A Dangerous Ride For Child Cyclists
How Sydney's Cycling Strategy Was Hijacked
Separated cycleways make a lot of sense where they are used
to bypass longish bits of busy main road.
A safe, separated inner-city cycleway with intersections
every 50 metres or so is a contradiction in terms. The intersections make it neither separated nor safe.
However, inner-city residents are about to find 55 kilometres of them sweeping pedestrians and parking spots from their streets, at a cost of over $35 million, without the concept having ever been exposed to public scrutiny.
Like letting toddlers play
unsupervised in one's front garden without closing the gates to the street, an intersection-riddled cycleway is inherently dangerous. Cities in Germany, Finland, Canada, Belgium, Austria, England, Scotland, Sweden - the list is depressingly long - which were naive enough to build such
facilities have quickly discovered and documented this before moving on to safe and sensible cycling infrastructure, generally shared "Bicycle Boulevards".
And yet, in April 2008, residents of Surry Hills and nearby
suburbs were informed in a leaflet signed by the Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, that
the "City of Sydney is introducing a dedicated separated bicycle route
along Bourke Street ... where all cyclists including children and the elderly
feel safe and comfortable".
The leaflet included a cross-section of Bourke Street incorporating the proposed "bicycle road" - in essence, short lengths of two-way cycleway shoehorned between parking lanes and the gutter. This was up to two metres wider than the distance between many of the heritage-listed plane trees which line Bourke Street; the leaflet talked evasively about minimising the number of trees that would have to be cut down. It also featured a heavily doctored photograph purporting to show cyclists pedalling happily along beside four traffic and parking lanes where - as residents were well aware - there are currently only three.
Baffled local cyclists and residents tried in vain to make sense of this, "Googled" for answers, and quickly realised that the proposal was both massively destructive and demonstrably unsafe. They took up the leaflet's
invitation to "comment on the proposal" in droves throughout April, May and June 2008 but found that their questions were ignored, and that they were treated dismissively in
face-to-face conversations with the Lord Mayor and Council staff.
How on earth has Clover Moore allowed her reputation, and
that of the Sydney City Council, to sink so low in the bicycle-friendly
electorates that raised her to power?
Why are Council staff ignoring or attacking the numerous
people (including noted American cycling infrastructure expert John Forester)
who have invoked international experience and accident statistics to question
the wisdom and safety of the proposed Bourke Street Cycleway?
The answer to these questions is buried deep in Council
"Ground Zero" appears to be a report
(File Number S046655) submitted to Council's important
"Planning Development and Transport Committee" on 26 March 2007.
This report recommended endorsement of the final version
of the "Cycle
Strategy and Action Plan 2007-2017", which had been
massively "sexed-up" with proposals from non-cyclist focus groups
after the public exhibition period ended. It was - in essence - converted from
a reasonably balanced, albeit not particularly good, bike plan to a scheme to
build separated two-way cycleways all over the inner city and to entice
non-cyclists onto them.
The report makes fascinating and disturbing
"A Steering Committee ... established to oversee the
preparation of the strategy ... chaired by the Lord Mayor ... included
Councillor McInerney, Councillor Harris (and) Councillor Mallard..."
"... social research has been undertaken to identify
how best to target infrastructure and social campaigns to achieve the desired
increases in cycling in the City".
"The Cycle Strategy and Action Plan 2007-2017 ...
provides detailed action plans to ensure that novices feel much safer riding a
"... changes include the provision of more dedicated
on-road bicycle facilities to create a bicycle network that a child can safely
"... Council may amend or put the revised draft
Strategy on public exhibition, given that the draft has been significantly
amended. This option is not recommended as it would delay the implementation
of the Strategy."
Council's "Planning Development and Transport
Committee" swallowed all this, and tabled a recommendation to the full
Council meeting on 02 April 2007 that the amended "Cycle Strategy"
Councillors trustingly accepted this recommendation and
(as Clover Moore continues to regularly remind everybody) passed the
"Cycle Strategy" unanimously.
After a year of intense but secretive planning - not
disclosed in the "Inner East Local Action Plan" or tabled at local
LATM meetings in November and December 2007 - this demonstrably dangerous
scheme was steamrollered into Clover's unsuspecting electorate in April 2008.
The rest is history, headlines, and - if this whimsical and
expensive plan for "improving" the currently safe and satisfactory
"Bourke Street Cycle Route" is pursued - a prescription for horrible
pedestrian and cyclist injuries at the 70 or more cross-streets and driveways
which interrupt its 4.3Km length.
Shivers must surely be running down the spines of residents throughout Sydney - from Roslyn Gardens to St John's Road - on whom the Lord Mayor plans to impose more than 50 additional kilometres of these cycleways at a cost of over $35 million (ie around $400 per domestic ratepayer).
Some (including the ones in the CBD with signalised intersections) will be safe enough. Others probably won't - but, if the Bourke Street experience is repeated, local cyclists and residents will find their questions and sensible suggestions falling upon deaf ears. They would be wise to scrutinise Figure 27 on page 49 of Council's "Cycle
Strategy" very carefully indeed.