Riding into the future on two wheels

In the 1970s, Bob Hudson wrote a hitsong about how ‘All the young men of Newcastle drive down Hunter Street’. A generation on, the lyrics to The Newcastle Songmayhave 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 citybeing car-centric to one where many have lost their car parking, and people realise the only way they canget around is by bike.”

A national cycling participation survey just released indicates a decline in pedalling amongNSW residentssince the last study two years ago. However, in regional NSW, the participation rate is higher than the national average, with 16.3% of respondents sayingthey 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 needsto be greater political willto encourage people to ride.

“Instead of treatingcycling 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 pedalmore often. A spokesman says there are about90 kilometres ofshared off-road pathways in the council’sarea.On an average weekday, almost 40 per cent of trips in Newcastle are less than 2 kilometres.

PEDAL POWER: Bicycle shop owner Bernard Hockings is putting two wheels under more people, often so they can get around the city. Picture: Simone De Peak

Dave Bedwell, ofStockton, is about to buya new bicycle, for recreation andto movearound 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.”

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