Excitement grows over Wollongong's plan to become a cycle city

Excitement grows over Wollongong's plan to become a cycle city

Transport
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The city centre will become a "cycling district", with bike riding incorporated into building designs and other planning decisions, and the council will use a NSW Government grant to trial pop-up bike lanes.

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"We're just lucky that there's not too many cars on the road here, but even still it makes me nervous and I would feel much safer, and like I actually belong, if there was more separation from the cars," Port Kembla bike rider Jess Whittaker said.

"We're just lucky that there's not too many cars on the road here, but even still it makes me nervous and I would feel much safer, and like I actually belong, if there was more separation from the cars," Port Kembla bike rider Jess Whittaker said.

Each morning Port Kembla paramedic Jess Whittaker gives her daughters a choice about how they'd like to get to school - in the car or on her electric bike, which she bought just before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in.

And every day, rain, hail or shine, the girls pick the bike for their school run.

"They always pick the bike even when it's colder, and they've been riding their own bikes a lot more on the weekends," Ms Whittaker said. "It's much cheaper, has low emissions and it means that if we're sticking to the local area, we don't need to use our car."

However, the school run is not without its challenges, which is why Ms Whittaker - one of dozens of residents who campaigned for more investment in cycling infrastructure - is pleased to see Wollongong City Council's commitment to developing a more cycle-friendly city.

"There's pretty much no infrastructure, apart from a couple of shared pathways in Port Kembla," she said.

"We're just lucky that there's not too many cars on the road here, but even still it makes me nervous and I would feel much safer, and like I actually belong, if there was more separation from the cars."

Two major policy items on the council's next meeting agenda will put cycling at the forefront of Wollongong's future: a 10-year strategy aims to turn the city into a renowned cycling destination, and the annual budget includes an extra $4 million for cycling infrastructure.

At present, cyclists have no choice but to ride on Wollongong's roads, and face dangers such as oncoming traffic, opening car doors, and not enough space for cars to pass.

At present, cyclists have no choice but to ride on Wollongong's roads, and face dangers such as oncoming traffic, opening car doors, and not enough space for cars to pass.

Under the strategy, there will be more separated cycle links between residential areas and town centres and new east-west riding routes along Elliots Road, Fairy Meadow, Railway Street, Corrimal, Military Road, Port Kembla and Fairy Creek in Wollongong.

The city centre will become a "cycling district", with bike riding incorporated into building designs and other planning decisions, and the council will use a NSW Government grant to trial pop-up bike lanes. The council will promote cycling using phone apps, e-bikes and bike share schemes, and lobby the government to change the rules so cyclists can ride on all footpaths, unless signposted otherwise.

Wollongong resident Amy Carrad has never owned a car in Wollongong, since moving here in 2010, and uses her bike to get from home to work at the university, as well as for shopping, day-trips, exercise and any other incidental travel.

She was buoyed by the council's "incredible" commitment to cycling, but said there was a long way to go in terms of driver education before riding a bike become a normal behaviour for most residents..

"If I had criticism, it feels like it is maybe a little late - I will be hard to develop a positive cycling culture in two years, which is when the world championships will be here in Wollongong.

"There's a long way to go to change the perception of people about cyclists' right on the road, so driver education is an important part of the strategy too."

"Cyclists shouldn't have to be ultra-confident rider to ride around out city, it should be something everyone - including little kids - can do."

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said he would be supporting the strategy (which will go on public exhibition after being considered by councillors) and the cycling budget boost, as it made sense to prioritise cycling while it is at the forefront of people's minds.

"You can't buy a bike in Wollongong for love or money at the moment, because people's interest in riding a bike has increased during the pandemic," he said.

"At the same time, we have the UCI world championships coming up in two years, and we will need some infrastructure and legacy items in place for that. And we are also looking at climate change and ways to reduce our environmental footprint."

He also said cycling was already a big part of the city's psyche, with many people participating in cycling events, mountain biking and recreational rides.

"Under our plans, all sorts of levels of cycling will be enhanced, whether it's recreation or active transport - we want to leverage the present interest and keep that going," he said.

Likewise, Deputy Mayor Tania Brown said she would be supporting the push for more cycling infrastructure, especially the new $1.6 million criterium circuit, and the pump skills track at the newly developing Cringila Hills bike park.

"The pump track is a lynchpin of the Cringila Hills master plan, and will really drive people to that and make that whole area really pump," she said.

"The criterium is something that our professional cycling community has wanted for a long time, and instead they've made do with what we've got. It has the potential to be a really economic winner for us, if we can attract other cycling carnivals which would boost tourism and business.

"Boosting our east-west links also make a lot of sense, especially to places like the university where we know that parking and cars on the roads is a problem in Keiraville and Gwynneville. The more amenity we can provide to encourage people to use active transport, the more the benefits will flow to residents, as well as to bike users."

The story Excitement grows over Wollongong's plan to become a cycle city first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.

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