UCI Bike City Wollongong: getting the population on bikes to help fight climate change
In 2022, the coastal city of Wollongong hosted the UCI Road World Championships, the second time they had been held in Australia, after Melbourne-Geelong in 2010.
During the event, Wollongong welcomed 935 riders, an estimated 240,000 spectators, and showcased Wollongong to a global audience of more than 200 million people. The event appears to have motivated the local population to take to their bikes, if a Wollongong National Walking and Cycling Participation Survey is anything to go by.
The recently-release 2023 figures reveal that:
- the cycling participation rate (number of people riding a bicycle for any purpose in any location outside)in Wollongong has increased to 47 per cent (from 72,200 resident riders in 2020 to 101,800 this year).
- in 2023, one in five Wollongong residents ride a bike weekly, compared to around one in 10 three years ago
- around 64.9% of households in Wollongong have at least one working bicycle in their household.
Wollongong has an industrial heritage, and the local government area houses four of Australia’s top emitters. These emissions dominate Wollongong’s emissions profile, meaning a concerted effort is required from all of the city’s stakeholders in the fight against climate change.
With this in mind, the city – a UCI Bike City since 2021 – continues to work to get more of its citizens on bikes. Active mobility is included in the Wollongong City Council’s Climate Change Mitigation Plan, and the city has engaged a consultant to prepare a Wolllongong Cycling Network Plan.
Wollongong’s UCI Bike City Coordinator Samara Sheppard – an Elite mountain bike athlete – explains that the Wollongong Cycling Strategy 2030 will extend the city’s cycling network from approximately 130km to a total of nearly 215km by 2030. The aim is for cycling to become the preferred transport option.
CYCLING EVENTS LEADING BY EXAMPLE
She is convinced that an event such as the UCI Road World Championships has a major role to play in encouraging populations to take to their bikes. They can also set an example when it comes to respect for the environment. Any cycling event can and should integrate sustainability actions into its organisation, and Samara Sheppard points to the MS Gong Ride. This annual charity fundraiser sees its 10,000 participants navigate stunning road routes spanning 52km or 79km before finishing by the beach in Wollongong. The event embraces sustainability through various initiatives:
- biodegradable and compostable mailing satchels for merchandise
- single-use plastic free event site
- reusable cups and bottles provided to event staff
- QR codes to replace paper for event day registration forms and train tickets
- two plastic bottles recycled per finisher’s medal produced
- paperless operations where possible during event planning
- event apparel made to order, to avoid over-supply.
Similarly, the Ride Wollongong Festival of Cycling, a legacy of the 2022 UCI Road Worlds, took place in September with competitive races, community rides, food stalls, live entertainment and workshops. Committed to sustainability, its measures included:
- Standby mode at night and during periods of inactivity
- Reduced number of speakers
- Daytime events to minimize need for additional lighting
- Encouraged riders to bring their own bottles
- Turned off hoses when not in use
- Climate adaptation:
- Severe weather protocol in place
- 30% recycling rate thanks to twelve 240L recycling bins
- Material use:
- Use of reusable toggles instead of cable ties on banners.
UCI BIKE CITY EVENTS ACCREDITATION PROGRAMME
In a bid to involve not just cycling events but all events organised in the city, Wollongong has launched an events accreditation system as part of the legacy programme from the 2022 UCI Road World Championships. Accredited UCI Bike City projects should contribute to one or more of the legacy key pillars that aim to ensure the city benefits from the bike long after the event. These cover the areas of sport, tourism, policy, transport, education and skills development as well as the development of partnerships.
GETTING BUSINESSES ON BOARD
Local business are encouraged to play their part, and 123 have already been accredited as a Bike Friendly Business, with an additional 16 awarded the Bike Friendly Employer label. To be accredited a Bike Friendly Business, companies undergo an assessment that includes the provision of secure bike parking, level and inclusive accessibility, sustainable practices, and collaboration with the local cycling community, among others. Accredited businesses are of a greatly varying sizes and from a range of sectors: food and drink providers, retail and services, accommodation and attractions. They include private, public and non-profit organisation.
Samara Sheppard points out that many of these businesses also take part in discussions about upcoming events and community infrastructure advancements. “These interactions not only provide valuable insights into our strengths as a UCI Bike City, but also highlight areas for improvement,” she says. “The programme serves as a feedback loop, allowing us to channel this information into our ongoing efforts to enhance Wollongong’s standing as a UCI Bike City.”
PRIDE OF THE CITY
Wollongong City Council means to apply the example of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships to other events in the city, and has made different toolkits available to future organisers.
“Wollongong is proud to have hosted the 2022 UCI Road World Championships and the legacies from this event live on in our community’s enthusiasm to continue to ride bikes and in Council’s ongoing investment in cycling infrastructure,’’ Wollongong City Council General Manager Greg Doyle said.
“At Council, we’re keen to work with event holders to not only see high-quality events in our city but to support the delivery of these events in a sustainable way. We know no one knows the local area like us, and that’s why we’ve information that’s easily accessible to event organisers that can be used to guide them in the delivery of sustainable events.
“In addition to dedicated sections on our website, we’ve toolkits like our Sustainable Events Guide,Sustainable Events Checklist and Waste wise Event Guidelines that don’t just provide best practice advice but show how sustainable events can be delivered in our city.’’
Photo credit: Teel Studios