It’s the moment I walk past the dutch cargo bike stalls that I realise, “Oh right, this is my life now.” I’m one of those bods who they wheel in to enliven the talkfest about this or that city’s race to be the best bicycling city in the Whole World (South of Port Moresby). Which leads me to remark on the sheer sense of relief I feel after Pedal Brisbane—the event that has brought me to these heat-rash latitudes for the weekend. There was none of that grandstanding at all. No mayoral welcome for the other fyfos and I. No rhetoric from organisers who learned to gesticulate from Billy Graham. On the contrary, we were treated to a refreshing dose of aussie humility from a city of people who truly believe their home is a backwater and they are just hicks.
In their collective effort to overcompensate for their own perceived backwardness the people of Brisbane have built covered pedestrian/bike bridges…
…and a humbly named “river walk”. “River walk”? This thing makes Copenhagen’s much lionised “bicycle snake” look like the Pope’s willy.
Brisbane is seriously underselling itself. If eight hundred thousand people in Amsterdam have bike infrastructure that gives them no excuse not to ride for work, school or shopping trips, then it needs to be said that eight hundred thousand of Brisbane’s two million people have no excuse either. That’s how many people have off-road trails coming within a kilometre of their homes, and they have footpaths they can legally ride on as though they were cycle tracks. The other 1.2 million have the option of moving. That there just so happens to be an overwhelming percentage of car trips in Brisbane speaks more to this city’s bounty of car parks and freeways than any lack of options for those who might like to cycle. The same could be said of Rotterdam where, likewise, car trips outnumber bikes trips precisely because both modes have all they require.
Among bike festivals Pedal Brisbane stands out, to my mind, as being organised by educated and motivated young women. You know the kind. They pull together a great line up of speakers, get Radio National there, attach their event to the Brisbane Museum, then slide into the background while cranky old men like myself steal all the limelight.
Scoring Brisbane Museum as a venue was the result of a fortuitous alignment of stars with the national opening, just yesterday, of the National Museum of Australia’s Freewheeling Australia exhibition at the Brisbane Museum (some of my own work is in it, yippie!) It tells a history of cycling in this country, that as readers of Jim Fitzpatrick will know, runs hand in hand with the history of this country’s rural and urban development. It is a shame you probably don’t know the name of the curator, Daniel Oakman. He is an historian and scholar of all aspects of cycling in Australia. If you look to me, I look to him. You could cut out the middle man, but I’m the one who writes the free blog. In his brief Pedal Brisbane talk on Saturday he explained that cycling has always been transgressive, something I would say is true even in countries like the Netherlands where they are desperate to emphasise that it is mainstream. He has a beautiful way too of positioning cycling within broader narratives about the body and the machine age. Freewheeling Australia is a travelling exhibition. Nag your local museum about bringing it to your town, where we can make it a catalyst for discussions about your city’s bicycling future and past.
I learned a few other things from this trip. I learned from Edward Hore that Australia’s suburban streets of the 30s and 40s can be seen as bike routes fanning outward from tram stops. The street I live on right now fits with that hypothesis neatly. I learned that Professor Phil Hayward from the urban design department at QUT is a riotous panelist and excellent spokesperson for cycling. I had it confirmed too that Radio National is trying to kill cycling by always presenting it in ways that would put crying babies to sleep. One panel member runs a hateful anti-bike page on facebook and another was from a motoring peak body—both completely irrelevant to the future of a mode that is growing in places that dick-heads like that never see.
My own little talk I did using sketches I prepared on the plane.