Safe cycle paths make a happier city

The Bicycle Show
Heather, Maria and Mik in The Bicycle Show

The Danes are not the happiest people on the planet because they cycle as much as they do, and on a daily basis. What makes them so satisfied with their lives is that they live in a society which values equal rights, safety and good health – and if we want to see Geelong turn into a prosperous city with happy residents, we need to understand that cycling and creating the infrastructure for it has a good deal to do with that: equality, safety, health and wellbeing.

The Bicycle Show on 94.7 The Pulse on 3 September 2016. Special guest: Mik Aidt

» Download podcast audio file

In our community, there are things we share. The roads we drive, ride or walk on, for instance. The air we breathe. But where I live, in Geelong, these common goods are not shared equally. In Australia, and in most brutally in Geelong, cyclists and pedestrians have to fight for their survival like haunted animals in a jungle ruled by dangerous and agressive metal predators on four wheels.

Knowing that the smoke particles from cars make us sick and destroy our climate, pedestrians and cyclists – if they were a majority – would claim it a basic human right to be able to breathe pollution-free air in a safe climate.

Zebra crossings, secure and safe bike paths and low speed limits to protect the vulnerable ones – the soft human bodies on foot or on two wheels – from fast-driving metal boxes on four wheels would be considered a most natural arrangement in a society which values equality, fairness and environment-friendly transport, because obviously a vulnerable citizen should be given the same rights as a person who chooses to place him- or herself inside a massive metal box on four wheels.

One person, one vote. That’s the fundamental rule in our democracy. Whether you are richer, stronger or faster than others doesn’t matter – we all just got that one vote. But even though Australians generally consider themselves as part of the civilised world built on democratic values, the streets of Geelong are certainly not any part of that democracy.

Here, it is the jungle law that rules: those with most wheels, weight, volume and ability to drive fast terrorise and sometimes even kill those who are slower and placed lower in the hierarchy. This is considered to be okay, for some reason – traffic terror is the order of the day in Geelong.

When you listen to the way city planners talk about ‘traffic’ in Geelong, you realise that pedestrians and cyclists are not even considered part of that ‘traffic’. They are treated as second- and third-class citizens, as if they had no votes at all.

Think the unthinkable
Let’s for a moment think the impossible, the unthinkable: Geelong’s oppressed cycling and walking minority is going to take its city streets back from cars before 2025. Could it happen over the next nine years? How could it happen?

I’m suggesting to to think the unthinkable, because I have recently had an experience which really empowered me and encourages me to think more ‘unthinkable’ thoughts.

It is the story about how we organised ourselves and after three years of campaigning in our local communities managed to convince first our Geelong Council and then our State Government that we need a permanent ban on fracking, gas-extraction using unconventional drilling-methods.

It was a victory against all odds, and what it showed us was that when ordinary people get organised and stay organised for years, we actually have the ability to create these kind of big changes we want to see.

This is no different when talking about how we can make Geelong into a more cyclist-friendly city – a prosperous city where people are trading, inventing, producing, and there are good things happening. Where local food is sold in the shops, speed-limits are 30 km/h, and there are safe bike paths and zebra crossings all over the place. All that can happen. But then we need to be positive and optimistic. Not fearful and isolated in small interest groups. We need to get ourselves better organised.

As I talk about with Heather, Maria and Alison in The Bicycle Show, it’s time to cultivate new ways of collaborating between the various fragmented civil groups in Geelong – the active transport cyclists, the sports cyclists and the weekend-escapade cyclists, the wide range of green, environmental and sustainability groups, the pedestrians, the shop owners, even the tourism sector and the Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs and various councils and community funds. This is all about connectedness and togetherness.

We need to understand that unless we get together, and unless we get organised, we will never change the city. We will never see those safe bike paths that all cyclists, and parents of cycling children, are dreaming of. To make it happen we need to crawl up from the trenches and create new networks and alliances.

I think we also need to understand that the safe bicycle paths have to come first, and then the bike riders will start using them. It is not going to happen the other way around. We need to create the groundswell for our council investing in better infrastructure for cycling first. That is more about paper work, community campaigning and door-knocking than it is about using your bike-pedals.

It begins with us having that confidence in ourselves, and in that Geelong has a great future ahead of it.

Cycling in decline
Unfortunately, that is not what is happening in Geelong at the moment. As an example: 22 September was ‘World Car-Free Day’, when people from around the globe got together in the streets “to remind us all that we don’t have to accept a car-dominated society.” Sadly, I didn’t hear about or see a single person get together in the streets of Geelong.

