‘Reality Bites – Bike Week special’ – Can just 6 people transform Australian cities into ‘cycling cities’?

Yesterday my mates Ben Wilson from Bicycle Queensland and Dr Matthew Burke, a Senior Research Fellow at Griffith University’s Urban Research Program, were on the radio talking about how to make Brisbane a Cycling City. The conversation and coverage was fantastic but covered all too familiar territory; separated bikeways, car driver behaviour, end of trip facilities and helmets.

According to Steve Austin, the radio DJ, Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk has said that Australian cities, including Brisbane, probably won’t be bicycle utopias for another decade.

Just last month Lord Mayor Quirk and I were at the launch of the Brisbane Institute’s ‘Brave New Idea for Brisbane’. It was there, that Friday lunchtime, that Liz Crawford, National Practice Leader of KPMG’s Executive Search and Selection said that we should stop asking Governments to do everything for us.

So if it’s going to take 10 years for the bicycle to really catch on and be ‘mainstream’ in Australian cities what should we do while we wait?


A few years ago I met, by chance, Anne Leonard the creator of the ‘Story of Stuff’ and more recently the ‘Story of Change’.  Anne says we need to work together and we need to take action. She says we need all kinds of people; investigators, communicators, builders, resisters, nurturers and networkers, not just protestors because we can all make changes in our streets, our suburb and our cities.

So, can 6 people – or to be honest six different sorts of people – transform Australian cities into ‘Cycling cities’ right now?

Yes, I think they can.

1. Investigators

We need people to go out and expose the problems and the solutions, to uncover the hidden truths, to crunch the numbers and to keep us all informed.

The fundamental problem we have in Australia is that we need to improve our data collection efforts. It is impossible to monitor change if we don’t measure change. A prime example is Brisbane’s South East Freeway Bikeway, adjacent to the M3 Motorway, designed for commuter cyclists. The bikeway is predominantly used by male cyclists for longer distance commuting trips with almost all trips made during the morning and afternoon peaks. We know who is using this established bikeway now but we have little knowledge of cycling behaviour in the area prior to the bikeway and no contestable evidence of people relocating to the area to use the bikeway. Without this ‘before’ and ‘after’ evidence cycling, as a transport option, is powerless to compete for government funding.

Bikeways cost money and their merits are often called into question. If we really want cycling to be a central part of our cities more data is needed to show a direct correlation between a city’s bikeway program and the city’s economy. We need people like my friend Richard Bean who’s a mathematical genius to develop a consistent methodology that we can all use – whether we are 8, 38, 48 or 88 years old  – to collect data so that decision makers can justify and evaluate the benefits and measure and monitor change, in an objective manner, with appropriate scale analysis.

2. Communicators

We need people who will spread the word. People who can promote fun family cycling events and sign-post people to useful information.

3. Builders

We need people who make that better future real. People who don’t wait for solutions; they create them themselves. People like my friend Denise. She realised the problem was that people didn’t like wearing high visibility safety clothing when they rode their bike so she created the Monkeysee harness.

4. Resisters

We need people to stand up to bad policies. They’re on Twitter – you know who they are!

5. Nurturers

We need people who pitch in behind the scenes with food and money and support. People like David Saunders and Jennifer Thompson. Without them Lazy Sunday Cycle would not be what it is today. They buy the snags, fire up the BBQ and make sure everyone is well fed and watered.

6. Networkers

We need the social butterflies. The people who connect and introduce people on and off-line


Liz is right. We should stop asking Governments to do everything for us.

… Like Ghandi said “be the change you want to see in the world” – or at least the change you want to see down your street.


Which are you?

Are you an investigator, communicator, builder, resister, nurturer and networker?

What would you do in your city?

Let me know, I can’t wait to hear from you.