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.
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.