May 8, 2017

A Bicycle Boulevard for Melbourne?

There's an opportunity for the Victorian Government to recognise the key role Yarra Boulevard plays in supporting cycling in Melbourne by giving more of it to riders

Alan Davies — Editor of The Urbanist

Alan Davies

Editor of The Urbanist

Yarra Boulevard, Kew. The shoulder isn’t actually a bicycle lane, but motorists assume it is. The central median is an over-engineered waste of space and should be redeployed to expand room for cycling

The Victorian Government can rightly point to a strong record on public transport, but it’s achievements in cycling are meagre. It squibbed on the “metre matters” overtaking law and it botched delivery of the Darebin-Yarra “missing link”, arguably the most important cycling infrastructure initiative in the city for a decade (see Should walking and cycling trails be like freeways?).

With the 2018 election approaching, Premier Daniel Andrews might want to get serious about doing something. He should start with designing a comprehensive metropolitan cycling network (see Shouldn’t all cities have a cycle superhighway plan?). But in the short term he’d still need something concrete to go with the strategic vision.

Fortunately for Mr Andrews, there’s an option that’s low cost; could be started before the election; and clearly signals his government hasn’t forgotten about cycling. He could announce that, subject to a satisfactory business case, Yarra Boulevard at Kew will be upgraded to give cyclists higher priority relative to motorised vehicles.

Yarra Boulevard (famous for the phantom tacker) is already very popular with cyclists. Some use if for training; some use it as a more direct commuting route than the Yarra Trail; and many use it for recreational riding. But it’s far from ideal. Although it doesn’t have heavy traffic – it’s not a major artery – there are enough cars and motorcycles to create a hazard for those on bicycles.

The 50 kmh limit means vehicles are faster, especially up hills, and drivers get impatient with slow riders. The painted line on the shoulder gives motorists the false impression there’s a bicycle lane. Some expect cyclists to ride single file within the presumed lane and get upset with those who don’t use it, leading sometimes to close passes and angry horn blasts.

But it’s not a bicycle lane; it’s just the shoulder of the road. It wouldn’t in any event be suitable because the surface is too rough; it collects too much gravel from run-off; and it’s too narrow for cyclists to overtake without moving into the traffic lane. Motorists can all do the same speed, but the speed of cyclists varies with factors like fitness and age; cyclists must have the space to overtake frequently.

Here’s a number of steps – more or less in priority order – to turn Yarra Boulevard into a key cycling asset for Melbourne:

  1. Designate and promote it as a ‘Bicycle Boulevard’ where cyclists and vehicles share road space, with priority given to the more vulnerable mode
  2. Apply a 40 kmh speed limit for registerable vehicles i.e. cars, motor bikes
  3. Remove the white line on the shoulder. It gives motorists the false impression there’s a bike lane. There isn’t and there shouldn’t be
  4. Remove the 2 x double lines in the middle of the road. That would create extra shared road space and stop some motorists feeling obliged to make close overtakes of cyclists
  5. Eliminate all daytime on-street parking
  6. Remove the existing section of Copenhagen lane. It’s too narrow for fast two-way traffic; it’s way too short; and it signals that bicycles and cars can’t share space.

The key change would be symbolic. At present, motorists ‘own’ Yarra Boulevard and ‘suffer’ the presence of cyclists. The proposed changes send a message that cyclists are the natural ‘owners’ and motorists must behave as their ‘guests’. How the changes are communicated/marketed would be extremely important.

These are modest changes. Closing the road entirely to traffic would be better but it would also be harder. While it’s not a key part of the traffic network, Yarra Boulevard nevertheless provides an alternative route from Kew to Richmond via Studley Park Rd; vehicular access to Studley Park Boathouse and to Bell Bird Park; and access to a handful of houses.

Eliminating daytime on-street parking would probably be the most politically difficult step. Over the last five years or so, commuters have taken to parking on Yarra Boulevard near the Studley Park Rd overpass; in the vicinity of the northern entrance to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre; and close to the Gipps St footbridge. There are three or four houses who could argue Yarra Boulevard is their prime street frontage. There might be a case for providing some additional off-street visitor parking for residents and recreational users.

Those six steps would greatly improve Yarra Boulevard for cyclists. There are further highly desirable steps that I’ve left to last as they’d be more expensive and might add a layer of political difficulty:

  1. Close access to Yarra Boulevard from secondary roads i.e. southern entrance to Royal Talbot, Wiltshire Drive, Yarravale Rd, Yarra Rd.
  2. Construct traffic management works on roads that enter Yarra Boulevard to signal to motorists the changed conditions i.e. Chandler Highway, Walmer St, northern entrance to Royal Talbot, Molesworth St, ramp off Studley Park Road.
  3. Make traffic one-way on the eastern side of Yarra Boulevard (excepting the short section between Studley Park Rd and Boathouse Rd) and give over the rest of the road to cycling. This would leave space for parking on the eastern shoulder where warranted, while providing cyclists with approx 1.5 traffic lanes on the western side.

