Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bike City: Melbourne Writers Festival

31 August 2013
Bike City: a discussion chaired by Greg Foyster, with Eben Weiss, Alan Davies and Pip Carrol

Bike Snob NYC, Eben Weiss, conveyed a laid back New York state of mind. He has always been a bike rider ‘no matter what’, negotiating the dynamic city. While welcoming New York’s new bike infrastructure, he had a ‘however’ qualification. The lack of enforcement of driver infringements and incursions into bike lanes is highly frustrating. Sanctions are few and prosecutions rare.  He just wants bike riders to be ‘ordinary’, not special’, one of the crowd.
Alan Davies's impressive fluency with the statistics and graphs illustrated Australia’s dismal performance relative to the world’s leading bike riding country: the Netherlands. Whereas Melbourne’s Inner North has impressive cycling rates, that rate is not replicated even south of the river and is very low in outer suburbs. Davies has a particular interest in bike trips substituting car trips which leads to his interest in the journey to work census question as a data source. Davies went out of his way to stress the importance of the quality of the cycling experience and how that can be positively influenced by the design and attractiveness of streets. Asked what it will take to increase bike riding in Melbourne, Davies stressed safety, safety and safety, and putting further constraints on car use - ‘cars have got to give'. Roads need to be designed in such a way that drivers have no choice but to drive slowly. He suggested that Melbourne might consider a bike riding target relevant to our dispersed city rather than the Netherlands. While dedicated bike infrastructure is the gold standard, he made the obvious point that if you could get to a point where bikes and cars could share the road safely there would be no shortage of excellent infrastructure.
Pip Carrol’s amusing and highly visual presentation challenged the notion that infrastructure alone is enough to get Melburnians riding. Cultural change that taps into Melbourne's cultural scene is also needed. A different story about bike riding is waiting to be told. She drew on the portrayal of bike riding in the media as an extreme sport, inherently dangerous and law breaking.  Instead, there are tales to be told of riding that are ‘delightful and inclusive’. Carrol wondered if we’re focusing on the wrong thing – the journey to work - rather than on local trips using the quieter streets. Invest in women, was her strong recommendation. The SqueakyWheel is creating a different story around riding a bike: that its fun, everyday, convenient, ordinary. Turn the paradigm upside down as Roll Up bike valet parking does - giving bike riders the red carpet rather than the finger.

 What are your thoughts about growing bike riding on the south side of the River?

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