Council fast-tracks new cycling lanes

By David Schout

New cycling lanes spanning the CBD and beyond will be installed in the next 12 months as the City of Melbourne ramps up its bicycle infrastructure pledge. 

In a move that further accelerates a “bicycle-friendly city” shift, the council announced a raft of dedicated lanes that seek to both increase cyclist numbers and maintain rider confidence on the roads. 

By July 2021, cyclists will have four new dedicated lanes along the entire east-west length of the Hoddle Grid, including on Flinders Lane, Little Lonsdale, Little Bourke and Little Collins streets.

Work on Exhibition St, deemed a “priority project”, has already begun and will soon have cycling lanes between Flinders and Bourke streets.

Where possible, the lanes will be “protected” - that is, will provide cyclists with a physical barrier to motor vehicles. 

In the council’s extensive research before the release of last year’s 10-year transport strategy, many current and would-be cyclists reported feeling intimidated on inner-city roads. 

“By fast-tracking the delivery of bike lanes on key routes, we’re creating streets that people can feel confident riding along, which in turn will free up space on our roads, buses, trams and trains,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said.

“Our research shows that it’s essential to create physical protection from motor vehicles to encourage more people to ride in the central city.”

The upgrades will see some car parks removed to make space for the new lanes, although the council said the figure represented less than one per cent of its overall parking spots. 

The $16 million cycling spend in the next 12 months is more than three times the council’s previous record of $5.1 in 2012-13, when it installed the LaTrobe St bicycle lanes. 

Town Hall had already committed to long-term cycling infrastructure reform prior to now, but the sharp rise in cycling during the COVID-19 shutdown has hastened their plans.

“Riding and walking have increased in popularity during the pandemic. As people return to the city they will want to travel in ways that allow them to maintain physical distance,” Cr Capp said.

“I look forward to seeing lots of Melburnians enjoying our city on bikes – as I do – especially those who’ve taken up riding as a way to stay fit and healthy during the pandemic.”

Cyclist groups said the council were to be congratulated for their efforts to expedite the project’s delivery.

“The Lord Mayor and councillors have shown what can be achieved if you have a sense of urgency and the commitment to deliver benefits to the community,” Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said.

Fellow group Bike Melbourne said they had lobbied Town Hall to use cheaper materials for the installation of protected bike lanes, rather than costly and time-expensive concrete barriers.

“Anything that makes it cheaper while keeping protection is a win,” the group said in a tweet in June. 

“It is amazing that to have a council that listens to your proposals and uses them in developing their own policies. The City of Melbourne can never implement everything we ask for - but it’s clear that the councillors and officers have respect for community ideas.”

Bike Melbourne said that one kilometre of concrete protection typically costed more than $2 million, whereas the council’s latest announcement included recyclable materials that were considerably cheaper.

“With COVID-19 and the huge increase in cyclist numbers to and from the CBD, the impetus to build new lanes is greater again,” Cr Rohan Leppert tweeted.

“That’s why we’re going for cheaper materials and treatments, but not compromising on safety. Physical separation, not just paint, is the order of the day.”

In more exciting news for those on two wheels, the council has also committed to new CBD cycling lanes along Flinders and Elizabeth streets, slated for completion in the 2021-22 financial year •

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