Renewed push to make Wollongong a cycling city after COVID bike boom - Illawarra Greens

Renewed push to make Wollongong a cycling city after COVID bike boom

Across Australia, there have been reports of surging bicycle sales amid the lockdown, which has forced people to look at socially distant ways to exercise and commute. As the country faces more long-term challenges of incorporating social distancing into people's daily lives, there has been a renewed push to improve cycling facilities in all Australian cities.

In this climate, cycling infrastructure has been a source of tension at Wollongong council in recent weeks, with councillors having heated debates about decreased budget allocations due to COVID-19 financial restrictions.

Greens councillors Mithra Cox said she was "bitterly disappointed" by the lack of cycling investment in the 2021 budget, as she had hoped there would be a commitment to building some of the major links which have been in the pipeline for years.

"We had been promised that this infrastructure would be built, because part of the commitment to hosting the UCI Road Cycling World Championships in 2022 is that we need to become a cycle friendly city," she said.

"You don't become a cycle friendly city by putting targets in a report, you have to provide the infrastructure."

Read the article ny Kate McIlwain in The Illawarra Mercury, 29 May 2020

Renewed push to make Wollongong a cycling city after COVID bike boom

'Great potential': European research fellow Eline Schotsman loves to cycle with her family, but says Wollongong's lack of infrastructure makes commuter cycling almost impossible. Picture: Adam McLean.
 'Great potential': European research fellow Eline Schotsman loves to cycle with her family, but says Wollongong's lack of infrastructure makes commuter cycling almost impossible. Picture: Adam McLean.

The European forensic researcher moved her family to take up a post at the University of Wollongong in 2018, and - as in Belgium and France - she hoped to be able to ride between her home in Corrimal and the Gwynneville campus

But, without proper cycleways linking the outer suburbs with the university and CBD, she has become more reliant on her car, or been forced to combine cycling with public transport.

"It is cycling to work that exposes the weaknesses...cycling for leisure is nice if you use the cycling path at the beach," she said.

"But where is the other cycling infrastructure? Cyclists want to arrive quickly at work, they do not want to do a 20 minute detour to and from the beach path.

"I stopped doing it, because I don't feel safe having to ride on the roads - so I normally take my bicycle on the train and then ride to work."

In recent weeks, Ms Schotsman has been buoyed by the new focus on cycling brought about by the coronavirus crisis, and says she has witnessed many non-cycling friends buying bicycles.

Across Australia, there have been reports of surging bicycle sales amid the lockdown, which has forced people to look at socially distant ways to exercise and commute.

As the country faces more long-term challenges of incorporating social distancing into people's daily lives, there has been a renewed push to improve cycling facilities in all Australian cities.

In this climate, cycling infrastructure has been a source of tension at Wollongong council in recent weeks, with councillors having heated debates about decreased budget allocations due to COVID-19 financial restrictions.

Greens councillors Mithra Cox said she was "bitterly disappointed" by the lack of cycling investment in the 2021 budget, as she had hoped there would be a commitment to building some of the major links which have been in the pipeline for years.

In particularly, she had hoped to see the construction of a cycleway along Smith Street, which would link the beach with the CBD and university.

"We had been promised that this infrastructure would be built, because part of the commitment to hosting the UCI Road Cycling World Championships in 2022 is that we need to become a cycle friendly city," she said.

"You don't become a cycle friendly city by putting targets in a report, you have to provide the infrastructure."

She also said Wollongong has had targets to reduce car use and increase cycling "for decades" with little action.

But other councillors have argued that the council needs to cut spending on many projects as it tries to make up for a $16 million budget hit, and Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said he was concerned the uptick in cyclists would be temporary.

Nevertheless, Ms Schotsman said she remained hopeful about Wollongong's cycling potential, as she said the mentality of residents, existing infrastructure and topography had potential.

"Wollongong has a railway line, and you could do a lot with bicycle paths along the rail line connecting suburbs to the city," she said.

"There could be a fast lane, just for bicycles, following the stations it would open up great benefits for people.

"In Europe, we have bicycle motorways along the rail line and to me it looks like this potential is all here in Wollongong."

Ms Schotsman said she believed rapid change was possible, after living in Bordeaux in France, which she said went from being a dangerous cycling city to a model case for cyclists in five years.

"I think people here in Wollongong are ready, and it's now up to the council to invest the money," she said.

"I think the COVID-19 situation has made people realise that this could be better."

She is one of many local cyclists calling on the council to invest more in cycleways - particularly those which are separated from dangerous cars - in the upcoming budget, which is currently open for public comment.

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