Making Yarra Boulevard a Bicycle Boulevard (or some other suitable name) 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 as there are with any change, but this is not a main road. Daniel Andrews should get cracking.

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11 thoughts on “A Bicycle Boulevard for Melbourne?

  1. Chris

    Don’t hold your breath Alan, if anything the Boulevard will get much worse when the Chandler Hwy upgrade is completed.

    1. Alan Davies

      Good point! The change needs to be done ahead of the new bridge

  2. Daniel

    I’ve lived out of Melbourne for about 15 years, but about two years ago came upon Yarra Boulevard by chance (as a motorist). What an amazing place, so close to the city. It’s an area that should be promoted, and as many people encouraged to as possible. As a driver, I certainly felt like it was a place to be alert and aware for cyclists. But I did think the shoulder was a bike lane.
    Given it’s not really a direct route to much, most cars driving it would be doing so to escape the traffic (as a rat run), or for the scenery. Slowing the traffic to 40 or 30km/h would be a great way to improve safety and still keep such a great place accessible to those who need to drive for what ever reason. Reducing the speed limit should also facilitate narrower driving lanes, creating more space to formalise cycle lanes (whether they be separated Copenhagen style or a different surface treatment).
    This is a road that really is there for the scenery, and slowing traffic down to make it safer for other users would be a great outcome, but also gives drivers and car passengers more time to take in such an amazing place so close to the city.

  3. Saugoof

    I ride along Yarra Boulevard a lot, but it’s actually never really occurred to me that there is much that should be done to improve it for bikes, it already seems a very good space for bikes as is. The only issue is that the surface can be a bit rough in parts and that you sometimes have to avoid parked cars, but these are minor quibbles. Sure, I wouldn’t be against an upgrade and conversion to making this more of a bike owned than car owned road, especially because it could be done easily and cheaply. But I wouldn’t see it as a priority.

    One issue I do have with converting Yarra Boulevard is that it’s not a good commuting route. What I mean by that is that no matter where you need to go, using Yarra Boulevard is always going to be a huge detour. Beautiful and a great ride, but not something that helps you get from A to B quickly and easily. It just furthers the idea that our governments and much of society has, that bikes are for exercise and recreation, not for commuting and daily transport. I’d much rather we’d get, for example, a good alternative or upgrade for St. Kilda road. The amount of bicycle traffic that this gets, especially during peak times, would really warrant a safety upgrade.

    1. Alan Davies

      If you’re confident cycling with traffic then it’s longer, but if you’re the sort of person who otherwise would use the Yarra Trail, then it’s a faster way to get from the north to the south e.g. the approx 3 km as the crow flies between the paper mill, Alphington and Victoria Gardens, Richmond.

      I’ve been hooted and overtaken a few times over the years by motorists who’re outraged I’m cycling on the carriageway, not the shoulder. If managed sensibly, there’s room there for training cyclists as well as those who aren’t confident cycling with vehicles.

    2. Itsumishi

      I think you’ve nailed this on the head. Yarra Boulevard isn’t much of a “commuter” route. It’s got some decent climbs, it’s windy and it’s not even the most direct route from the start of the road to the end of the road!

      The majority of the riders along Yarra Boulevard are confident riders; due to the steep climbs, the demographic is unlikely to significantly change by reducing speed limits and getting rid of the existing (admittedly flawed) Copenhagen Lane.

      Alan, is right that the proposed works can probably be done fairly cheaply, and perhaps a business case could stack up with certain assumptions inputted about the value of supporting recreational/tourist cycling; but in my opinion, if the government wants to be seen to be serious about cycling it needs to focus its energy on getting the next cohort of cyclists on the roads by making our urban commuter routes safer; not by catering to the existing dominate group of “confident mainly male” cyclists.

      1. Alan Davies

        Well yes it’s hilly and winding, but at the moment the government’s doing virtually nothing in terms of cycling infrastructure. The metro cycling network must be the priority but it’s not either/or when the cost for something like this would be very low i.e. low opportunity cost. I see it as a bird in the hand. There would be a group of less confident cyclists who would use it for recreational cycling (that’s not a bad thing!). I expect some would use it for utility cycling – even with the hills – in preference to something like Princess St/High St/Barkers Rd (and they’re not that flat) or the Yarra trail.

  4. Duanne

    The dutch have a range of tricks when you want to prioritise cycling on a trafficked road. I was particularly impressed style of road marking makes it clear that you can’t overtake a bike unless the other side of the road is clear:,5.8801064,3a,75y,0.07h,86.88t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1saj5dBbKtCui-HP1ht4ftsg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  5. steven fleming

    I think this term “bicycle boulevard”, since it implies a transport facility for risk averse people who don’t currently ride because they are scared to, should be reserved for streets that are blocked to through-traffic. There would be a parallel route offering motorists a faster alternative and the only cars on the “bicycle boulevard” would belong to motorists crawling at 30kph to their own driveway.

  6. James

    Over to you Bicycle Network. Start campaigning.

    1. Marcus

      If it’s not bike lanes, BN will not be interested. They would actively campaign against it like the did with minimum overtaking laws. To them it’s bike lanes or nothing.

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