Bike numbers in Western Australia: government surveys
In relation to the data on this page, several points should be noted:
- The population of Western Australia increased by 48.5% from 1991 to 2012. The population of the Perth metropolitan area increased by 60.3% from 1991 to 2011. The population of the Perth local government area increased 10,689 or 139% from 2001 to 2011 and the population of central Perth rose 183% from 11,500 in 2005 to 21,000 in 2013 (inner city residents aged less than 15 up from 523 in 2005 to 1,720 in 2011).
- Petrol prices rose sharply in 2000/2001. Government figures show petrol prices rose in Western Australia by 25% during the 18 months to June 2001. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, West Australian motor vehicle usage fell by 12.8% in 2001. Unleaded petrol in Perth cost an average 67 cents per litre in 1991, 88 cents in 2001, between $1.50 and $1.60 per litre in 2008, and averaged $1.20 per litre in 2010. See Perth petrol prices 1991-2012.
- A $1.5 million cycling promotion campaign was launched by the West Australian government in 2000.
- Main Roads WA estimates approximately 20% of the survey results are caused by environmental factors such as pedestrians and roller bladers occasionally triggering the electronic monitoring devices. Apparatus such as roller blades were not invented in 1991 and it can be argued that the figures in more recent years have as a result been inflated by non-bike traffic.
- Compulsory bicycle helmet laws have crippled attempts to set up bike hire schemes in Australian cities. Read more.
Narrows Bridge cyclist numbers
Causeway Bridge cyclist numbers
Narrows/Causeway monthly comparison pre-law vs average 1992-2000
Narrows/Causeway combined daily average cyclist comparison
Australia's cycling "boom"
In July 2013, Bicycle Industries Australia announced that a record 1.4 million bicycles were imported in the 2012/13 financial year, up 21% since 2009/10, but child bicycle imports were down 7% over the same period. Bicycling Australia reports that the child bicycle import share has dropped by 1% annually since 2008. This has prompted concerns among health authorities that Australian children are facing a crisis of physical inactivity, overweight and obesity.
Their concerns are about 20 years too late. Read a summary of Australian Year Book and other government documents confirming a massive decrease in child, all-age and commuter cycling participation, and the worst injury record of all road users, since mandatory bicycle helmet laws were enforced in 1990-92. BIA is wrong to claim that more than 4 million Australians regularly ride a bike (about 2 million aged 9+) and all claims of a cycling boom ignore participation rates before helmets became mandatory.
Australian cyclist numbers and population 1985/86 - 2011 compares government records of cyclist numbers nationally and in all Australian states in pre helmet law 1985/86 and in 2011, showing the rate of growth in Australia's bicycle use has been 22.3% less than the rate of total population growth and 37.5% less than the rate of population growth aged 9+ over the past 25 years.
As outlined in the March 2005 issue of the Health Promotion Journal of Australia (PDF 88kb), the number of regular cyclists in Western Australia almost doubled between 1982 and 1989 from 220,000 to 400,000. During this time, the numbers of cyclists admitted to West Australian hospitals and reported deaths and serious injuries per 10,000 regular cyclists fell by 48% and 33% respectively. Although surveys suggest a substantial increase in cyclist road numbers from 2000 to 2012, Participation in Exercise, Recreation and Sport by the Australian Sports Commission shows there were 224,600 cyclists aged 15 and over in Western Australia in 2008.
As reported in March 2007 and based on data from Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria, the number of Australian children walking or riding a bicycle to school has plunged from about 80% in 1977 to the current level around 5%.
The data on this website confirms that in Western Australia, the decline in cycling began around 1991 when the helmet law was enacted.
Bureau of Statistics figures released in November 2006 show the proportion of West Australians either cycling or walking to work fell from 6.4% in 1996 to 3.8% in 2006. These ABS figures (PDF 1.9meg) show the proportion of people cycling to work or study in Western Australia fell from 1.9% to 1.1% in the decade to 2006. Nationally, the proportion fell from 1.9% to 1.6%. The average proportion of people using a bicycle as their transport to work or study among all Australian states was 1.5% in 2006. In the Northern Territory it was 5.2%. The average proportion of people using a bicycle as their recreational transport among all Australian states was 4.8% in 2006. In the Northern Territory, it was 16%. There is no bicycle helmet law for adults on cycle paths in the Northern Territory.
Government surveys suggest that from 1998 to 2007 there was a 159% increase in public usage of the 750 kilometre Perth Bicycle Network, which incorporates shared paths, bike lanes and cycle-friendly streets to provide an interconnected grid throughout the metropolitan area. This is not a recovery. A majority of the additional cyclists are riding without a helmet as more people have spurned the law so they can get healthy and reduce fuel consumption/greenhouse gases. Police enforcement of the helmet law has not been apparent in Perth since about 2000, although this is not uniform and some officers are still apprehending bare-head cyclists.
Since the late 1990s there has been a significant increase above pre-law levels of weekday commuter cyclists motivated by high petrol prices and worsening traffic jams on major Perth road arteries due to the city's rising population.
For further Australian Bureau of Statistics data confirming the commuter cycling trends outlined on this page, see Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006: an analysis of census data (PDF 296kb) published by the University of Melbourne in December 2007.
The Causeway and the Narrows are the two main entry points to the city from the eastern and southern metropolitan sectors. Both the Narrows and the Causeway are bridges spanning the broad Swan River, creating accurate and focused survey points to count cyclist numbers. There is an alternative river crossing about two kilometres upstream from the Causeway, no bridge crossings between the Causeway and the Narrows, and no alternative crossings south or west of the Narrows Bridge. See bridge map.
