How much should we spend to get cycling up to 5 per cent of trips?

Melbourne’s weather is poor. It rains often. The city is huge – 100 km from edge to edge – and vast swathes of it are covered in the kind of densely packed contour lines that make cyclists legs tremble.

In winter, Melbourne’s cycling community shrinks by over a third.

Image

On days like today I suspect the number of cyclists is far smaller.

Image

In short, Melbourne will never be the sort of city where 50 per cent of trips are possible by bike. Cycling (and walking) will never ever do the “heavy lifting” in our transport mix. That role will always be split between public transport and private motorised transport.

At the moment, the mode share split between these three is:

Image
Source: 2011 census

And the trends are these:

Cycling is growing fast, more than doubling in eight years.:

Image
Source: VicRoads

Public transport growth has been its highest in sixty years, with train travel accounting for most of the increase:

Image
Source: PTV

And vehicle kilometres have surged on freeways, while not increasing on arterial roads.

Image
Source: VicRoads

Expenditure on specific infrastructure looks like this:

Nationwide, spending on cycling is $112.8 million. Spending on roads is over 100 times more, at $18 billion.

Image
Source: BITRE

The data is tough to aggregate, but one estimate is that roads get four times the investment of public transport.

All the modes are growing. How do we decide what the data means? And why not let the market decide what modes live or die?

The answer to the second question is that transport is going to be a centrally planned space until we can charge users per kilometre.

Public roads built to accommodate cars push the whole investment process into the world of “second-best.” If subsidising roads is a given, subsidising public transport can be efficient. Subsidising public transport makes policy makers wonder if there are other, cheaper ways to move people around, like bikes.

So if we’re going to be centrally planning our transport mix, we must ask: do we like the current 78/17/5 mix?

I’d argue we should not. I’d argue we should be aiming to grow the share of modes that have fewer negative externalities and greater returns to scale.

I’d hazard a guess that for Melbourne, 10 per cent share evenly split between walking and bike, 30 per cent for public transport, and 60 per cent for cars would be optimal.

Does that mean we should start spending 10 per cent of infrastructure funding on active modes, 30 per cent on public transport and 60 per cent on cars?

Only if we want to move very very slowly.

Image

Infrastructure lasts a long time. That means the stock of existing infrastructure is the single biggest determinant of infrastructure in five years time. Marginal changes in expenditure rates affect outcomes only very gently. If we want to effect change, we need to tip the scales massively in favour of the modes we want to grow, in the short term.

That means that announcements like $650,000 for changes to a cycling bridge in Melbourne’s west should not be cause for widespread congratulation.

In the short term, we could probably usefully spend 60 per cent of the transport infrastructure budget on public transport and 15 per cent on active modes. If we did that for a few years, we would move swiftly towards the outcomes we want, before returning to a “maintenance” split, where expenditure is based on usage.

Spending even $500 million a year on bicycle infrastructure might seem like a lot when the recent budget has been around $30 million. But when you look at what passes for “bicycle infrastructure” and imagine replacing it with global quality bicycle infrastructure, it would be a drop in the ocean.

Image
“Bike boxes” were the sine qua non of Melbourne bicycle infrastructure innovation just a few years ago.

I don’t imagine gold-plated bicycle infrastructure should go everywhere. Far from it. Cycling infrastructure should be optimised in the areas where cycling can thrive, likely to be areas that already see some bicycle traffic. Fixing missing links, creating Copenhagen lanes on major on-road routes, plus widening and lighting off-street bicycle paths would be the top three priorities.

If we want to increase the share of some modes, we need to be bold about throwing money at them, and not be afraid to acknowledge that such a move comes at the expense of other modes.

If the Contador positive proves anything it is this…

I don’t intend to get into all the details. But it seems as though something was in Contador’s blood that should not have been.

However, I do plan to hypothesis the source of the positive test, because many in the cycling media seem to be unable to make this connection. But first, here is a grab bag of quotes from Contador’s defenders:

(1) The amount was so small that it could not possibly have a benefit.

(2) Taking such a drug at such a late stage in the race could not possibly have a benefit.

(3) The drug was not present in any other samples during the race. This must be an anomaly.

(4) Why would I take a drug that is so easily detected?

I believe that Contador did not take the drug during the race. But he almost certainly popped a couple of blood bags into his arm on one or two occasions.

That is the most likely source of these trace amounts.

As a bit of history, when Floyd Landis was charged with doping testosterone in the 2006 Tour de France. His defenders made these exact claims. Testosterone is the sort of drug you take in training to boost muscle growth, you don’t take it midway through a race. I have since read that Landis, although admitting to doping throughout his career, still claims to have no idea what caused his testosterone positive during the 2006 race.

Since the positive test is irrefutable, because Landis’ sample contained what is undoubtedly synthetic testosterone. Landis is right to ask “where did it come from?”, the impolite response is “Blood doping, fool!”

Blood doping with your own blood is virtually undetectable. It is probably the safest way to dope these days. But you must be organised, because you need to build up a stockpile of blood for your use in the future. I am sure that people who are smart and have good advice, ensure that there blood bags are nice and clean. But, if a few of your bags go sour, you might need to grab some from an older batch, when perhaps you were not as careful.

Contador has ridden for a number of teams where blood doping was commonplace (Liberty Seguros, Discovery, Astana). I am willing to accept that the contaminated meat theory might be true, but I think contaminated blood bags is far more likely.

Putting the word out for a Lance Armstrong YouTube montage

As you may be aware, Lance Armstrong lost almost 12 minutes to his general classification adversaries on Sunday’s mountainous Le Tour stage. Dreams of an eighth overall victory have evaporated. Continue reading Putting the word out for a Lance Armstrong YouTube montage

Crashes are cycling’s yellow card

Wouldn’t it be great if soccer matches were decided only by skill and ability? But dives and handballs are inevitable when 22 dudes are making split-second decisions with the single objective of maximising their team’s chance of winning. Continue reading Crashes are cycling’s yellow card

Cycling, not so dopey?

Ivan Basso won Sunday’s Giro d’Italia stage which finished with a climb up the hugely steep Monte Zoncolan.

Monte Zoncolon profile

Basso’s time for the 10.1 kilometer climb was 1 minute and 45 seconds slower than the previous occasion it was climbed in the Giro. The winner of that stage (in 2007) was Gilberto Simoni from Saunier Duval, a team with a history of doping its riders up to the eyeballs.

Sounds like an improvement to me.

The hardest thing you can do on a bike

Shàngshān róngyì xiàshān nán.

This is a Chinese proverb that means “going uphill is easy, going downhill is hard”. To all the cyclists out there that like to coast the downhills, this will probably come as a surprise. Racing flat-out down a technical descent is the hardest thing you can do on a bike.
Continue reading The hardest thing you can do on a bike

Cadel Winner! And Salute Style Update

Cadel working on his victory salute
Cadel Evans wins stage seven of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

TTTE EXCLUSIVE: Cadel Evans wins filthy stage seven of the Giro and improves salute!

He is still persevering with the pointing, but at least both hands are in the air at the same time!