Episode 3 - Stephen Hodge

 

   

Today in the podcast, we interview Stephen Hodge, a professional and elite cyclist who has entered the Olympics and has completed 6 Tour de France, 4 Tours of Italy and 4 Tours of Spain.

Stephen is currently the Government Relations Manager of the Australian Cycling Promotion Foundation and the National Advocate of Active Travel. His role includes building relationships with Parliamentarians and NGOs to increase the investment in cycling infrastructure, improving implementation of bicycling framework policy, and generally improving the environment for cycling whether for recreation, commuting and other aspects.

He also runs his own consultancy firm Day and Hodge Associates and is a member of the Urban Policy Dialogue, which is a group that brings together national bodies in transport, property, local government, health research and promotion and the social community sector to advise the urban minister in policies relating to urban issues.

 

In this episode, we cover:

  • The background of Stephen’s cycling journey
  • How he sees cycling as a solution to create better communities
  • The benefits of better public transport systems so people can be more active in their trips by walking and cycling and becoming healthier in the process
  • Bicycling in Copenhagen where it is a way of life and an accepted and mainstream way to get around
  • Difference in priority between government parties with their emphasis to support and allocate budgets for cycling infrastructure
  • How large corporate developers are ahead of government in making provisions for cycling
  • How close relationships with other industry groups helped to integrate cycling in national discussions in different sectors
  • Reasons for the rebranding of the Cycling Promotion Foundation’s statement to “We Ride”
  • Cycling Without Age (CWA) Initiative

 

Links

Cycling Promotion Fund

We Ride website

 

Transcript

FELICITY:

This is episode three. Welcome to the ‘All Torque’ podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I’m your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque. Let me welcome today’s guest.

So, I have here today with us, cycling pedigree, Stephen Hodge who has had an amazing cycling career. Some of his highlights include completing six tours of France, Italy, four tours of Italy and four tours of Spain. Along with a Comm Games, entering the Olympics and an amazing abundance of results that you would not believe, in every facet of cycling. Stephen’s actually royalty in cycling, I feel. Along with that, he is currently the Australian Cycling Promotion Foundation’s government relations manager and national advocate for active travel.

With his background in being Bicycle Industry’s representative federally, responsible for building relationships with Parliamentarians and NGO’s to increase the investment in cycling infrastructure, improve implementation of bicycle friendly policy and generally improving the environment for cycling whether for recreation, commuting and also other aspects. Alongside that, you run your own consultancy firm, Day & Hodge Associates and are a member of the urban policy dialogue which is a group that brings together national peak bodies in Transport, Property, Local Government, Health research and Promotion and the Social and Community Sector to advise the Shadow Minister on policy relating to urban issues. With 80 percent of the GDP generated in cities and major urban centres and housing a similar percentage, a major focus is to ensure sustainable development of our economy and also quality of life.

So Stephen, that’s an amazing background.

STEPHEN:

Good morning, Felicity.

FELICITY:

Good morning.

Please share with us a bit a more about your background and how did you find yourself on this path? How did it all translate to where you are now?

STEPHEN:

Well, as you’ve noted, I spent a decade or more. More than a decade in Europe, cycling as an elite cyclist and as a professional cyclist. But I think, coming back and donating my time back, for many years to the running of the sport, through the Board of Cycling Australia. I really started to get very interested in the bigger picture and while sport cyclists are consumed with, ‘who’s going to wear the yellow jersey in the Tour?’ and, ‘how Matthews is going to go in the world championship’ or ‘can Mathew Hayman win another Paris-Roubaix?’

In fact, there’s a whole crying need out there for us to find ways for Australians to be more active. There’s a crying need out there for our cities to find more efficient ways to move people. We’re crippling, we’re being crippled with transport congestion and there are no alternatives. And cycling is an obvious solution and around the world, it’s a solution to creating better communities in our cities.

This is really what got me interested in this whole area, that we’re now going to talk about.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

FELICITY:

Yes and I note that 2 percent of all trips are done by bike and up to 50 percent, that’s in Australia, and up to 50 percent in Europe, are done by bike. So that’s a massive difference there, isn’t there?  

