The last Newcastle Cycling Strategy and Action Plan released by the City of Newcastle was in March 2012. It set as its targets:
“in accordance with the NSW BikePlan target, increase mode share to cycling to 5% for trips less than 10km, by 2016 … in accordance with the NSW BikePlan target, double the mode share to cycling for the journey to work of Newcastle LGA residents between 2006 and 2016.” (Page vii)
These targets have not been met as there has been no significant increase in cycling in the past 6 years, according to bike counts carried out. Data collected from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is quoted in the Strategy:
“The use of bikes as a mode of transport for all trips is very low, at approximately 1.6% of trips for the Newcastle LGA and 1% for the Newcastle SSD” (page 4)
(Note that on page 6 of the introduction, it is stated that 16% of cyclists are women)
It is also noted that:
“Cycling in New South Wales: What the data tells us (Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia Pty Limited, 2008) indicates that Newcastle at 2.04% has a higher than average rate of cycling than the rest of NSW for the journey to work. Bicycle-only trips accounted for less than 0.8% of NSW journey to work trips on census day in August 2006 (p. 19). LGAs with the highest level of cycling to work in NSW are in inner Sydney and Newcastle (Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia Pty Limited, 2008, p. 20).”(page 9)
While this comparison with Sydney may have been favourable in 2008, that is no longer the case. In Sydney in 2014, a survey showed that 17% of people rode last week. Slightly over half (56%) of those trips were for transport and 59% for recreation (obviously and predictably there is an overlap in these two forms of cycling). This means that approximately 9% of people in Sydney rode for transport at that time in 2014. This increase is not surprising given that Sydney has invested large amounts of money into building an impressive, by Australian standards, cycleways network in its inner suburban areas. Newcastle’s 2% cycling participation does not compare.
The Newcastle Strategy is lengthy with many statistical tables, projected and current works and research underpinning its objectives. It is 145 pages in length including appendices with not a great deal of images and those images are photos of current infrastructure or diagrams of potential infrastructure. It provides detailed information on cycling events and tourism, parking, education, maintenance and hazard reporting and infrastructure standards, among other things. It is noted that the encouragement of council staff to cycle to work is a priority, but also states on page 45 that:
“Council undertook a trial of use of bicycles for corporate business. Two bikes were made available to all interested staff for use on local journeys. Some difficulties were noted with the scheme and it is not currently operating.”
The current document that appears to have replaced this Strategy is Connecting Newcastle – Our Urban Renewal Vision. It is a mere 32 pages and is substantially computer generated images, maps and diagrams. Cycling is just one part of the vision for inner Newcastle transport.
Which one of these documents is better?
This is immaterial, what really matters is the ability to deliver actual cycleways and an increase in cycling participation. Now the 2012 Newcastle Cycling Strategy has expired without achieving its stated aims. Meanwhile, in Sydney, under the driving force of a very determined mayor who has had to face considerable obstacles, cycling has grown substantially.
There has been substantial progress made in Newcastle in terms of infrastructure improvements and additions, but nowhere near the same overall network development as seen in Sydney.
Newcastle Council has broadened its objectives, now viewing cycling as a part of a bigger picture. Let’s hope that the outcomes are going to be better.