Section 3: Cycling in the ACT

Section 3 is about the ACT and Australia, and three studies. Australia is a very low cycling country. International studies provide a benchmark for good practice, but it would be beyond the scope of this submission.

3.1 Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey

The impact of commuting on our health and wellbeing is often underestimated. Commuting times have increased dramatically in Canberra. Cycling and walking are part of active travel and an alternative to passive travel. The lone, sedentary commute in a motor vehicle is still the most common way to get to work for most Canberrans, and typically the longest trips in our daily lives.

HILDA Survey

The full title is a mouthful: The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17, The University of Melbourne, 2019.

This survey is funded by the Australian Government and the 14th Annual Statistical Report.

“The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey is a household-based panel study that collects valuable information about economic and personal wellbeing, labour market dynamics and family life. It aims to tell the stories of the same group of Australians over the course of their lives.”[1]

As a health and wellbeing study, HILDA is quite broad. The HILDA Survey does not target transport specifically, unlike the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019. The HILDA report includes data on commuting as commuting impacts on our health and wellbeing. is interested in commuting time, length and the cost of congestion, particularly for Canberra.

We are Humans and not Econs

“Humans and not Econs” is a critique of traditional economics and the assumptions made about people in economics. Econs refers to how we are expected to behave according to economic models. However, as Humans, our actual behaviour is not logical but psychological. Both terms, Econs and Humans, are explained in the book Nudge by Thaler.

Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 considers the cost of congestion and presumes quicker is better as “time is money”. If we consider our lives from a health and wellbeing perspective, in a more holistic way, quality of life and commuting length are important, too.

Active travel has positive health and wellbeing benefits in contrast to the negative effects of passive travel (sedentary commute in a car). From a psychological perspective, commuting in traffic and traffic noise are something we never adapt to and remains stressful.

An hour sitting in traffic driving to work is not good for you. In contrast, an hour riding to work (away from traffic noise) has benefits for both our health and wellbeing.

The way we get to work makes a big difference and determines whether we arrive at work in a stressed state, and how healthy and active our lives are.

Evidence from psychology

Lengthy commutes have repeatedly been shown to be associated with reduced worker wellbeing and negative family outcomes (for example, Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), 2016; Flood and Barbato, 2005; Milner et al., 2017; Roberts et al., 2011; Rüger et al., 2011; Stutzer and Frey, 2008).”[2]

Adaptation effect

When there are changes to our external environment, we are sometimes able to adapt to them. There are, however, external conditions that matter, as there is no adaptation. We will always be stressed to some degree by these external stressors no matter how long we experience them. These are:

  1. noise (particularly intermittent)
  2. commuting in traffic
  3. lack of control
  4. shame of oneself.

“Research shows that people who must adapt to new and chronic sources of noise (such as when a new highway is built) never fully adapt, and even studies that find some adaptation still find evidence of impairment of cognitive tasks. Noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent interferes with concentration and increases stress. It is worth striving to remove sources of noise in your life.”[3]


People “do not fully adapt to the longer commute, particularly if it involves driving in heavy traffic. Even after years of commuting, those whose commutes are traffic-filled still arrive at work with higher levels of stress hormones.” [4]

Experiences of stress

Some things we find more stressful than others. It may be surprising to find what we find stressful when we measure it. The morning commute is amongst the worst.

“We can measure the proportion of time that people spend in a negative emotional state (U-index) while commuting, working, or interactive interacting with parents, spouses, or children. For 1,000 American women in Midwestern city, the U-index was 29% for the morning commute, 27% for work, 24% for child care, 18% for housework, 12% for socialising, 12% for TV watching, and 5% for sex.”[5]

The HILDA Report


Passive travel harms us and congestion makes it much worse. The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 predicts almost doubling of the cost of the commuting by 2031. The HILDA Survey tells us the commuting times are increasing.

“The increase in daily commuting times has been particularly pronounced at the lower end and the median of the distribution…

In all years, the person at the 90th percentile of the commuting time distribution spent two hours per day travelling to and from work.”[6]

Commuting distance

In Australia, 55% of the working population commutes less than 10 km.[7]

We prefer to work close to where we live, which is no surprise. Particularly with dependent children, it is harder to move. People with no carer’s responsibilities tend to accept longer commuting times.

