Is the cycleways network ‘excessively optimistic’? Written by Daniel Nielsen.

Is the cycleways network ‘excessively optimistic’?

Last updated 05:00 27/04/2015


A woman rides a cargo bike on a segregated cycle lane in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Elizabeth Lloyd – Flickr

An economist and his sidekick have attacked the cycleways project, saying the business case is “excessively optimistic”.

Canterbury University professor Glenn Boyle says the $156 million being spent on the cycleways could be used to buy a Suzuki Alto for each of the 18,000 people who are going to use the cycleways.

READ MORE: Economists slate cycleways business case

Casting aside that ludicrous if spurious point-making idea, let us look at Boyle’s arguments against the cycleways network.

The esteemed finance professor claims the public health benefits from building cycling infrastructure are questionable. The benefits may be overstated, but they are not in question.

Denmark’s capital city Copenhagen measures the impacts including economic benefits of its cycle-friendly strategy and has each year since 1996 released a report titled Bicycle Account.


The report states that every kilometre cycled brings the city a net gain of 23 cent, relative to a 13-cent loss for every km driven in a car. Those figures include savings in the public sector and added economic private sector activity.

If Boyle isn’t convinced by that, this peer-reviewed health impact assessment concludes that cycling infrastructure and increased levels of pedal commuting has a potential health gain a third larger than the potential health loss.

Boyle says the cycleways will only attract a small number of cyclists. He may be right. We would be better off making segregated cycle lanes an essential component of our roading infrastructure. A segregated cycle lane is a raised path with the footpath on one side and parked cars or a safety barrier on the other side to separate cyclists from the motor vehicles on the road.

We need segregated cycle lanes along all the major traffic routes of the city. It should be safe to commute by bike in peak-hour traffic down any of the four avenues. An approach such as that would undoubtedly increase the number of people using bikes to commute in the city. Copenhagen proves that as it now has 36% of all citizens in Copenhagen commuting to work, school or university by bike.

The cycleways are expensive, as Boyle points out. Of course they are. The city council is building a network of roads for people riding bikes. It is a project with a start and an end, created with the mentality of a recreational cyclist, who likes to go for a Sunday spin with their mates or a cruise with the family. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a nice-to-have in a post-earthquake city with seriously damaged infrastructure.

Boyle also argues that the cycleways will result in more cyclist accidents and deaths, and have zero impact on congestion. How will the cycleways cause more cyclist accidents and deaths? That makes no sense at all. Sure, more people on bikes means more accidents, but if they are riding on made-for-bikes routes, there will be relatively fewer accidents involving a car hitting a cyclist.

On the congestion, more people on bikes equates to fewer people in cars. That will reduce congestion. It’s a no-brainer.

Debates about cycling infrastructure invariably turn into a pitched battle between cyclists and motorists. We are not in a battle. We are all commuters. A person who commutes on a bike is not a “cyclist”. Riding your bike to work, the park, the shop or a friend’s house does not make you a “cyclist”. A cyclist is someone who rides competitively, usually on a track, often clad in lycra. And that’s fine. But riding a bike is not necessarily a recreational activity. It is a legitimate form of commuter transport – a healthy, inexpensive mode at that.

Commuting by bike is not safe in Christchurch. It’s unsafe in any urban environment that does not have good cycling transport infrastructure. That is what we need. The cycleways are an attempt to provide some infrastructure that separates motorists and cyclists. It is an expensive project. Boyle is right about that. It be more cost-efficient and better fro commuters to create segregated lanes on the existing road network. Let’s move on from the cyclist vs motorist framework and start discussion solutions.


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