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On your bike

Dr Ian Radbone would like to see more South Australians on their bikes. The ongoing success of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under has highlighted the popularity of the sport of cycling in South Australia, yet studies investigating bicycles as an everyday form of transport have found that numbers have declined in recent years. Transport researcher Dr Ian Radbone was part of a symposium of experts that gathered on the eve of the Tour Down Under to discuss how community attitudes and insufficient infrastructure are stopping people from riding their bikes. Rodney Magazinovic reports.

Cycling is an effective and healthy mode of transportation, yet statistics show that less than two per cent of trips in Adelaide are made by bike. This compares unfavorably with overseas cities of a similar size such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where the figure is closer to 10 per cent.

Reviews by the state government in the late '90s to determine the discrepancy between cycling participation in Adelaide and those overseas cities eliminated poor promotion of cycling as the reason behind Adelaide's low participation rates.

According to Dr Ian Radbone, an adjunct senior research fellow at UniSA's School of Natural and Built Environments, the reasons for this lower figure have more to do with other factors.

"It's often said that Adelaide is a great place for cycling because of the climate and its flat geography, but on the other hand it's not that good a place for cycling because of urban sprawl and most importantly because it's such a great city for cars."

Research has shown that land use factors and the design characteristics of the city will directly influence the numbers of people choosing to cycle.

"It's ironic that traffic engineers in Australia will sometimes begrudge putting bike lanes on roads because it's thought of as a waste of space. Yet in these overseas countries it's the opposite. Cities that have the highest levels of cycling, such as Freiburg, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, are often very restrictive in terms of car use because they don't have the space. We have the space for cars, but it is often assumed that we don't have the space for bikes," says Dr Radbone.

With cars being the number one deterrent for cyclists on the road and many cyclists not feeling that they are regarded as legitimate road users, safety while cycling has consistently come to the fore as the major negative reason for not riding a bike. While bike and pedestrian-only trails are the safest option for cyclists, the most cost effective cycling infrastructure remains the integration of cycling lanes into existing roadways, a process that was first introduced by the state government in the late '80s. Dr Radbone believes that modification of existing infrastructure to create a safer environment would further encourage cycling.

"We can never provide a separate cycle network that can match the access that our streets provide. Having said that, there are many local streets in Adelaide that could be designed specifically for shared use, including cycling, where they are engineered to slow traffic down to 30 km/hr."

The state government draft transport plan released in 2003 has set an aim of doubling cycling and walking numbers by the year 2018. While Dr Radbone concedes this is a positive step forward, he believes that more can be done to encourage people to use other forms on non automobile transport.

"Considering the health benefits of cycling, far more should be done from the health point of view to get people cycling. The state government spends about $50 million a year on obesity related health care. The perceived dangers of cycling are vastly outweighed by the associated health benefits. It's a non-stressful form of exercise that's accessible to a wide age group. If we can encourage kids to ride to school like they used to it could become an important part of solving the obesity problem."