What a lovely day we gents had in Sydney on Saturday. Scoop was there for a family do, I was there for a talk, and the Honourable Hamish was there because Sydney is inescapable on the weekend for anyone trapped there for work.
To satisfy Hamish’s Anglophilia we took only British bikes out for the day (Hamish’s fast and slow Pashleys and my Bromtom) and made sure we only rode past Georgian style buildings.
After a truffle egg brunch in Marickville, we called in on Chris from Oma Fiets who pointed us in the direction of Sydney’s best coffee at Alchemy. Ten years ago Sydney had as many decent cafes as it currently has decent cycle tracks. Today it has world class espresso on every block. You can see where I’m heading with this.
I believe this city is on track for bicycling greatness, precisely because it has nothing lose. Sydney’s police and its people have disregarded the “mandatory” in mandatory bike helmet laws, and likewise taken a lenient view of laws prohibiting bikes on the footpath. Its council has started building barrier protected cycle tracks with their own drains so they cannot be cheaply removed by future administrations. Sydney is starting to do with its cycling what it has already done with its coffee.
Sydney’s coffee is more remarkable than any lauded coffee in Melbourne or Naples, because it comes as a total surprise. Its bike culture is more remarkable than Holland’s for the same reason. I have Dutch friends who complain bitterly whenever their reputation as the original and best cycling nation is passed over in reports on bike progress from other countries. What they don’t appreciate is their bike infrastructure is hardly news worthy. They have had it for decades, and let it grow stale, satisfied it is the best in the world and therefore impossible to be improved on. Blow us all down with your vision.
What would happen if Amsterdam’s bicycling advocates and professionals traded places with their counterparts working in Sydney? I suspect the Dutch envoy would be so paralyzed by the weight of anti-bike interests, with powers they have never encountered, that Sydney would slip backwards by decades during the visitors’ tenure. Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, Sydney’s team of political pit-bulls would be fighting for funding for bicycle trees, enclosed and back-drafted bicycle highways, and the kinds of bike-focused buildings and urban planning techniques I have lately been espousing in talks. They would be taking Dutch cycling to a whole new level. The 26% bike modal share the Dutch are so proud of, would be taken as a benchmarking figure they would be aiming to double. Sydney has already set a target of a 10% bike modal share—which is not so far short of Rotterdam’s, where 14% of all trips are by bike.
The Dutch are too proud of their tradition of short trips on crap bikes to cater for long trips with universal secure bike parking and covered bike routes. (They also pretend Rotterdam is somewhere in Belgium). New Yorkers are too proud of their tradition of walking to let cycling flourish. Melbourne is too proud of its tradition of vehicular cycling and sports cycling to properly tackle the dangers of door zones.
People in Sydney know they have nothing. They are starting from scratch, with what just 5 years ago was the most hostile city for cycling anywhere in the civilised world. Political resistance to cycling is such that they accept they have no choice but to innovate. As an innovator, I’m always made to feel welcome there.
If you’re from Melbourne, New York or the Netherlands, then I know you don’t want some Tasmanian lecturing you that you’re proud. Perhaps you will listen to Marcellus Wallace: