Jul 5, 2012

How safe is cycling (in Brisbane)?

Forgive me please for yet another cycling-related post. It’s Le Tour Fever. At least it's only got two and a half weeks to go! I just stumbled across this interesting video by

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

The Brisbane Times investigates How safe is Cycling in the City?

Forgive me please for yet another cycling-related post. It’s Le Tour Fever. At least it’s only got two and a half weeks to go!

I just stumbled across this interesting video by the Brisbane Times. A reporter used Brisbane’s CityCycle bike sharing scheme to address the question, How safe is cycling in the city? It’s not at all analytical but I did pick up on three interesting factoids.

First, there’s now a 40 km/h limit on most CBD streets in Brisbane. Exceptions are one-way Turbot St and Ann St where the limit is still 60 km/h (both feed on to the freeway IIRC). Other capitals should watch and learn from this initiative.

Second, you’re allowed to ride on the footpath in Qld except where it’s otherwise signed, according to Andrew Demack from Bicycle Queensland. In Brisbane, the only place you can’t ride is on the Queen St mall and the footpaths around the mall.

I’m very doubtful about cycling on footpaths – cyclists and pedestrians sharing space is a recipe for conflict. Might work OK in the short term while cyclist numbers are still relatively modest, but cycling doesn’t need opposition from both drivers and pedestrians.

Third, Andrew Demack also reckons hundreds of cyclists are hospitalised each year from contact with vehicles but the number of deaths is very small. We’re often told cycling is a great deal safer than most people imagine, but a lot of that discussion is couched in terms of fatalities.

Perhaps people aren’t irrational after all – they’re just as fearful of sustaining a serious brain injury or quadraplegia from a conflict with a car as being killed. Cyclists who mix it with cars are vulnerable. Better cycling infrastructure and improvements to the law to gain more regard from motorists remain the highest priority.

All of the cycling in the video is in or very close to Brisbane’s CBD. Like Melbourne Bikeshare, Brisbane’s CityCycle’s performance has been lacklustre. That’s doubtless partly down to the difficulty of getting access to a helmet, but it’s evident there’s also still a lot of work to do on the safety front in order to attract more riders.


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15 thoughts on “How safe is cycling (in Brisbane)?

  1. Socrates

    Apology for the cross post but there is no other thread about Brisbane here. Engineers Australia released its report into the Brisbane floods yesterday:

    The main publicity about it has related to its (justifiably) defending the three engineers who were managing the dam. But on page 14 it raises another issue that should be of interest to urban planners. Why were so many buildings built on obviously flood prone land AFTER the 1974 floods? A very good question.

  2. Socrates

    Regarding the question of bicycles riding on the footpath, I am in favour. In the absence of a bicycle lane in heavy traffic, riding in a road lane IS dangerous. Surely the risk and consequences of a bicycle – pedestrian collision is less than the risk adn consequences of a bicycle – car collision?

  3. michael r james


    This topic reminds me:

    A few years ago I was back in Brighton UK where I did my post-grad degree at U. Sussex in the early 80s. The university is about 3 km out of the town in semi-rural area and I realize over the years this influenced my attitudes to urban planning multiple ways. First, I came to dislike that twee British idea of rural campuses (though I understand why the red brick ones were there: free land post-war). They are not convenient and are dead zones when 5.30 pm rolls around (when a significant fraction of a serious post-grad and R&D university still continues). Second, the PT rapidly turned into a bore unless you could time yourself to perfection: from 15 or 20 minute service it became 30 min then later even worse. Miss a train and you could walk into town quicker! And people never forget the endless waiting on a miserable wet BR platform–this experience or its equivalent (buses) has converted many a car driver into lifelong avoidance of PT.

    So that is almost certainly why I began cycling despite the shitty weather and the almost total lack of provision on Brighton’s roads. Being an old town most roads were too narrow for modern traffic and anywhere near peak times there were bottlenecks all over. There was a particularly bad one where a main road funneled traffic from the western side of town into the A270-Lewes Road heading north. The road itself narrowed something horrible and the footpaths too. Most cyclists either just stopped dead like the traffic or, of course as most did, used the footpath. For this reason police used to occasionally patrol the lower intersection pulling up all the cyclists using the narrow footpath. I remember making the cop turn purple with suppressed rage (I can do it the person not just on blogs!) because he asked a typical but incorrect question: how could I afford million pound compensation if I hurt a pedestrian? Easy-peasy: any cyclist who was a paid-up member of the British Cycling Association automatically had such insurance.

    In that example, the cyclists had no alternative except to behave like cars and throw away the major benefit of cycling. The risk to pedestrians was of course minimal due to the barely walking speed possible. There was no easy solution and frankly it was irrelevant whether it was legal or not. Incidentally once you got on the A270 then the A27 (which permitted cyclists on the hard shoulder) it was a breeze–however, there were about half of cyclists who mistakenly thought this was the most dangerous part of the journey and thus tried to use the footpath–because of the speed of the traffic and true, wind buffeting from trucks. It was of course the safest road in all of Brighton for cyclists because there was space and no side traffic etc. Not comfortable but safe.

    Well, almost 30 years later and nothing has changed in Brighton. They eventually got the A27 norther bypass built (promised endlessly for maybe 30 years) that cost billions and may have helped some car commuters from western regions (Shoreham, Worthing etc) but, naturally did not reduce congestion within the town. Brighton is near-perfect for a tram running along the front connecting the entire connurbation from Kemp Town to Hove but zip; today still the usual ugly traffic magnet and barrier to pedestrians crossing to the beach promenade.

    This is the British attitude of “mustn’t grumble and muddle through” that drives me loopy. Ditto in Oxford where I later lived. A hellhole of constant traffic and bus exhausts. Living in Paris showed that it doesn’t have to be like that (and it was a revelation to an Anglo like me). Politicians could actually make a technical analysis of these urban problems and often came up with actual solutions. Yet, on that same trip (as Brighton) I would never have believed it possible: that Paris could become a cycle-friendly city, seemingly overnight. Brighton and everything I experienced in the UK confirmed yet again, how not to do anything.

    Ika, muddling through and tinkering with minor issues is not the way to solve a problem. Indeed as the Brits show over and over in almost everything, it is the exact way to avoid addressing the actual problem, and after 30 years of muddling still have the problem worse than ever and still no solution in sight. This perhaps explains why I am quite assertive about these things. What to you and other bloggers, is “reasonable” is just obfuscation and distraction from the only worthwhile goal.
    Incidentally the “solution” to the Brighton problem was for the pollies to proclaim a “grand bargain” between road users and others (peds, cyclists, rollerbladers) so that when the A27 northern bypass was opened, some road space would be recovered from existing trunk routes within the old town (and I am sure you will appreciate that the barriers of the sea, and the railways forced this; forget rat runs on “side streets”) for proper segregated cycle paths and wider pedestrians ways. Nope, cars got billions spent on them and as far as I could tell zero for bikes & peds.

  4. michael r james

    IkaInk Posted July 9, 2012 at 11:53 am

    But you see, your new post does imply, or even go to specifics, that all kinds of other things will and do take priority over almost the only thing that will make a real difference!

    It is true that I become a bit of a bore on this site because of my one-note song. However I consider anything else be exactly as I claim, a distraction from the only worthwhile goal. You don’t believe that sharing footpaths is a solution to anything. And in Brisbane your “I never once implied that by legalising cycling on the footpath, somehow everyone would use the footpaths as commuter routes” is exactly what happens. And no, none of this fiddling leads to “other, much more practical solutions exist in the vicinity”.

    And so without going into more explanation and examples, I just consider it politically naive and politically self-defeating to focus on anything other than the most important thing; and not more important by any kind of margin but by a universe. Look at Clover Moore and what she is doing in Sydney: it shows it can be done and she at least understands what the main game is. Like in Paris, which was worse than Australian cities in being dominated by driver’s and their insistent rights: the authorities didn’t piss around with ineffective measures (only a Mayor who did NOT intend to solve the problem would have done that, eg. Newman & Quirk) but started, incredibly, to implement the only thing presumably that those famous grande ecole brainiacs would have told him would have any impact.

    And “What I’d like is for me not to be a criminal for taking the sensible, less dangerous option.”

    It sounds so reasonable but seriously, really, I am not joking: I am not at all sure. It is because it diffuses the political pressures. Often in city planning things need to get worse before they get better. Those in power need to see that they can no longer keep sweeping the issue under the carpet for the next admin. I mean why do you think there has been such pathetic and meaningless, indeed dangerous, action on these things in Brisbane? We already have laws allowing shared footpaths and it has got us further behind than Melbourne or Sydney. IMO it is a dumb thing to lobby for by the cyclists as it will just delay, perhaps significantly, real action. It is politically naive.

  5. IkaInk

    Anyway I cannot see that because Japan has a special arrangement we should allow our councils to be absolved of any responsibility for designing proper cycle networks, which is what by default your post appears to suggest.

    Where does it suggest that Michael? Every post I write on cycling seems to imply, to you that I don’t want anyone to implement proper cycling infrastructure. However it’s simply not true. What I do want is some solutions that can be implemented right now, or tomorrow. That sadly isn’t the case for a fully segregated cycling network, running along all major arterial roads, which you’ve admitted is your only solution. Guess what, I’d like to see the same end goal (except that I don’t necessitate arterial roads; when other, much more practical solutions exist in the vicinity), but I realise that goal takes time, and will be much more likely if other measures are taken that can increase cyclist safety, and by extension cyclist numbers in the mean time.

    I never once implied that by legalising cycling on the footpath, somehow everyone would use the footpaths as commuter routes (It simply doesn’t make sense to travel fast on a footpath, there are too many things to look out for), but if the quickest route to a given destination involves either a deathtrap road, or a stretch of riding slower on a footpath, I’ll choose the footpath every time. What I’d like is for me not to be a criminal for taking the sensible, less dangerous option.

  6. michael r james

    Ride2Wk Posted July 8, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    The reason why the sharing of footpaths may work is the low level of cycling in most of Australia. It may be suitable for the last few hundred metres of a ride but it is not acceptable or workable to form an efficient cycle network.

    For me it has never been a safety issue. In any time-lapse video at intersections etc one will always see that it is pedestrians and cars who cause potential collisions which are always averted by the alert cyclist (redundant statement; by definition cyclists are always alert), often without the vehicle or ped being aware of it! I agree with you about Q drivers, they assume priority in almost all situations even when exiting/entering private driveways or petrol stations. Some even seem to believe that giving a honk is a courtesy on their part for you to clear the way for them!

    Anyway on your comment that to increase cycling, allow footpath cycling: it is a total distraction from what is needed. And to confirm that, just think about who would support such a thing (NSW, Vic)? Why, none less than the road lobby of course!
    Expending political capital on such a thing would be foolish IMO. It’s like the arguments over helmets–a distraction from the more important issue of safer cycle routes.

  7. Ride2Wk

    Thanks you IkaInk for the sensible post. I’ve been to Japan including Tokyo and it works very well. It DOES also work here in Qld although not quite as well as in Japan where people are more considerate and tolerant of others instead of thinking the world evolves around only themselves like most Aussies. (I’m Aussie born & bred in case you were wondering.)
    Michael – the State sets the road rules not the councils and in this case the recommended Australian Road Rules actually do allow footpath cycling for all ages but NSW & VIC have failed to adopt the rules presumably for political reasons and because of some unenlightened people’s attitudes.
    My large SE Qld local council doesn’t receive complaints from pedestrians about cyclists on footpaths. Ironically the only paths that do cause complaints are the large coastal shared paths. (Maybe the complainers are retirees from down south 🙂
    The rule here in Qld does actually work quite well and allows less confident cyclists far greater access to our cities and towns than could otherwise be provided. While our numbers of cyclists is lower than Melbourne, it would probably be even lower without footpath cycling. When I was in Melbourne trying to find my way around by bike, one of the most frustrating things was not being able to double back on the footpath to a missed turnoff. If you want to increase cycling numbers then introducing the Australian Road Rule to allow footpath cycling instead of being stubornly “Victorian” about it and worrying too much about imagined pedestrian complaints would assist significantly. (Just ignore Scrubby Harry – he clearly doesn’t understand motorists kill 250 pedestrians /yr not cyclists. In fact peds are more of a hazard to cyclists than cyclists are to peds.)
    In Japan they also make it very clear to drivers that pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way at intersections. Here in Australia, the road rules are that bikes and peds actually have right of way at most intersections (not roundabouts) but the infrastructure doesn’t look like that. We’ve also had generations of kids taught “look 3 times and always give way to cars” – prudent for safety but it’s not actually the road rules (s72 & 73). Those kids have grown up to become our short tempered drivers, road engineers and decision makers.

  8. michael r james

    IkaInk Posted July 7, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    That’s an interesting point but I am not sure I would come to the same conclusions. I lived and worked in Tokyo for one month and was impressed with how the press of pedestrians and cyclists managed. First, I would have to admit my observations were not sufficiently deep to make definitive pronouncements, but I didn’t quite see the huge number of cyclists as your post implies.

    The thing that most impressed me was the arrangement of main streets, side & parallel streets and commerce: more peds and much more retail is on the parallel lane systems. Here everyone takes a lot of care because of the very density of people; this includes cyclists and the small narrow vans that use the lanes for delivery to the shops (and men with trolleys etc). And in those lanes I recall that most cyclists would be dismounted and walking their bikes. No one, except peds would be using these lanes as “commuter routes” unless it was a very short route.

    Anyway I cannot see that because Japan has a special arrangement we should allow our councils to be absolved of any responsibility for designing proper cycle networks, which is what by default your post appears to suggest.

    The thing is that there is actually plenty of road space to make a city-wide cycle network. It is just that the road lobby are unwilling to cede a millimetre of it to anyone–even if it can be proven to reduce congestion. I suppose I am totally inflexible on this point: any suggestion that a bit of fiddling at the edges (cycle lanes “where they can be made easily”) or saying peds and cyclists should just share their space, meets derision from me, because it is defeatism and is counter-productive to progress. Effectively it is agreeing to what the road lobby want–nothing to impose on “their” space which of course is “our” space.

  9. IkaInk

    I’m very doubtful about cycling on footpaths – cyclists and pedestrians sharing space is a recipe for conflict. Might work OK in the short term while cyclist numbers are still relatively modest, but cycling doesn’t need opposition from both drivers and pedestrians.

    Visit Japan. If it can work in Tokyo where there are literally millions of pedestrians and hundreds of thousands of bikes navigating the streets at any time, I see absolutely no reason it can’t work in any Australian city. Of course cyclists are also allowed on the road in Tokyo, which is where most cyclists that are travelling at all fast will be found, just as I imagine is the case in Brisbane and Darwin. It simply doesn’t make sense to travel fast on a footpath, there are too many things to look out for: driveways, uneven paths, bits of trees sticking out, pedestrians, etc.

    I find it absurd that cyclists are required to ride on deathtrap roads, like Bell Street for example, or get off their bikes and walk along the nearby footpaths, as they might cause “conflict” with pedestrians if they’re cycling.

  10. Last name First name

    Parker ALan • OAM

    Nobody has ever done a study of bicycle riding in Brisbane SD secondary schools like the 95 % sample done in Melbourne SD. My estimate is that if such a comprehensive study was done study it would produce similar results to Melbourne.

    In 2010 in Melbourne SD, only 2.7% of secondary school children rode to school. ( VISTA 2009/10) That means a big increase of unfit, overweight and obese children. Because Mummy has been driving them to school. Since 1987 when 30,000 students cycled to secondary school (11.5 %) and that 8.8% fewer students getting exercise by cycling to school.

    That 1987 data is very reliable because the Ministry of Transport (MTA) Bicycle Coordinator Doug Bell surveyed a massive 260,000 students at 424 Melbourne secondary schools to found out how they got to school.The survey showed that 3 times as many boys than girls. Only 4.6% girls and 15.1% of boys. It is reasonable to suggest that in the In 7 bayside suburbs 20% or more cycled to school: in 15 outer suburbs between 10% and 20% cycled to school, and in 13 suburbs between 5% and 10% cycles to school. The very low 0% to 5% figures where in the inner Suburbs and NW suburbs .

    The number cycle trips to school was very high in some LGAs
    Sandringham 48%
    Chelsea 41%.
    Moorabbin 27%.
    Frankstan 26%.
    Brighten 23%.
    Moordialloc and Springvale 20%.

    An earlier study in 1981 provides data showing that secondary students where become less fit as a consequence in 1987.

    Data of primary school students riding is of less concern because there are five times as many primary schools which are much nearer to students homes and and most are within walking distance. Indeed some schools have “Walking Buses”, that is supervised walks to primary schools by 1987

    Parker, A, A .(1988). “More woman riders in the nineties” 8 pages 11 figures. No 52 Special Summer december 1988. Freewheeling.
    and address for hardOn website

    Parker, A, A .(1988) “Cycling to School in Melbourne”, Freewheeling. No 50 July-August 1988 Freewheeling. 3 pages and 7 figures. Not on website Send me an email copy.