“It shows that close to 28% of workers live and work in the same postcode.”[8]

Mean commuting time of employed persons, by distance between home and location of main job, 2019.

Distance (km)Portion in each commuting distance (%)
0 (same postcode)27.5%
Table 3‑1 Mean commuting time of employed persons, by distance between home and location of main job, 2019. The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17, The University of Melbourne, 2019, 81
Figure 3‑1 The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17, The University of Melbourne, 2019, 81. Graph:

Commuting times in Canberra

In Canberra, the average time commuting to work has increased from 31.3 minutes in 2002 to 51.5 minutes in 2017, an increase of 64.5% over 15 years.[9]

Looking forward, congestion and travel times are expected to increase further.

Mean daily commuting times of employed persons in the ACT, 2002 to 2017 (minutes).

Figure 3‑2 Mean daily commuting times of employed persons in the ACT, 2002 to 2017 (minutes). The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17, The University of Melbourne, 2019, 79. Graph:

Increasing travel times in the ACT

Most people drive to work in the ACT, which is not good for our health. The congestion is increasing, which is poor for our wellbeing. Increases in travel time due to congestion are a bad combination. The 2017 ACT Travel Survey showed that most people work close to where they live. Those living in Belconnen are always likely to look and find work in Civic. The distance between Belconnen and Civic does not change. Families are unlikely to move, especially with two dependent children in school. Longer travel time is the direct result of increasing congestion.

Getting people off the roads creates more space on the roads for those who must drive. We need alternatives to private motor vehicles for commuting. Public transport is one, as buses carrier more people in the same road space, therefore, decreasing congestion. Light rail is better with its dedicated tracks, independent of the roads, and a network that can be optimised to move many people in a fast, cost-effective and efficient way.

The bicycle has great potential (Netherlands) when dedicated infrastructure is provided for it. Separated and protected bike-only paths always bring a return on investment. Most importantly, active travel has many health and wellbeing benefits.

As the travel times increase on the roads it makes cycling a more attractive alternative to driving or taking the bus.

In Australia, 55% commute less than 10 km to work.[10] In Canberra, the average commute to work is less than 10 km[11] and the average time commuting to work has increased from 31.3 minutes in 2002 to 51.5 minutes in 2017, an increase of 64.5% over 15 years.[12] Many could easily ride 10 km in under 50 minutes. Electric bikes would make this distance seem trivial.

3.2 National Cycling Participation Survey

The National Cycling Participation Survey is a standardised survey that has been repeated every two years since 2011. Repeating the survey regularly is the only way to detect and analyse trends. The survey provides data on cycling participation across Australia and estimates of participation in the ACT, too.

What is it about?

About 93,700 residents ride in a typical week. The cycling participation rate in the ACT is significantly higher than the national average. Men are significantly more likely to have ridden in the last week than women (28% males and 17% females).


The study was NOT about the barriers to cycling by non-cyclists for this is well understood.

Trends measured

The survey measures cyclists’ attitudes:

  • feelings of comfort while riding
  • change in cycling conditions over the past 12 months
  • barriers to riding for different purposes (commuting, education, shopping, recreation, and to access public transport)
  • priorities to improve cycling conditions.


“Measured over the previous week the cycling participation rate has declined from 15.5% in 2017 (95% CI: 14.4% – 16.7%), to 13.8% (95% CI: 12.8% – 14.8%) in 2019. This decline is statistically significant and appears to be consistent with the trend since the survey was first conducted in 2011.”[13]

Any decline in bike riding participation in Australia is alarming, yet sadly not entirely surprising. While bike riding across the world is continuously growing, Australia’s participation continues to fall. Despite the health and environmental benefits of cycling, our governments are reluctant to act decisively and systematically.

Figure 3‑3 2019 National Cycling Participation Survey Results, Bicycle network, 26 September 2019, accessed 22/8/2020
Figure 3‑4 2019 National Cycling Participation Survey Results, Bicycle network, 26 September 2019, accessed 22/8/2020


The rite of passage

The proportion of the population cycling drops by roughly two thirds between the teenage and early adult years. Once young people learn to drive, they never come back – unless cycling has become a strong personal interest and/or habit.

