Senate debates

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Matters of Public Interest


1:11 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to make some observations about cycling in Western Australia and, in particular, in my home city of Perth. There are very few experiences more frustrating than sitting in a crushing traffic jam. I live in Perth WA, which is one of the most car-dependent cities in the world. While the state government is still sucking down hundreds of millions of dollars in Commonwealth transport funding to add extra lanes to our freeways, and effectively just make our traffic jams wider, I think Perth and the residents of Perth are looking for a different transport future. Public transport is obviously a very big part of this. I have spoken at length about our light rail proposal and getting more out of our bus system. Getting freight off roads and onto rail is also a big piece of the picture, as is higher frequency train services and better land-use planning to bring people closer to jobs and services.

Today, I want to talk about something simpler—bringing back the bike, not just as some marginal afterthought in our transport planning and thinking but as a central element of transport planning, giving us an alternative to the private car, reducing obesity and keeping us fit, improving air quality and, perhaps most importantly of all, providing us with a more enjoyable way of getting from A to B. We know the benefits: the statistics are very familiar, but for some reason we spend at a state and Commonwealth level only an absolute pittance on cycling. It is as though, somehow—and I have spent many sessions in budget estimates trying to unpick the thinking behind the total absence of Commonwealth spending on cycling—this is not seen as infrastructure for grown-ups. Grown-ups do freeways and freight rail and ports but cycling somehow is seen as being something not serious enough to really bother with.

At a state level, the Perth bicycle network is half built, poorly maintained, disconnected, fragmented and it is patently dangerous in some parts—and regional towns in Western Australia are really no better. Instead of a well-connected network, allowing people to get safely from anywhere to anywhere without mixing it up with fast-moving motorised traffic, it is as though parts of the Perth bike network were written in morse code—just bits and pieces of bike lanes that disappear and reappear totally at random. This really matters. The biggest reason given for not cycling, particularly for parents justifying not sending their kids out to school on bikes, is safety.

In Perth, we have some of the world's worst practice going on right now. We force cyclists to share road space with fast-moving motorised traffic. This kills and injures people. In a collision between a car and a cyclist, the cyclist will always come off second best.

One thing we do have in Western Australia is an abundance of good cycling advocates, so there is every reason to believe that we are on our way to turning the situation around, and there are certainly some signs of hope. Over the last 12 months or so, my office has been working with some of the best cycling advocates in the country, particularly in Perth with Heinrich Benz of the Bicycle Transport Alliance, Clint Shaw of West Cycle and Marianne Carey of the RAC. As this lobby is going around the country, the RAC is doing really useful and important work on mobility. The RAC see mobility as a much bigger picture than simply being able to drive a car. I congratulate the RAC in WA for the leadership position that they have taken. We have also been working with Garry Chandler from Cycling WA and Jeremey Murray from Bicycling WA.

Nationally, we have been working with Stephen Hodge, who is a tireless advocate through his work in the Cycling Promotion Fund. I also want to mention Harry Barber from the Bicycle Network Victoria who I had the good fortune to meet when he was briefly in Western Australia earlier this year. I could not go without mentioning Lynn MacLaren MLC, our state transport colleague in Western Australia, who also cares a lot about safety for cyclists and about creating a sustainable cycling network for our city. Over the last year or so, Chantelle Caruso in my office has worked very, very hard to pull this together to produce a costed proposal—we were actually hoping the state government would do this—that would not only finish the Perth bike network but make it world-class.

As our city grows, we want to make sure we are not forgetting cyclists and leaving them behind but also retrofitting, back-fitting those parts of the city where we have almost intentionally designed cyclists out of the transport picture. The proposal and the purpose is to harness the potential that Perth has for this bike plan and make it one of the best cities in the world and certainly one of the best in the country for cycling. We have some of the best weather of anywhere in the country. We have flat topography. We have perfect circumstances for making a serious go at being the best cycling city in the world.

Our target date is 2029. The outcomes we are looking for are that 29 per cent of all trips will be made by bike—currently that level is about six per cent; and 15 per cent mode share by 2029—that is, commuter cycling, how people get to work. At the moment in Perth less than 1½ per cent of people choose to get to work by bike. This can change. Our target is to really raise these levels up.

Funding for cycling should reflect these aspirational targets and we want a dedicated proportion of the state and federal transport budgets to be allocated to cycling. Our state transport target arrived at with Lynn MacLaren MLC is three per cent. If you were to just hive off three per cent of the state transport budget for cycling, here is what you could do. By 2029, we could deliver around 6½ thousand kilometres of safe and, most importantly, separated bike lanes and paths that would cover around 50 per cent of our roads. This could be done. Look at how it could be incrementally done over a period of years. There would be 300 kilometres of principal shared paths—effectively, these are the cycling highways, the commuter freeways, for getting rapidly from A to B. The Perth bicycle network has half of this plan completed. So this is about filling a gap of nearly 140 kilometres and then adding new routes to fill in the principal shared path network.

There would be at least 2,000 kilometres of local bike routes—this is the backbone of the system that allows people to get from place to place. The Perth bike network is half-finished and it is time we completed that job. There would be a new 2,000 kilometre network of protected crosstown bike paths. This is about not just looking at the needs of motorists of getting from place to place but how cyclists get from suburb to suburb or from activity centres to shops or to places of work. They would be located mostly on district distributors—that is, subarterial roads—to connect neighbourhoods together.

