Mar 26, 2013

Should drivers give up roadspace for cyclists?

The Herald-Sun and the RACV are united in their opposition to plans by Melbourne Cty Council to take roadspace in the CBD away from cars and give it to cyclists. Do they have a case?

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Princes Bridge - showing exising on-road cycle lane and footpath cycle lane

The Herald-Sun is so upset by the City of Melbourne’s plan to replace a traffic lane on Princes Bridge with bicycle lanes, it wrote a damning editorial in yesterday’s issue, Bridge bike lane a blunder.

The paper says it will lead to “car chaos” and “gridlock” and cause “clashes between drivers and cyclists to become even more heated.” It also says cars and cyclists don’t mix well:

While cars can be a lethal weapon when drivers are impatient and frustrated in traffic, cyclists are often to blame by shouting abuse at drivers and banging on car doors.

The RACV doesn’t like it either. A spokesman said removing a traffic lane “appeared to be a cheap option.” He said it would worsen both traffic congestion and safety.

At present, cyclists on Princes Bridge nominally share half the footpath with pedestrians or use a very narrow on-road lane (see exhibit).

The RACV suggests an alternative: footpath space should be reconfigured to provide a clearly separated, dedicated path for cyclists.

Together with the Herald-Sun, the RACV also proposes another possibility: Council should construct a dedicated bicycle crossing over the Yarra beside Princes Bridge.

It could finance construction, they say, by reallocating the $5.6 million budget Council has for improving cycling infrastructure within the municipality.

I think there are a number of points to consider in looking at the arguments advanced by these two organisations.

First, taking space away from the footpath for a dedicated bicycle lane would be a poor choice.

Princes Bridge is a premier location for walking – it’s arguably the most important in the city. It provides a vital civic connection between the Arts Precinct and Botanical Gardens on one side of the river; and Flinders St Station, Federation Square and the rest of the CBD, on the other side.

On Saturday 16 February, 28,528 pedestrians crossed Princes Bridge, peaking at 2,450 between 9pm-10pm. That’s busy! (it was 37,941 the following Saturday, with an hourly peak of 4,595, when White Night Melbourne was on).

Princes Bridge needs all the footpath its got for visitors and residents who walk. People might drive to a destination, but when they get there, they usually want to walk!

Pedestrians should have enough space to linger, meet-up, chat, take photos, and more.

It’s also important from a design perspective that the scale of this key civic “entrance” is maintained. The width of the footpath is a significant part of the composition.

Second, a dedicated bicycle bridge is a bad idea too. It would cost much more than $5.6 million, probably at least $15 million and more likely $25 million plus.

A cheapskate bridge wouldn’t be acceptable in a high-profile location like this. Note that Brisbane’s pedestrian and cyclist river crossing, Kurilpa Bridge, cost $63 million in 2009.

There would also be serious heritage issues in locating it close to Princes Bridge (or worse, hanging it off the side). Providing access points at either end would add to the degree of difficulty and cost.

Council’s estimate for the proposed Princes Bridge bicycle lanes, in contrast, is just $0.15 million. The $5.9 million is in any event required for the many other cycling improvements needed across the municipality.

Third, this is the CBD – it’s a location where the case for driving is very weak and the case for other modes is compelling.

Accessibility to the CBD by public transport is outstanding. Accessibility by car, particularly in the peak, is grossly inferior.

The CBD is also the location where the downsides of the car – pollution, noise, safety, severance – have the biggest negative impact.

They’re amplified by the very high density of activity; by the high levels of pedestrian movement; by the growing importance of the CBD as a consumption centre; and by the reliance of key economic activities like tourism on the centre.

The CBD is, in short, the last place where cars are either necessary or desirable. Apart from taxis and service vehicles, cars should be the first mode in the queue to have to yield street space.

The existing arrangements for cycling across Princes Bridge are untenable for the 1,864 cyclists counted on the bridge between 7am-9am one weekday earlier this month by Bicycle Network Victoria.

The existing painted bicycle lane on the footpath is largely ignored by pedestrians and is a recipe for conflict between mounted cyclists and the much larger number of walkers.

As shown in the exhibit, the on-road lane is ludicrously narrow. It’s a puzzle how the RACV spokesman could see that and yet describe Council’s proposal as presenting “safety” issues.

What Council’s proposing isn’t anti-car. It still leaves three lanes for motorists, not to mention all the other road and parking space in the rest of the CBD available for drivers. There’s still much more public space in the CBD provided for cars than for pedestrians.