Figure 3‑5 Portion of the population cycling by age (ACT 2019): The participation rate declines precipitously as older children become adults. Graphic:

Cycling in the ACT is stagnating

There are no major shifts across any gender or age group between 2011 and 2019. Children aged under 10 were most likely to have cycled in the past week.

Understanding Canberra cyclists

The National Cycling Participation Survey tells us how Canberrans use their bike and what they think about cycling.

How many ride bikes

In the ACT, the proportion riding for transport is much higher than the national average.

“Among those who had ridden at least once in the past year, and had travelled at least once for one of the transport purposes (commuting, education, public transport, shopping and visiting friends or relatives) most had ridden for commuting, education or shopping. Very few had ridden to access public transport.[14]

Riding to access public transport multimodal travel. Many more ride to work or to a place of education in Canberra than elsewhere in Australia.

“Around 57% of households have access to a working bicycle. “[15]

What would make us ride more?

“Respondents were asked to prioritise actions that could be taken to encourage bicycle riding. The most supported actions (from figure 3.8) were:

> more off-road paths and cycleways (62% of respondents rated this a very high or high priority)
> better connections between bike paths and schools (51%)
> better connections between bike paths and shops (51%)
> more signs highlighting bicycle routes (41%)
> more on-road bicycle lanes (40%)
> better connections between bike paths and parks and swimming pools (40%). “[16]

“The least likely reasons are:

> lower local road speed limits, and
> more bike skills training.”[17]

We know that from decades of research that lower speed limits save lives, but people still are largely unaware of the role speed plays in personal safety as vulnerable road users – both perceived and measured. Skills training, too, is an effective way to encourage riding. Through skills training, people experience riding as comfortable and safe. Safety and transport psychology are important for the success of active travel and people’s wellbeing.

Let us do something about this

Only when our decision makers plan, invest, and strategically create space for active transport, will we create people centric, active, and healthy communities. Our cities and towns will continue to be choked by congestion, and our health will suffer unless we have transformative leadership – visibly role modelling active travel.

3.3 The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019

The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 is published by Infrastructure Australia to model Australia’s infrastructure needs in the coming decade, and includes transport infrastructure. The Austroads’ Australian Cycling Participation 2019 survey showed that cycling has decreased in the last decade in Australia. The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 predicts this is unlikely to change in the next decade in the ACT.

Looking back and then forward

The mode share for cycling has not increased in the ACT in the last decade. Two good sources show this: the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 and ABS Census data from 2011 and 2016 (Section 3.4).

The National Cycling Participation Survey found that cycling declined in Australia between 2017 and 2019.[18]  One would hope this will change for the better, however, the Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 predicts the mode share to remain largely unchanged. The modelling is quite detailed and covers all major roads and all public transport routes using Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport, and Regional Economics (BITRE) models.

As our population grows, we are not driving less as the following graph shows (1997-2017). The green dotted line shows population growth.

Figure 3‑6 Source: Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (2018), Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018)

Crowding and congestion

The report does not include cycling, which it should, but has interesting things to tell us about transport mode share and the growth on congestion in Canberra on roads and public transport.

The Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019 expects the cost of road congestion in the ACT and Queanbeyan to increase to approximately $504 million in 2031, up from $289 million in 2016, a 74% increase.[19]

The ACT and Queanbeyan in 2016

Looking back to 2016:

“In 2016, Canberrans drove the most car kilometres per person of any Australian city. Active transport, including walking and bike riding, accounts for 22% of daily trips –19% more than public transport usage.”[20]

Figure 3‑7 Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion Fact Sheet – ACT and Queanbeyan August 2019, Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019
Figure 3‑8 Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion Fact Sheet – ACT and Queanbeyan August 2019, Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019  

The ACT and Queanbeyan in 2031

Looking forward to 2031:

  • Public transport boardings, in-vehicle passenger kilometres, and in-vehicle passenger hours are all predicted to double from 2016.
  • Buses are expected to remain the most heavily used public transport mode, even after the construction of the Canberra light rail.
  • Canberra’s bus services are expected to see a 66% increase in boarding by 2031. This can be attributed to the Rapid network of routes, with extended operating hours and frequent services.

