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Week Thirty-Seven - Active Transport

A dash of active transport saves 574 kilograms CO2e per person per year

My kindergartner

- I love riding to school because it gives me exercise and I go really fast and it's really really fun!


- I think we just found Canberra's first Active Transport Commissioner. When can you start?

A bike zooms down a rainbow

How much CO2e comes from urban transport?

In Week Thirty-Six I found that each year, urban transport generates around 3 tonnes CO2e for the average Australian, almost 2 tonnes CO2e for the average Canberran and 1.1 tonnes CO2e for me. This is a big chunk from a 20-tonne footprint.

How do we cut back with active transport?

For this week's experiment, I only used active transport. I walked or rode my child to school. I rode to Pilates and to collect our Friday night takeaway. I worked from home on three days as usual and rode to town the other two. I did our big grocery shop by bike, which I haven't done for years.

Many trips were quicker and easier this way. For instance, my ride to work is quicker door-to-door than if I drove and had to hunt for a park. And when I picked up the takeaway by bike, I cut through the suburbs on a 2-kilometre return trip that would have been 4.5 kilometres by car. But I travelled less distance overall this week and I skipped two things I enjoy because I couldn't get there. Neither my kelpie nor my Stand Up Paddleboard fitted in a pannier bag, so no dog school and no lake paddle for me.

Exclusive active transport would slash a tonne of CO2e from my footprint each year, but I'm not sure I'd stick to it. Instead, I've decided to make the easy swaps. If I'm carting kids, dogs or lots of cargo, I'll take the car. If not, I'll take the bike. Making these simple changes will keep me social, healthy and happy, cut my driving by 30% and save 304 kilograms CO2e each year.

Similarly, the average Canberran could save over half a tonne CO2e each year by swapping 30% of their car kilometres for cycling and walking. The changes needn't be drastic. Riding to work two days a week and walking for school drop-off would achieve this.

A bike with a trailer and pannier bags loaded with groceries

I did my big grocery shop with pannier bags and a trailer but
the hills were tough. A cargo e-bike or home deliver might be easier.

An interview with Ian Ross of Pedal Power ACT

I spoke to Ian Ross, CEO of non-government cycle association, Pedal Power ACT. Ian is passionate about getting more Canberrans riding, more often, for a better community.

Canberra has good infrastructure and rideable distances. Are we making the most of this?

'Around 90% of adults in Canberra own a bike and 65% ride in any given year,' Ian said. 'Most of us can ride, but regular riding is low. Most commutes are between 5 and 7 kilometres long which is easy riding distance, but only 3% of us ride to work. The Government target is 7% by 2026 but Canberra's not on track to achieve it.'

Why should we ride more?

'Getting incidental exercise is a big factor, as well as convenience and cost,' Ian said. 'Cycling is more fun than sitting in a car in traffic. It saves you money on petrol and parking. It saves the Government $1.69 per kilometre, once the health and other benefits are factored in.'

How do we encourage more people to ride?

'Pedal Power lobbies for better infrastructure and simple changes, like giving cycle lanes priority when they cross roads,' Ian said. 'We also need better maintenance because no one wants to ride on crumbling paths that are choked with leaves and rubbish. We know these things work. It's no coincidence that the highest participation rate is where we have the best facilities, like the Inner North around the Sullivans Creek path. But we don't just need more bike paths. We need cultural change. That means education and programs. Things like workplace cycle champions, an Active Travel Commissioner and expanding the government's ACTSmart program to include active travel. E-bikes will help, too. They make it easy to tackle hills and commutes to the outer suburbs that people mightn't otherwise consider. Bike shops tell us E-bikes are running out the door right now.'

What does Ian love most about riding?

'It's fun!' Ian said. 'I feel good at the end of each day because I get to cycle home.'

But I could never ride like that... or could I?

My family are all cycle converts. I couldn't ride at all until I was 11. I remember wobbling around a bike course on a primary school excursion and a mean kid yelled out that I looked like I'd learned yesterday. She was right. I'd begged to stay home from the traffic centre trip because I didn't know how to ride, so my dad taught me the night before.

As an adult, I rode to work most days. I liked it so much that I sold my car. When I was 33 weeks pregnant, I confiscated my partner's car because my knees kept colliding with his unborn child. Ironically, this increased our household cycling. With no other vehicle to hand, he became a bike commuter overnight. He got his car back eventually but he still clocks up more cycling than me because he finds driving expensive and inconvenient. Once you pedal, you never look back.

If you haven't ridden since you were a kid, dust off that bike in the shed and try again or sign up for an adult learn-to-ride class. Start with a trip to the shops and a day a week to work. Increase as you get comfortable. Most people who push past the initial barriers embrace cycle commuting with glee. Should you shower at work or at home? Wear lycra or street clothes? Pick a racer, hipster, e-bike or beast? Go on-road or off? Take your pick and don't look back.

If active transport absolutely positively isn't your thing, stay tuned for the next two experiments to learn other ways to cut carbon from urban transport.

Cycling around town and for an event

Notes, data and spreadsheet calculations in the 'Notes' section, Week Thirty-Seven.