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 records.


"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 reading:


"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 bicycle".


"... changes include the provision of more dedicated on-road bicycle facilities to create a bicycle network that a child can safely cycle on."


"... 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" be adopted.


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.




The above article represents the research and opinions of the Friends of Bourke Street to date. References have been given wherever possible.


We have been unsuccessful in our attempts to have Council staff confirm or deny the conclusions we have drawn from the facts that we have unearthed.


We urge you to check the references provided and email us (with URGENT in the subject line) if you discover anything we've got wrong, or if you have any additional information.




<The Friends Of Bourke Street>




The Bourke Street Cycleway - World's Worst Practice?