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Show of Strength to Protect Bike Lanes

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Melbourne, Victoria

Melbourne cyclists and bike advocacy groups have come out in force to oppose what they saw as a major threat to the roll-out of separated cycleways in the city centre.

A total of 1,145 submissions were received and a succession of around 40 cycling supporters spoke at a City of Melbourne meeting last week, when the council considered updates to the organisation’s Transport Strategy 2030 and its Transport Program to Aid City Recovery and Reactivation.

Riders, advocacy groups and a number of businesses were incensed by a recommendation to the meeting for a 12-month deferral for the construction of protected bike lanes within the CBD’s Hoddle Grid.

Several speakers at the council’s Future Melbourne Committee meeting expressed concerns a deferral from 2022/23 to 2023/24 would hobble the momentum of Melbourne’s current cycling infrastructure roll-out and put future projects at risk.

“It’s easy to say let’s rip up protected bike lanes in the city, likewise it’s easy to say let’s build them on every street in the municipality. It’s harder the examine the data to share the limited transport space available and to get the balance right.”

Sections of Melbourne media and the business community have waged a long-running campaign opposing the conversion of road and parking space to separated cycling lanes, calling for some existing bike lanes on arterial roads to be removed because they restrict traffic flows.

Hoddle Grid Disruptions

A staff report to the meeting cited considerable and ongoing changes to the CBD road network as a need to defer bike lane roll-outs in the Hoddle Grid, “while the city continues to recover and travel behaviour settles into a new rhythm”.

However, Lord Mayor Sally Capp told the meeting, including a crowded public gallery, the Hoddle Grid projects were not “shovel ready” to proceed during the upcoming financial year anyway.

The Mayor and other councillors spoke of the need to find balanced and fair compromise for all modes of transport into the city centre.

“It’s easy to say let’s rip up protected bike lanes in the city, likewise it’s easy to say let’s build them on every street in the municipality. It’s harder the examine the data to share the limited transport space available and to get the balance right,” Mayor Capp said.

“The most detailed examination we have to address all of that is our Transport Strategy 2030, which is based on experts’ advice and voices from more than 1,800 people.

“It does consider Melbourne’s transport needs now and into the future and examines how we will welcome everyone into the city on every mode of transport. This means finding safe space and smoothing traffic flows for cars, trams, trains, buses, scooters, pedestrians, delivery vehicles and emergency service vehicles, just to name a few.

“It is about compromise and balance, it’s about being fair and reasonable.”

However, in a display of support for active transport, several councillors introduced additions to the recommendations being considered, to reaffirm and reinforce the council’s commitment to separated cycling lanes.

While the motion to defer Hoddle Grid works remained in place, the amendments affirmed the delay was only for one year, and design work for those lanes would proceed during that time – including detailed designs for Flinders Street – so construction could proceed the following financial year.

Little Impact on Roll-out

The meeting was told the deferral would actually have little, if any, impact on when the work was undertaken.

The adopted series of recommendation – ultimately supported by all but one of the councillors – also included bolstered commitment to protected lanes along high-value routes outside the Hoddle Grid. They include Arden Street, Macaulay Road and Royal Parade during 2022/23, with another amendment calling for the Arden Street and Macaulay Road to begin “as soon as practicable”.

Further additions to the recommendations reaffirmed the revised timeframes for implementing bike lanes “will not result in any reduction in proposed budget for 2022/23, being $4 million on the Cycle Infrastructure program, plus any funds carried forward from 2021/22”. Nor would they prevent the implementation of protected lanes as outlined in the strategy.

The Transport Strategy commits to delivering 90km of protected bicycle lanes by 2030 – 50km on local roads to be delivered by the council and 40km on arterial roads to be delivered by the State Government.

In February 2020, City of Melbourne committed to “accelerate delivery of 44km of protected bicycle lanes by mid-2024 in response to the climate and biodiversity emergency”.

The report to last week’s meeting said the council is on track to meet this target.

The CEO of Bicycle Industries Australia and executive officer of We Ride Australia, Peter Bourke, said cycling advocacy groups were heartened by the final decision of the council, after media coverage and industry speculation leading up to the meeting threatened a more negative outcome for cycling in the Melbourne city centre.

“This just caused a media storm that didn’t need to happen.”

However, Peter said those advocacy groups are concerned the meeting’s inclusion of a motion to postpone the Hoddle Grid work had opened the door for further conversations about deferring cycling infrastructure and added fuel for media and groups resistant to cycling.

“The concern is the following day neighbouring council Moreland voted to postpone the roll-out of separated bike infrastructure on Alexander Road. The City of Melbourne meeting could start a broader conversation about pausing the roll-out of bike infrastructure,” he said.

“That meeting didn’t need a motion because there wouldn’t have been any lanes built in the CBD in 2022/23 anyway. There was nothing ready to be built because there are still designs and approvals outstanding.

“The submissions and speakers at the meeting showed the councillors there’s a lot of support for bike infrastructure, with two of the councillors changing their vote after hearing all the speakers, but it’s opened the door for a pause in infrastructure and, in the past, those pauses have lasted anywhere from a week to 10 years.

“This just caused a media storm that didn’t need to happen.”