The local government areas surrounding the freeways and highways leading to the Narrows, Causeway and Windan bridges saw a 36.4% increase of 113,423 residents from 1991 to 2011.
|Bayswater||43,810||64,043||up 46.2% or 20,233|
|Belmont||26,744||37,350||up 39.7% or 10,606|
|Canning||65,697||90,892||up 38.4% or 25,195|
|Melville||84,369||101,649||up 20.5% or 17.280|
|Perth||7,604||18,377||up 141.7% or 10,773|
|South Perth||34,007||43,963||up 20.3% or 9,956|
|Victoria Park||24,313||34,442||up 41.7% or 10,129|
|Vincent||24,765||34,016||up 37.4% or 9,251|
Western Australia had a population of approximately 2.43 million in 2012. The capital city of Perth's population increased from 1,142,646 in 1991 to 1,325,392 in 2001 (up 16%), 1,650,000 in 2009 (up 44%) and 1,832,114 in 2011 (up 60.3%). The employed workforce within the City of Perth increased from 87,689 in 1991 to 109,690 in 2006, up 25.1% (97.5% live outside the city with a high percentage within 15km of the city).
Narrows Bridge cyclist numbers
The West Australian Government road department Main Roads WA compiles cyclist survey data which constitutes the official gauge of cycling numbers on Perth roads.
Main Roads WA provides Annual Average Weekday Cycling Flows for various locations, including the Narrows Bridge, based on 12 month averages. See bridge map.
The bridge has been doubled in width with provision of a new western cycle path. Cyclist numbers increased sharply after 1999. Monthly cyclist numbers from October 2002 to June 2003 were 44% higher than from October 1991 to June 1992 (before law enforcement). However, cyclist numbers fell significantly after 2003 and by 2006 were about 6% more than their pre-helmet law average, despite 30%+ population growth and petrol prices doubling.
The survey series began in October 1991, nine months before compulsory helmet law enforcement, so an accurate 12 month pre-law comparison is not possible.
Nevertheless, the nine month average cyclist count on the Narrows Bridge from October 1991 to June 1992 was 1065.
Twenty one years later, the 2012 Bicycle Traffic Count (Excel 492kb) published by the WA Department of Transport shows that in the corresponding nine months from January to June and October to December 2012, the average Narrows Bridge daily cyclist count for weekdays, combining the east and west cycle paths, was 3,015.
It should be noted that the combined average weekend cyclist daily count in August 2012 was 2821. This Main Roads Department document shows that in August 1989, three years before WA helmet law enforcement, the average weekend cyclist count on the Narrows was 1763. The 1989 cyclist numbers were based on 12 hour counts (with estimated annual growth of 11.4%) whereas the 2012 figure is based on 24 hour counts.
The tables below contain Main Roads WA data for the Narrows Bridge:
Law enforced July 1992. Pre-law figures in red.
Note: Perth's population increased from 1,142,646 in 1991 to 1,445,079 in 2006 (up 26.5%) and to 1,832,114 in 2011 (up 60.3%), much of this growth in the inner to middle distance suburbs. The population of the Perth local government area increased 10,689 or 139% from 2001 to 2011.
Cyclist numbers plunged on the Narrows Bridge after 1992 helmet law enforcement but recovered from 1998 to 2003. Cyclist numbers then dipped for several years but have risen strongly in recent years partly because of soaring fuel prices and partly because more people are cycling illegally without a helmet. The inner city population trebled, petrol prices doubled and CBD employment surged over the 18 year period due to Western Australia's booming resource economy.
In December 1991, 11,406 bikes were counted on the Narrows on weekends. In December 1992, it was down to 4526. By December 1993, it was 6507 and by December 1994 it was 6863.
This is down from a mean daily count of 1267 in December 1991 to a mean of 762 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 40%.
In December 1991, 35,122 cyclists were counted on the Narrows on all days. In December 1992, it was down to 20,581. By December 1993, it was 29,506 and in December 1994 it was 27,216.
This is down from a mean daily count of 1132 in December 1991 to a mean of 877 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 23%.
Cyclist survey figures before 1990 are scarce. However, these are the known statistics from random surveys:
- In a 12 hour survey in May 1976, 59 cyclists were counted on the Narrows and 100 cyclists were counted on the Causeway.
- In June 1979, 127 cyclists were counted on the Narrows over a 12 hour weekday period.
Note: It was illegal to ride a bike across the Narrows until the introduction of dual-use path legislation in 1981. Note also that cycle pathways adjoining the Narrows were completed in the 1980s and bike hire facilities are situated nearby. Both these latter issues may influence cyclist numbers on the Narrows.
- 1047 cyclists were counted on the Narrows during a 12 hour weekend survey in November 1984.
- 1763 cyclists were counted on the Narrows during a 12 hour weekend survey in August 1989.
- There were 839 cyclists on the Narrows during a 12 hour survey in September 1989.
- 1700 cyclists were recorded on the Narrows in a 12 hour period on a Sunday in September 1989.
- A maximum peak hour flow of 288 bikes per hour was recorded over the Narrows Bridge on Sunday 3.9.89 between 3pm and 4pm.
- Government departments calculate weekend cycling numbers on the Narrows grew by an average 11.4% per year between 1983 and 1989.
Causeway Bridge cyclist numbers
The West Australian Government road department Main Roads WA compiles cyclist survey data representing the primary official gauge of cycling numbers on Perth roads.
Main Roads WA data provides Annual Average Weekday Cycling Flows for various locations, including the Causeway, based on 12 month averages. See bridge map.
The survey series began in October 1991, nine months before compulsory bike helmet law enforcement, so an accurate 12 month pre-law comparison is not possible.
Nevertheless, the nine month average daily cyclist count on the Causeway Bridge from October 1991 to June 1992 was 956.
Twenty one years later, the 2012 Bicycle Traffic Count (Excel 492kb) published by the WA Department of Transport shows that in the corresponding nine months from January to June and October to December 2012, the average Causeway daily cyclist count for weekdays was 1,244.
This is an increase of 30.1% since 1991/92, which compares to a Perth metropolitan population increase from 1991 to 2011 of 60.3%.
Combining the Causeway bridge and Graham Farmer Freeway traffic counts at Windan bridge (two bridges instead of one), the average daily flow in the corresponding months of 2012 was 2,240.