And while more and more people jump up on their bicycle in Europe, research shows that Australia has seen a 41.3 per cent decline in national daily bike trips from 2011 to 2015. (Source: The National Cycling Strategy Implementation Report 2015)

Another figure to illustrate this. In the 1970s, eight out of ten school students walked or cycled to school every day. In 2015, just two out of 10 students walk or ride. The majority of today’s school kids are driven to and from school in car by their parents.

The getting organised
There are a lot of things in this city that don’t seem to happen because of fear of change. So, for a start, have less fear! Organise a meeting. And in your daily day: get up on the bike. Be seen in the streets.

“Cycling is fun,” as Alison expresses it in the Bike Show, “…and it is fitness, and it is frugal.”

Like consumers can ‘vote’ with their purchases, we can also ‘vote’ with our bicycles. Creating this change also requires as many of us who dares and feel confident enought to get up on the bike – without being fearful of the fast-moving cars. Smile to them! Wave, and give way. There is so much that can happen from being positive and showing confidence.

It is our job to make cycling the new normal. In Geelong. What can help with that would be if we could make more people take a look out and see what is happening elsewhere in the world and realise that there is a different future already happening in other parts of the world – not even because those people on their bikes are ‘greenies’ who want to be environmentally friendly or ‘sacred’. That is typically not the main reason why they do it. They do it – they cycle away on a daily basis – because they found out, collectively, that it is practical, and healthy. It benefits society, it benefits yourself. There are a lot of common sense reasons that people ride their bicycles.

So if they are not looking – we are the ones who’ll have to show them this. Geelong can – must! – become a part of that future, where cycling is the normal way to get from A to B in this city.

» Learn more about City of Greater Geelong’s ‘Our Future’ project:
City looks its future in the eye – on Threatened Species Day

» Learn more about Mik’s trip to Denmark
What’s Geelong’s future? Here’s inspiration from Denmark

Future proofing Geelong with sustainable transport

“We often talk about all the aspects of riding around Geelong… but we rarely touch on climate change – this big fat hairy gorilla will be the biggest challenge we face as a residents of planet Earth over the next 25 years.

Of course everyone knows bike transport is zero emissions and encouraging it is worthwhile for about a million reasons and very positive for today’s society.

What is not considered is what governments will impose on people when they decide it’s time to take on the big hairy beast… Will it mean carbon taxes, big fat fuel taxes, emissions taxes, banning diesel cars, taxes on car purchases, car free days, tax exemptions for riders or complete car free cities… These issues are being considered now in cities across the world. We have to be part of it.

Geelong can be forward looking or reactive. We can be innovators or we can be content with business as usual. Is the rapid change of society going to be steady or will it feel like falling off a cliff.

Progressing more sustainable transport is one way of future proofing Geelong today for tomorrow’s world.”

Bicycle Users Geelong wrote this on their Facebook page

And that is exactly right:

Cycling is action climate change
For the same reason, the Victorian State Government’s ‘Take2 Pledge’ initiative has included active transport in their program – with pledges such as:

• Leave the car at home and walk,
• Cycle or take public transport, and
• Start a regular ride to work group

I think State Premier Daniel Andrews gave a great push towards the kind of common sense thinking we need, when he told me that,

“If you look at Victoria when it is at its best, its when we are leading our nation and best we can, leading the world. So when it comes to real action on climate change we are leading our nation, very clearly. When it comes to banning unconventional gas and protecting our image, our clean, green brand that is so valuable to us, again, we are leading our nation. And of course, in relation to renewable energy with those very assertive targets to get to 40 per cent renewable energy production by 2025, that’s really important. And, you know, in so many different ways we are making policy decisions that are grounded in common sense but are leadership positions, and that is when Victoria is at its best.”

He didn’t mention cycling specifically, but that’s our job to make everyone understand that cycling is very much a part of this picture. Air pollution reduction in our streets is a significant part of the bigger picture. City administrators, planners, politicians – they all need to be informed by us that we see this as part of their responsibility that they keep updating their knowledge about what is happening in the world and that they plan our city according to the needs of our time, and the future.

Former Shell CEO Ian Dunlop held a keynote address in Sydney recently, where he said we need to “build coalitions of champions committed and prepared to speak out” on the climate emergency, and also that we need to “to change the fundamentals of society in a way which is much deeper than we are currently thinking.”

Building a cycling city is very much part of that deeper thinking.

