A NEW alliance is gearing up to lobby the state government to commit $75 million from the Port of Newcastle lease into making the region the "cycling capital of Australia".
Dubbed a "once in a generation" opportunity, the proposed network would add 150 kilometres to 90 kilometres of existing cycleways, ensuring most residences in Newcastle were within 300 metres of a path.
The Newcastle Cycleways Movement first touted its plan for a cycleway network in June.
However things have ramped up considerably since then with the Heart Foundation, Hunter Medicare Local, the Property Council of Australia, NRMA and the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment joining as partners to the cause. The alliance will release its CycleSafe Newcastle Network Proposal on Monday.
Building on work and research done by Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils, the plan proposes a cycleway that would run for 240 kilometres, extending to key areas to the west of Newcastle, including the university, and to the south such as Charlestown and Valentine.
Specially built sections of the cycleway could cost up to $1 million a kilometre, but parts making use of existing roads could cost only $5000 a kilometre. The goal is to have it completed in five years.
"The local government has committed funds to the current cycling strategies so a preliminary estimate is that an extra $75 million would see the network completed," the report says.
Newcastle Cycleways Movement spokesman Bernard Hockings said the aim was to make the cycleway a "front and centre" issue before the byelections in October and the general state election next year. He said it was extremely cost-effective compared with 2.5 kilometres of light rail priced at $350 million.
"It's the same cost as one kilometre of the proposed Lookout Road bypass motorway," he said.
"This has broad support across the community; it benefits everyone - kids, adults, motorists, people who ride bikes and public servants.
"Now we've got to get it before government and in front of the decision makers. This is a chance to present ourselves as a smart, healthy and modern city."
Cycleways movement president Peter Lee said research done by the councils had formed the backbone of the plan, however he would like to see more separation from roads to make the cycleways safer.
Vice-president Ben Ewald said there would be significant economic savings by reducing parking, fuel and health costs.
"There would also be economic savings from wear and tear on roads," he said. "We think Newcastle is ideally placed for this cycleway because the terrain is good for cycling already and the city has a mild climate."
NRMA president Kyle Loades agreed: "There are a lot of good cycle paths in Newcastle but there is a need to improve connections between them, particularly with key precincts such as the university, the CBD and the harbour foreshore."
"We believe everyone has the right to share the road safely but much can be done to improve cycling infrastructure and separate bikes from general traffic when we can."
Hunter Medicare Local chief executive John Baillie said the cycleway could go a long way in fighting the bulge in the Hunter - home to the fifth highest number of overweight or obese adults in Australia.
Research shows 72 per cent of residents do not do the recommended amount of physical activity.
"A safe cycling environment would be a very effective strategy to reduce the health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle," Mr Baillie said. "If people feel that cycling is a viable transport alternative then we are providing people with a time-efficient way to combine regular exercise with their everyday routines."
Earlier this month the Heart Foundation revealed that the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie region had the 16th highest rate of heart disease in the country.
The foundation's NSW chief, Kerry Doyle, said governments had a big role to play in improving the health of communities and the cycleway was an example of how that could be achieved.
"Our philosophy is that if you make it easy for people to engage in physical activity they will," she said.
"This really is a once in a generation opportunity for an amazing piece of physical infrastructure to go ahead."
The Property Council of Australia's Hunter regional director, Andrew Fletcher, said he believed the cycleway in combination with the light rail system would "transform" the city.
"Our motivation is that we want to see Newcastle become a more connected and liveable," he said.
Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment director Tim Roberts said creating safe access to the university was of paramount importance.
"This would help meet the needs of the university campus by providing better links to it," Professor Roberts said.
"The most important thing is that we get the large amount of money to do the thing properly rather than this piecemeal business we see happen so often in Newcastle.
"It needs to be safe and connected so people can ride without the fear of being sideswiped by car."
The Port of Newcastle was leased long-term for $1.75bn in May
The alliance proposes the cycleway network could be built in five years if $75m was provided from the port lease earnings
The network extends beyond the Newcastle local government area boundary to include destinations in Lake Macquarie such as Charlestown, Cardiff, Glendale, Dudley, Speers Point and Valentine
Currently only 1.8% of the Newcastle population cycles to work; the goal is 5%
According to World Health Organisation economic assessment calculations, reaching the 5% target would mean savings of $6.4m every year in health costs
Cycle paths would be separated from traffic where possible
Most residences in Newcastle would be 300m from a cycleway
People who can't afford a car would benefit because they wouldn't have to rely on the public transport system
Building the cycleway would contribute to the current NSW state plan target to reduce child obesity and stabilise adulthood obesity