Census: Cycling on the Rise in Christchurch

Last year, the long-awaited national Census was finally held. Now we are starting to see some of the results in detail, including information about travel to work. The full detailed regional results across the country won’t be publicly available for another couple of weeks, but Christchurch City has obtained the detailed breakdown of Census stats for their area and it’s available on the Council website.

In terms of cycling, the results are looking fairly positive. Cycle commuting in Christchurch increased as a proportion of all travel to work, from 6.5% in 2006 to 7.0% in 2013. In terms of absolute numbers, nearly 10,000 people commute to work by bike in Chch; that’s an increase of about 8% in cycle numbers since 2006. Still nowhere near the recent highs of the 1980s, but at least we’re heading back in the right direction.

Cycle commuting on the rise again in Chch
Cycle commuting on the rise again in Chch

It is important to remember that this is only part of the cycling numbers out there; National Travel Survey data indicates that ~50,000 cycle trips are made every day around Christchurch. This includes trips to study, shopping, recreation, and so on that are not captured by the Census.

Zooming in to a suburban level and Beckenham takes the honours of top cycling suburb in Chch. Nearly one-sixth of commuters from there travelled to work by bike on Census Day. I was going to list the top five statistical area units for you, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that actually quite a lot of the area units (typically ~1000-2000 residents each) achieved >10% bike commuting in 2013. So here they all are:

  • Beckenham – 16.0%
  • Riccarton South – 13.6%
  • Somerfield – 13.0%
  • Opawa – 12.3%
  • Deans Bush – 12.1%
  • Rapaki Track – 11.6%
  • St Martins – 11.4%
  • Mona Vale – 11.3%
  • Upper Riccarton – 10.8%
  • Jellie Park – 10.7%
  • Ilam – 10.5%
  • St Albans West – 10.5%
  • Strowan – 10.5%
  • Barrington South – 10.5%
  • Barrington North – 10.3%
  • Avon Loop – 10.3%
  • Mairehau – 10.1%
  • Rutland – 10.1%
  • Riccarton West – 10.0%
  • Cashmere West – 10.0%

The Press provided a useful graphic where you can see the relative cycle-commuting strength of different parts of Christchurch City (although the percentages shown are wrong because they include those people who didn’t travel to work that day). There’s some evidence of proximity to the centre being a factor in high cycle commuting, with a bit of shift to the west and south that could reflect some of the recent changes to major employment centres:

Darker areas show the keenest bike-commuting areas in Chch (c/ Fairfax)
Darker areas show the keenest bike-commuting areas in Chch (c/ Fairfax)

Not surprisingly, the lowest performing areas tended to be further out. Some of the rural parts of Christchurch City (in former Banks Peninsula) even had zero people cycle commuting. But closer in, some questions could be asked about why the likes of Northwood (2.6%) and Parklands (3.1%) have relatively low cycling numbers.

If we look at the “Greater Christchurch” urban area (including parts of Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts) the average cycle commuting rate was 6.0%. Right across the Canterbury region, it was a commendable 5.5%, although it has to be remembered that Christchurch makes up more than 80% of that count.

Nationally the cycle commuting rate is up to 2.9% (or about 44,000 people) compared with 2.5% (38,000 people) in 2006. That reflects a 16% increase in cycle commuting numbers across NZ, so it will be very interesting to see where most of that increase has occurred. And with the encouraging signs of planned cycleway developments around the country, it may be the start of a great new trend.

Are the Census cycling stats what you expected?

4 thoughts on “Census: Cycling on the Rise in Christchurch”

  1. I would speculate that not many people work in Northwood, and it’s a scary ride in peak traffic into town. I rode from Bishopdale where I live out to the Northwood “super centre” one afternoon a couple of weeks ago and although the bike lane on Main North Rd was adequate, I didn’t like trucks going past at 60+kph. I expect only confident cyclists would do it going to work in the morning.

    1. Fair comment Stephen, although there is a way to get into Northwood without having to brave the State Hwy. From Northwood there is a pathway from Caleb Pl that takes you to Styx Mill Rd and over to Regents Park Dr. That will then connect you to the Railway Cycleway via Barnes Reserve. As with many of these shortcuts though, there’s no signposting, so you’ll need to swot up GoogleMaps to work out where to go.

      It might also be possible to get through from Glen Oaks Dr via the Styx Mill Reserve, but I’m not sure of the path link (will have to check it out one day).

      In the near future when the Railway Cycleway is extended further north, maybe a few more from Northwood/Belfast will venture out by bike.

  2. I might well be half of that 2.6% in Northwood that cycled to work, and I know of one other person that regularly commutes by cycle. (not as I read the remark “Not many people in Northwood work” – I need to get eye-brain connection fixed). Occasionally you’ll see a few people recreational riding. The suburb does feel cutoff cycle wise, bounded by Main North Rd and Johns Rd, that would intimidate many. I agree that sign posting routes to the main cycle paths would be helpful. An extended Railway Cycle Route is eagerly awaited. Cycling through Styx reserve is forbidden according to signage.

  3. That result for Beckenham is outstanding! 16% is at Swedish or German levels of cycling.

    I must say that the map supports the fact that socio-economic factors are huge. I know from living in Woolston/Opawa that the Ferry Road/Ensors Road line is a big divider economically, with West/South of that line considerably more affluent.

    Of course, from an economic point of view that doesn’t make much sense. People with less money should cycle more as it is cheaper.

    I don’t know if the difference is explained by cultural factors (less affluent see bicycles as (ironically) something that shows they have less money) or practical, in that people in lower paying jobs have to travel to work in a more dispersed pattern while the more affluent tend to work in more agglomerated areas like the CBD.

    The fact that also Sumner is quite strong supports that, as despite the distance, it has more cycling than areas closer to the city in the East. Interesting stuff.

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