"Sexism behind over-investment in cycling infrastructure," is a headline in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, reporting on new research from a transport specialist at RMIT University of Melbourne. Dr. Paul Mees is the lead author of a study analysing travel to work modes from 1976 to 2011. Dr Mees' work is internationally influential: the EU's HiTrans project on improving public transport in medium-sized cities and towns from 2005 was based on his work.
In the new report Dr Mees reports on the doubling of car journeys to work but says cycling trips have come at the expense of walking trips.
"Of the two ‘active’ transport modes, walking is by far the more important, catering for around three times as many work trips as cycling across the seven capital cities, as well as requiring less in the way of infrastructure and no parking facilities. Despite these benefits, walking receives little attention from policy- makers and commentators, for whom ‘sustainable transport’ often seems to mean cycling only.
"One question that also needs to be asked is whether recent increases in cycling may be coming at the expense of walking…It is possible that recent improvements to bicycle facilities, through expanded cycle paths and lanes, combined with an absence of any equivalent measure favouring pedestrians, have induced some workers who would have walked to work to cycle instead. If this is the case, then there has been no overall gain for sustainable transport."
He said cycling was of "negligible importance" as a transport mode for work trips in all Australian capital cities except Canberra.
"Recent increases in cycling’s share have come from a very low base, and have made no measurable difference to overall transport outcomes."
He believes there is a need for a shift in cycling policy "based on a realistic assessment of the very narrow market currently served by cycling policies – predominantly male, middle-class and inner city – and the need to cater for a much broader segment of the urban population while complementing, rather than competing with, policies to promote walking."
In his report Dr Mees doesn't mention the fact that in the Netherlands more women cycle than men. Nor does he mention that Australia, unlike the Netherlands, has mandatory helmet law for all cyclists. However, he believes cycling gets a disproportionate amount of infrastructure provision because it's a largely male activity and transport planners are predominantly male.
"One possible reason for the attention paid to cycling is that cycling is by far the most male- dominated transport mode, reflecting the gender (and probably also socio-economic) makeup of transport planners and policy makers, said Dr Mees.
He added: "Cycling currently plays only a minor role in reducing car use in Australian cities. Although it is important to provide safe, convenient facilities for cyclists, some of the extravagant rhetoric currently circulating about cycling needs to be given a rest. Policy-makers need to pay attention to the extremely restricted constituency that currently dominates the cycling ‘market’ (mainly male, inner city professionals).
"Perhaps this helps explain why the ‘male’ modes of car driving and cycling receive more policy and media attention than the female-dominated modes of walking and public transport?"