Canberra: Rotterdam of the South


Next time I go to Canberra I’m taking a camera over my shoulder and will be sharing paparazzi shots with you all. Residential districts have plenty of kids going places on bikes. A good 10 or 20 percent of people aren’t bothered with helmets and the ACT police don’t seem too bothered either. There is a wonderful array of posh commuter bikes. Bike racks are all filled around places of entertainment, a healthy sign that people are riding home drunk.

We all know the lake, waterways and over generous parks there have off-road bike trails. But did you know Canberra’s CBD now has protected bike lanes? Proper ones, on both sides of the street and with curb separation and priority given to cyclists over cars at most intersections.

canberra cycle tracks

John Armstrong from Pedal Power tells me there are neighbourhoods where 20% of work trips are by bike. As to the city’s overall mode share being less than 3%, that’s more a factor of sprawl than any dearth of bike infrastructure. One of the most telling statistics is that most cyclists presenting to hospital in Canberra after sconning their noggins did that with no help from car drivers. How could they have, when most of their riding is done on cycleways set away from the road!

If Australia ever hosts Velo City again, it would be far less of an embarrassment for us all if we held it in Canberra.


  1. Jai Cooper says:

    That’s easy Steven, theories of risk compensation and authoritarian dissociative disorder address your question about Canberra riders sconning their noggins:
    Helmet use is now seen more as a legal obligation rather than a safety measure. To ride without one is a performance of resistance to authority rather than an objective decision about one’s safety.
    The opportunities to perform “cool” are thus divided between those who genuinely ride hard and those who resist authority. To do both becomes uber cool. Objectivity about injury from collision becomes less relevant. It could be argued that the ability to assess physical risk is being regulated out of the population. This is done by the complication caused when introducing a legislative risk which riders can also push.
    Canberra abounds in opportunities to ride helmet-less with little chance of being caught by police. There are abundant skate parks, mountain bike networks, fire roads and separated bike paths in corridor parklands. Hence, helmet-less riding is a very easy way to perform rebellion at low risk of actually having to face up to the cops. This is a great option for discerning faux revolutionaries.
    Some lateral thinking in public health policy is required. One option is criminalising helmets to make them more desirable to these risk takers. Removing/reforming the helmet law itself would lessen the attraction to those who ride without one as a performance of rebellion. It would return our attention to the objective calculation of risk of collision and subsequent injury.
    If only we could get the cadres in the emergency departments of health across Australia to end their tunnel vision.
    Happy riding.

  2. crank says:

    wow, look at those intersections! even if we had the inclination, we can’t afford that much green paint in melbourne!

    • Steven says:

      Tasmania gets even more of your taxes, but down here we use it to pay wages. We have once local council per hundred people.

  3. matthew says:

    I could invent all kinds of high minded reasons for reading this blog to do with architectural innovation or the surgical dissection of the Australian transportation behemoth, but in fact enthusiastic encouragement of drunk cycling is what brings me back time and time again.

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