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November 17, 2021

Drivers’ month proponent wants car commuters to guide the city’s cycling network

The Adelaide City councillor who spearheaded its 'drivers' month' campaign believes the key to establishing the city’s future cycling network lies in “engaging drivers” in its development, while another prominent councillor is pushing for no 'net loss' of car parks from the plan.

  • Words and pictures: Angela Skujins

At an Adelaide City Council committee meeting last night, elected members gave administration feedback on the proposed outcomes and community engagement methods for the recently unveiled ‘cycling strategic infrastructure action plan’.

The plan, according to Adelaide City Council documents, aims to establish a network of bicycle routes to make cycling in the city easier and safer, while encouraging more people to visit and enjoy the city by bike. 

The plan came from an earlier council decision in May which followed weeks of failed negotiations regarding the city’s abandoned east-west bikeway

The network requires engagement with stakeholder groups and the wider community to inform its development and delivery, including a “trial-and-test” approach, the report says. 

This will offer the opportunity to try new infrastructure, obtain community feedback and measure “actual impacts” before long-term investment decisions are made. 

Councillor Jessy Khera, responsible for last year’s contentious drivers’ month, said the council should “explicitly state” they were “engaging people who drive” in the development of the network, “because they are obviously the most immediately impacted along with people who cycle.”

Khera, aligned with the Team Adelaide majority voting bloc, also told the chamber it would be a “dangerous path” for the council to recommend the health benefits of cycling, likening it to “social engineering”. 

“We’ve got to be effective in getting real change and that is, we all know, is getting an east-west bikeway, for example.

We’ve got to bring everyone along, people who drive as well.

“If we’re putting out messaging that — what we’re doing is we want to shunt you off your car and put you on a bike because that’s good for you… It really has an echo of Stalinist, kind of, Orwellian, ‘We’re going to whip you onto the bike and make you exercise’, kind of stuff,” he said.

“People’s health is up to them. If people want to get healthier, they can do that outside of their transport. They can go to the gym more often. They can walk more often, etcetera. 

“But we must not present ourselves really as trying to dictate and try to socially engineer because that will just cripple any outcome even for the pro-cyclists in the administration and among council.

Annual data collected by the City of Adelaide reveals a “marginal increase” in daily bike riders over 10 years, with an average of 9600 cyclists in and out of the city per day.

The cycling strategic infrastructure action plan says in 2020 cycling numbers were “low” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the document also says: “Council has a responsibility to provide a safe road environment for all road users.” 

“Based on the current profile of bike riders in the city, it is considered that the existing street network is not perceived to be safe for bike riders of all ages and abilities.”

Khera also suggested the council should improve roads “like-for-like” with cycling infrastructure.

Let’s, at the same time, see what we can do to improve something for drivers,” he said.

Let’s see if we can ease congestion somewhere for drivers as well, at the same time so that we can say to people that drive ‘Look, you’re not being left behind in this. There’s this holistic thing to bring us all on board.’

Councillor Alex Hyde, also aligned with Team Adelaide, said he supported the administration’s suggestion that the network should provide all residents with a safe bikeway connection within 300m of their homes, but that there should be no net loss of car parks. 

“There actually needs to be an outcome here that we are looking to minimise the allocation of public space as much as possible,” he said.

“But what I would encourage is, as much as possible, reallocate public space, but without, as much as we can, in this first stage of this plan, without affecting turn lanes or lanes of traffic, and only mildly affected parking as much as you can.

“What I’m interested in is more bike boxes, more green-painted whatevers, more of those lights that you can push, so that you can have a spot to go in the light cycle.”

Upon hearing these points from both councillors, councillor Helen Donovan — also executive director of Walking SA — said she thought her blood pressure “went up 30 points”.

She said what was “clearly needed” was elected members being educated with real data and information about cycling transport. 

“One of the outcomes needs to very seriously be starting with educating elected members and going back through [and] very clearly articulating why all of those points that were just made are, unfortunately, absolutely rubbish, and don’t match up with all of the data and all of the reports that we have already seen,” she said. 

Donovan said “painted lines on the streets” and bike boxes would not encourage people to safely ride through the streets and real feedback from those who were not cycling comfortably was needed to inform the design.

“The very point of all of this is to enable what we know is the vast majority of people who are not riding to be able to do so,” she said. 

Councillor Phil Martin said he wanted those involved in the engagement to be provided all the available information regarding the City of Adelaide’s previous cycling infrastructure consultations, plans and modelling.

“So that the working group isn’t reinventing the wheel [and] it’s had the opportunity to view everything,” he said.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said she was pleased to see a different approach being taken for the network’s development.

“That’s where we’ve fallen down in some of the last ones, where we’ve used an iterative approach rather than deliberative engagement, and the pulling together of a working group so that we’re working with, and I think you’ve suggested Deputy Lord Mayor, Bike Adelaide and Bike SA, some of those groups, she said.

“Part of our engagement needs to also be with those that might choose to ride more frequently around the city as a mode of transport.

Deputy Lord Mayor Mary Couros told the meeting she thought the community consultation process was an opportunity to garner feedback from rate-payers and business owners about the roll-out.

“It’s a great opportunity to have real conversations and maybe even just wipe the slate clean, and not to go into the history,” she said. 

“It shouldn’t be a political discussion. I think it should be an honest and raw discussion with the public and within the working group, and I hope that we achieve that.”

According to a Medibank Private study, an estimated 16,178 Australians die prematurely each year from physical inactivity, costing the Australian economy an estimated $13.8b.

The South Australian State Public Health Plan, a blueprint aiming to build South Australia as a healthy, liveable and connected community, says 61 per cent of South Australian adults were overweight or obese, with only 45 per cent of adults engaging in recommended 150 minutes (or more) physical activity a week. 

But a Danish study from 2016 found cycling to work an important strategy to prevent primordial clinical cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, among its middle-aged participants.

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