The bridges are combined because the Windan river bridge was opened in 2000 about two kilometres upstream from the Causeway. This new bridge would have drawn some cyclists away from the Causeway river crossing, at the same time substantially increasing the catchment zone for cyclists on both sides of the Swan River.
It should be noted that the combined average weekend cyclist count on the Causeway and Windan bridges in December 2009 was 1,400. In December 2010, it was 1,399, in December 2011 it was 1,964 and in December 2012 it was 2,212. This Main Roads Department document shows that in December 1989, almost three years before WA helmet law enforcement, the average weekend cyclist count on the Causeway bridge alone was 1,268. The 1989 cyclist numbers were based on 12 hour counts (with estimated annual growth of 7.3%) whereas the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 numbers were based on 24 hour counts on two bridges.
The Main Roads Department document also reveals that in August 1989 the average weekend cyclist daily count on the Causeway bridge alone was 1,253. The combined average weekend cyclist count on the Causeway and Windan bridges combined in August 2009 was 1,056. In August 2010 it was 1,057, in August 2011 it was 1,634, and in August 2012 it was 2,112.
The tables below contain Main Roads WA data for the Causeway Bridge:
Law enforced July 1992. Pre-law figures in red.
Note: Perth's population increased from 1,142,646 in 1991 to 1,445,079 in 2006 (up 26.5%), much of this growth in the inner to middle distance suburbs.
Cyclist numbers on the Causeway Bridge plunged after helmet law enforcement and barely shifted in 14 years, despite a tripling of the inner city population, a doubling in petrol prices and substantial CBD employment growth due to Western Australia's booming resource economy.
In December 1991, 10,596 bikes were counted on the Causeway on weekends. In December 1992, it was down to 6,719. By December 1993, it had fallen to 5,295. By December 1994, it was down to 4,564.
This is down from a mean daily count of 1,177 for weekends in December 1991 to a mean of 507 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 57%.
Twenty one years later in December 2012, 11,902 bikes were counted on the Causeway on weekends, averaging 1,190 per day. Combined with the Windan Bridge two kilometres upstream (opened in 2000), there were 22,120 cyclists on weekends or an average 2,212 per day in December 2012 (see Excel daily data).
In December 1991, 33,828 bikes were counted on the Causeway on all days. In December 1992, it was down to 26,227. By December 1993, it had fallen to 22,772. By December 1994, it was down to 18,101.
This is down from a mean daily count of 1091 in December 1991 to a mean of 584 in December 1994... a reduction of approximately 47%.
During the 9 months counted on the Causeway during 1998, an average 761 cyclists rode on the Causeway each day. In 1992, it was 795.
Twenty one years later in December 2012, 36,875 bikes were counted on the Causeway on all days, averaging 1,189 per day. Combined with the Windan Bridge, there were 65,324 cyclists or an average 2,107 per day (see Excel daily data).
Survey figures before 1990 are scarce. However, these are the known statistics from random surveys:
- The number of cyclists on the Causeway increased from 100 to 139 between May 1976 and June 1979 in separate 12 hour weekday samples.
- A two hour survey on 22.1.81 counted 60 cyclists on the Causeway cyclepath and highway between 0715 and 0930.
- A two hour survey on 2.2.81 counted 70 cyclists on the Causeway cyclepath and highway between 0715 and 0930.
- 812 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekend survey in September 1983.
- 347 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekday survey in September 1983.
- 887 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekend survey in November 1984.
- 475 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekday survey in November 1984.
- 1253 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekend survey in August 1989.
- 1268 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekend survey in December 1989.
- 739 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekday survey in August 1989.
- 888 cyclists were counted on the Causeway in a 12 hour weekday survey in December 1989.
- Government departments calculate weekday cycling numbers on the Causeway grew by an average 13.5% per year between 1983 and 1989.
- Government departments calculate weekend cycling numbers on the Causeway grew by an average 9.2% per year between 1983 and 1989.
Narrows/Causeway monthly comparison
pre-law vs average 1992-2000
The nine pre-law months surveyed by Main Roads WA can be compared with the average daily cycling flow for those months over the next eight years till 2000:
Oct 91 - 1355
Oct 92-00 average - 1120
Nov 91 - 1194
Nov 92-00 average - 1196
Dec 91 - 1106
Dec 92-00 average - 1086
Jan 92 - 1072
Jan 93-00 average - 1107
Feb 92 - 912
Feb 93-00 average - 1040
Mar 92 - 935
Mar 93-00 average - 954
Apr 92 - 1325
Apr 93-00 average - 794
May 92 - 1020
May 93-00 average - 589
Jun 92 - 665
June 93-00 average - 358
Oct 91 - 1175
Oct 92-00 average - 790
Nov 91 - 984
Nov 92-00 average - 822
Dec 91 - 1080
Dec 92-00 average - 777
Jan 92 - 1147
Jan 93-00 average - 822
Feb 92 - 1162
Feb 93-00 average - 831
Mar 92 - 1029
Mar 93-00 average - 685
Apr 92 - 966
Apr 93-00 average - 761
May 92 - 658
May 93-00 average - 458
Jun 92 - 409
June 93-00 average - 249
Narrows/Causeway combined daily
average cyclist comparison
Main Roads WA monitoring of the Causeway and Freeway cycle paths began in October 1991. During the following nine months till helmet law enforcement in July 1992, the combined total number of cyclists across the two bridges was 18,230. Fourteen years later, in the nine months to June 2006, the combined total number of cyclists across the two bridges was 19,433 - an increase of 6.5%. Western Australia's population rose by approximately 30% between 1991 and 2005. Despite the cycling downturn on the bridges, cyclist admissions to West Australian hospitals rose to record levels by 2000.
