The 2019 National Cycling Participation Survey was released last week, showing that the number of Australians who regularly ride a bike is declining.
Only 13.8% of people surveyed said they rode a bike in the past week, down from 15.5% in 2017. It is down almost 5% from when the biennial survey was first done in 2011, when 18.2% of people said they rode a bike in the past week.
It's disappointing to see that bike riding is not increasing, but that does not mean it is not all doom and gloom or that we can't get better.
Cycling participation is still incredibly high in terms of raw numbers. More than a third of Australians rode a bicycle in the last year, making cycling one of the most common forms of physical activity.
And there were some other positive signs in the survey. There have been marginal increases in ridership in the last week in regional parts of the country and in New South Wales.
There was also an increase in the time the regular riders spend on the bike. Those who rode in the last week said spend 2.9 hours a week riding, up from 2.5 hours a week in the last survey.
The survey suggests this is due to a decline in teenage ridership (because teens generally ride less on a weekly basis), however it is still a notable increase.
Bicycles are also still a common fixture in Australian households, with 57.2% of households owning at least one bicycle, and the majority of those households owning 3 or more. This shows that once the ‘leader’ of the household starts riding, the family tends to follow.
The Bad – business as usual
While there are some positives to take from the survey, the underlying message to take away is that the problems people who ride bicycles face have not fundamentally changed.
The percentage of people riding bicycles on a weekly basis has decreased comparatively to population change. This may also explain the lack of comparative decline in regional areas which have experienced smaller population growth.
The survey also asked respondents about the perception of conditions for riding in their local area. The results show that 69% of Victorians believe that the cycling conditions in their area had stayed about the same, with 17% reported that the conditions had deteriorated.
We know from the survey that most people who ride do so for recreational purposes, because they want to go out and ride a bike.
82% of Victorians who rode in the last month said that they had ridden for recreation and 32% for transport over the last month. Across the rest of country, 70% of people noted that they were not interested in riding for transport.
But that doesn't mean they wouldn't if things changed – 60% of Victorian respondents stating that more off-road paths and cycleways are important to encouraging bike riding, and 55% of respondents stating the same for better connections between bike paths and schools.
People like riding bikes, but don't always feel like they are able to. It can be difficult to ride to work when the roads you must take aren't bike friendly.
The survey also notes that the decline in cycling participation overall appears to be driven primary by declines in cycling participation rates for children of both genders, teenage males and young adult males.
Bicycle Network's Ride2School program works to address this in Victoria and Tasmania, but it needs to be national.
The Ugly – Things need to change to boost numbers
Any decline in bike riding participation is alarming but sadly not entirely surprising. While bike riding across the world grows, Australia’s participation continues to fall away and despite knowing the benefits, our governments are reluctant to act.
Only when our decision makers plan, invest and create space for active transport, will we create smart, connected, healthy and productive communities.
But until we have transformative and accountable leadership, our cities and towns will continue to be choked by congestion and our health will suffer.
Providing space and making it easier for more people, of all ages to ride bikes can no longer be a fringe issue.
Bicycle Network is in the midst of preparing our budget submissions at state and federal levels and we continue to call on the federal government for urgent action for the future health and happiness of our communities.
To see the results of the survey in full click here.