» Grist – 22 September 2016:
Bicycle rights: Cyclists and walkers are building their own bike lanes and crosswalks

» City Lab – 21 September 2016:
Anonymous San Franciscans Are Making Renegade Bike Lanes


Denmark: a bicycle-country

In contrast to what is the case in Geelong, bikes are at the top of the transport hierarchy in Copenhagen, where I came from before moving to Geelong. Cycling is fun and easygoing there, because it is safe. It is safe because there is safety in numbers, and you see cyclists everywhere, and the cycling infrastructure keeps getting expanded and improved. Cycling is promoted by the municipality as the smart way to get around in the city. And it is fun, too, because of those fancy bridges, among other things, that create shortcuts where cars can’t go:


Cycling means business
More than half of the population in Copenhagen jump up on their bicycles to transport themselves to school or to work every day. Cyclists’ short distance-trips are interesting – or: ought to be considered interesting – in an Australian city-planning context, because they mean business, according to Danish researchers:

“Cyclists and pedestrians contribute to roughly 50 per cent of the revenue in retailing in the large cities’ centers. The bicycle is the preferred means of transportation in city centers, and cyclists visit more shops per trip than car drivers,” writes Rune Monberg Dalhof from the Danish Cyclists’ Federation in an article posted posted on State of Green, a government enterprise.

Rune explains how cycling has become such an integral part of The Danish Story, and he has gathered some of the solutions that shaped the narrative on


Tourism in Denmark: Freestyle riding associated with happy and healthy outdoor imagery

Helmet freedom

On warm summer days, adult Danes appreciate their freedom of not being forced to wear a helmet. In the European countries adult bike riders are generally treated like responsible adults allowed to make their own decisions about when to use a helmet, and when to not to.

It makes you inclined to jump up on that bike a lot more often, in particular for short distances, and in particular for shopping and going out on a social occasion. As soon as wearing that helmet is made compulsory by law, as it is in Australia, with a threat of being fined hundreds of dollars if you forget it, then it becomes a prison. And it becomes yet another factor to keep people away from using those bikes for the daily transport purposes.

Don’t get me wrong: I actually like bike helmets. When riding in Denmark, I wear one myself when I think it is appropriate. For instance when I set off for a six kilometre fast ride in traffic through town.

What I dislike is when lawmakers remove my personal freedom to choose. The main reason why I don’t think helmets should be mandatory is the same, I guess, why some people think they should be allowed to smoke cigarettes, even though they are fully aware of the dangers it implies.

If cyclists are forced to wear helmets, why aren’t car drivers? Shouldn’t this mandatory safety principle apply for everyone in the traffic? Again, why are cyclists being discriminated?

“It’s only Australia and New Zealand where this law applies. It’s an inappropriate law which has done a lot of damage to cycling in Australia. We are just people who want to ride an upright bike for transport like people do all over the world, and not get fined for it.”
Russell Lindsay

» The authors of the Australia’s National Cycling Strategy report write that helmet laws are having a negative effect on cycling participation.

» Here is a good comment-debate on Facebook about mandatory helmets

» Sydney Morning Herald – 22 September 2016:
Bike helmet review throws cold water on sceptics: they’ll likely save your life

» The Bike Helmet Blog – 19 September 2016:
Bike Helmets Cannot Prevent Brain Injuries

» TEDxStanford – April 2016:
Why helmets don’t prevent concussions — and what might

In a reply to a Facebook-comment, where Jim Maspero wrote: “I wonder how many people get inured because they do not wear a helmet,” VisitCopenhagen replied: “It’s definitely a great idea to wear a helmet at all times! However, only about ~30 people [annually] lose their lives in bike accidents in all of Denmark, and statistically you’d have to bike for 2,800 years to be involved in a serious acccident 🙂 See here for more facts about cycling in Denmark.

Poster for protest rally in Melbourne

Stop fining healthy transport

“People who choose active and sustainable transport are discriminated against by being singled out to wear helmets. For many people the helmet is unpleasant, uncomfortable and inconvenient. It stigmatises the wearer as being engaged in a dangerous activity.

Other road users are not humiliated with compulsory, ugly headwear. It would not be tolerated and powerful groups like the RACV ensure their members are not subjected to helmet requirements.

New Zealand Police have recently stated that targeting and fining cyclists for helmet crimes is now a low priority. We are calling for an end to the fining of unhelmeted Australian cyclists as well.

The emphasis for this protest is on an end to fines for the harmless cyclists who don’t wear helmets. These people are vulnerable but what they are doing is not dangerous. They should not be punished for being vulnerable. If they are struggling financially, a helmet fine only adds to their difficulties.