STEPHEN:

There is, there is and along with higher rates of public and what we call active transport, which is walking, cycling and accessing public transport, with your own two feet. We find that there are many benefits when cities actually plan to make it easier for the people to walk and cycle and they provide better public transport systems. Populations are healthier, I think the Netherlands is the only country in the world where the rate of obesity is actually forecast to decline, in coming years.

We have a crisis of people just being too big, because we are completely physically inactive. 70 percent of our children from five to 12, are not active enough to ensure their own physical wellbeing and over 90 percent of young people, from the age of 12 to 17 are not physically active enough to ensure their own physical wellbeing. There are many reasons to be pretty out there and trying to change the game and I, with the Australian Cycling promotion foundation, along with all the other cycling groups. The State Cycling bodies and the Amy Gillett Foundation, we’re all looking for these answers.

FELICITY:

And it’s not only a health issue, which is a major issue, but it’s also an environmental issue and a transport issue.

STEPHEN:

It’s really interesting when people do surveys about what stresses them out about living in their suburbs or their cities, or their towns. It’s things like before crime even, it’s things like noise. People associate noise with stressful living environments and with high rates of cycling and less cars, you have much calmer city centres and town centres. And the road system, it’s really interesting actually, the road system in countries that have planned and built for safe systems from a safe system’s approach, their road trauma and their road deaths are 40 to 50 percent lower per capita, or per million kilometres travel. Whichever way you want to do it, they are significantly lower than Australia’s road trauma and road deaths.

Not only do we get much more attractive environments, which are quieter, they’re also safer. And we avoid this issue where we try and build our way out of traffic congestion, spending billions on highways. Where in fact, all that does, and this is objectively the case, it simply increases congestion. People drive more when they have, to fill the roads that are built. And conversely, when you reduce access for cars, the traffic just fades away. It literally disappears, as people then shift to other modes. It’s all about planning, it’s all about investment in the right options to make it easier for people to be more active in their trips. And let’s not forget, the last thing I’ll throw at you. Just before I let you come back in, is that in Australian cities, 50 percent of all trips are five kilometres or less. That’s every trip done, every day, not only to work but to school, to shops, to visit family, about five Ks or less.

Now that is a distance that even an unfit person can cycle easily in 20 minutes. Can you imagine the revolution that would occur if those trips were attractive to do by bike, you know?

FELICITY:

Well it reminds me of my trip to Copenhagen, a few years ago, and I was absolutely gob smacked really at how well cycling is integrated into that city. Not only cycling lanes but also traffic lights with bikes on them, saying green and red, so you can stop and go. And the motorists are very accommodating, but also it was just really a way of life. That’s what I really noticed. People would be not necessarily obviously on road bikes because they’re not bunch riding like I normally do, but they were commuting and it was just a really friendly space. And even on the footpaths, you actually as a pedestrian didn’t feel uncomfortable. The riders would either be slower or going around you, there was just a really good synergy, I noticed, and a really good energy about that city actually and very compatible.

It’s interesting you talk about the stats on the trauma on our roads, and that’s quite interesting, because I didn’t really, you don’t feel that energy over in Copenhagen. I have to say, it is a very well integrated travel plan that actually suits everybody. Younger people and older people and they just dress up accordingly to the weather as well. Obviously, they have a heavier winter than us, a severe winter. They just wear coats and have brollies and off they go.

STEPHEN:

It’s really interesting you say that, what you’re explaining there is cycling is simply an accepted and mainstream way to get around. The infrastructure is in place so that you just walk out your door, you hop on a bike. No one has to think, ‘oh, I’m going to go riding today.’ It’s not that, it’s, ‘oh no, I’ll just ride on my bike, which is sitting outside the front door and the clothes I am wearing’, because it is the quickest, simplest and far and away, the most fun way to do that short trip.

Copenhagen is an exceptionally good city for cycling but if you look at an overall, a whole country the Netherlands, Germany are certainly ahead of the game. The average trip distance by bike is only three kilometres. It’s not like people think, ‘oh, I’m a cyclist. I have to cycle these trips.’ No, no, it’s just that for the trips of that distance, it is the easiest, it is the quickest and by far the most enjoyable way to get around. Beyond that, they can wheel their bikes onto the local trains or they park them more often at the station, pop on a train, do a commute to their job, get out at the other end, take one of the share bikes that are widely distributed throughout the Netherlands and Germany, and then they go to work.

