Like many children in Australia, I had a bike. I enjoyed the freedom a bicycle affords a young person without a driver’s licence. When I see teenagers cycling past my home on lazy Saturday afternoons, it reminds me of those days when the world seemed wide.

I came to commuter cycling aged 44. I had a job that no longer required shift work and lived a 10 km ride from my work place, mostly flat terrain, some of it through lovely groves of trees and skirting Lake Burley Griffin. No excuses, really.

I didn’t cycle to work every day but I’d made a start in reducing my car use. In the 15 years since then, I’ve managed to make cycling a regular part of my daily commute. I’ve used the ACT’s rapid bus service, accessible from the Canberra Outlet Centre in Fyshwick, to do more travel blending — combining different travel modes in a single journey. I’ve gone from relying on a car as my first option to being an occasional choice.

Cycling close to home

Before COVID lockdown, there were more commuter cyclists on the bike path between Queanbeyan and Canberra than when I started out. This is great to see but closer to home, cyclists are not well supported in our local communities.

More than a decade after the first bicycle plan for Queanbeyan was prepared, there have been a few path extensions here and there; cycleways combined with the widening of Old Cooma Rd and the construction of the Ellerton Drive Extension.

The largely recreational shared cycling and walking path along Queanbeyan River is well used but isn’t wide enough for walkers and cyclists on both sides of the river.

It’s still not safe to cycle across town. Drivers can be inconsiderate of, some even hostile towards, cyclists and of course the reverse can also be true.  We need more dedicated bike lanes, signage and driver education. This is essential to encourage more people to cycle, not only for exercise or pleasure but also for short trips that don’t need a car.

Cycling for health and sustainability

Cycling is second nature in many parts of Europe. On my last visit (Denmark in 2010) I was surprised by how many people cycled in the capital, how few cars were on the roads in peak travel periods, and how easy it was to combine walking, cycling, bus and train travel across the country.

Australian cities and regional towns are supporting cycling, investing in bike lanes, rail trails and mountain biking tracks. We need to make it much easier to cycle in our local communities. There’s plenty of potential in Queanbeyan-Palerang, especially in new housing and employment precincts but it needs the support of our local council.

There’s an environmental dividend, too. Transport accounts for around 27% of our greenhouse emissions and we can’t make the cuts we need to without transforming transport.  Cycling won’t work everywhere for every journey, and it’s not for everyone but with the right support many more people will find it’s easier and more satisfying than they might image.

Authorised by Sylvia Hale for The Greens NSW, Suite D, 263-279 Broadway, GLEBE NSW 2037