All cyclists are engaged in an activity that benefits the society.

Come to our ride to show your support for an end to bike helmet fines. People of all ages, with or without helmets are welcome to join us.

Stop fining healthy transport.”

“No-one is telling you not to wear a helmet when you hit your head on the kerb or fall onto the MCG. We are saying you shouldn’t be fined if you are not wearing one.”
Kathy Francis

» Here’s a recent Facebook take of mine on the topic…

» And here is even more on the topic

But hey! – before we dig ourselves too deep down in our helmet and no-helmet trenches, take a look at what the Swedes have invented. Something which offers a refreshing new perspective on the entire debate, because with modern technology, there now is a way to enjoy the wind in your hair and be well protected at the same time:


» See more videos about this

Mik Aidt is a committee member of Bicycle Users Geelong, and a sustainability advocate.

More about cycling

Three of Mik’s previous blogposts about cycling:

» Call for more cyclists in the streets

» The real value of cycling

» In a Danish cyclist’s perspective: What is wrong in Geelong

» Blogposts on this site tagged Cycling

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» City of Greater Geelong – 8 August 2016:
Free second hand bikes to boost bike riding


How can cities be reclaimed for people? The city of Barcelona has come up with one incredibly clever solution to that problem.

“Modern cities are ruled by cars. Streets are designed for them; bikers, pedestrians, vendors, hangers-out, and all other forms of human life are pushed to the perimeter in narrow lanes or sidewalks. Truly shared spaces are confined to parks and the occasional plaza. This is such a fundamental reality of cities that we barely notice it any more. Some folks, however, still cling to the old idea that cities are for people, that more common space should be devoted to living in the city rather than getting through it or around it.
But once you’ve got a city that’s mostly composed of street grids, devoted to moving cars around, how do you take it back?”

» Vox – 4 August 2016:
Superblocks: how Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars

40 km/h? That sounds better! 🙂

Have you written your submission or comment to Council on this?
If not, please do

Here’s what I wrote, and feel free to copy-paste if you’d like to submit something but don’t have the time to write your own.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Dear City of Greater Geelong,

As you have beautifully put it yourself, “the 40km/h speed zone plays an important role in making our city’s streets a safe and user-friendly environment for everyone – particularly bikes and pedestrians.”

I’m often a pedestrian and a bike rider with my kids, and I am also a car driver.

I think it is great to see this initiative, and I’d recommend it to be expanded to all streets in the city’s living areas and suburbs as well. It is an important element of what makes a city a ‘liveable city’: that we feel safe and comfortable when we are walking or riding our bikes.

When/if you get a bunch of complaints from car drivers, then please don’t forget that most of them ALSO, unwillingly, get to be pedestrians over and over again, in particular because the challenging parking conditions, caused by car-overcrowding, means that you often have to walk quite a distance from where you found a parking spot and to where you want to get to.

And don’t forget that that unwilling walk there is actually good for their health.

We are ALL pedestrians – whether we’d like to admit it or not. And all studies and statistics shows that is good for us. Good for our economy too.

Where I live, a tiny street where parked cars often make it into a one-way street, it is ridiculous that cars are allowed to drive 50 km/h. The limit, really, should be 30. No more.

I think the bicycle-group BUG recently formulated it well when they wrote (in another context):

“We often talk about all the aspects of riding around Geelong… But we rarely touch on climate change – this big fat hairy gorilla will be the biggest challenge we face as a residents of planet Earth over the next 25 years.

Of course everyone knows bike transport is zero emissions and encouraging it is worthwhile for about a million reasons and very positive for today’s society.

What is not considered is what governments will impose on people when they decide it’s time to take on the big hairy beast… Will it mean carbon taxes, big fat fuel taxes, emissions taxes, banning diesel cars, taxes on car purchases, car free days, tax exemptions for riders or complete car free cities… These issues are being considered now in cities across the world. We have to be part of it.

Geelong can be forward looking or reactive. We can be innovators or we can be content with business as usual. Is the rapid change of society going to be steady or will it feel like falling off a cliff.

Progressing more sustainable transport is one way of future proofing Geelong today for tomorrow’s world.”

I would like to add that this city needs to step up when it comes to taking the invention of zebra crossings seriously. A few places, like at the hospital, there are zebra crossings, which show that it has at some point been thought of to establish these. But why aren’t schools, for instance, surrounded with proper zebra crossings?

With kind regards,

Mik Aidt
3220 Geelong