The History of the Bicycle Institute of SA.
The Bicycle Institute has a history extending back to 1974, when it was established as the Cyclist Protection Association (CPA). The defensive sounding name was understandable, given that the sixties and seventies was a time when transport planning assumed that the car was the way of the future, cars were pushing cyclists off the road and what little biking infrastructure there was (e.g. a bikeway down Anzac Highway) was being pulled out.
Still, it’s good to know that even in those days cyclists were arguing that bicycles represented a better way of life than cars. The advertisement in the journal of the Town & Country Planning Association that called for a bicycle advocacy organization was entitled “Bike In for a Better City”.
But it wasn’t just Adelaide that was in our sights. In fact it was an initiative of early CPA President Darrell Penhale that led to the establishment of the Bicycle Federation of Australia, which served as the peak body for transport-related cycling in Australia until 2010.
Early Advocacy Work:
From the beginning, the entirely voluntary CPA was all about cycling for transport purposes: cycling to work, cycling to school, cycling to the shops etc.
And right from the start, the CPA was pursuing an agenda that still resonates today: transport planning to encourage cycling, lower speed limits and dedicated bicycle routes.
In 1981 the CPA convinced the government to spend $200,000 on a metropolitan bike plan. Unfortunately there was not much on the ground to show for all this money spent in planning, although it was in the 1980s that we saw the first bike lanes in Adelaide.
One far-sighted initiative that we are proud of is the long-term lobbying for special bike routes. The West Side Bikeway along a disused railway route was built at the end of the 1980s. Through our representative Eric Clothier we were involved in its design, though that didn’t stop us later criticizing the winding route. BISA subsequently held other discussions about possible routes with local councils, notably Adelaide, Charles Sturt and Marion councils.
In the 1990s the BISA-affiliated Port Adelaide BUG took up the challenge, focussing on separated bike routes in and around the Port and nearby centres. In association with BISA, other bicycle advocates also developed their ideas for similar dedicated bike routes on local streets and reserves, notably Braund Avenue in Prospect, routes to local schools in Mt Gambier and between Victor Harbor and Goolwa.
In 2005 the PortBUG extensively surveyed and documented a route running alongside the Outer Harbor rail reserve and put an illustrated plan to BISA and to the State Government of the day, calling the proposed route the ‘Port Adelaide GreenLink’. Prompted by the short-lived draft SA Transport Strategy, BISA then documented similar proposals for dedicated ‘GreenLinks’ to West Beach, Gawler and along the Onkaparinga Valley in the Hills. The State Government’s Office of Cycling & Walking subsequently extended the concept to routes running all the way to Willunga and Marino Rocks, as well as metro links to the Showgrounds and the Adelaide Parklands bike paths.
Following a Labor Party commitment, the concept was taken up in the 2006 ‘Safety in Numbers’ bicycle plan, which saw the first publication of a map outlining a dedicated ‘Greenway’ bicycle network. Subsequent work by BISA members has led to the development of many bike routes and new proposals around the city.
BISA was also on the advisory group that resulted in Unley becoming the first suburb with 40kph streets in 1991. We are seeing more and more 40kph zones, but we still keep campaigning for this important step towards cycling safety.
The first President of the CPA (and BISA Life Member), Hans Penning, spent about one day a week for between 1992 and 1997 creating what he thought would be a good network of quiet, but direct routes on local roads for cyclists to use in the metropolitan area. This idea (and the extensive maps that Han’s had created) was taken up by the State government in the 1990s and funded as the ‘BikeDirect Network’.
BikeSA and Proposed Amalgamation:
In 1982 the CPA was instrumental in creating the SA Cycling Touring Association, with a focus on recreational cycling. This enabled the CPA to keep its focus on bicycle advocacy for transport cycling. The SA Cycling Touring Association (now BikeSA) could raise revenue by providing events and – unlike the CPA – did not feel inhibited about taking government funding for providing services.
With additional sources of revenue such as contracts for delivering the State Government’s BikeED program, BikeSA has been able to employ full-time staff and out grew the Cyclist Protection Association, which was renamed the Bicycle Institute of South Australia in 1991 (incidentally also the year that BISA held its first Cycle Commute Day, run with Life Be In It until 2003 and morphing into Ride to Work Day, a concept subsequently taken up nationally.)