He said this was reflected in much of the media coverage the day after the Future Melbourne meeting.

Every community member who addressed the meeting on the Transport Strategy spoke in favour of cycling and all but one of the councillors spoke overwhelmingly in favour of the need to encourage and support cycling in the city centre.

Media Focus on Isolated Opposition

However, media such as the Herald Sun newspaper chose to focus on the comments of the one councillor who voted against the staff recommendations, Cr Roshena Campbell.

While Cr Campbell acknowledged the need for safe cycling routes, she pointed to overseas cities such as London who, she says, recognise when they get it wrong with cycling paths and act to adjust that infrastructure.

In the case of City of Melbourne, she said that meant recognising the impact of the Transport Strategy’s actions on people who cannot conveniently cycle or catch public transport into, or through, the city.

“There are plenty of Melbournians who can’t afford to live close enough to the city centre that they can cycle in, who aren’t well serviced by public transport, and I cannot ignore them,” Cr Campbell explained.

While some media and business groups have pointed the finger at bike lanes for causing traffic congestion in the city and discouraging patronage of inner-city businesses, the staff report to last week’s meeting says motorists driving through the CBD were the greatest cause of congestion.

Cr Campbell said until there was an adequate focus on providing improved arterial roads bypassing the city centre, councils must accommodate motorists who needed to drive through the CBD.

Councillors Condemn Media

Several councillors used the meeting to condemn “divisive” media coverage of the bike lane issue and highlighted the need for transport solutions that accommodated all road users as harmoniously as possible.

Greens councillor Rohan Leppert thanked all the speakers who addressed the meeting and helped to “debunk some of the stupid myths that have been weaponised by the tabloid media and have seeped into all parts of society and, unfortunately every now and then, parts of government”.

According to council figures from its discussions with businesses in December 2021, traffic congestion and the impact of new protected bike lanes were not identified as significant concerns for the businesses interviewed. Instead, the attractiveness of public transport and the cost of travel were key themes.

“In contrast, social and print media have criticised bike lanes as the key reason for traffic congestion in the CBD. The data does not support the claim that removing bike lanes would reduce congestion,” the meeting report says.

Expanding Bike Lane Users

Deputy Mayor Nicholas Reece said the emergence of other forms of micromobility further emphasised the need to overcome motorist versus cyclist mentality.

“Do bike lanes improve safety for people on our roads and, secondly, do bike lanes allow more people, not less, to move around the city more efficiently, and the answer to both those questions is a very, very clear yes.”

“We’ve seen a million trips on e-scooters since the (city’s) ride sharing scheme started,” Cr Reece said.

“Eighty-four percent of those trips involved travel on protected bike lanes and other bike lanes. That’s another important indicator of why we need to get beyond debate of bikes versus cars.

“Going forward, there’s going to be micromobility, people on e-scooters, e-bikes, motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, we need to think about how we most efficiently and safely move all those people around.”

Since the start of the City of Melbourne scooter share service in February, scooter trips have comprised 20% of total traffic on the city’s bike paths, according to statistics presented to the council meeting.

“Do bike lanes improve safety for people on our roads and, secondly, do bike lanes allow more people, not less, to move around the city more efficiently, and the answer to both those questions is a very, very clear yes,” Cr Reece added.

“More investment is going to occur in the roll-out of bike lanes in this city over the next four years than has happened at any point in this city’s history.

“The Victorian government confirmed yesterday it’s rolling out protected bike lanes along St Kilda Road.”

The Department of Transport has indicated it will deliver another 100km of bicycle lanes across eight municipalities, including Darebin, Maribyrnong, Moreland, Melbourne, Yarra, Stonnington and Port Phillip.

Following International Trends

Last week’s meeting noted the “extensive and rapid commitments to accelerate increased sustainable mobility options” in other international cities. In particular, it highlighted: 750km of bicycle lanes being delivered in Milan by 2035, targeting 80% of public facilities within 1km of a bike route; 650km of bicycle lanes in Paris by 2024, along with 120,000 new bike parking spaces and removing 72,000 on-street car parking spaces; and 260km of protected and low-traffic bicycle routes installed in London since 2016.

The meeting report says in April 2022, bike volumes along upgraded bike lanes on Peel and Swanston Streets were at 156% and 113% of pre-COVID-19 figures, while Queens Bridge Street was at 186%.

Overall, data from completed projects shows a steady increase in bike volumes throughout 2022, with safer infrastructure attracting new riders.

“Officers will continue to work closely with the Department of Transport to monitor trends in travel behaviour and make adjustments to facilitate access to central city activities and destinations,” it says.

A projection of future economic contributions by different modes of transport to city activation shows public transport is expected to be the most significant, generating $35.4 billion dollars in 2026. The contribution of motor vehicles is projected to be $7.5 billion, along with $3.5 billion by bicycles and $3.3 billion by pedestrians.

During an earlier item at the Future Melbourne meeting, Cr Leppert pushed for the M9 group – an alliance of the nine inner Melbourne councils – to urgently focus on active transport discussions, “with a view to understanding how we can collaborate and better leverage funding out of the State Government”.

He said while active transport was one of the M9’s identified priorities, it has not been mentioned in recent biannual reports from the group.

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