Cyclists sprinting to the line in NSW election

There are just a few days to polling day, and the Australian Cyclists Party is shifting up a gear to draw as many first preference votes as possible so that the government is forced to acknowledge their failure to meet cycling targets and do something about it. Whatever the result on Saturday, it has been worth it. The Labor party have announced an active transport policy that looks like it could have been lifted straight from the ACP. We don’t mind. It’s great to see a major party recognise the benefits of active transport. Now we just need the others to come on board.

What have I been up to? Unless you pay close attention to the Inner West Courier, you wouldn’t have seen me. And even when speaking at a public forum as one of three candidates present (shame on the Libs for not facing the public), a minor party like ours doesn’t get more than a quick quote.

So here’s the transcript of the only thing I wrote down. Hopefully it spells out what I’m standing for, and why you should consider giving your first preference to the Australian Cyclists Party. If you’re so convinced you’d like to help out on polling day, get in touch! 

Speech to The Glebe Society, Friday 27th February, Glebe Town Hall

Good evening, and thank you to The Glebe Society for inviting me to speak tonight. My name is Patrick Fogarty, the Balmain candidate for the Australian Cyclists Party. I live down the hill in Ultimo, and am a statistician by training. I have worked at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and with the New South Wales Department of Health. I spent some time working in medical research in the UK, and now work in the finance sector.

I would like to use some of my time this evening to introduce the Australian Cyclists Party. We’re a new party, so you probably haven’t heard of us. We have a published set of values, which you can find on our website, and I’d like to mention a few of those values, and how they inform our responses to the questions posed this evening.

We demand honesty and integrity in politics. We believe that policy decisions should be transparent and evidence-based. Those decisions should be based on a long term outlook, to the benefit of everyone in the community. We have an optimistic view for New South Wales’ future, we really believe that with the right decisions we can make it a better place, and our approach is pragmatic and collaborative. We will work with whoever forms government, but will hold them to our standards and values.

Our primary aim is “a cycling-friendly Australia,” to improve access to cycling as a transport option, because this meets all our values. There is a wealth of evidence demonstrating the benefits of cycling. Not just the health benefits to the cyclist, which include both physical and mental health, but benefits to the community as a whole. Increased cycling improves the entire transport system, reducing congestion on roads and crowing on public transport; it reduces pressure on our health system, by reducing the incidence of inactivity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease; increased cycling is good for the economy, with studies showing that businesses with a cycle lane in front experience increased turnover, and it can promote regional tourism; and of course, it’s of benefit to the environment. The Australian Cyclists Party plans to achieve this through improved infrastructure, changing attitudes – something that needs to be done on both sides of the debate – and cycling training, so that the next generation of cyclists are more confident and more courteous.

We have no illusions about our role in this election, we are putting forward only seven candidates in the lower house so even if by some miracle all of us were elected, we do not propose to form government. Our role is to put cycling on the agenda, and highlight to the other parties that there are voters who wan’t improved cycling policy. Our lead candidate is Ken Thompson, who is running for the upper house. I could easily spend my ten minutes talking about Ken’s CV, but I will just mention that he was a former Deputy Commissioner of New South Wales Fire Brigades, and advisor to the Australian Conservation Foundation on climate change emergency management.

Turning to the questions posed by the Society this evening, I’d like to start with public housing and women’s refuges. The Australian Cyclists Party values speak of empowering individuals, strengthening communities, respecting the diversity of those communities, and evidence-based policy. Based on these values, it is evident that while there are people camping in Wentworth Park because they can’t access affordable housing, and while every second woman seeking help from a refuge is being turned away, then any reductions to those services are absolutely atrocious. On the issue of housing affordability, it’s not just a question of people doing it rough or first-home buyers struggling to get on the ladder, Sydney must have affordable housing in accessible locations. Otherwise, we simply exacerbate our dependence on vehicles. People forced to live on the city fringes can end up spending as much on transport costs as they would on a mortgage. By allowing people to live near their place of work, and improving active transport options, we can end that vicious cycle, to the benefit of the community as a whole.

I’ll turn now to the remaining questions, which I think all fall under the broad umbrella of “Planning”. First, I entirely endorse the “Planning for People” charter. The terms of the charter are entirely in line with our values, and I’d like to read out a few that could almost have been lifted from our website: “An open, accessible, transparent and accountable, corruption-free planning system; objective, evidence-based assessment of strategic planning and development proposals.”

Let’s turn to the question of WestConnex. This is exactly the type of planning policy that our values would prevent. Where is the transparency in the planning decisions? How does it contribute to a sustainable economy? What is the benefit to the community? And where is the evidence to support it?  We have seen this week the SGS Economics and Planning report released by the City of Sydney, which has answered those questions: WestConnex does not achieve its stated aims; it will not benefit the transport needs of the people in Sydney’s West and South-West; it will not improve traffic conditions in inner-Sydney; it is a plan that is already out of date, not considering development at Badgerys Creek; and like other toll-roads, it’s a potential financial black-hole. Based on current estimates, WestConnex is going to build road at a cost of $500,000 per metre. One metre is half a million dollars. Two metres is a million dollars, and what has that million dollars got you? Enough road space to park a smart car. Sydney is projected to grow to 6.2 million people by 2031, and according the SGS report, that money would be better spent on improving the public transport system. We would go further, and say that it should be spent on improving public transport, as well as walking and cycling options.

WestConnex is a prime example of the bad policy making of the past, and we hope it stays in the past. For the future of planning, we should look at the Bays Precinct redevelopment. Urban Growth NSW includes members who are world-leaders in sustainable development, and this promises hope for the future. Whatever happens at the Bays Precinct, it must involve the community, and be of benefit to the community as a whole, not just the developers and those who end up owning the real estate. There must be improved public access, and our vision would be a public walking and cycling path, which links up with a repaired and re-opened Glebe Island Bridge. Suddenly we now have an active transport corridor so that people living at Blackwattle Bay, and all along the foreshore, can get from their homes to jobs in Pyrmont and the CBD on foot or on two wheels.

As to the question of Wentworth Park, it’s quite simple. It must be retained as green, open space. Today, we already have a shortage of playing fields in inner-Sydney, forcing sporting clubs to travel far afield. That’s today. We have seen in the papers lately that the future of new, inner-city schools is vertical. Through simple necessity, kids will be going to new schools in tower blocks. Those kids must have nearby open space for sport, to run around, and just simply play.

I’d like to go back to that figure of 6.2 million people in Sydney by 2031, and ask you to picture that future. That means over a million more people, living in more or less the same space. That means higher density, and as I’ve just mentioned, high-rise schools. In all the variables that might change to affect that future, all the questions we could ask about what that’s going to look like, I’d like you to consider this: in the Sydney of 2031, with more people, and high-rise schools, how are kids getting to those schools? Is it going to be like today, where parents feel the only safe option is to drive their children to the school gates? With the roads around more schools even more clogged by the morning drop-off and after-school pick-up? Or, is it a 2031 where kids can safely get to school by bike or by walking, because they are able to live close enough, and because there is quality infrastructure and a culture where it’s normal?

That’s in 2031, just 16 years away. What if we look forward even further ahead, another 60 years? What does the Sydney of 2091 look like, based on our two cohorts of kids, who are now in their 60s and 70s? The first group, driven to school daily, probably spent most of their commuting life in cars, because there was no other option. How is the health system coping with that, an entire generation who have rarely been active, now requiring treatment for diabetes and heart disease? Contrast that with the other cohort of kids, who grew up walking and cycling to school, and were able to live in a Sydney with a range of transport options.

What do you want the Sydney of 2091 to look like? If you want a future where people have a choice to walk, ride or use public transport, where the health system is not put under unnecessary strain, and where the community as a whole benefits, then please consider a vote for the Australian Cyclists Party.

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