I’m writing this article from an apartment in the Las Condes neighbourhood in inner Santiago.
Looking out the window onto the main street I see a significant number of cyclists riding to work, school, the store, or anywhere else they need to go.
Even in a city known for busy traffic and aggressive drivers, the cyclists here are numerous.
From what I’ve heard from locals over the past week, cycling is becoming more popular every year.
When I ask why, I am always told that the people have always wanted to cycle, but, up until recent years, urban riders have lacked safe, effective and direct cycle paths and lanes.
The City of Santiago, faced with serious air pollution problems, due to its geographical position between mountain ranges and coastal hills, has had to make some serious commitments to reduce the number of private, fossil-fuel powered motor vehicles on the city roads.
In the past decade a significant amount of limited resources has been dedicated to major public transport and cycling infrastructure.
It’s no secret that Santiago, like many developing cities, still has a long way to go before reaching ‘bike utopia’ status of many Dutch and Danish cities.
But one does wonder why Australian cities still manage to get it so wrong.
Surely with our wealth, advanced technology, and professional capacity and knowledge Australian cities should have the finest public transport and cycling infrastructure networks in the world, right?
Sorry, but the answer isn’t that our weather is too harsh, distances too far, or that our roads are too hilly; nowhere is perfect all year round and there are many technological and design solutions to these barriers.
The answer is simply that decision makers in Australia simply lack the willpower and enthusiasm to use tested, proven and effective bicycle infrastructure solutions that have been developed and deployed around the world.
Honestly, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
The solutions and designs are all there, ready to be copied, adapted and implemented.
It shouldn’t be so difficult. We generally have the land, funding and capacity to provide world-class bike infrastructure in all towns and cities in Australia.
An investment, in my personal and professional opinion, that would pay itself off many times over in terms of social, economic and environmental benefits.
But, instead of pragmatic solutions, many influential members of society seem to fixate on non-solutions to non-problems such as bicycle licensing and/or registration.
In my relatively short lifetime I have seen a fair amount of the world.
I’ve studied and experienced a wide variety of transport solutions ranging from awful to amazing.
Honestly, the solutions aren’t difficult – introduce laws that protect vulnerable road users, build extensive, well-connected, separated and dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and increase density of housing in key transport and activity areas for a start.
It will take guts and commitment from decision makers and support from the mainstream media, but it will be worth it.
We need to strive to create an Australia that is the world-leading and progressive country that it has the promise to be.
C’mon Australia, let’s do this!