Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cycling and the politics of fear

Its been another interesting week in Sydney-town. On Thursday I was forwarded the details of an anti-cycleway flyer that had been put in mailboxes on the eve of the election. It seems that "Only in Sydney" could we get a campaign against the city's plans to develop a cycleway network.

Here’s what it said:
What the Council isn't saying before the election
that many cyclists won't use.
After the election the City Council is planning to spend $34 million putting concrete block barriers along 55 kilometres of City roads including in your street to create the cycleway.
That's around $400 per domestic ratepayer!
These concrete block barriers will make life difficult for local businesses and residents. The cycleway will
_ Destroy local parking and amenity
_ Remove road access to homes and businesses
_ Cyclists will still use the roadway to avoid other cyclists
_ Turning motorists and cross traffic will have 4 lots of cyclists to avoid
_ “Wrong-way” cyclists on bi-directional cycleways have 10 times the accident risk at
intersections than if they used the roadway
_ Many residents will be forced to compete for parking in already crowded side streets
_ Where the street is wide enough to allow parking to be retained beside the cycleway
children will leave the car onto a 40cm concrete block in the roadway instead of the kerb.
There's no time to waste. Act now!
Ask what is happening in your street. Choose a candidate who will protect your interests as a resident, property owner, business person and voter! Insist Council involves you in decisions concerning your street Bourke Street, Darlinghurst/Redfern/Surry Hills is one of the first streets listed to have a bidirectional separated cycleway. The proposed design shows possible loss of trees, loss of parking, loss of local amenity and disregard for the safety of all road users.
Residents and businesses were not consulted until late in the design process and still have not received any answers to their many concerns. For more information and a list of streets we have identified so far go to:
For more info visit . (email: )
Authorised by: R Marriot, PO Box 319, Surry Hills 2010. Printed by: Officeworks 91 O'Riordan St, Alexandria 2015.
I have no idea who are the people behind the flyer and whether or not they are linked with that previous group of people who’d protested against the Bourke St cycleway, but I generally don’t try to get worked up about these things (too much). One of the funniest things I thought was how the flyer emphasised a fear of loosing car-parking spaces yet its website is called: That takes a lot of chutzpah. Maybe they meant some other car. This perhaps:

I'm no political analyst, although I do know a thing or two about workings of some resident action groups (nb: large pdf). However, it seems to me that this flyer was really about more than the cycleways/CoS cycling strategy. It was politics pure and simple: the art of revealing and concealing interests in the games of getting power and influence. I see the anti-cycleway politics as an attempted wedge-politics/politics of fear to get some traction against Clover Moore who has done much to champion cycling the City of Sydney. Why else would the flyers turn up on the night before an election? Fortunately it didn’t seem to work just as those other flyers didn't work for the Liberal Party when they were given to voters on the eve of the Federal election in Lindsay. Check out City of Sydney local government election results HERE to see how Clover and the Greens did.

To my mind, the anti-cycleway campaign may have been targeted at the wrong demographic. I recently read an article on gentrification and transport behaviour called, Modalities of the New Middle Class: Ideology and Behaviour in the Journey to Work from Gentrified Neighbourhoods in Canada, by Martin Danyluk and David Ley at the University of British Columbia. In a comparative study of travel behavior in three of Canada’s largest cities (Vancouver, Toronto, MontrĂ©al), they found:
Our results show that residents of gentrified areas are more likely than other commuters to ride a bicycle to work, even when controls are introduced to remove the effects of distance to the downtown core. At the same time, they are less likely to be users of public transport, despite their political support for the notion of the public household. This surprising disaffiliation may in part be the result of transit’s inability to compete with cycling and walking for short to medium-length trips. In addition, we see that, as surveys suggest, gentrifiers buy into the amenity package of inner-city neighbourhoods that greatly promotes walking and cycling while discouraging driving.
Funny stuff huh? It turns out that many inner-city people really like cycling and the forms of urban amenity that can be had when cars are not placed in the centre of urban life.

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