Sep 30, 2015

Why have these cycling projects been forgotten?

Governments are good at promising more infrastructure but too often they're poor at delivery. Here are four cycling projects the Victorian Government appears to have dropped in a black hole

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

[caption id="attachment_47657" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption=""Governments failing bike riders" Bicycle Network"][/caption] The Victorian Government is happy to tell electors it's spending around $15 million p.a. on important cycling projects like the Darebin to Yarra "missing link"; eliminating the Gipps St steps on the Capital City Trail; constructing a 10 km bike path between Box Hill and Ringwood; and providing 10.3 km of new path between Bayswater North and Lilydale to fill a gap in the Carrum-Warburton Trail. But this story, Black hole projects, put out by Bicycle Network yesterday on languishing cycling infrastructure projects tells a depressingly familiar story of government inaction (see first exhibit):
Four key bicycle commitments made by Victorian State Government's over the past decade have disappeared into a proverbial black hole as state and local governments fail to work together to deliver these much-needed projects. Failures to agree on designs, land acquisitions, maintenance responsibilities and liability issues have left $40 million worth of bike projects languishing... The Victorian State Government and local governments seem to be totally out of step with community expectations. People across Victoria are desperate for access to off-road bicycle routes where they can ride safely and comfortably with family and friends. Yet, governments at all levels seem content to twiddle their thumbs, while Victoria is beset with a worsening physical inactivity crisis and many bike riders are left with no alternatives to fast and busy arterial roads.
I'm not familiar with the story behind the other projects, but the delay in completing the Darebin-Yarra link does not reflect well on the parties involved. Not so long ago the outlook for this project was very promising. The former Minister for Planning and now Leader of the Opposition, Matthew Guy, made a hero of himself by finding $18 million for this project in 2012. (1) He subsequently used his "call-in" powers to override opposition from Boroonda Council to the construction of a bridge over the Yarra at Willsmere Park. Yet now Bicycle Network tells us its stalled:
The Darebin Bridge project, which will link the Darebin Creek Trail to the Main Yarra Trail, was first promised in 2006 but is now sitting idle half-finished. The City of Boroondara and the Victorian State Government have failed to finalise the remaining land acquisition required to complete the project.
Sections of the trail including two impressive new bridges have been built (see second exhibit) but they're locked away unused because of continuing holdups in negotiations with both Boroondara Council and La Trobe Golf Club. These organisations have a legitimate interest in the project. The Golf Club is naturally concerned about the impact on its members and a number of organisations are worried about the environmental impact of the path on Willsmere Park. Yet back in 2013 all the obstacles appeared to have finally been overcome. This 2014 Annual Report for La Trobe Golf Club suggests all problems were resolved at that time. Having infrastructure sitting idle because the necessary administrative arrangements haven't even been completed to permit construction of the rest of the path is amateurish. This isn't a case of staging infrastructure; the completed sections are useless without the rest of the "missing link". That's why they're locked up. Bicycle Network is right to call this project a "black hole", although "Fawlty Towers" also comes to mind. The Andrews Government has already shown its prepared to stop things when action aligns with the views of its natural constituency; now it needs to show it can do things too, including the sorts of hard actions that might make some voters unhappy. It needs to show a bit of ticker and sort this mess out quickly. ___________
  1. I will say though that spending $4.2 million to spare cyclists the burden of pushing their bike up three flights of steps at Gipps St has never struck me as a sensible project. I've used the steps plenty of times; of course they're a pain, but it seems like a very expensive luxury when there's no shortage of "missing links" and too few safe on-road cycling routes.
[caption id="attachment_47673" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption="Newly completed bridge on the still missing Darebin to Yarra Trail. It lies unused but hopefully not abandoned"][/caption]

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6 thoughts on “Why have these cycling projects been forgotten?

  1. hk

    “Why-have-these-cycling-projects-been-forgotten?” is a thought provoking question. A crucial related question worth asking in October 2015 is who is stopping the project to connect the Darebin and Yarra Riverside Trails from being completed?
    An intelligent reader could conclude that as most of the approved costs associated with the project are already spent on the completed bridges and associated works, only outstanding land use responsibilities need resolution. Who is side stepping their responsibility to resolve the issues at this time?
    Even blind Freddie can see that the connections will happen at some time in the future.
    What does the delay in connecting the trails mean in terms of potential net community benefit?
    Each extra year in none use of the inoperative connection when most of the funds are invested, can be quantified as follows.
    There are estimates available to show the present day foregone potential lost health and well being benefit adds up to $100,000 per annum. There are also health benefit models available to show that the connection in several years-time through facilitating more active transport and physical activity has the potential to save the health sector more than ½ a million dollars pa..

  2. Gobillino

    Not sure what you’re getting at Norman. I hardly think Australian cities are littered with white elephant expensive cycling projects. In my experience, for the higher quality infrastructure, it’vs very much a case of ‘build it and they will come’.

    The only underutilised parts of the network are when you get a top notch section that’s remote from the better parts of the network (not connected). And there it’s still very much a case of what’s not built – the vision for the network exists, but the dollars or political will do no.

  3. Norman Hanscombe

    The main problem with bike paths isn’t so much as those which aren’t built as those which in rational terms shouldn’t be built, isn’t it.

  4. Alan Davies

    hcdr #2:

    Yes, I did the steps a few times with my kids years ago, including with a tag-a-long. I agree it’s difficult and I’m not arguing it’s a good thing. But it’s doable and my point is there are higher priorities – like improved safety – that should have first call on a sum as large as $4 million.

  5. hcdr

    Regarding Gipps St steps as a luxury, try and get up or down there with a kid on a bike, or panniers heavy with shopping. What about using a stroller? Forget about it. And a cargobike is a non-starter, obviously.

    As nice as it would be to have an option for Gipps St steps, having to go over the massive hill of Yarra Blvd is also stupid. The path should continue around the west/south bank of the river and connect up to Walmer St bridge – a flat route for cyclists and parents. As I understand it, the private properties at the end of Mayfield St extend to the river bank thus nixing any possibility of that.

    The alternative to Gipps St, is having to traverse the clusterfucketry of Nicholson St/Victoria Cres/etc which sucks with kids (actually, it just sucks)

    For the avid cyclist, it probably is a luxury (hey the steps are probably a fun challenge). Not going to help utility cycling though.

  6. Saugoof

    I may be wrong and it’d be interesting to see actual numbers, but the impression I always get is that public transport and bike infrastructure projects are promised, often over years, but most of the time not delivered whereas road projects are generally fast-tracked and often built, seemingly out of the blue.

    See the above bike tracks, airport rail link, Flinders St. station redesign, Melbourne metro tunnel, etc.

    The one exception of course is Eastlink, but even that was fast-tracked under the previous State government and dumped on us without even a hint of it before the election. Only the change of government put a stop to it.

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