It’s simply an option and the Dutch look at Australians and they think, ‘well, you’re really concerned about this issue about cycling.’ They just don’t look at themselves as being cyclist, they simply use a bike because it is the best option.

FELICITY:

It’s just something they do every day, they don’t really think about it, as you say. Like we do.

STEPHEN:

No.

FELICITY:

Is there much of difference of a priority between the parties with their emphasis to support and budget for cycling infrastructure since, talking about Copenhagen, they have fantastic infrastructure and I think for us, as a country, our infrastructure is what’s holding us back. Is there any prioritisation?

STEPHEN:

Good question, yeah, good question.

The way that cycling and walking and public transport is provided or invested in, in Australia there is a demarcation between Federal and State Governments and then again to Local Governments. So that State and Local Governments are primarily responsible for implementing the infrastructure and the programs that allow cycling, walking and public transport. And what we’ve seen is that there are some quite big differences between parties of both sides, we’ve seen a Queensland Labor Government with significant commitments to cycling, come in and do a great job.

In Western Australia, we actually had a very good Liberal Government previous to the current Government, who started off a really good investment program for cycling. The Labor Government that won the election last year made an even bigger commitment and that’s now being put on the ground. And then we have other Governments, so I don’t think, I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not really a left and a right thing. But it certainly needs work.

Every advocacy organisation needs to really work hard with whoever their Government is, because we’ve seen the biggest state in Australia, really in need of the most help. Let’s just say. Being a bit diplomatic. We’ve got New South Wales really suffering at the moment, with declining participation in cycling. After some very antagonistic and negative treatment of cycling in the past five years, and that’s now coming home to roost. With declining rates of cycling and really people feeling very unsafe on the roads. And for all the good work that’s been done by the city of Sydney and others, other Councils, it really needs a big investment and a big change in attitude from the State Government.

FELICITY:

I think for it to start, to become more integrated, it really needs to start from the ground roots. Doesn’t it? And when, for instance in my area, there’s a lot of sub-division going on with some new estates and they don’t really make the provision for cycling. Whereas I know, for instance, in that Queensland example you were giving that they have, and that sounds fantastic. Because they’ve got a lot of cycling paths and that attracts young families and then the kids can, hopefully, ride to school. We really need to learn at a young age, don’t we?

STEPHEN:

Yes, we do.

FELICITY:

To embrace that as we get older and I think that’s important.

STEPHEN:

Yes indeed. What we’re seeing actually is often the large corporate developers are actually ahead of the Government, so we’ve seen Stockton, one of Australia’s largest development corporations creating a new residential development on the Sunshine Coast. That is putting in Dutch style infrastructure right from before the houses even go in. Right from the beginning it is planned in and that is fabulous.

We’ve seen other major development corporations like Lend Lease who are global, realise that not only do their staff really want provisions made in the big, huge developments in the buildings that they are doing. Like Barangaroo, not only does Lend Lease realise that their staff want it, they are leading the way in globally sustainable developments. And they’ve been recognised globally for this, so business and corporate Australia is often ahead of the Governments, with how they’re working.

This is great but we need everything. We need policy, we need investment, we need lots of different aspects and of course, as you’ve mentioned, we need to focus on our kids.

FELICITY:

Well that’s right and along with the Cycling Promotion Foundation and other partnerships you also, have some other corporates. One of them, which is the, not necessarily corporate but the Heart Foundation, that support you as well. Don’t they? So all the foundations, are there other companies that are supporting the initiatives in this way as well? As far as the contributing and sponsoring?

STEPHEN:

One of the strategic imperatives, if you like, is when we established our Federal Government lobbying activities, if you like. About eight or nine years ago, was that we knew that cycling on its own was a relatively small sector. It’s a relatively small consideration in the bigger picture for city’s development, city’s policy and health policy and so on.

What we did is we developed a very close relationship with people like the Heart Foundation, people like the Property Council, the Green Building Council, the bus industry and the rail industry. So that we could talk integration with public transport and all of this was with a single focus to ensure that cycling was included as part of the national discussions. Whether it be health, whether it be transport, whether it be city and urban design. That’s been very successful, we’re part of a federal parliamentary friendship group which we helped set up for better cities. That allows us straight into Parliament to discuss issues of concern for the good development of cities, with MPs and Senators and Ministers.

