Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ll know that this Tuesday 5th March is Census Day. Replacing the quake-postponed 2011 Census, this is when the Government collects a range of data from all NZ residents, relating to households, work, lifestyle, and so on. The data is very important to help plan for a variety of public services, to ensure that they reflect changing patterns in population shifts and behaviours.
One very important question for cycling is no.41, which asks what is the main way that people travelled to work on Census day. Because it records the patterns of everyone going to work, it is widely used for national and local transport planning to determine likely priorities for expenditure on travel modes.
Now there are a number of major limitations with this question. By focusing on travel to work, it only captures about 20% of all trips made. Various groups have sought in the past that at least trips for education (to school, uni, etc) were also asked about (particularly given their impact on peak travel patterns), but to no avail. The Census also doesn’t reflect journeys where cycling is just one part of a longer trip, e.g. bike’n’ride to a train station or combining bikes on buses. Travel modes like cycling are also very dependent on weather – if it rains on Census Day then chances are that the official cycling numbers will be down that year.
The ongoing NZ Household Travel Survey, run by the Ministry of Transport, addresses many of these limitations to get a better picture of all private trips, but relies on a smaller sample of participants to infer its findings (~4600 households nationally). This makes it hard to use for precise estimations, especially for sub-areas within New Zealand. Hence, the Census travel-to-work data continues to be relied on quite strongly.
Christchurch of course tends to be a leading light for cycling in New Zealand; we typically have about one-quarter of all NZ cycle commuters within our city boundaries. And our percentage of commuters cycling (6.5% in 2006) is comfortably more than double the national average (2.5%). But, as you can see in the graph below, we have fallen quite a bit from our recent peak in the mid-80s when more than 11% of commuters cycled here (to say nothing of the numbers who cycled in the middle of the 20th century). Most of the damage was done in the 1990s; judging by local cycle counts, we seem to have held reasonably steady over the past decade (testament to the cycling facilities that have been provided here already?).
Now, far be it for me to demand that you all hop on your bikes for your commute to work on Tuesday (although that’s what at least one Facebook page is strongly encouraging people to do). However I might suggest that, if there’s one day in the next five years when it might be really useful to ride your bike to work, that just might be it…
(P.S: the current forecast for Christchurch on Tuesday is for a fine day!)