There probably always will be several different organisations representing cyclists, but other Australian states currently have a single peak body providing both recreational events for members as well as advocacy. In 2001 there was an attempt to amalgamate BicycleSA (as it then was) and the Bicycle Institute. A referendum of BISA members failed to gain the necessary 75% approval with those opposing the amalgamation arguing the need for an advocacy-only group, independent of government association or revenue.
The Bicycle Institute in the 21st Century:
Since 2001 the Bicycle Institute has continued to advocate for transport cycling and everyday community bicycle use, relying on voluntary efforts from the community to do so. The new century has seen a turn around in cycling numbers with the declines experienced over last half of the 20th century being substantially reversed. The Super Tuesday counts (another initiative of BISA members) have recorded typical 10% increases each year.
These numbers are underpinned by a new-found level of support from state and local government. While BISA’s Greenlinks concept was finally adopted by the state government as its Greenway program, another BISA initiative, the Coastal Park, was taken up by Government and is now almost complete. Local governments are now far more sensitive to the needs of cyclists and everyday bicycle use than they were in the 1970s and ‘80s.
BISA continues to advocate for better conditions for everyday cycling, providing comment to the Government’s transport strategies and plans, identifying and pushing for new and innovative measures to be taken up and keeping members informed about what is going on.
However relying on volunteers has been a struggle and our ‘paid-up’ member numbers dwindled throughout the first decade of this century. In 2014 the AGM decided to trial a new free membership model. In addition to our regular Pedal Update newsletter, it was recognised that much of the cost of membership fees was being spent in providing an interstate ‘consumer’ magazine of doubtful value, and that much of the effort of volunteers was spent distributing the magazine and newsletter, and in managing both membership and fees. The use of digital communications has meant that – without the need to do either of these – we can focus our efforts on advocacy at very little cost and maintain strong linkages to both our members and to the community in general.
The move to a zero membership fee has seen numbers increase threefold as well as a spike in activity in the first year, but we will continue to monitor the situation and ensure we are making the best use of new technology.
Looking through newsletters of the past, we can be proud of role BISA has played in promoting better conditions for everyday bicycle use across South Australia. The lessons we can take aware from this short history are simple. It’s been obvious over the years that community thinking has often been well ahead of Government’s. Many innovations in community bicycle use have come about through advocacy and pressure from BISA and affiliated bicycle user groups and individuals.
It is also important to recognise that bicycle advocacy has also often been essential in providing Government with ‘permission’ to undertake innovative infrastructure programmes, sometimes in the face of opposition from elsewhere in the community. Bicycle in South Australia advocacy is essentially a form of participatory democracy and arguably, is now needed more than ever!
BISA has been responsible for promoting much of the innovative thinking behind many of the great changes we have seen since the early 1970s. However, when we compare conditions for bicycle use in Adelaide and elsewhere in SA with those of many other countries, it’s obvious that we are still in the early stages of developing a truly ‘bike friendly’ culture. To maintain SA’s great record of cycling innovation and development, it’s essential that there continue to be a truly independent and representative voice for community bicycle use. This is the role that the Bicycle Institute seeks to fulfil and for which it will continue to need the commitment and support of the cycling community.
Appendix: Past Presidents/Chairs of the Bicycle Institute
Hans Penning 1974 – 1976
John Sibly 1976 – 1979
Darryl Penhale / Eric Clothier 1979 – 1980
John Arnold 1980 – 1985
David Trebilcock 1985 – 1986
Jeremy Day 1986 – 1988
Hero Weston 1988 – 1989
Roger Pirola 1989 – 1991
Peter Good 1991 – 1992
Jeremy Miller 1992 – 1993
Peter Walter-Smith 1993 – 1996
Peter Lumb 1996 – 1999
Terry Leach 1999 – 2001
Michael Kokkim 2001 – 2003
Sam Powrie 2003 – 2008
Jeremy Miller 2008 – 2014
Ian Radbone 2014 – 2016
Fay Patterson 2016 -2018
Katie Gilfillan 2018 –
Thank you to Sam Powrie for his assistance in compiling this revision.
Previous version of BISA history compiled by produced by Richard Bentley (pre 2010) is available here (pdf file – 102 Kb)