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Newcastle falling short on cycle network

Newcastle could become one of the top cycle-friendly-cities in the world and the benefits of increasing cycling in our community are impressive.

This Council has spent only 28% of its current annual budget of $4.5 million with only two months to go of this financial year. The draft budget for 21/22 indicates only $1.5 million will be allocated. At this rate it will take decades to build the approximately 45km of new, connected cycle paths we need. As a regular cyclist, I find this extremely frustrating.

When more people choose to ride their bikes, our city benefits in many ways. Every new rider means one less car on the road and one more available parking spot, so it’s a win-win for both riders and drivers.  Air quality is improved and noise pollution reduced. Cyclists experience huge health benefits by increasing their daily physical activity, which has flow on effects for our health system. Our local economy also benefits because cyclists are more likely to stay and explore local shops than drivers who have to worry about expiring parking metres. Cycling is also great for attracting more visitors to our city.

In order for Newcastle to experience these benefits, council needs to prioritise infrastructure spending to construct a safe, interconnected cycleways network throughout the city and our suburbs. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen instead is unexplained delays.

Newcastle council has theoretically put policy in place with a new Cycling Plan that includes a suggested network of cycleways modelled on the long established Cycle Safe Network. There are two targets the plan aims to achieve by 2030. One is to increase the proportion of residents who ride a bike from 16% to 30%, and the other is to increase the ride to work journeys to a modest 4% which is roughly double the existing figure.

Recreational cyclists are currently the most common riders in Newcastle which makes sense because most of our cycle paths are shared with pedestrians and require cyclists to travel slowly and carefully to avoid collisions. Commuters are the riders that we haven’t provided for yet. Riding is still mostly seen as a recreation rather than a legitimate form of transport. When you’re dashing to or from work, you want to get there quickly and that requires riding on a safe cycleway that is separated from traffic and pedestrians.

We know these cycle paths need to be separate because surveys have indicated the greatest issue for those not yet riding is safety. Cycle lanes that are painted onto roads between parked cars and moving traffic are understandably not appealing to everyone. While painting lanes on the road may be cheap, it’s not effective in increasing cycling participation because it’s not addressing safety concerns. At times, shared paths with pedestrians and cars will be the only available option, but separated cycle-only lanes are definitely preferable.

It appears that this council is not prepared to allocate the required resources to complete a connected cycleways network. In 2019 the NSW Greens estimated that the whole Cycle Safe Network for Newcastle and Lake Macquarie would cost $164 million. I’m making a rough estimate that Newcastle needs half of the Network’s 90km of paths because the current council strategy doesn’t make reference to a number of kilometres required. If we’re only going to commit $1.5 million each year it will take us 54 years to build 45 kilometres of cycleways. Even if we return to the previous budget’s $4.5 million and actually complete the works and spend the funding each year, it will take 18 years to get the job done. Newcastle shouldn’t have to wait that long.

With climate, health, city congestion, air quality and noise all benefiting from our people-powered wheels, it certainly makes sense to put cycling infrastructure front and centre of our city and suburb infrastructure works in the coming years. If Newcastle embraces cycling as a form of transport we could make bike culture an exciting new addition to our Novocastrian way of life.

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