Oct 91 - 2500 / Oct 05 - 1740
Nov 91 - 2200 / Nov 05 - 2327
Dec 91 - 2200 / Dec 05 - 2148
Jan 92 - 2250 / Jan 06 - 2493
Feb 92 - 2100 / Feb 06 - 2527
Mar 92 - 1950 / Mar 06 - 2579
Apr 92 - 2280 / Apr 06 - 2266
May 92 - 1700 / May 06 - 1868
Jun 92 - 1050 / Jun 06 - 1485
The graph above is extracted from Report on Compulsory Helmet Wearing for Bicyclists, and Other Bicycling Issues" published on May 12, 1994, by the Legislative Council Select Committee on Road Safety.
West Australian Health Department charts show various trends from pre-law 1989 to post-law 2000 hospital admission rates for cyclists, including the decline in female participation and the substantial increase in admissions for non-traffic pedal cyclist crashes.
The chart above from Monitoring of the Perth Bicycle Network 2012 shows that in a workday survey at the end of March 2012, a total 5,623 cyclists crossed the Causeway, Windan Bridge and the east and west paths of the Narrows bridge. This is more than twice as many cyclists as recorded on just the Narrows and the Causeway in October 1991, as charted above.
This comparison ignores the additional path on the Narrows since 1991, an additional location at Windan Bridge and a 60% increase in total Perth metropolitan population from 1991 to 2012 (Perth City local government population: 1991 - 4,706; 2011 - 18,616 = 395% increase). The survey also shows that at the height of cycling discouragement in 1996, just 625 cyclists used the west path of the Narrows Bridge in a 12 hour period, compared to the nine month average cyclist count from October 1991 to June 1992 of 1,065.
How does cycling popularity on the Causeway bridge compare with previous years?
Perth's population in 1939 was 225,000 and by 1947 it had increased to 272,500. This compares to 1.83 million in 2012.
The 1942 census referenced above by the Daily News indicated roughly 20 cyclists per minute crossing the Causeway during peak hour, suggesting as many as 1,200 in one hour. This compares to 1,326 over a 12 hour period in March 2012.
Cycling was discouraged in Western Australia after 1919 when laws required all bicycles to be registered with a number plate. However, many cyclists ignored that law as they nowadays challenge the helmet law, and the popularity of cycling in 1948 can be seen in a Daily News front page story revealing that on the Causeway, Police Catch 107 Cyclists in 40 Minutes.
In January 1937, The West Australian newspaper reported that from 5pm to 5.10pm, 167 cyclists crossed the Causeway in one direction from Perth.
In June 1940, The West Australian newspaper reported on traffic density around Perth including the Causeway, where an average 4,762 cyclists were recorded each day. This compares to an average 7,107 cyclists per day throughout the entire Perth cordon during 2012 (see above), despite the population being eight times larger.
In March 1954, The West Australian newspaper analysed Perth traffic census results prior to that year, noting that a comprehensive city survey in 1930 found that 16.3% of 62,062 traffic movements within 12 hours were by bicycle. That is 10,116 cyclists riding through Perth in a single day.
A similar catastrophic decline in cycling popularity is apparent from a 1937 story in The Western Mail newspaper in which the Royal Automobile Club estimated 2,500 cyclists rode across the Canning Bridge in Applecross every day.
There was no cyclist survey at Canning Bridge in 2012 but the nearest location in Monitoring of the Perth Bicycle Network 2012 is Ardross St in Applecross which registered a total of 118 cyclists on 3 April, 2012.
By the time bicycle helmet laws were enforced in 1992, the number and proportion of cyclists on Perth roads was substantially less than the average 30% reported in the 1930s and 1940s. However, the newspaper records should be examined by helmet law supporters who claim cycling is booming in WA with unprecedented popularity.
Read more about Australia's high cycling participation and low fatality/injury rates in the first half of the 20th century, mostly due to safety in numbers.
Government surveys indicate cycling participation has increased in Perth since 2000, most evident on more than 700 kilometres of cycle paths that have been built since the early 1990s to funnel cyclists into safer routes.
However, changing infrastructure, population densities in different areas, survey locations/methodology and the emergence of bare-head cyclists defying the helmet law make it difficult to compare recent cycling participation data with the scant cyclist information that was available for nine months before helmet law enforcement on the Causeway and Narrows Bridge.
The WA Government agency Bikewest has maintained the Behaviour Change Tracking Survey since 1999, allowing a comparison of 502 respondents in March 1999 and 402 respondents in March 2008. The telephone/online surveys only allow respondents aged 18 and over who live in the Perth metropolitan area, with a 50/50 gender split.
The Behaviour Change Tracking Surveys provide an insight to Perth's ongoing decline in cycling popularity that is masked by electronic monitoring of new cycle paths. Key points:
- Bicycle ownership among all survey respondents dropped from 52% in March 1999 to 46% in March 2008.
- In March 1999, 10% of respondents stated an intention to purchase a bicycle and in March 2008 this was down to 4%.
- In March 1999, 36% of respondents said they had cycled at some time in the past six months, and in March 2008 this was down to 29%.
- In March 2001, compulsory helmets were among the reasons why 11% of respondents hadn't cycled in the previous six months.
- In 2008, 27 out of 89, or 30.3% of respondents said their dislike of helmets contributed to whether or not they would cycle in the next six months, compared to 25 out of 92 or 27.2% in 2007.
- The percentage of children cycling to school dropped from 7% in April 2005 to 6% in March 2008.
Below are sample graphics from Track of Cycling Behaviour and Attitudes May 2003 and Track of Cycling and Walking Behaviour and Attitudes May 2008:
In December 2014, Fishman et al published Factors influencing bike share membership: An analysis of Melbourne and Brisbane and Barriers to bikesharing: an analysis from Melbourne and Brisbane, which show that 61% of survey respondents cited helmet issues as their main barrier to Bikeshare participation in Australia.
Analysis extracts below show survey responses and suggest that about one in three potential cyclists are discouraged by helmet laws, disproving claims by Australia's pro-law academia that the legislation has no impact on cycling participation.
Australia's cycling "boom"
What of the "boom" in Australian cycling over the past decade that helmet law supporters claim is proof that the legislation doesn't discourage cycling?
