Omar Khalifa

About Omar Khalifa

Omar Khalifa founded the Australian Cyclists Party after leading Bicycle NSW. Omar’s career has included working with NASA, Hewlett Packard, Apple Computer, Optus, Telstra and at the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva. Omar now helps to raise trout, veggies and chickens on his farm and he is an Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate innovation incubator.

Could have been worse: time to change Cycling’s path

Approx Reading Time-10Chair of the Australian Cyclists Party, Omar Khalifa says it’s time to seek meaningful change to stop the NSW Government’s crusade against cycling.


Those who have struggled to enhance the status of cycling in NSW found themselves reaching new depths of despair following the recent announcements from the NSW Government regarding new cycling safety laws. It follows years of squandered opportunities and delays, in what is widely regarded as a bizarre personal crusade being waged by the Roads Minister.

Why he is left to his own devices by his colleagues implies a much broader issue of how his Government sets its policies.

It also points to a chronically ineffective cycling advocacy environment that even in this instance has sent mixed, delayed and contradictory signals. It has never been less clear whether cycling advocates can get their house in order and truly advance NSW or even Australia to become more cycling-friendly. This is occurring even as other countries – including the USA – take great strides in re-thinking their transport priorities and taking their first steps away from the car-dominant culture they helped create.

While some cycling advocates applauded the clarified – if legally redundant – minimum passing distance regulation, it was NSW’s planned introduction of mandatory ID requirements and much harsher fines on cyclists that has re-ignited discussions about fairness, representation and unity of purpose among cycling advocates.

The punitive moves were bundled as part of a cynical package that seems to have no basis for promoting safety on the roads. Stranger still, that cycling advocates have to sit up and beg to get scraps of good policy, along with a good old thwacking, is demeaning to those who are trying to start the discussion. Being met with the refrain “…it could have been worse” gives cold comfort. To most, the combined effect of these measures will be to dampen enthusiasm for cycling, just as it attempts to reach the next inflection point.

As awful as it is, these steps remain consistent with previous moves by the Baird Government, and at odds with the rhetoric about reducing congestion, targeting soaring diabetes and obesity rates, and increasing active travel numbers. Even on economic grounds, the huge investment in new roadways and tunnels is diminishing any hope that NSW is on a new, enlightened path.

Quite simply, if the government and advocates seek to encourage cycling as part of the everyday transport mix, then the focus must be on just one end objective: to get more people cycling. To that end, the approach must be clear from the Premier, his ministers and policy makers, and advocates alike. Our current course is plainly off-target and the government has accepted this reality by dropping from their future KPI’s the cycling growth target that they have been failing.

On the other side of the issue, this article from CityLab charts the different infrastructure within the cycling community, and the motivational approaches to get them going. These studies arrive at four general groupings: Strong and fearless; Enthused and confident; Interested but concerned; and No way, no how.

What the study tell us is that over 50 percent of people would be found in the third – “Interested but concerned” – category. They are ready to give cycling a try but not without some real concerns being addressed. Those who have no problem in navigating the current political path (The “Strong and fearless” segment) accounts for less than eight percent. From what I’ve seen, the numbers appear consistent with those in Australia. Focusing on the small but often vocal and well organised “Strong and Fearless” riding segment to represent the needs of the larger “Interested and Concerned” group is where the schism exists. The situation in Australia stands well apart from the UK, where a number of high profile cycling champions have become outspoken advocates for “Interested and Concerned” cyclists.

While we ask for more unity of purpose among all advocates to increase cycling numbers to push the issue, it is also time for the voices of other stakeholders to be heard. Health and planning and schools need to come to the table and help sort out a unified approach that helps the government understand that cycling is no longer merely a political tool, but see it for what it is. A safe and flexible form of Transport. And as citizens, we should all stand firm and reject that the measure of good government and proper governance is “it could have been worse.”


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