I have just recently finished reading a book about "recycling" in a general sense. The book's title, "The Same Ax, Twice" suggests an interesting conundrum. If the owner of an ax ( or axe) replaces the handle twice and the ax head once in his lifetime, is it the same ax?
The author, Howard Mansfield, gives the subtitle for the book as "Restoration and Renewal in a Throwaway Age". The point that he so strongly makes is that if we just go about restoring old houses, ships, temples, aeroplanes for the sake of nostalgia alone, then it is purely an exercise in vanity and will not serve our future prospects well.
One aspect of restoration which has been occupying my mind of late, is restoration of community, of convivial community to be specific. It is my strong conviction that our current way of life lived in a bubble as it were, is no longer satisfying us in our need to connect. To connect to those around us and to nature in general.
The natural world is crying out in its need for us to connect to it and more and more people are attempting to do that with a rapid growth in bushwalking, family camping, the grey nomad phenominon and vicariously through nature programs on television.
My current project - my 20 year plan to make Bathurst a Cycle Friendly City, touches on some of these aspects raised in the book.
My aim is to "recyle" an older mode of transport as transport again and in doing so rekindle a greater sense of village life in our community and at the same time remove a proportion of cars from our roads, making civil life more congenial and reducing pollution considerably.
The idea of us living in bubbles raised earlier, means that often our housing developments as placed us in estates dedicated to private motor transport. We drive directly to our house, in the bubble of our cars, park that bubble in the bubble of our garages directly facing the street and enter into the bubble of our houses - often without actually having to move through outside space to do that and enter the virtual world of television and the internet. Our houses will often face the street and with no verandah's to sit and pass the time of day with strolling neighbours. Their are no footpaths anyway in some of these developments so such intercourse is not encouraged.
In the age of oil, this seemed like a smart idea. Easy access to and from work, study and shopping via the car. The streets were designed thus and shopping malls perforce incorporated huge parking spaces to encourage the one stop shopping approach. "Convenience, convenience, convenience" is the mantra.
Recently I was speaking with a local man, who had taken to cycling - the lycra clad variety - who told me the thing he enjoyed most about it was the lingering over coffee after a ride with his companions on that morning's cycling. In other words, community. As a keen cyclist myself, it too was something I really enjoyed, but thought I might be alone in this feeling.
It is one thing to don the Lycra and head off on a frosty morning on a lightweight machine with a bunch of other nutters to do this, and in the same breath to introduce the idea of simply pedalling to work, study or shopping, is idealistic lunacy.
And yet, in Copenhagen, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and increasingly in Melbourne and Sydney it is a reality.
At a wedding of my Buddha daughter last weekend, I was talking to a mutual friend who after listening to my rave about convivial cycling, told me she spent 6 months in Copenhagen, and like the rest of the community, rode to work, cafe's, restaurants, visiting friends and so on. When it snowed, you just donned the appropriate clobber and simply rode. Now she is living in Canberra and is still riding her bike to work there.
This is a young woman, very fashionable in her attire and attitudes, yet completley won over to the idea of getting around on a bike as opposed to jumping in a car as a matter of habit.
Looking around our current community, one can see very clearly that the idea of just riding anywhere is not only an unfashionalbe way to get around, but hardly rashional on any level.
The European cities I mentioned did not alwys favour cycling over private cars. Like us, post war, the car was adopted with gusto. We all enjoyed the freedom and privacy a car offered.
What helped change attitudes were rising fuel prices and increasingly jam packed roads in peak hours and around popular places to stop such as shopping malls, schools and places of work.
In the case of Copenhagen, they are only 12 years into implementing a government policy of enabling cycling as a serious transport option. Over that time they have now 38% of commuters, travelling to work or education on bicycles.
This didn't come about by just anouncing a policy, the government had to implement infrastructure which encouraged safe cycling, so it could be adopted by people of all ages. Public education programs needed to be run, so that both motorists and cyclists were informed of the laws and their responsibilities. Priority is given to cyclists at lights and roundabouts so that they are clearly visible to motorists and the chances of accidents are much diminished.
As an Australian cyclist, one notices immediately hardly any European cyclist wears a helmet. Paradoxically, Australia and New Zealand (and I believe, recently added to list - Jersey are the only countries where helmets are compulsory. Apparently, in Europe, the wearing of helmets was a serious inhibition to woman taking up commuting cycling.
Of course under the current conditions of commuting cycling in Australia, one would be foolish to venture forth on our streets without donning a helmet. Yet if segregated cycle lanes can be developed here, one can see the possabilities of legislators relaxing this law here for non-sporting cycling- at least for the adult cyclist.
Besides the huge environmental benefits of removing fossil fuel driven vehicles from the roads an estimated saving of 80,000 tonnes of CO2 would be realised in Copenhagen, by 2015.
Quoting from the excellent copenhagenize.com :
"In Denmark we've determined that cycling is much more cost-efficient than cars. Indeed, for every kilometre cycled the nation enjoys a net profit of 25 cents. For every kilometre driven by car, the nation suffers a net loss of 16 cents. Due to a host of health factors, wear and tear/road maintenance factors, etc.
In Copenhagen a study has determined that for every kilometre cycled, the city earns $1.10. Pure profit. Based on the value of our cycling citizens living longer - 7 years - and being less ill whilst alive (subsidizing those poor motorists and their illnesses as we slog away at work with fewer sick days) as well as the value of health care costs saved."
Leadership in cycling to work is coming form the leader of the Tories in Britain, David Cameron and the Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally, but it would be good if Tony Abbott eschewed the Lycra for a bit and actually rode to work too. Lets see if we can induce the mayor, Paul Toole and other counsillors to follow suit.
The council will be starting to prepare its next 10 year plan for cycling in this region, the public consultations will begin in May and I urge all of you to put in your suggestions for this planning process. You may come along in person at the advertised places and times or submit your ideas via mail/email. As soon as I can obtain the exact details, I will pass that on via this blog and also make availble the planning document via download on the bccan web site.
In the meantime, issues which I believe are important.
The council adopt cycling as a serious alternative transport option in Bathurst.
Join all existing cycleways to enhance commuting, recreation and cycle tourism.
Create new traffic segregated cyclepaths to major shopping centres, places of education, major places of work and recreation.
Greatly increase cycle parking at all of the above with priority over cars.
Work with the RTA in developing effective public education systems for motorists and cyclists to enhance safety of cyclists.
Work with the RTA in developing cycling priority light systems and queing systems where motorised corridors and cycle paths inetersect.
Work with the RTA in introduce helmet free cycling to the safe assured cycling routes in the city.
Introduce motor vehicle free civic space in Bathurst - Lower Keppell Street and the city centre as priorities.
The cities cycling "health" be assessed every two years and reported to the citizens.
Anybody who would like to read further on this, here are some links you might like to try:
A Time Travellers Tale - a story I read at a recent public meeting;
Copenhagen - a city of cyclists 2006 report:
Copenhagen - a city of cyclists 2008 report: