Victorian Auditor overlooks public health disaster

A report titled Developing Cycling as a Safe and Appealing Mode of Transport was tabled in parliament by the Victorian Auditor General on August 17, 2011.

The document was intended as an audit of Victoria's bicycle promotion strategy but mentions mandatory helmets only once and thus fails to address the key issue deterring bicycle use in the state of Victoria for 21 years. Victoria was the first jurisdiction in the world to enforce a mandatory all age bicycle helmet law in 1990.

The Auditor General reports that there were 185,000 bicycle journeys per day in Melbourne during 2007/08, sourcing this data to the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity 2007 (link to VISTA 07 summary).

The VISTA 2007 document (p11) shows all-age use of bicycles at 1.7% of the total 11,609,000 weekday travel trips per day (197,353 bicycle trips per day) or 1.7% of the total 10,125,000 weekend trips per day in Melbourne (172,125). That averages to 184,739 bike trips per day in 2007/08.

victoria cyclist numbers

victoria bike use

VISTA 2007 (p11)

Pre-law bicycle numbers

For all of Victoria, the VISTA 2007 document (p11) shows all age use of bicycles at 1.7% of the total 13,354,000 weekday trips per day (227,018 bicycle trips per day) or 1.7% of the total 11,513,000 weekend trips per day in Victoria (195,721). That averages to 211,370 bike trips per day in 2007/08.

This number of bicycle trips per day in Victoria in 2007/08 can be compared with pre helmet law data from Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86 (CR69), published by the Federal Office of Road Safety in 1988, which analysed different travel modes among Australians above the age of nine.

Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86 (p123) shows 466,100 bicycle trips per day in Victoria (350,200 male, 115,900 female).

victoria bicycle use

Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86 (p123)

Based on these government reports, overall daily bicycle use in Victoria fell from 466,100 in 1985/86 to 211,370 bicycle trips per day in 2007/08 - a reduction of 45.3%.

A Vic Roads internal report by J Lambert in May 1990, Number of cyclists, bicyclist trips and bicyclist accident reports in Victoria, 1986 - 1989, estimated there were 2.2 million cyclists in Victoria in 1989 following a 47% increase in numbers since 1986.

Current cyclist numbers in Victoria can be sourced to the 2011 Australian Cycling Participation Survey (p16) which shows 41.6% of Victorian residents of all ages cycled in the 12 months prior to the survey conducted in March and April of 2011.

australia cycling participation

2011 Australian Cycling Participation (p16)

That is 41.6% of 5,600,000 people (Victoria's population early 2011) = 2,329,600 cyclists in 2011 vs 2,200,000 in 1989, a year before the enforcement of mandatory helmets.

This suggests that cyclist numbers in Victoria rose from 2,200,000 in 1989 to 2,329,600 in 2011 - an increase of 5.9%.

Victoria's population increased by 39.3% from 1986 to 2011 (4,019,478 to 5,600,000) and by 31.9% from 1991 to 2011 (4,244,200 to 5,600,000).

Less cycling participation

The VISTA 2007 report (p11) shows that 1.7% of an average 12,433,500 journeys made on a typical day in Victoria were by bike in 2007/08 (average weekdays 13,354,000 and weekends 11,513,000).

The CR69 table above shows 466,100 cyclists out of a total of 11,029,500 journeys, which was 4.2% of journeys made by bike in 1985/86.

CR69 (p132) also shows that in 1985/86, the total kilometres cycled in Melbourne per day was 628,000km (488,000km male, 140,000km female).

The VISTA 2007 report (p11) shows 0.8% of a total 117,999,000km travelled each day in Melbourne was by bike, representing 943,992km per day by bicycle in 2007/08.

For Victoria as a whole, the VISTA 2007 report shows 0.8% of a total 136,788,000km travelled each day was by bike, representing 1,094,304km per day by bicycle in 2007/08.

CR69 (p125) shows that in 1985/86, the total kilometres cycled in Victoria per day was 1,145,000km (886,000km male, 259,000km female).

australia cycling kilometres

Day to Day Travel in Australia 1985-86 (p125)

This suggests there were 4.6% less bicycle kilometres travelled each day in Victoria during 2007/08 than during 1985/86, despite a 39.3% population increase.

It should be noted that the 1985/86 data excluded cyclists aged less than nine and this represents about 15% of the entire cycling population, whereas the VISTA data from 2007/08 is for all ages. Also, it is estimated that bicycle riding in Victoria increased by 47% from 1986 to 1989.

This data confirms that the cycling popularity "boom" in Victoria since the turn of the century is from a low base in the 1990s when cycling suffered a major downturn in numbers due to helmet law discouragement. On a 25 year comparison, the increase in Victoria's bicycle use has not kept pace with population growth.

The Victorian Auditor General reports correctly that Victoria's public cycling participation is abysmal by international standards.

However, by not mentioning the impact of mandatory helmets as evidenced in the government's own studies (see above), he has failed to alert the Victorian parliament to an ongoing legislative failure that is damaging public health and safety.

Also see Australian cyclist numbers and population 1985/86 - 2011 for more recent Victorian survey results to compare with pre helmet law cyclist numbers.