Indeed, one worry I have is that Council might be too timid. It hasn’t stated in any detail what it plans to do, but I hope the intention isn’t to provide a two-way bicycle “road” within one traffic lane. That would be a lost opportunity – a well-sized segregated lane on each side of St Kilda Rd is what’s required.

I don’t want to let that passage from the Herald-Sun’s editorial I quoted at the start pass without comment. I find it extraordinary that the writer has effectively equated “lethal weapon” with “shouting abuse at drivers”, as if use of the former would be a proportionate response to the latter.

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18 thoughts on “Should drivers give up roadspace for cyclists?

  1. Sancho

    I disagree strongly with the importance of shower facilities for cyclists. Simply put, I can’t commute to a workplace that doesn’t have a shower available, because I sweat through my clothes even in the middle of winter.

    That probably puts me in a minority of riders, but talking to other cyclists I’d say it’s a large minority, for whom showers are a deciding factor in whether to take the car or bike each morning.

  2. IkaInk

    @Dylan – I don’t think we need to convince that many people of that. The vast majority of jobs don’t require suits. Granted in the CBD you might see 50% of people during the week wearing something akin to a suit, anywhere outside of the CBD the ratio would be far lower.

  3. Dylan Nicholson

    Ika, I’ve seen it proposed that the real solution is to convince people they don’t really need to be wearing neatly pressed suits for their jobs anyway…not a solution I can see working in any time soon; probably better to accept that a) it is actually possible to ride a bike in such a suit, and people commonly do in other parts of the world or b) it’s not that hard to keep your suit at the office and simply change into once you get there after a few minutes to cool down and wash your face (which is what I do, admittedly my “suit” is usually a jeans and t-shirt, but if I were expected to wear a proper suit, it really wouldn’t be that big a deal).

  4. Burke John

    If roadspace should not be surrendered to cyclists in Melbourne then I assume motoring advocates would assign the same motoring “rights” to motorists in, say for example Bangladesh, unless there is a racial privelidge involved as well.

    The only trouble is that if cars were as common in Bangladesh as that perfect motoring city Canberra, then the CITY required to domicile car owners in Bangladesh would consume all of their country, plus the vast neighbouring country of Burma.

    In other words, as has been well known for a long time, we can deduce everyone in the world cannot own a car and at some point not too far away, we as Australians will have to look at the bigger picture. Economically speaking, the sooner the better.

  5. IkaInk

    Excellent piece Alan. I agree with all of what you’ve said.

    @Dylan – I have to agree Dylan. Time and time again I hear “cyclists will need showers at their destination”, but it simply isn’t a big issue in a lot of cities with higher cycling rates and weather just as bad as Melbourne. Hell my wife was riding to work (in retail, where she needed to be presentable) when she was 6 months pregnant during this recent summer! The simple trick is to slow down a little.

    @Strewth – An excellent point, and one that will be obvious to anyone that thinks about it for three seconds… if only more people would try that.

  6. Dylan Nicholson

    And FWIW, I’m not convinced shower & change facilities are that much of an issue for most likely candidate bike users – it’s mostly for us enthusiasts who want to ride hard and ride longer distances. But maybe carbon credits for companies that persuade certain percentages of employees to take up cycling could be a goer.

  7. Dylan Nicholson

    5% is a pretty modest goal – no reason we can’t reach that for densely populated areas even with MHL. But for it to get much beyond that it will take more than just infrastructure – better driver education, stricter testing that emphasises sharing the road with other vehicles, and an overall government-backed promotion campaign to encourage commuters onto bicycles, maybe even with financial incentives if necessary (given there are already such for motor vehicles via salary packaging etc.).

  8. Steve777

    I’m actually surprised that the Herald Sun (nearly as feral as Sydney’s Daily Telegraph) didn’t say that the bycycle lane would end democracy and / or free speech and bring about economic ruin.

    The case for spending more public money to support cycling infrastructure really hinges on the extent to which ‘build it and they will come’ applies. Apart from safe routes, cyclists commuting to the CBD need parking and shower and change facilities at their destination. If a case could be made that cycling paths would increase take up of cycling from the current 2% (or so) of journeys to, say, 5%, it would be worth a try. Certainly bike paths are cheap compared to road and parking space for cars and to public transport. However, if there is likely to be only a marginal increase then we should concentrate on public transport.

  9. Last name First name

    Should motorists give up road space for cyclists? For what purpose does Alan Davies have in asking such as silly question, thus reinforcing the nonsense in the Herald Sun and the RACVs petrol headed persistence of the over many years in denying cyclist rights access. Neither the Herald Sun or the RACV provide a constructive solution.