Canberrans love cars

It is well known that we drive more in Canberra than in any other Australian city.

“In 2016, Canberrans drove the most car kilometres per person of any Australian city. In comparison, public transport patronage has not increased significantly, reflecting the city’s continued dependence on cars as a primary mode of transport.”[21]

We have public transport but the mode share for public transport is low in Canberra compared to other Australian cities.

“In 2016, public transport use in the ACT and Queanbeyan accounted for just 3% of total daily trips, compared to the use of cars (75%) and active transport including walking and bike-riding (22%).”[22]

Greenfield developments, such as the Molonglo Valley, further stress the existing infrastructure.

“Consequently, transport infrastructure connecting Molonglo Valley with central Canberra is expected to be challenged by a significant increase in demand.”[23]

Congestion will almost double between 2016 and 2031, as shown in figure 3-9.

Figure 3‑9 Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion, Section 10 ACT and Queanbeyan, Australian Infrastructure Audit 2019, 171

Canberra’s infrastructure is getting better, however, not fast enough.

“With population growth generating additional car use that will overwhelm some mode shift from cars to public transport, road congestion will continue to grow in the ACT and Queanbeyan.”[24]

The congestion will happen despite the ACT Government’s best efforts.

“Along the worst-performing routes, drivers can expect to spend close to half of their travel time in congested traffic (as opposed to about 40% in the 2016 base year). Many of the poorest performing routes in 2016 are forecast to occupy a similar position in 2031.”[25]


There is no way that we will succeed to build our way out of congestion. There is an opportunity cost building road duplications. Congestion is expected to almost double by 2031. Light rail will help, but the expansion is too slow. The potential of cycling is vast but not without strong sponsorship, change leadership, and substantial investment by the ACT Government.

3.4 Australian mode share by state from ABS data

The ABS Census includes questions on how we get to work and where we live. compares the trends in Australian cities from 1976 to 2016.The graphs for walking and cycling are shown in this section.

Australia is a low cycling country and the graphs show that it has always been that way. We have seen some improvement in Canberra. More cycle to work in Canberra than in other Australian cities. The cycling mode share is tiny in Australia compared with a 10% and greater mode share in European countries. Even Vancouver in Canada has reached 10%.

Cycling to work

Over a 40 year period, between 1976 and 2016, the mode share for cycling increased in Canberra from just below 1% to 3%. At this rate it would take over 120 years to get to 10%.

Canberra is better than other Australian cities, where the cycling mode share is generally less than half what it is here. Australia is a low cycling country.

Figure 3‑10 Journey to work by bicycle only. Chart: Data: ABS Census.

Multimode travel

Multimode travel refers to trips where more than one form of transport has been used. “Park-and-ride” combines car and bus. Walking, cycling, and scooters can be combined with public transport for the long-distance transit. Public transport is part of the active travel mix.

Figure 3.10 shows that the mode share for cycling in the ACT was 3% in 2016. Figure 3.11 shows trips that included some cycling but not just cycling. In 2016 it lay a little above 3%. Less than 0.5% of Canberrans combine cycling with some other transport, such as a bus.

Figure 3‑11 Journeys to work involving a bicycle. Chart: ChartingTransport. Data: ABS Census.

Figure 3.12 shows multimode commuting that includes some cycling but excludes walking. Imagine, driving and then cycling, or cycling and then taking the bike on the bus. Multimode commuting is uncommon: around 0.34%.

Figure 3‑12 Journeys to work bicycle + another mode (other than walking). Chart: ChartingTransport. Data: ABS Census.

Walking to work

Walking to work is the oldest way to get to work. Living within walking distance from work is untypical for most of us but it is more common than cycling to work in Canberra.

The number of people walking to work has hardly increased in 40 years in Canberra (5.3% of Canberrans in 2016). We do better than most cities in Australia, except Hobart.

Figure 3‑13 Journeys to work by walking only. Chart: ChartingTransport. Data: ABS Census.

