air quality and climate change.

To combat these problems, major cities throughout the world have been trying to make cities more cycle-friendly to entice residents out of their cars and onto bikes (see, for example, this earlier post about initiatives in New York City). As many of the articles shared on this blog site over the past few months have shown, many local and city councils throughout Australia are developing new cycleways and cycling infrastructure. Yet such initiatives face major barriers, including passionate opposition from “roads ministers, shock-jocks, rabid columnists and motorists” who tacitly believe that nothing should impinge upon the rights of motorists and residents. This kind of opposition is often fuelled, and legitimised, by media and popular discourse which all too often is openly hostile to cyclists, and frames cyclists and motorists as separate identities in opposition to one another.

What are they doing about the issue in London?

Various efforts are being made to address the issue of growing congestion in London. And while it’s not exactly a make-or-break election issue for most Brits, The Guardian reports that some parties are recognising cycling’s potential and are coming up with innovative ideas. The Guardian provides a helpful summary of the major political parties policies’ on cycling in the lead-up to the UK general election.

According to the article, despite Boris Johnson’s well-documented cycling habits, the Conservatives have pledged just £70 million for cycling infrastructure per year over the next five years, amounting to £1.18 per person per year. This is less than the current spend and considered to be inadequate. Further, there’s no guaranteed funding after five years, which makes long term planning almost impossible.

In contrast, Labour have pledged £7.2 billion per year,(£50 per head per year), to fund a range of initiatives including 5,000km of cycleways in the first term; the provision of safe cycling and walking routes to 10,000 primary schools; universal cycle training; £200 grants for e-bike purchase and support for an “e-bike valley” industrial cluster, and initiatives to double cycling tips made by adults and children by 2025.

Labour has promised that it would make England one of the best countries in the world for walking and cycling. Commentators have said that the proposed policy would be transformative, and would make cycling a realistic transport option for everyone throughout the country. The initiatives would be funded by vehicle excise duty, and aim to “cut congestion and air pollution, which is responsible for at least 40,000 deaths a year, boost health and improve towns and cities.” Further coverage of Labour’s proposed cycling initiatives can be found here.

The Green party has pledged £2.5 billion per year, amounting to £42 per head per year. The Liberal Democrats have pledged 10 per cent of the transport budget to be dedicated to cycling. The Brexit party has not pledged any money for cycling initiatives.

As the issue of growing congestion in cities such as Sydney and Melbourne becomes more pressing, Australian policy makers might learn from some of the initiatives currently being explored by the Labour Party in the UK.

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