Pedal to the metal

After reports of a major increase in cycling activity during lockdown the City of Melbourne and the City of Sydney are joining many others around the world to fast track bike lanes and give commuters a safe alternative to public transport.

A Bicycle Network survey of recreational traffic across 13 sites in Melbourne found that the number of people using bikes during its April stage three lockdown weekend count period went up by 296 per cent.

The organisation said these numbers lined up with another survey they had done which showed a major increase in bicycle purchases across Australia during the lockdown period.

In addition, in May 2020 Forbes reported one bike shop had seen an increase of 667 per cent for sales of entry level bicycles, up on the year before.

Citing the huge increase in cycling activity across Melbourne, the City of Melbourne Transport portfolio Chair Councillor Nicolas Frances Gilley joined Lord Mayor Sally Capp to announce the fast-tracking of 40 kilometres of bike lanes into Melbourne CBD.

The lanes will be built in two stages as part of a $16 million project. The first 20 kilometres will be delivered over the next year.

The City of Sydney has also announced it will fast track six major cycling lanes throughout its municipality. With 40 per cent of residents in the City of Sydney that don’t own a car, the bike lanes will provide an alternative to public transport or walking.

Creating protected bike lanes was an objective outlined in the City of Melbourne’s Transport strategy 2030. This highlighted a goal to make Melbourne into the country’s leading bicycle city by creating more than 50 kilometres of protected bicycle lanes.

Similarly, the City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 also highlighted the need for sustainable transport options such as creating safe and accessible cycling paths.

Quick construction

City of Melbourne Transport portfolio Chair Councillor Nicolas Frances Gilley explains there is an element of temporary nature to the protected bike lanes.

“We have known for a long time that there has been an increase in demand for bike lanes for our cyclists and when we do introduce more protected bike lanes we see more cyclists come onto our roads.”

He says the infrastructure will be quick to deliver so it means that we can get the city working quickly and experience the idea of coming in on a bike.

“We will use plastics, rubber and recycled materials that can be installed quickly so we can accelerate bike lane delivery. The infrastructure we install will be functional for years to come and can be progressively replaced with fixed lanes over time as required.”

City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp says the council is piloting and trialling new ways of implementing this strategy quickly and she thinks that is a terrific thing.

“We know through our procurement process that there are lots of great materials out there including ways in which we can create protected bike lanes using 100 per cent recycled materials,so we are going to get lots of benefits using this one strategy,” Capp says.

The first priority routes chosen for construction in Melbourne are Exhibition Street stage one (Flinders Street to Bourke Street), Rathdowne Street (Victoria Street to Faraday Street), William Street (Dudley Street to Flinders Street), Abbotsford Street (Flemington Road to Queensberry Street) and Swanston Street (around the University of Melbourne from Grattan Street to Cemetery Road).

These lanes will better connect suburbs such as Carlton, East Melbourne, North Melbourne, Brunswick and West Melbourne to the city.

Works will kick off by installing 3.5 kilometres of protected bike lanes down Rathdowne and Exhibition streets, which at the time of writing in early July, have no protected bike lanes.

Gilley explains lots of different methods would be used to construct the lanes depending on their locations. This could include bollards, line markings, or creating a large space which can be backfilled with something else.

“We knew prior to COIVD that 30 per cent of people could be using a bicycle to get into the city but only about 10 per cent were. So as part of our consultation for our transport strategy we realised we could do something about creating space for cyclists,” he says.

“One of the things that COVID actually created was the opportunity for space in the city which allowed us to work with State Government and our own team about what the opportunity is right now to give that extra 20 per cent of people the opportunity to safely get into the city, enjoy the city and stay fit on a bike.”

In a statement, City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that as restrictions continue to ease, there is an urgent need to support more people to walk and ride and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We already have an extensive program of cycleways and public domain improvements, but we need short term tactical measures that can be implemented in weeks,” Moore said.

“When someone rides to work, they take a car off the road or free up space on public transport. This will be even invaluable when people start returning to the City and seek to maintain physical distancing.”

The City of Sydney will also use temporary footpath widening initiatives in areas of high pedestrian activity.

Providing transport options

Implementing safe cycling infrastructure is well recognised for increasing the number of people using bikes to get around.

Cities with more extensive cycling infrastructure such as London or Amsterdam tend to encourage more cyclists.

This idea is reflected in statistics for people that cycle to work. In 2017 the Australian census showed only 1.1 per cent of people used a bike to get to work across the country, compared with around five to six percent of the population of Great Britain (statistics accumulated from Cycling UK surveys).

Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp says this is especially important now because not only does it give people an alternative mode of transport to public transport, but it also helps to bring down congestion on streets and increase active transport.

“COVID-19 has heightened our recognition of the importance of bike lanes in the context of caution people will take around public transport,” she says.

She says the closer people get to the city the more crowded public transport becomes and initiatives like this will mean that people closer to the city will have more transport options as people begin to return.

“Priority lanes are important feeder lanes that connect suburbs to the city and they will encourage more people onto bicycles.”

“We really think this is about creating alternative transport modes, keeping people safe and being able to accommodate as many people moving in and around the city as possible,” she says.

The City of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government have jointly committed $16 million to the project.

Please note the time of writing this story was July 2020. 

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