Below is an extract from Cycling Infrastructure for Australian Cities (p11) prepared by Infrastructure Australia in 2009:
"Figure 6, which tracks the percentage of people commuting by bicycle (1996 to 2006), shows that in the six years to 2006 the proportion of people cycling to work has increased 45% on average across the nation. The most substantial increase has been in the ACT which has nearly doubled its commuter cycling share since 2000. Victoria has also experienced a sizeable increase over the same period, whilst NSW and Queensland have remained steady and WA has decreased considerably.
Figure 6: Percentage of people commuting by bicycle in each State, 1996 – 2006
Unfortunately, the general upward trend since 2000 is simply reversing a rapid downturn that occurred between 1996 and 2000 when the percentage of commuters travelling by bicycle plunged 73% nationwide (from 1.9% to 1.1%). This large drop remains unexplained.
The current level of around 1.6% of is still significantly less than in 1996.
Over the same 10 years 1996 to 2006 the proportion of public transport commuters increased (from 11.9% to 13.5%) and proportion of car drivers remained steady at just over 80%."
Note that the ABS data in the chart above only begins in 1996. If earlier data was available, the line above would read:
"Unfortunately, the general upward trend since 2000 is simply reversing a rapid downturn that occurred between 1990 and 2000 when the percentage of commuters travelling by bicycle plunged XX% nationwide (from XX% to 1.1%). This large drop remains unexplained."
The explanation is simple. Bicycle helmet laws. This Infrastructure Australia background paper confirms all other research showing that Australia's cycling "boom" since the year 2000 "is simply reversing a rapid downturn".
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, 2006 (PDF 2mb) estimates total persons who travel to places other than work or full-time study in March 2006 (i.e. recreational) included cyclists at 462,100 around Australia. That can be added to the 141,200 who cycled to work or full-time study (page 67) = 603,300.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Environmental Issues: Waste Management and Transport Use, 2009 (Excel download 713kb) estimates total persons who travel to places other than work or full-time study in March 2009 (i.e. recreational) included cyclists at 844,200 around Australia. That can be added to the 151,000 who cycled to work or full-time study (Table 2) = 995,200.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Environmental Issues: Waste Management, Transport and Motor Vehicle Usage, 2012 (Excel download 365kb) estimates total persons who travel to places other than work or full-time study in March 2012 (i.e. recreational) included cyclists at 806,200 around Australia. That can be added to the 178,500 who cycled to work or full-time study (Table 2.2) = 984,700.
This means commuter cycling in Australia increased over the three years 2009-2012 by 27,500 but at the same time recreational cycling fell by 38,000. The net result is 10,500 fewer cyclists in Australia over the three years, at least during March which is one of the best months in Australia to cycle.
The proportion of bicycles as a recreational transport mode for total persons was 5.3% in March 2009 and 4.8% in March 2012.
Cycling is not booming in Australia.
Note: The biennial update of the Australian cycling participation survey by Austroads has been released for 2013, showing a failure of the 2011-2016 National Cycling Strategy with a statistically significant decline in Australian cycling from 2011 to 2013. The 2013 survey shows 41.7% fewer daily bike trips among cyclists aged 10+ than in 1985/86 (despite 43.2% population growth) and a major reduction in the number of times people ride their bikes. Click for an update analysis.
In June 2011, the medical peer-review journal Accident Analysis and Prevention published The impact of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries in New South Wales, Australia, which asserts that mandatory bicycle helmet laws in NSW should not be repealed because the ratio of cyclist head vs limb injuries before and after 1991 law enforcement proves that helmets reduce head injuries. This critique of the study shows how it inaccurately estimates the reduction in child and adult cycling numbers after law enforcement and provides more evidence that accidents/injuries per cyclist increased after helmets became mandatory in NSW.
A health benefit model developed at Macquarie University in Sydney and published in March 2009 suggests Australia's national mandatory bicycle helmet laws incur a health cost to the country of approximately half a billion dollars every year.
A comparison of surveys in the WA cities of South Perth, Victoria Park and Subiaco, where TravelSmart programs operate, between 1986 and 1998 demonstrated that, whilst travel distances have remained the same, people used their cars considerably more, resulting in 25% less cycling and 12% less walking.
Excerpt from How Victoria Park Residents Travel (PDF 2.2mb):
A comparison of the Victoria Park results of the 1986 Perth Travel Survey with those of the 1998 Victoria Park Travel Survey reveals changes over time in the travel behaviour of local residents. The remarkable aspect of this comparison is that the amount of travel has remained virtually the same; what has changed is the way people travel ... The big mode change has been the increase in car driver trips, which are, proportionally, up by almost eight per cent. This growth has been at the expense of walking (down 11.7%), public transport (down 12.5%) and cycling (down 25%).
Cartoon thanks to Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery
According to a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (PDF 1.9meg), the average proportion of people among all States using a bicycle as their day-to-day recreational transport was 4.8% in March 2006. In the Northern Territory, it was 16%. The proportion of Australian adults cycling to work or study fell from 1.9% in 1996 to 1.6% in 2006. In Western Australia, the proportion cycling to work or study fell from 1.9% in 1996 to 1.1% in 2006. The average proportion of people using a bicycle as their transport to work or study among all Australian States was 1.5% in March 2006. In the Northern Territory it was 5.2%. Unlike the rest of Australia, there is no bicycle helmet law for adults on cycle paths in the Northern Territory.
According to the Participation in Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey 2004 Annual Report by the Federal Parliament's Standing Committee on Recreation and Sport, the public cycling participation rates across Australia in 2004 were: Australian Capital Territory 16.2%, New South Wales 9.1%, Northern Territory 17.8%, Queensland 9.6%, South Australia 9%, Tasmania 9.7%, Victoria 11.6%, Western Australia 13.8%. Two years later in 2006, the Premier's Physical Activity Taskforce (PDF 548KB) suggests the number of adult recreational and transport cyclists in Western Australia had dropped to 13.1%.
Census data show the percentage of people in the Perth Statistical Division of Western Australia who ride a bicycle to work fell from 1.3% in 1991 (pre helmet law) to 1% in 2006. The results from four Census counts were:
1991 - 1.3%
1996 - 0.8%
2001 - 0.9%
2006 - 1%
Following a 10% annual increase in Perth cyclist numbers during the 1980s, the impact of the mandatory helmet law was profound and hadn't recovered proportionally in the 15 years to 2006. As an example, the City of Stirling is a huge local government municipality controlling all of Perth's mid-northern suburbs. The actual numbers of people cycling to work in the City of Stirling were:
1991 - 740
1996 - 549
2001 - 713
2006 - 958
According to the 2006 WA Adult Physical Activity Survey by the Premier's Physical Activity Taskforce, the West Australian public exercises in the following ways:
Walking for recreation 68%
Walk for transport 32%
Cycling for recreation 9%
Team sports 9%
Extract from Bikewest (Western Australia Government bicycle promotion and safety department) news release dated 19.3.96, five years after 1991 mandatory helmet law enactment:
Bikeweek coordinator Jim Krynen said the competition aimed to turn the tide on the declining number of children cycling to school.
"In the past five years the number of schoolchildren cycling to school has more than halved," Mr Krynan said.
"The result of this decline is an increased traffic flow around schools as parents drive their children, which puts children's lives at risk."
Women in particular have abandoned cycling since compulsory bike helmet laws were introduced in Australia. The Health Promotion Journal of Australia reported in 2003 that Australia has a disproportionately low number of female cyclists (PDF 228kb). The problem of female cycling discouragement has been identified in New Zealand university research. The table below shows the overall number of cyclist commuters riding all the way to work in the city of Adelaide before and after law enforcement in 1991 (pre-Census) and the ratio of male to female cyclists. In 1976, women represented 37% of the Adelaide workforce and by 2001 they represented 43%.
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work||Male/female ratio|
|1976||2.3%||2.6 to 1|
|1981||2.2%||3.0 to 1|
|1986||2.3%||3.5 to 1|
|1991||2.0%||4.5 to 1|
|1996||1.2%||5.0 to 1|
|2001||1.2%||4.7 to 1|
West Australian government advice to cyclists clearly recognises how the enforced wearing of helmets discourages female cycling participation:
"Before wearing a helmet: Braid or plait your hair or put it in a ponytail; Use a scarf, doo-rag or helmet liner; For curly hair, pile it up on top of your head with one hand before putting your helmet on; For longer hair, comb it in the opposite direction to normal and then comb it back when the helmet has been taken off."
On March 18, 2009, a Bikewest article in The West Australian newspaper had similar advice for women:
There are even solutions to overcome "helmet hair", or the flattened hairstyles that can deter many women from riding to the office. For clients who cycle regularly, hairdressers suggest a shorter cut with unstructured layers or more wash-and-wear styles. For longer hair, blow-drying after a shower using a round brush, before applying a gel and then a volumiser, can help reduce "fly-away" locks. A good tip for keeping curls from being crushed is to pile the hair on top of the head, holding it in place with one hand, while putting the helmet on top with the other. Upon arrival, simply shake loose."
Got that? If you're a woman who wants to ride a bike, just cut your hair, add some chemicals, follow the other procedures and you should be ready for a quick cycle to the local store. Apparently they're serious.
The Women and Cycling Survey 2013 published by the Heart Foundation and the Cycling Promotion Fund found 38.9% agreed that wearing a helmet ruins a woman's hairstyle and 4.1% of women nominated not having to wear a helmet as the main reason they would cycle more.
Bicycle Victoria in Australia devotes an entire page to "the helmet hair dilemma".
Fewer women cycle in Australia than anywhere else in the world.
The diagram above shows women's share of bicycle trips in respective countries from 2000 to 2005, and is sourced to 2007 data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the statistical services of all countries involved.
The research is contained within Making Cycling Irresistible (PDF 876kb) (Pucher and Buehler, Transport Reviews, Vol. 28 2008).
A Deakin University study (PDF 232kb) published by the Health Promotion Journal of Australia in 2003 found that Australian women's participation in cycling for transport and recreation is approximately half that of men. These gender differences do not occur in several western European countries. Research is required to investigate the individual, social and environmental determinants of Australian women's participation in cycling for transport and recreation. The research on this website explains why so few Australian women ride bicycles. Up-to-date as usual, The West Australian newspaper's story about the research was published in November 2007.
As detailed in Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006: an analysis of census data (PDF 296kb) published by the University of Melbourne in December 2007, just 17.8% of people cycling to work in Perth during 2006 were female. Across Australia ... while the percentage of 2006 workers who are female varies from 43% to 47% across the seven cities, the share of cyclists who are female ranges from only 17% to 26%, compared with 43% to 51% for walking and 50% to 56% for public transport.
Adults in the Northern Territory are legally allowed to ride without a bicycle helmet on a cycle path. A far greater proportion of people in the NT capital city of Darwin ride a bicycle than any other Australian city. The graph below clearly illustrates that women in the Northern Territory are far more likely to cycle than women in other Australian states:
A survey in England published in 2008 found that women are three times less likely to cycle than men because they are put off by "helmet hair" and getting sweaty.
Also in 2008, Australian model Elle Macpherson was pilloried for cycling in London without a helmet and with her helmeted son on the handlebars. Read an opposing view by The Guardian newspaper's respected columnist Simon Jenkins, who believes Elle Macpherson deserves a medal for defying the health and safety gods.
Main Roads WA figures show that between Sept 83 and Dec 89, Perth enjoyed a 10% annual growth in personal bike trips.
Below is a graph prepared by the West Australian Government road department Main Roads WA showing Perth's estimated cycling growth during the 1980s and the major decline experienced following the law's enactment in 1991.
More research from the 1980s can be found in Bicycle Crashes in Western Australia 1985-86 (PDF 5.5meg).
Further research (PDF 299kb) shows that numbers of regular cyclists (those who cycle at least once a week) almost doubled from 1982 to 1989. The table below shows that cycling also became safer. "Numbers of cyclists admitted to hospital (HOSP) and reported deaths and serious injuries (DSI) per 10,000 regular cyclists fell by 46% and 33% respectively. Jacobsen's Growth Rule, predicting a 34% fall in injuries per cyclist for twice as much cycling, is pretty close to what actually happened." (table data from Somerford P, Pinder T, Valuri G, Price S, Stevens M. Bicycle injury hospitalisations and deaths in Western Australia. Health Department of Western Australia and Robinson DL. Head injuries and bicycle helmet laws. Accid Anal Prev 1996; 28: 463-475.)
|No of regular cyclists, WA (thousands)||220||300||400|
|Cyclist hospital admissions (HOSP), WA||636||660||602|
|Reported cyclist DSI, WA||123||172||150|
|HOSP/10,000 regular cyclists, WA||29||22||15|
|DSI/10,000 regular cyclists, WA||5.6||5.7||3.8|
Authorities estimate a 25 per cent reduction in West Australian cyclist numbers between 1991-1995 and a five per cent fall in the number of children (particularly girls) riding bikes to school. In 1993, the Traffic Board of Western Australia estimated a 38 per cent reduction in WA cyclist numbers as a result of the law. By 1996, the government's cycling promotion agency Bikewest stated that "in the past five years the number of schoolchildren cycling to school has more than halved".
In the state of NSW, where the mandatory helmet law was enacted in 1990, a 1993 study was conducted by Smith MC and Milthorpe MW: An observational survey of law compliance and helmet wearing by cyclists in New South Wales, RTA 1993 (ISBN0-7305-9110-7).
- School students riding to / from NSW schools: total counts 3107 in 1991 to 1648 in 1993, a drop of 47%.
- For female students the figures were 654 in 1991 down to 222 in 1993, a drop of 64%.
- For secondary female students the reduction in cycling was greater: 455 in 1991 to 106 in 1993, a drop of 77%.
- For secondary children cycling to school in Sydney the reduction was from 904 to 294, a drop of 67%.
- The largest reduction in cycling was among secondary female students in Sydney: 214 in 1991 down to 20 in 1993, a drop of 90.6%.
An official cyclist count in regional NSW post-legislation found a 43% reduction. A separate survey of children's cycling two months before and 10 months after law enforcement found an overall reduction of 38%.
The chart above, extracted from Cycling down under: a comparative analysis of bicycling trends and policies in Sydney and Melbourne, shows that the percentage of commuters cycling to work fell in both cities when mandatory helmet laws were introduced and didn't recover to pre-law levels for 15 years.
In Melbourne, surveys at the same 64 observation sites (PDF 535kb) in May 1990 and May 1991 found there were 29% fewer adults and 42% fewer child cyclists (36% overall). Each site was observed for two 5 hour periods chosen from the four time blocks of weekday morning, weekend morning, weekday afternoon and weekend afternoon, representing a total of 640 hours of observation. The weather was broadly similar for both surveys. Victoria introduced compulsory bike helmet legislation in late 1990.
In the first year of compulsory helmet legislation in Victoria, child cycling went down by 36% and child head injuries went down by 32%. Surveys taken in May/June 1990, 1991 and 1992, reported by Cameron et al. (1992), indicated that total children's bicycling activity in Victoria had reduced by 36% in the first year of the helmet law, and by a total of 45% in the second year.
Census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics illustrates how the introduction of an all-age mandatory bicycle helmet law in 1990 has discouraged healthy commuter cycling in the state of Victoria for more than 16 years. ABS data published in Walking and Cycling: Census Analysis (PDF 6mb) published by Bartley Consulting on behalf of the Victorian Department of Transport's Walking and Cycling Branch shows cycling-only work trips across Victoria increased from 17,190 in 1996 to 18,910 in 2001 and 25,180 in 2006 - seemingly a substantial increase. However, mandatory all-age bicycle helmet laws were enforced throughout Victoria in 1990 and the ABS data should be compared with results before law enforcement (Excel 84kb). This ABS data shows cycle-only work trips in Victoria were:
1976 - 17,570
1981 - 23,737
1986 - 24,022 (1.75% of the workforce)
All-age mandatory bicycle helmet law introduced in 1990
1991 - 18,334
1996 - 17,190
2001 - 18,910
2006 - 25,180 (1.4% of the workforce)
The Victoria Bicycle Strategy 1990 reported that cycling in the state increased by about 10% to 12% per year from 1986 to 1989, suggesting Victoria's cycle-only commuters numbered well over 30,000 per day in 1990 - the year the mandatory helmet law was introduced.
Victoria's population increased from 4,019,478 in 1986 to 4,560,155 in 1996, 5,128,310 in 2001 and 4,932,422 in 2006. Twenty years later and taking population growth into account, Victoria still had about 20% less cyclists per capita than in 1986.
VicRoads data shows the growth in Victoria commuter cyclist numbers stalled and fell following mandatory helmet law enforcement in 1990.
In 1991, Australian Cyclist magazine first publicised the downturn in Victorian and NSW cyclist numbers as result of the imposition of mandatory helmet laws in those states.
Commuter cycling to work in Australia dropped sharply following enactment of compulsory bike helmet legislation. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows there has been a significant shift in bike sales from children to adults. In the late 1980s, about 60% of bikes were sold to children (mostly teenagers) and the remainder to adults. By the late 1990s, almost 65% of bikes were sold to adults and the remainder to children. Despite this growth in adult cycling, the following ABS Census data shows there has been a massive decline in commuter bike trips to work:
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work|
|1986 (no law)||1.63%|
|1991 (law enforced in some states)||1.63%|
|1996 (law enforced in all states)||1.21%|
If the overall Australian trend line from 1976 to 1986 had continued, more than 2% of Australian commuters would by now be cycling to work. The 2001 Census data shows it is half that figure.
