I think it’s time Yarra Boulevard was declared a ‘Bicycle Road’ where cyclists have priority over cars. This would increase safety and send a powerful message to residents and tourists alike that Melbourne is a bicycle friendly city.
Yarra Boulevard is already an iconic recreational and commuter cycling route due to its river and bush outlook, undulating alignment and direct connection to the Yarra Trail. It also operates as an alternative route for part of the Yarra Trail.
Although it is not a major traffic artery, there is the ever-present potential for conflicts between cyclists and drivers. There is something about this road – possibly the limited number of access points and the absence of parked cars – that seems to encourage drivers and motor cyclists to speed.
Yet it is ideal for a Bicycle Road. Apart from its scenic aspect and moderate traffic load, it has two great advantages. First, there are only a handful of houses along its entire length that require car access directly from the Boulevard itself. Second, very few cars use it for parking – in fact large sections of the road currently have no space provided for parking and no evident demand.
One approach would be to make large sections of Yarra Boulevard car-free. This would be technically feasible, however I think it would be better politics to permit cars to continue using it, but with constraints. Some drivers currently use it at peak hour to rat-run to Studley Park Road – they could be potent opposition to any change.
Another approach would be to give bicycles right of way over cars and limit the maximum vehicle speed to 40 km/h or less. While this has merit, there is always the 85/15 problem – around 15% of drivers will always ignore the rules and speed or drive carelessly. Traffic management works like speed humps wouldn’t be suitable because they would impact on cyclist’s enjoyment of the road.
A third and better approach would be to reserve the side of the road nearest to the river for the exclusive use of bicycles. Two standard width road lanes could be set aside for cyclists, one in each direction. That would leave enough room for cars to travel one-way on a single road lane on the landward side. There would be no provision for on-road car parking.
Bicycles and cars should be separated by a low traffic island similar to the one separating the existing section of dedicated bicycle lane from the car lanes (see picture below). In fact if cars were transferred to that bicycle lane and cyclists to the adjacent road it would look pretty much like what I have in mind (it’s just that the existing cycle lane is on the river side whereas I think it makes better sense to locate cars on the landward side).
The northern end of the Bicycle Road could commence just past the main entrance to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre about 300 metres up the hill from Chandler Hwy. This would enable most of the existing on-road parking related to the Royal Talbot to be retained. The other end should be located at the T junction with Walmer Rd.
There are four points where drivers would need to cross the Bicycle Road in order to access roads on the river side of Yarra Boulevard. These are Studley Park Rd, Boathouse Rd, a service road leading to the recreation area opposite the Willsmere apartments, and Molesworth St (there is also a single crossover adjacent to Molesworth St that gives access to some properties on the river side of Yarra Boulevard).
Special traffic management treatments would be required at these points to minimise conflict between cyclists and cars, although the guiding principle should be that cars must give way to bicycles. Limited off-street parking could be provided at the playground adjacent to the footbridge across the Yarra to Gipps St, Collingwood.
I expect local residents would feel better off if cars were slower and quieter. Rat runners would feel worse off by the move to one-way travel. Some cyclists might also feel disadvantaged – those that train seriously on Yarra Boulevard might feel impeded if the changes increase the number of recreational cyclists, although providing a full width traffic lane in each direction should nullify this complaint. Politically, I think it could be helpful to redesignate Yarra Boulevard formally as part of the Yarra Trail.
This is just a sketch – I don’t imagine I’ve covered all bases. Nevertheless, I’m confident a more detailed examination would result in a workable plan.
Making Yarra Boulevard a Bicycle Road would be good for Melbourne cyclists. It would also have an iconic role in creating a sense of Melbourne as a bicycle friendly city for both residents and tourists. There are downsides but they’re don’t appear to be fatal. Bicycle Victoria and the State Government should get working.