    Alan muddies the water with misleading data on pedestrian movement on the east and East side of the Bridge. I estimate that to be 8,000 on the east side which has far fewer pedestrian and is clearly a footpath. I estimate 22,000 thousand pedestrians on west side which is not just a footpath  but a tourist attraction for groups meandering and leaning over the bridge.

    On the west side a protected bike lane is needed on one of the car lanes separated by a colourfull Line of planter boxes. On the east side the two car lanes should stay. On the foot path between the kerb and the central white line the footpath should different colour with bike signs the. The rest of the footpath should have “walk only” signs.

    On the 3 traffic lanes the should 30 km speed limits between the traffic lights north and south of the Bridge making it safer to access trams stops and wandering wandering pedestrians.

  10. Aaron906

    and to think that RACV operates the Bike hire scheme in Melbourne, which extends down St. Klida road.

  11. Dylan Nicholson

    “I find car drivers overwhelmingly courteous and nice to me.”

    I’d tone that down to “largely”, but yes, agreed. But it only takes the 1% of drivers that are actively hostile (along with a significantly larger percentage that pay far too little attention to other road users) to prevent bicycling being the truly safe and pleasant experience it should be for everyone.

  12. Saugoof

    I don’t want to sound cynical but I suspect that any proposal that benefits bikes and has even the most imperceptible impact on cars will get the Herald Sun thumbd down.
    Bikes don’t use the strip on the footpath because it’s always full of pedestrians, and good on them too, that shouldn’t have been a bike strip in the first place. The strip along the road is insanely narrow though. Lucky for me my commute lets me bypass that one easily.
    One thing that always puzzles me though is all that bad blood and conflict that the Herald Sun regurgitates again. I ride the bike everywhere and do well over 10, 000km each year, but I just don’t see it. I find car drivers overwhelmingly courteous and nice to me. Never had any bad experiences with bikes when I’m driving a car either. I’m convinced it’s a two way street, you’re nice to others on the road and they are nice to you. If you have a lot of run-ins with others it might pay to look at your own behaviour.

  13. Dylan Nicholson

    A separate bridge is the wrong sort of solution not just because of the waste of money but by forcing people to take a non-obvious round-about route just because they’re on a bike it’s doing nothing to get bicycling accepted as a mainstream mode of travel that’s as simple and safe as walking (just much faster and more efficient!).

    There’s actually quite a lot of spots in Melbourne where it would make sense to take space from footpaths (when they are exceptionally wide) and dedicate it to bicycles. In this case I’d agree it might not be the best option, but it’s not such a terrible compromise if we accept that for major events the bicycle lane will be given over to pedestrians and bicycles redirected on to the road (and at least one car lane closed).

  14. Russ

    The interesting thing about the Swanston St/Flinders St intersection is that (with a few exceptions) all those cars turn right to the eastward side of the city, and vice versa. In large part because there is no other bridge crossing to the east, even though the central spine is largely pedestrian.

    I’d like to see traffic redirected down Linlithgow avenue, across a bridge that joins Batman avenue; then either close Princes Bridge or heavily restrict traffic, to open up the pedestrian spaces between Fed Square and the station. It would significantly improve pedestrian access along the river there. It is a bit of a walk round as it stands now.

  15. pjrob1957

    A photo taken in Amsterdam a year or two ago illustrates the extent the Dutch can go to.[email protected]/6153719015/in/photostream
    Further up in Sweden taking road space for bike lanes is very common and accepted. In fact, it goes on all the time. It makes for a safer space altogether.
    Back in the Netherlands it is easy to see why walking and using a bike is such a big part of the transport scene. It feels so safe to ride or walk there. No doubt this is due to removing the priority for cars.

  16. hk

    It is practical, albeit costly, to move existing bridge railing out by 900 mm without excessive aesthetic or functional adverse impact at the abutments. The one directional running lane for cycling would then fit at road surface level, with 350 mm width reduction lost to pedestrians on each side. The RACV and Herald-Sun editors’ requirements of two vehicle serving road lanes in each direction could then be met until the CBD though traffic for vehicles on Princes Bridge is reduced by overall transport network modifications crossing the Yarra River.

  17. Strewth

    I suspect Council has actually figured out that removing one northbound car lane has barely any measurable effect on car travel time at all. The ‘bottleneck’ here is the Flinders/Swanston intersection itself. Assuming the proposal involves retaining the two right-turn lanes here, it barely matters whether the cars behind queue up in a single lane or two separate lanes. As any international traveller knows, the important factor with queueing time isn’t how many parallel queues there are feeding a single service point, but how quickly those at the front can get served.

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