Cycle network would ease Hunter’s traffic

NEWCASTLE got a taste of bad traffic earlier in April, and it didn’t like it.

The delays caused by work on the University of Newcastle’s new city campus sent many commuters into meltdown.

But it was, it’s fair to say, a sign of what’s to come.

With Hunter Street and the city centre set to become ground zero as the government’s revitalisation agenda kicks off, it’s only going to get harder to get around in a car.

And once the work is completed, the government and UrbanGrowth have strongly hinted that there will be less space for motor vehicles, and less parking.

Transport Minister Andrew Constance said last month that he wanted Novocastrians leaving their cars at home when they came into town. 

Public transport is part of that, but so too is an extensive cycle network that is easy to access and safe to use.

In fact, Mr Constance has said that he’d like cycleways to be a key part of the city’s transport mix into the future.

Right now however, only about 1 per cent of people in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie use bikes to commute, well below the government’s own targets.

Which is why the Baird government should give serious consideration to the CycleSafe Network’s proposal for a 230-kilometre network of walking and cycling paths to connect the Hunter.

The health and social benefits of such a network are obvious; cycling promotes a more active lifestyle, and can help to tackle growing issues like childhood obesity.

And there’s an economic argument that the government should pay attention to.

The CycleSafe Committee argues that if 5 per cent of people living within a kilometre of the network took up cycling and rode three times a week, the benefits of building the network would balance with the $164 million cost in less than seven months.

It points to a similar initiative in New Jersey in the United States which saw a $63 million investment contribute about $497 million in jobs and boosts to the economy in that same year. 

Despite its stated commitment to boosting cycling, the Baird government has been criticised in the past by cycling advocacy groups for policies requiring cyclists to carry identification, and steep rises in fines for infringements.

The CycleSafe Network is one policy that could help win it favour.