We recently participated as a co-signatory to the launch of a national policy on active travel to school, with among others, the Heart Foundation, Victorian University and other Australian academic experts. And that’s all about putting in place a plan to invest for boosting our kid’s ability to walk, cycle, scoot and skate to school. These are critical activities, they’re often invisible to the general public because this all goes on behind the scenes to really impact the decisions that our politicians make. We’re very conscious that not only do we have to be telling the story publicly and doing the cool, groovy marketing and videos and stuff. But we also have to be very clear and very focused behind the scenes, to try and change minds and influence hearts. Or change hearts and influence minds, whatever it is.  

FELICITY:

That’s also been, I’m guessing, part of the rebranding with the Cycling Promotion Foundation now being, the positioning statement is ‘we ride’. Isn’t it?

STEPHEN:

Correct. Look, there were two key reasons. One, we as a program of the industry body, our governance structure wasn’t ideal for really being more successful and getting more coverage and getting more resources into the kitty, if you like, to do our activities. And the second thing was, quite clearly, you need, the way to say it is, you need politicians and decision makers to feel comfortable about the choices they make, pro cycling.

We need to change the image and the attractiveness of cycling, for those who are not currently cycling. Because it’s all those who are not currently cycling that can often be a problem for us, if we want someone to invest in better bike paths or better crossings, to get into schools. We need more of this, marketing style content out in the public domain. But we also need to continue the very focused work behind the scenes, to give decision makers objective data and information and reasons to say yes to cycling.

FELICITY:

Absolutely. There’s a new initiative or what’s popping up in our local area now, it’s new for us. But it has been around, it did start in the Netherlands and it’s actually called CWA. Which is Cycling Without Age, have you heard about that?

STEPHEN:

Yes, I obviously know about that and I’ve met with the Danish representatives when they’ve come to visit Canberra. And I’m very happy to say that Pedal Power together with one of the aged care providers in Canberra has also bought two bikes or three trishaws which are now in use in Canberra.

FELICITY:

Yes, we’ve got one locally now as well. I’m excited to participate in that, I think it’s a fantastic initiative and I look forward to seeing some smiles on people’s faces.

STEPHEN:

I’m sure you will.

FELICITY:

Is there anything else, Stephen, that you would like to add that people, where can people find you? Or learn about the Cycling Promotion Foundation and the initiatives there?

STEPHEN:

There are two things I’d like to just alert people to. One, of course, is that we are online at www.weride.org.au we’ve got a new Foundation, charitable not-for-profit Foundation, we will be launching a new website. But there’s a website there now and it covers everything that you need to know about us. And the other thing is that, since, for nearly 20 years now, we have conducted a national awards program. The Cycling Luminaries Awards and we’ll soon be putting out a call for nominations to the awards. And we’ll try and spread the word widely but we’ve over the years, we’ve seen some marvelous efforts from in tiny places up in Arnhem Land and on the west coast of WA, right through to programs helping disadvantaged kids in cities around Australia. All manner of programs have been awarded, that are making a difference to increase cycling participation in this country.

And those awards will be announced at our Australian Bicycle Summit, which is currently close to a decision about where it will be hosted. But we’ll be publicising that and the other thing is, that, We Ride Australia will launch its new brand with a competition. A video competition where anyone can just do a short little video on their phone and just somewhere in it say, ‘We ride’, in some way, shape or form. It might be your kids saying, ‘We ride because we love going to school by bike’ or whatever, and a little short funny video. And we’ll be posting those using Facebook and our website and really with a hope that we just tell more great stories about cycling.

FELICITY:

Absolutely and we look forward to supporting you with that, I think that’s fantastic and I look forward to hearing about some of those stories. Certainly it highlights all the layers through cycling and there’s so many things going on that we’re not aware about. It’s actually quite exciting, learning about all those different projects and how people contribute.

STEPHEN:

And we look forward to making all of those stories available, so everyone can learn a little bit more as well.

FELICITY:

Yes. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing that and it’s been a great interview today and I thank you for your time, Stephen. It’s been fantastic.

STEPHEN:

Thanks very much, Felicity.

FELICITY:

You’re welcome.

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