Perhaps, most importantly, there would be a new network of 1,800 kilometres of safe routes to schools. It would also take in railway stations and major employment hubs. Schools are what we really want to focus on. We are at risk of losing a whole generation of kids to the joy of the bike. That is something that we can fix. Parents and kids need to be given the confidence that they will not be sharing road space with fast-moving, motorised traffic. Safe routes to school are an absolutely key component of the plan that we are releasing.

Lastly, there would be an entirely new 120-kilometre greenways network of safe, continuous, separate bikeways, running through some of Perth's spectacular natural bushland assets—the valuable parklands and the wetlands; those areas of urban bushland that remain on the Swan coastal plain.

That is the vision. That is the plan that we want to deliver by 2029. And it can be done with three per cent of the state's transport budget. That comes to around $64.2 million per year. It is also very important that we remember not to let the Commonwealth government off the hook. Again, this is something that the Greens have been pursuing and working on, certainly since well before I got here.

The fact that there is no Commonwealth appropriation for cycling is an absolute scandal. We are being ripped off. Millions of Australians enjoy getting out on their bikes but they are not confident that it is necessarily going to be safe to do so. It is absolutely no longer appropriate for the Commonwealth to sit back and expect local governments and the states and the territories to pick up the slack. It is absolutely urgent that we get a Commonwealth cycling appropriation in place. We have proposed an $80 million national cycling fund and we put that to Treasury last year. Here is the scandal: the only way at the moment that you can get the Commonwealth interested in putting in a cycle lane anywhere in the country is if it is next to a freeway. If you have a freeway proposal costing billions of dollars, yes, the Commonwealth can make it three feet wider and stick in a bike lane, and maybe if we are lucky they will paint a line down the side of the road. Again, we are noticing in Perth that this is world's worst practice; this is how not to protect cyclists.

Under no circumstances, if you have high volumes of traffic moving very quickly along a freeway, should you paint a white line on the side of that road and tell cyclists to share that road space with traffic. That is what is causing injuries and indeed deaths. So there are much better ways of doing this. We have plenty examples of good practice here in Australia and some wonderful examples from around the world of how to do this well. We want an $80 million Commonwealth cycling fund and we will be taking the proposal into the next budget cycle as we have done for the previous two. We know that this can work. One of the lesser known components of the government's stimulus package, passed and modified with the support of the Greens, was the $40 million cycle package. The reason that I say it is little known is that it was not scandal plagued; it worked. No bad news came out of it. It was not on the front page of any papers but it produced hundreds of kilometres of new cycling infrastructure. It was very well regarded and, apart from some useful critiques raised by the Auditor-General in its recent report, it is something that we think should be scaled up and made a standing appropriation.

Finally, there is local government funding. Local government already picks up the vast majority of cycle funding in this country. We want to acknowledge that but we also want to provide sources of matched funding so that our local governments can get on with the job. If you total that up for Western Australia, pro rata, that amounts to a fund of $80 million per year. A fair chunk of that going to a Perth bike network and the remainder going to regional cycling infrastructure gets you the 6½ thousand kilometres of fully integrated cycling network for the city of Perth that will genuinely look after the interests of cyclists.

As well as the advocates whom I mentioned earlier, we have spent a huge amount of time working with people in Perth who actually use the bike network, such as it is. Six months or so ago, my colleague Rachel Pemberton developed an iPhone app to crowdsource bike black spots. If you visit, you can actually see it working. We launched this earlier in the year in Perth but we have also launched it across Australia—in Sydney, in Melbourne, in Adelaide, in regional centres, including Geraldton and Newcastle—I was going to say 'including Hobart', but that would probably get me into trouble.

If you visit that URL you will see it working. You can photograph the black spot, the place where the network has just tried to spit you into fast-moving traffic or where there might be a maintenance issue, or you can photograph an area that really works for you—a piece of network that works. It sends that photograph, it sends any notes that you add and it sends your location to the transport minister, Anthony Albanese. It also sends it to your state transport minister and it pins that photograph and that annotation to a Google map. The public can now see, and planning authorities can now see, where cyclists are reporting the black spots.

It has been extremely popular. I got an email this morning from some folk in Queensland, who have thanked us because the black spot app has fed back into a decision to improve a place that people were complaining about—that was dangerous and that was throwing people off their bikes. So the system is working. We want three per cent of the state transport budget to do this within 15 years, we want $80 million from the Commonwealth transport budget, and then we want to let people get on with the job of building a world-class cycle network for Perth and for other Australian cities. But we do need these dedicated funds. We have to kick this idea that the only serious infrastructure is freeways, railways and ports.

Although we have not been able to persuade the Commonwealth to actually provide some money to back these ideas up, there are some signs of hope. I have very high regard for the people in the Major Cities Unit. They are conducting or have conducted an active transport study that will hopefully, once and for all, put the evidence base on the minister's desk and make the case that it is time to get on our bikes. To be able to do that—and Australians want to do that—we need to provide the infrastructure so that parents know their kids are safe when they are on their bikes on the road and so that people can take it up in a major way, as they have done in cities all over the world, and remember the joys of the bike.