Rethinking short car trips – choose a whole body boost instead. 

Edwina Robinson, 7 June 2016

Women cycling with bag of shopping

Photo: Youtube

We use our cars for all sorts of reasons - to drive to work, travel to meetings, for quick trips to the shops, to drop something to our friends or collect the kids from school and for holidays. Ecological footprint calculations by Dr Chris Dey, University of Sydney for the ACT Commissioner for Sustainability and Environment showed petrol consumption was the 3rd highest contributor to Canberra’s ecological footprint of 8.9 global hectares per person.

The 2011 ACT census data show 69% of Canberrans travel to work by car as either the driver or passenger. Only 6.7% journeyed to work via public transport, a slim 4.2% walked and only 2.4% cycled.  Admittedly the survey was conducted in August, traditionally a cold month, so this may have impacted on the paltry figures for walking and cycling.

pie chart showing travel to work modes

Cars are the most common method of travel to work for Canberrans. In 2011, 69% of ACT workers travelled to work by car. Australia-wide the figure was on average 65%.

Tellingly we own on average 1.7 motor vehicles per household and only 6% of households are car-less. Imagine being stranded in Dunlop without a car.

However, many of us use our cars without thinking. Studies show a large proportion of car trips are for journeys of three km or less – a distance which could easily be walked or cycled.  Adults can comfortably walk around five kilometres per hour, so a journey of three kilometres will take you about 36 minutes. This will mean you will add 3750 steps to a goal of 10000 steps per day. And many phones these days have applications that allow you to track how far you’ve walked or cycled.

We know that regular exercise has multiple benefits such as improved fitness and weight control and prevention of lifestyle diseases, like Type 2 Diabetes.  Exercise can also have psychological benefits including reduction in depression, anxiety and stress. Clinical studies have shown that cycling can give you a brain boost – it can improve cognition, brain structure and brain function.

walking dog to shops

Walking to the shops rather than using the car is good for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Although Canberra is a car-centric city, it’s blessed with a good shared path network. Hundreds of kilometres of car-free shared paths, many of them scenic wind through green space, adjacent to our drainage corridors.

bike path ANU

The Sullivans Creek bike path is a popular commuting destination between the ANU, Civic and the inner north suburbs of Turner, O’Connor and Lyneham. 2011 census data shows cycling journey to work strongest in the inner north suburbs with O’Connor and Ainslie recording the highest percentages. Over the last few years the Sullivans Creek bike path has been made safer at night with the installation of lighting from Mouat St, Lyneham to Haig Park and the ACT Government has recently upgraded road crossings.

Example of a fitness phone application

Installing a fitness apps on your phone can help you keep a record of your distance travelled. There are a number of free applications available on-line.

Safer cycling trial

In 2015 a trial was introduced by the ACT Government to make cycling a safer and easier travel option. Motorists must leave a one metre gap when passing a cyclist in a 60km or less zone. In zones above 60km, the gap must be 1.5 metres. Cyclists are now allowed to cycle slowly – 10km or less - across a pedestrian crossing.

bike sign

Signs alerting motorists that cyclists are crossing the road.

Putting different travel modes to the test in the workplace

In 2014, staff from the Environment and Planning Directorate conducted an experiment to see which transport mode was the fastest. The challenge was to get from the Dickson workplace to the Legislative Assembly in Civic for a hypothetical meeting – a four kilometre journey. Six colleagues took part: two rode bikes from the work bike fleet, one caught a bus along Northbourne Ave, one rode in a taxi, one drove the work electric car and the sixth walked.

Unsurprisingly, the cyclists were the first to arrive for the meeting. They took between 10 and 16 minutes to reach the destination. The cyclists generated no emissions, were paid to exercise and theoretically arrived with oxygen-soaked brains ready to answer questions and think creatively.

One of the key advantages of bicycles is you can take them door-to-door - lock them to a pole, run your fingers through your hair and you are ready for your meeting. Whereas drivers need to find a legal car park, pay and then walk to the meeting destination.

The bus passenger came third and generated fewer emissions than using a taxi.

Table comparing different modes of travel to get to a meeting.

Graph courtesy of ACT Government

Electric bikes

If the thought of arriving at a work meeting or even a date dishevelled and sweating turns you off, an electric bike might be the answer.

Simone Annis, from Canberra’s Switched on Cycles says that electric bikes are becoming more popular. They are selling around 100 electronic bikes and conversion kits a year. Three main types of people are buying their products –commuters (many cite rising parking costs as an incentive to purchase an e-bike), recreational older riders who are getting back into fitness and the grey nomads who opt for a folding electronic bike to take away on their holidays. And if confidence, is an issue, Switched on Cycles offers bikes with adult training wheels.

Folding bike with electric motor

Electric bikes come in all shapes and forms. This is a folding bike that is electric. Photo: Switched on Cycles.

Electric bikes are a significantly cheaper option than buying a second car and with the introduction of car sharing trail in Canberra could replace owning a car for some.

In 2016, the ACT Government is introducing a fleet of eight electronic bikes. The bikes will reduce the Government’s carbon emissions and facilitate improved health outcomes. Bikes will be housed at offices in Civic, Dickson, Lyneham and Braddon. Depending on the battery you can get 40-60kms from a standard battery and they can be plugged in back at the office.

Cycling and walking map for Canberra and Queanbeyan

Pedal Power – ACT’s largest cycling organisation


living sustainably

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