Location, location, location

The old real estate adage “location, location, location” is true for cycling, too. We are most likely to commute to work on a bicycle if we live close to Civic. Canberra North does best with about 10% cycling mode share around the ANU. The suburbs of Belconnen and Canberra South creep up to 8% cycling mode share in places. Weston Creek and Woden Valley come in after that. The mode share for cycling in the far north, Gungahlin, and the far south, Tuggeranong, is generally 2% or lower.

This following map (figure 3-14) was produced with ABS Census 2011 data. Figures 3-10 to 3-13, show that between 2011 and 2016 there was little change in the data. Cycling mode share in Canberra is low and has a long way to go.

Figure 3‑14 Bicycle in journey to work (%) ABS Census 2011, place of residence.

3.5 Seasonal variations in cycling

Little information is available about ACT seasonal variations in cycling. It is not as simple as hot or cold, wet or dry. Many will cycle anyway. Most studies are only for a short period. Here is what we do know.

We have three sources: Sullivan’s Creek bike path counter, Mount Stromlo Forest Park survey and another for Melbourne. That is not much. The ACT Government does not publish data of this type but it would be worthwhile as Canberra has four seasons. There is no reason to fear the worst, as Europe has four seasons, too. Canberra is much warmer and dryer than Europe, particularly northern Europe, where cycling participation rates are high.

Mount Stromlo Forest Park

The mountain biking draft report for Mount Stromlo Forest Park includes market research on seasonal variations for visitors. The number of visitors at Stromlo varies little between Summer, Spring, and Autumn, but is lower in Winter. Stromlo Forest Park Market research on visitors to Stromlo Forest Park indicates:

“Summer is the most popular season for riding, however there is only marginal difference in visitation between Summer, Spring and Autumn. Winter generates fewer visitors, reducing visitation by one third.”[26]

Sullivan’s Creek bike counter

The bike counter on Sullivan’s Creek is on the CBR Cycle Route C6 ANU to Dickson. The seasonal variation is not all that great. The biggest drop is around Christmas and early January, which is perhaps not all that surprising as government departments close over the Christmas period and many public servants return until late January to work. Finally, during this period the university has a long summer break.

Figure 3‑15 Sullivan Creeks bicycle counter data 2017-2021 DAILY totals, ACT Government Open Data Portal.

Seasonal variations in Melbourne

The Victorian Government has gone to the trouble to measure seasonal variations in cycling (Melbourne). The data would suggest that cycling is most popular in Spring and Autumn and lower in Summer and Winter months.

Figure 3‑16 Seasonal variations in cycling in Melbourne. Chart:

[1]R. Wilkins et al., The Household, Income and Labour Dynamic in Australia Survey: Selected Findings from Waves 1 to 17 (HILDA), Melbourne Institute, 2019, <>, 4, [accessed 7 July 2021].

[2] Ibid.

[3] J. Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.Kindle Edition, Basic Books, 2006., 92.

[4] Ibid.

[5] D. Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow.UK, Penguin Book, 2012, 98.

[6] Wilkins et. Al., HILDA, Melbourne Institute, 2019, 80.

[7] Ibid., 81.

[8] Ibid., 81.

[9] Ibid., 79.

[10] Ibid., 81.

[11] ACT and Queanbeyan-Palerang Household Travel Survey, ACT Government, 2018, <; [accessed 7 July 2021].

[12] Wilkins et. Al., HILDA, Melbourne Institute, 2019, 79.

[13] C. Munro, National cycling participation survey 2019, Austroads, 2019.

[14] C. Munro, National cycling participation survey 2019.Austroads, 2019, 7.

[15] Ibid., 8.

[16] Ibid., 13.

[17] Ibid., 14.

[18] Ibid., 28.

[19] Infrastructure Australia, Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion, Australian Government, 2019, <; [accessed 7 July 2021].

[20] Ibid.

[21] Infrastructure Australia, Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion, Australian Government, 2019,, 160, [accessed 7 Jul 2021].

[22] Ibid., 168.

[23] Ibid., 171.

[24] Infrastructure Australia, Urban Transport Crowding and Congestion, Australian Government, 2019,, 171, [accessed 7 July 2021].

[25] Ibid. 172.

[26] TRC Tourism Pty Ltd, Canberra Mountain Bike Report – Draft, ACT Parks and Conservation Service, 2019, <;.

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