In the 1970s, Bob Hudson wrote a hit song about how ‘All the young men of Newcastle drive down Hunter Street’. A generation on, the lyrics to The Newcastle Song may have to be changed to accommodate bicycles.
“I think conditions are making us a cycling city,” says Bernard Hockings, the owner of Metro Cycles. “There’s a transition from the city being car-centric to one where many have lost their car parking, and people realise the only way they can get around is by bike.”
A national cycling participation survey just released indicates a decline in pedalling among NSW residents since the last study two years ago. However, in regional NSW, the participation rate is higher than the national average, with 16.3% of respondents saying they had cycled in the past week.
While the survey doesn’t talk specifically about Newcastle, Mr Hockings believes there has been “exponential growth” in cycling in the CBD and inner city suburbs, while other areas that are suitable for bicycles are languishing. The main reason, he says, is infrastructure.
“If people can get to a cycleway, they will ride,” says Mr Hockings, who sells about 12 bicycles a week. His customers have included “politicians from every party”.
Yet Peter Lee, the president of Newcastle Cycleways Movement, says there needs to be greater political will to encourage people to ride.
“Instead of treating cycling as playing in a park on council paths, they [governments] should be funding cycling infrastructure as transport infrastructure,” Mr Lee says. “They are not seeing the broad community-wide benefits of active transport.”
Newcastle City Council has a cycling strategy plan to encourage residents to pedal more often. A spokesman says there are about 90 kilometres of shared off-road pathways in the council’s area. On an average weekday, almost 40 per cent of trips in Newcastle are less than 2 kilometres.
Dave Bedwell, of Stockton, is about to buy a new bicycle, for recreation and to move around the city. “It’s just not necessary to get your car out and drive 150 metres to the shop,” Mr Bedwell says. “This is the way of the future.”