The article comes complete with link-bait headline and cherry-picked quotes to misrepresent and exaggerate what's in the report.

The (very media-friendly) report in question is Transport Policy at the Crossroads: Travel to work in Australian capital cities 1976-2011 [PDF] by Dr Paul Mees and Dr Lucy Groenhart.

As far as I can tell, it makes no specific comment about expenditure or investment in cycling infrastructure. In fact, the overwhelming emphasis of the report is on infrastructure policies that favour roads over public transport:

These findings show that the time has come for a radical reorientation of transport policy in Australian cities. In the past, policy makers who favoured roads could claim to be following public preferences, expressed in mode share trends, but now that public transport is gaining ground at the expense of the car, policy makers are still stubbornly clinging to road-based solutions. The recent revival of public transport has, except in Perth, been achieved with relatively little policy support, suggesting that serious pro-transit policies could create significant change. These policies are much more likely to address problems like congestion, greenhouse gases and oil security than continued road-building, which will only add to the rising car volumes choking our cities.

For a half-competent writer, this report has a several headlines and story angles falling out of it (see Katherine Feeney's other article based on the report for an example), the very least significant being the sexism angle that was winkled out for the above article.

To do a little cherry-picking of my own, Mees and Groenhart's 'objections' to cycling are various:

The minor role of cycling in transport

"Cycling is of negligible importance as a travel mode for work trips" compared to walking, which accounts for "three times as many work trips as cycling". And, "Cycling currently plays only a minor role in reducing car use in Australian cities."

Although I wouldn't have worded it quite so bluntly, I don't think that it's a news flash that cycling is still a minor transport mode in Australia.

On a related point, Mees and Groenhart say that, "Although it is important to provide safe, convenient facilities for cyclists, some of the extravagant rhetoric currently circulating about cycling needs to be given a rest." I'm not exactly sure what they're on about there, but I suppose avoidance of 'extravagant rhetoric' on any topic is best avoided (I also guess that if you're looking for it, 'extravagant rhetoric' on just about any topic can be found in your nearest search engine).

Active transport share

Mees and Groenhart seem to suggest that cycling is somehow letting the active transport team down, "One question that also needs to be asked is whether recent increases in cycling may be coming at the expense of walking." And, "It is not clear that increases in cycling have come at the expense of the car, since higher cycling rates are usually accompanied by lower walking rates."

This strikes me as setting up some kind of artificial dichotomy between walking and cycling, when in fact it's not at all surprising: there must be an almost complete overlap between people for whom walking to work is a realistic option and those who are able to ride (more specifically, actual and potential walkers are a sub-set of actual and potential riders). Walkers taking up cycling are a low-hanging fruit conversion: already in tune to active transport, who can blame a pedestrian for choosing the faster option if it becomes more convenient, enjoyable, and/or safe?

I'm not sure that Mees and Groenhart's question is actually very interesting or important (although I take their point that policy-makers and planners may tend to equate active transport with cycling only). A better question is how best to make an overall increase in active transport.

Policy attention

Speaking of policy, that's a word that gets much use in the Mees and Groenhart report, including: "Cycling receives much more attention from policy makers than walking, even though it plays a much smaller role in the journey to work." Therefore, "Transport planning and policy needs to give walking a much higher priority than at present."

That may well be true, but one of the reasons why cycling gets more attention could be found in Mees and Groenhart's own observation that "Compared to cycling, walking requires less in the way of infrastructure and no parking facilities." In other words, cycling naturally gets more attention because it has more of the interesting and/or intractable policy issues than walking.


It's in attributing a cause to this perceived policy imbalance that things go a bit wacky: "One possible reason for the attention paid to cycling is that cycling is by far the most male-dominated transport mode", presumably "reflecting the gender composition of the transport planning profession". The only data supporting this assertion are extracted from the report here:

2011 Male Female
Travelled to work55%45%
Public transport49%51%
Car (driver)57%43%
Car (passenger)37%63%

That is, cycling to work is much more gender skewed than any other mode (except perhaps being a car passenger, which is skewed the other way). Frankly it's laughable to suggest that there's some kind of blokey favouritism for cycling going on, when (recent improvements notwithstanding) by any measure cycling facilities in Australian cities are at best wildly variable and at worst woeful. In fact quite the reverse argument could be made: the very lack of adequate attention to cycling has much to do with its low mode share of transport, and the gender difference can be accounted for by a blokey disregard by planners and policy-makers, that cyclists should just HTFU if they want to ride on the road.

On the other hand, Mees and Groenhart are possibly confusing cause and effect. Is it possible that extra policy attention needs to be given to cycling in order to address and redress this quite starting gender imbalance? Let's pause for a moment to consider the findings of another study by Jan Garrard, Geoffrey Rose, and Sing Kai Lo, Promoting transportation cycling for women: the role of bicycle infrastructure:

Consistent with gender differences in risk aversion, female commuter cyclists preferred to use routes with maximum separation from motorized traffic. Improved cycling infrastructure in the form of bicycle paths and lanes that provide a high degree of separation from motor traffic is likely to be important for increasing transportation cycling amongst under-represented population groups such as women.

The fact that Mees and Groenhart ignored other such easily identified explanations for the gender imbalance in cycling suggests that they were relying on the Australian media's current preoccupation with misogyny and sexism to get some inches for their report. If so, it worked.

Mees and Groenhart almost argue against themselves, saying:

Policy-makers need to pay attention to the extremely restricted constituency that currently dominates the cycling 'market' (mainly male, inner city professionals), and develop measures to make cycling a viable option for a wider section of the community, as is the case in the best European cities. This should mean an end to policies such as the recent trend to combine bike and bus lanes in such a way that buses must weave back and forth across cycle lanes to reach stops, which endangers cyclists, delays buses and adds to driver stress.

I'm not sure if they're aware, but this is in effect a call for increasing policy attention on cycling.


To be fair, Mees and Groenhart claim only that there is an imbalance in policy priorities towards cycling, not that there is "over-investement" in cycling. This appears to be a connection drawn by the reporter (and/or the sub-editor), and it's a joke. No. When funding for bicycle-specific projects in Victoria has been cut to zero, suggesting that cycling gets "disproportionate government support" is an outright insult.



Yes, like you said, link-bait.

As for the report itself, the conclusions in favour of public transport seem well reasoned, and if they were implemented then they would be good news for cyclists (and everyone else), despite the rather incoherent comments it has to make about cycling. Any small victory against the irrational dominance of motor vehicles should be taken as a win all round, I think.

Treadly and Me

Indeed, there is actually plenty of good material in Mees and Groenhart's report, not least their observation that:

If the East-West freeway link does go ahead, it is likely to soak up all the funds available for investment in transport projects in Melbourne for a generation, and would probably halt or even reverse the recent revival in public transport.

And their noting that even where walking is not identified as a primary transport mode, walkable neighbourhoods are crucial to the usefulness of public transport.

As I mentioned in my rant, it's a very media-friendly report and I don't mean that in a perjorative way (at least, not entirely!) Headlines and an abundance of readable copy pretty much fall out of this report, ready for a busy journo to top-and-tail for their local use. So I'm puzzled (and yet, not surprised) that an obscure and really minor aside was judged newsworthy.

I don't know anything about Lucy Groenhart, but I have observed that Paul Mees is a savvy media operator, so I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least some of the text were pitched to provoke media and social media response (the 'extravagant rhetoric' remark and the tenuous correlation between the male-domination of cycling and the transport planning profession strike me as two such). If this is so, it worked…well done them!