Sydney Bike Paths and the Media / by Tom Oliver Payne

One of Sydney's few separated bike paths

One of Sydney's few separated bike paths

After years of criticism from the Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph (see articles herehere and here), The Australian newspaper has finally reported some positive news regarding Sydney bike paths (see here).

I've been shocked to read some of the articles written by News Limited and Fairfax Media (particularly by journalist Vikki Campion), which have been blatant attacks on Sydney City Council mayor Clover Moore and other Sydney council's progressive bike path construction programs.

Moore’s 2030 Plan for Sydney (which was created with assistance from international researchers) is widely respected by the international planning community, business leaders and community members. The plan may not be perfect, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. Trying to move away from the car-dominant downtown that has led to declining business districts across North America, the plan aims to create a public transit-oriented, walkable CBD which in turn encourages shopping and attracts business. Following the design principles of a number of European cities, these ideas have proven successful worldwide. And even a number of American cities are now adopting similar policies.

The Daily Telegraph’s Vikki Campion has argued that “powerful players in the corporate world” are “fed up with the ‘crazy’ bike-loving, car-hating policies of the City Of Sydney… calling for the restoration of voting rights to partners of large corporations”, stating that businesses are "fleeing" the city.

Firstly, businesses already do vote in council. Under the City Of Sydney Act, businesses can nominate a person to vote on their behalf. This is unique to Sydney, and is the probably the most democratic process for commercial sector voting.

Me on my bike 'Greenie' smashing it through Newtown - the way it should be! 

Secondly, Moore’s policies have been highly praised by business leaders, including the CEO of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsyth. And the ‘business leaders’  (John Fahey and Kathryn Greiner) who actually were quoted by Campion are ex-politicians, one of which is a twice failed Mayoral candidate.

Thirdly, businesses aren’t “fleeing” the city as Vikki Campion has argued (see here). To scare readers, Campion has listed a whole bunch of businesses that have set up headquarters in Western and Northern Sydney. These businesses aren’t “fleeing for the Hills”. This is what happens; some businesses come, some businesses go. Businesses move to attain particular economic benefits at different points in time. Right now this may be because particular businesses are currently requiring greater space, which is too expensive in the city. While other businesses (those in the financial sector, for example), may not require as much space, but would benefit from a CBD location, clustered with other businesses in the industry. This is why there is healthy new development across the city (Bligh Street (Clayton and Utz) and Darling Harbour (Commonwealth Bank)). These are indications of smart development, not over development - which Moore should be praised for.

And what about the state government’s stance on decentralisation? Obviously some businesses are going to leave the city, because that is the point! Sydney City Council has shown support for these decentralisation plans because it will help to reduce congestion in the CBD by moving some commerce to other urban centres such as Parramatta.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph's headlining attacks on Clover Moore and Sydney bike paths are exactly what 's wrong with the media. The articles use twisted statistics and fear-mongering tactics to generate anger in the general public. The articles present skewed facts and poor research.

I was surprised to read The Australian article (Cycle Paths Working: Researcher) yesterday. Not only does the article demonstrate some support for Sydney bike paths, but it gives me confidence to see peer-reviewed research being published in the media, rather than an incredibly biased report with a clear political agenda.

After years under a lazy and corrupt state government, and increasing competition from booming Brisbane and Melbourne, at least Sydney has a few strong and ambitious leaders within its local councils. New bike paths plans across Sydney definitely have their flaws, but these flaws need to be discussed properly. Tacky statistics and political motives may make a headline, but scaring the general car-driving population into thinking that bike paths are a waste of tax payers money, is only going to send Sydney backwards. If we want a sustainable future we need to listen to the experts, not just some News Limited journalist.

Thanks Ben Rushton for the feature image.