    I would like that maps like those in the above references above produced for Brisbane SD ,

  11. hk

    Is the approach to cycling safety being taken by the Yarra City Council novel for Australia?
    The proposed “Copenhagen” separation for Wellington Street is identified as a priority in Council’s Bicycle Strategy 2012 – 2015 which sets out to create five major separated on-road bicycle routes by 2013. Greater separation increases safety and GIVE LESS EXPERIENCED CYCLISTS GREATER CONFIDENCE ON THE ROAD. Details are accessible from

  12. suburbanite

    My feeling is that pedestrians who are concerned about cycling on footpaths are really in the main motorists without cars. If not they would also be arguing for the banning of cars from roads.

    Precisely! If you left only non-motorists on the footpaths you would have so few pedestrians on the footpath there would cease to be a problem with cyclists riding on them. The danger cyclists pose to pedestrians is completely blown out of proportion. In any case cyclists would rather not share paths with pedestrians, and in the main only do so when the roads are particularly dangerous. Cars and the excessive space they consume is the real inequity of transport.

  13. Burke John

    No need to apologize for another cycle related post, because cycling is important as the only personal transport method to replace cars in the city….well eventually.

    Pedestrians already hate cyclists though and since motorists also do cyclists are caught between a rock…and a softer place.

    Cars can really be a serious danger to cyclists, mainly depending on the attitude and skill level of the motorist. I don’t think a cycle is that lethal to a pedestrian, though a helmet might give that impression.

    My feeling is that pedestrians who are concerned about cycling on footpaths are really in the main motorists without cars. If not they would also be arguing for the banning of cars from roads.

  14. michael r james

    Obviously allowing cycling on footpaths is simply short-termism on the part of Council. It means they can always claim cyclists have that as an alternative if the road is too dangerous. It is a recipe for trouble down the line. There is no sign that the Council plans to get serious about designing a proper and safe cycle network.

    I do forsee that someone may bring a damages case against Council, and logically they would win. Council would probably then simply ban cycling on foothpaths with no alternative provision. I mean they simply have absolutely zero interest in solving the issue essentially because they are still in the thrall of cars, and they see it as a battle between the two for roadspace. They’re right. And with voters being Queenslanders there is nothing optimistic on the horizon.

  15. michael r james

    I agree with all of this, except perhaps “Brisbane’s CityCycle’s performance has been lacklustre. That’s doubtless partly down to the difficulty of getting access to a helmet..”
    I believe it is mostly due to the dangerous streets. There is no real cycle network and even a lot of the marked cycle lanes would probably fail reasonable safety assessment. Campbell Newman repeatedly, over a period of years, boasted about spending $100M on cycling infrastructure but there is precious little to show for it. They built fancy shower & locker & storage facilities at a few of the new busway terminals, eg. City Hall and RBWH; they reportedly cost about $8M (faintly ludicrous) then leased them to commercial operators who started charging >$5 per day for use. The uptake at the City Hall station was so embarrassingly low that several Council departments were ordered to reserve blocks (then what? not sure, maybe give them to staff). Since the RBWH and the various research institutes within it already had their own video-surveyed cycle racks and of course showers are everywhere, I imagine the hospital one is even less utilized (and get this: there is no cycle lane leading to it; the adjoining Lutwyche road has been massively upgraded the last few years but no provision for cyclists).

    Newman has no patience for detail and no real interest in cycling provision. He once claimed Paris was one of his favourite cities (probably his wife’s) and no doubt that played a part in why he adopted the JCDecaux Free Cycle scheme. I believe he simply saw it as a possibly cost-free means of looking progressive (on paper if a scheme works JCDecaux pays for everything; this hasn’t happened anywhere in the world as there have always been unforseen expenses). Of course blind Freddy could have predicted without a halfway safe cycle network it would not tempt many people as serious cyclists would continue using their own cycles and the kind of people to use the Velib system won’t cycle on dangerous roads (and yes, will be more put off by the helmet laws).

    I and others predicted all this, and so it has proven. While I don’t believe Newman is smart enough to actually plan deviously, it would not be beyond imagining that someone in his council thought that if it failed then they would be able to claim that Brisbane cyclists have been given this opportunity at great expense by his council and have declined it. Then they can wash their hands of spending any more money other than on roads for cars.

    On top of all that the NIMBY reaction in certain areas of inner Brisbane has been typical: grotesque over-reaction and whingeing about a few parking spots being sacrificed for the Cycle locking stations! And whingeing at how much it is costing council (some are more vocal than about the billions wasted on tunnels barely used). I don’t know where this can end. The JCDecaux contract probably cannot be terminated early without penalties and there is zilch sign of the council improving cycling.

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