Getting around

Singing the praises of an unsung City of Sydney hero

Fiona Campbell has championed bike riding for more than a decade. The Committee for Sydney has recognised her work with a prestigious award.

Fiona Campbell receives Committee for Sydney award

The Committee for Sydney’s annual awards celebrate the people who make Sydney special.

In 2023 the City of Sydney’s manager of cycling strategy, Fiona Campbell was awarded the prestigious Unsung Hero award. Embedded content:

For 15 years Fiona’s work has been crucial in improving Sydney’s liveability by making the city better suited to riding bikes.

So what’ve been the big challenges, triumphs and special moments in Fiona’s journey so far?

Fiona Campbell rides with furry friends on Saunders and Miller streets cycleway
Fiona Campbell rides with furry friends on Saunders and Miller streets cycleway

What does it mean to be recognised with the Unsung hero award?

It’s fantastic recognition of the importance of making active transport work well for a city.

The benefits of more cycling and walking are so broad and so huge – from equity to housing affordability and combating climate change – but so often these are ignored or sidelined.

This is great, really great.

How has bike riding culture changed in Sydney?

Previously in the lift at work, someone would see you with a helmet and rain jacket and say, ‘do you ride to work? You must be crazy’.

But now you’re more likely to hear ‘where do you ride from?’ or ‘I started recently,’ or ‘I’m thinking about it’.

It’s much more normal, and acceptable now. It’s also become much easier sharing the road, as a result.

What have been your biggest challenges in expanding the cycleways network?

The early days in 2010 when we had cycleways under construction all at once on Bourke Street, College Street, Union Street and Kent Street, and we faced a barrage of criticism from elements of the media.

It’s clear to everyone now that these are all great projects and it was worth persisting. In other parts of Sydney, to reap the benefits they’ll also need to weather that storm.

Protesters against College Street cycleway closure
Protesters against College Street cycleway closure

The real low point was the temporary removal of the College Street cycleway and the punitive increases in cycling fines at that time. It felt like we were going backwards and made it really challenging to press on.

In the next 10 years, what can we expect for bike riding in Sydney?

What I’d like to see – and it is happening – is for high quality cycleways to be built not just in inner Sydney, but everywhere. So that no matter where you live, you have the choice to ride for your local trips.

Across Greater Sydney there are 2 million trips by car a day that are less than 2km long. That’s an easy 7-minute bike ride.

Imagine, if even 5% of people swapped car trips for bike trips, everyone would benefit from the better flowing traffic, like school holiday traffic, every day of the year! Who doesn’t want that?

Where is your favourite cycleway and why?

My favourite is Wilson Street in Newtown. It’s lined with trees and interesting places along the way including the cafe. It’s a great, direct connection to Redfern, and it’s wide and well lit.

Wilson Street cycleway connects Newtown and Redfern
Wilson Street cycleway connects Newtown and Redfern

It’s also where I did my first campaigning, when the area was under South Sydney Council’s control. Following a resident request, the council was going to narrow Wilson Street from 14.8 to 12.8m. It would have put all the people riding bikes into the car door zone.

Together with some friends we surveyed residents and riders, and researched Sydney Water’s pipe locations. We then worked out a compromise proposal in collaboration with a resident pushing for the change.

Our efforts succeeded and the road was only narrowed by one metre, leaving enough space for cycling to continue to flourish on what was known then as ‘the bicycle highway of the inner west’.

What advice do you have for people who want to start riding but don't know where to begin?

Most of us remember how fun it was to ride as a kid, or on holidays somewhere. It really is that good and well worth getting back into it.

If someone has never ridden before, usually just 2 hours of private lessons is enough to get the hang of it. If you’re just rusty, or looking for confidence, then either a rusty riders course or a cycling in the city course at Sydney Park Cycling Centre will give you a big boost.

We get so many letters from people who have done the course and loved it. It’s very empowering.

What is your favourite part about bike riding in Sydney?

I love the social aspect of riding my bike for transport. Every commute includes friendly exchanges with people I know, or don’t know – other people riding or driving, or walking.

I used to drive to work over the Sydney Harbour Bridge every day, and really hated being stuck in traffic. Now my travel is so enjoyable.

I also love the change of seasons – the smell of wattle, then of jasmine and then the spectacular purple sky of jacaranda flowers.

Connecting with people and places along the way, on every journey. So much joy!

Published 17 August 2023, updated 18 August 2023