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If we want Diversity riding on our streets, we need Diversity in our leadership

In September this year, the third Asia Pacific Cycle Congress was hosted in Brisbane by the Queensland Government, Brisbane City Council and Gold Coast City Council. Sara Stace reports on the highlights and key outcomes of the congress.

“We’re on the cusp of a cycling tsunami” announced demographer Bernard Salt at the opening of the Asia Pacific Cycle Congress. Salt is the author of several popular books such as ‘The Big Picture’ and ‘The Big Tilt’, which predict the impact of Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y on Australian culture and lifestyle over time. He uses acronyms to describe urban tribes: NETTELs with Not Enough Time to Enjoy Life; and PUMCINS, Professional Urban Middle Class In Nice Suburbs, who are likely to keep goat’s cheese in their stainless steel fridges.

In his analysis of cycling, Salt noted there are three groups whose presence guarantees high rates of commuter cycling: students, hipsters and fighter pilots. Apparently the cities with a high military presence (e.g. Townsville, Darwin) have a significantly higher mode share of cycling to work than the other cities of Australia.

Keynote excerpt from Bernard Salt at the Asia Pacific Cycle Congress

Salt also noted that within our bigger cities there’s a geographic and economic divide between households that are fit and active (goat cheese eaters); and households with a preference for McDonalds and sedentary lifestyles. He called it ‘The Goat Cheese Curtain’, which got a lot of people laughing, but it’s a sad indictment: households enjoying the inner-city goat cheese lifestyle are more likely to ride a bike and lead an active lifestyle than those living further out on the fringe.

Salt recommended that the cycling industry ought to capture the following major growth areas over the next decade:

1. ‘Knowledge workers’ in the fields of education, health, and professional services; who work in and around CBDs, universities and hospital campuses.

2. Active semi-retired lifestylers (age 65-75) aka Baby Boomers who want to maintain their health before their knees and hips give up. Bikes, especially e-bikes are perfect for this cohort.

3. School children: the Baby Boomer ‘echo’ is resulting in a huge wave of school-aged kids this decade, and they love riding bikes. Our task is to get them riding to school and beyond, for life.


A outstanding keynote was presented by Tim Papandreou, Director of Strategic Planning and Policy at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Encouraging more cycling in the hilliest city in the US is quite a task – and Papandreou showed that impressive outcomes could be achieved through the right policy, infrastructure and regulatory settings.

Papandreou opened his presentation by saying “The most dangerous phrase is ‘we’ve always done it this way’.” He then invited four experts onto the stage who were all women. Tweeters at the Congress went ballistic at this point because, let’s face it, at an international cycling congress, an all-female expert panel is highly unusual (unless you call it a ‘women’s event’ in which case few people turn up).

Tim Papandreuo Cycle Congress
Ms Genevieve Graves, RACQ, Dr Emma Pharo, UTAS, Sara Stace, Link Place Consulting, Cr Linda Cooper, Cairns Regional Council, Mr Timothy Papandreou, San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority

Keynote excerpt from Timothy Papandreou at the Asia Pacific Cycle Congress


So, what set this cycling congress apart from the way we’ve always done it?

Firstly, there were a lot of women attending, and they asked a lot of questions. The change in atmosphere was palpable and positive.

Secondly, congress attendees were invited to tour Brisbane by bike during peak hour. This was a brave move by the conference organisers although most of it was along on the riverfront, sharing paths with fit office workers who were riding and jogging home. There were also ‘fringe events’ that were open to the public, such as the ‘Bicycles Welcome Here’ festival.

Thirdly, the debates about social media and big data opened up new topic areas that will certainly develop in future.


Brian Riordan from Strava Metro showed us how the data collected by Strava could be mapped and analysed to help governments improve planning and delivery of cycling infrastructure. I was on the panel responding to Riordan’s presentation, along with Conrad Bates (Managing Partner EYC3) and Peter Zanzottera (Leeds, UK). My response was that Strava is excellent at marketing its product to the 2% of riders who are ‘Strong and Fearless’. But policy makers and planners need to reach the 7% who consider themselves ‘Enthused and Confident’ and the 33% who are ‘Interested but Concerned’.

Getting them to change their behaviour – from driving to cycling – has huge economic benefits particularly for public health. The biggest barrier for these groups is to ‘feel safe’ so we need to understand what they require and where it will add the most value.

Keynote excerpt from Brian Riordan at the Asia Pacific Cycle Congress


This brings us to the issue of diversity, a topic that kept returning throughout the Congress. Of the ten ‘keynote and guest speakers’ only one was female (myself).

Sara Stace Cycle Congress keynote
Asia Pacific Cycle Congress Keynote Speaker, Sara Stace


There are a lot of women with a wealth of expertise that we’d like to hear from. Likewise for ethnic diversity (and interestingly the female audience was much more ethnically diverse).

If we’re going to fan the flames of a revolution, to ride the crest of the ‘cycling tsunami’, then we need to engage with The People. And, as Salt showed us, the Australian population is not limited to hardened old white blokes. The People are young, engaged with social media, and ethnically diverse. They aspire to a certain lifestyle, and bicycles are a core feature of that aspiration (just look at all the ads featuring bicycles these days).

If we want to see diversity riding on our streets, we need to hear from a diverse audience. We need to move beyond “we’ve always done it this way”. Getting more women and minority groups on the stage would be one small step for the giant leap forward.

Sara Stace
Sara Stacehttp://www.linkplace.com.au
is executive director of Link Place consulting. She is a board member of the Australian Cycle Alliance and Bicycle NSW and founder of Humans on Bikes.
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