Separated cycle path on Swanston Street, Melbourne
Separated cycle path on Swanston Street, Melbourne

Often when the cycling culture of the Netherlands is cited as an example of why separated cycle infrastructure works, objectors say that there is something special about Australian/NZ culture that meant it wouldn’t work in Australasia. For example, why are over 50% of cyclists in the Netherlands women while in Auckland they make up less than 20% of cyclists? Do Australasian women just not like cycling?

This article in The Age in Melbourne shows that there is nothing special about the Australasian context – only a lack of infrastructure is holding women back from cycling. The number of women cycling in separated corridors has exploded in Melbourne with 32% of cyclists on Swanson Street recorded as women, an increase of 22% from before the Copenhagen style lanes were installed. And it seems that even journalists in Sydney are feeling left out.

A Dutch cyclist – more high heels than hi-vis

This reflects the fact that women are in general (and quite sensibly) far less willing to risk their lives on streets that feel unsafe. And they are certainly unwilling to let their children cycle on streets that are dominated by the requirement to move cars as fast as possible without any provision for safe walking or cycling.

Another factor is raised in the Australian article above. Most women (and most men) would like to be able to cycle in clothes appropriate for their destination, not the journey. This is perfectly understandable and I wonder how popular motoring would be if we all felt we had to dress like a Formula 1 driver before we could go get a loaf of bread.

To show you how far behind Australasia is on creating an environment where women want to cycle, on the right is a picture of the Queen Maxima of the Netherlands arriving by bike to a public event. She is followed by a long procession of dignataries and military liaisons, also on bicycles.

Dutch Queen on bike
Queen Maxima of the Netherlands

And to debunk the “but the Dutch are born with a cycling culture” argument even further, Queen Maxima isn’t even Dutch – she is actually Argentinian and she didn’t move to the Netherlands until she was in her late 20s. However, she certainly seems to have adjusted to the hardship of travelling by bicycle on a beautiful summers day in her stride.

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