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work|
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work|
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work|
|Census Year||Percentage cycling all the way to work|
Australian data on the proportion of people cycling to work up to 2006 can be researched in Travel to work in Australian capital cities, 1976-2006: an analysis of census data (PDF 296kb) published by the University of Melbourne in December 2007.
There was a substantial decline in West Australian bike sales after the legislation was introduced - approximately 30% according to one trader quoted in the media - resulting in the closure of various bike retail stores.
Western Australia bike imports per financial year dipped following helmet law enforcement in 1991/92, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS):
88/89 - 55,791
89/90 - 72,073
90/91 - 54,688
91/92 - 46,993
92/93 - 49,887
93/94 - 62,634
94/95 - 61,644
95/96 - 75,362
96/97 - 68,627
97/98 - 62,880
98/99 - 59,192
99/00 - 71,699
With regard the bike import data above, it should be noted that bike use was flourishing in the 1980s (10% cyclist road survey growth per annum in Western Australia). It should also be noted that the Australian bicycle manufacturing industry had effectively shut down by the end of the 1980s, particularly with the closure of Malvern Star in September 1987, and almost all new bikes sold in Australia during the 1990s were imports. Bike imports should thus have surged during the 1990s as Australians replaced their ageing Aussie-built bikes with imported bikes. It should also be noted that Western Australia's population grew by 15% between 1988 and 2001.
World medical authorities estimate that regular cycling exercise adds as much as 10 years to your life. If government data is accurate, tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of West Australians have abandoned cycling or cycle less often since the year of compulsory helmet enforcement. The cumulative cost to personal longevity and public health expenditure is incalculable.
A 14 year Danish study of more than 30,000 people shows that bicycling to work decreased the risk of mortality in approximately 40% of participants, taking into account other lifestyle factors. Discouragement of cycling can be fatal.
Physical inactivity causes more than 8,600 deaths a year in Australia, according to research commissioned by the country's Federal Health Department and published in March 2000.
|The Cycling 100 study conducted by the Western Australia Department of Environmental Protection in 1999 found that a short bike ride three times a week improves cardiovascular fitness, reduces blood pressure, cuts elevated cholesterol levels by half, and reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke and debilitating backache. Tens of thousands of West Australians have abandoned these health benefits of cycling. The year long study involved 65 "habitual car users", aged 21 to 65, who swapped their cars for a bike to travel to work four times a week. The researchers calculated the trial group also saved 37 tonnes of greenhouse gas from otherwise being emitted by their vehicles.|
The European Union's Directorate General for Transport commissioned Measures to promote cyclist safety and mobility (PDF 1mb) in 1997, the study finding with mandatory helmet laws that "this measure has proven to be very restrictive. In Australia it has resulted in a decrease of bicycle use of about 35%. In that way the measure is totally counterproductive. Positive health effects of cycling (prevention of untimely death because of heart and coronary diseases and such) outweigh by far the negative health effects of dangerous road conditions."
America's Injury Prevention magazine published an article in 2003 titled Safety in Numbers: more walkers and bicyclists, safer walking and bicycling (PDF 140kb) which concludes that policies increasing walking and bicycling can improve the safety of other road users. As reported in 2008 by Science Daily, A Virtuous Cycle: Safety In Numbers For Bicycle Riders.
In 2010, a working paper in the United States titled The Intended and Unintended Effects of Youth Bicycle Helmet Laws concludes that while mandatory helmet laws have led to increased helmet use and while helmet use has been shown to reduce bicycle fatalities, the laws have also led to a decrease in actual bike riding.
Reported on May 7, 2009, by The Guardian newspaper, research from the UK's main cycling organsation, the Cyclists Touring Club, showing that where there are more riders on the road there are generally fewer accidents. "Struck by the Dutch success, a group of British MPs has just returned from a fact-finding trip to the country. There, along with reams of information about bike lanes and secure parking, they were let in to a less well-known secret for spurring a national cycling culture: throw out the Lycra and the helmets."
West Australian police crash statistics indicate cyclists fell as a percentage of all road users from 1.3% in 1987 to 0.9% in 1996. Western Australia's compulsory bike helmet law was enforced in 1992.
The number of bike crashes reported to West Australian police decreased from 1,011 in 1987 to 718 in 1996. This figure may reflect the lesser number of people riding bikes because of the helmet laws, as helmets do not prevent road accidents from happening. Conversely, it may represent a greater number of people failing to report crashes to police due to fear of prosecution for not wearing a helmet.
Cartoon thanks to Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery
The under-estimation of cyclist injuries by Australian authorities was reported six years earlier in Pedal cycle injuries in NSW: A comparison of data sources, published in the Dec 2003 issue of Road & Transport Research.
Similar findings can be found in Emergency presentations by vulnerable road users: implications for injury prevention" published by the Injury Research Centre at the University of Western Australia.
Cycling for active transport and recreation in Australia (PDF 235kb) is a paper published in late 2006 by World Transport Policy and Practices which analyses cycling trends in Australia compared to overseas.
Observation by two key speakers at the 1996 International Velo Australis Bicycle Conference in Fremantle, Western Australia:
"Few evaluations of bicycle helmet laws have yet considered the loss of health and other benefits from discouraging a cheap, convenient and non-polluting means of transport. Despite the obvious need to measure changes in cycle use as a result of such laws, available data are less than adequate, but strongly suggest the increase in numbers wearing helmets was less than the overall decrease in cyclists.
"It is generally agreed that car travel is more deleterious to health unless the motorist can exercise several times a week by other means which will maintain fitness, and hence the benefits of bicycle helmet laws must remain questionable.
"The helmet legislation has discouraged people from using bicycle transport. This has decreased community fitness levels, increased risks of serious diseases due to exercise deficit, and hence probably increased community health costs (Roberts et al, 1995). It is likely that these disbenefits are far more significant than any possible injury prevention benefit from helmet legislation."