Pop up bike infrastructure in Port Phillip
“The miracle of cycling turns cities into lands of adventure, or, at the very least of journeys”. Marc Augé
For months variable message signs have advised that pop up bike lanes were coming to Port Phillip. As implemented, the VicRoads programme has been controversial with bike riders and drivers alike – not going far enough for riders, and going too far for some drivers.
I have been a committed bike rider since I learnt to ride a bike as a child. It’s my preferred way of getting around. Mostly I ride in Port Phillip and the City of Melbourne. It is faster than walking and slower than driving. I take in Port places from the saddle. I feel the wind and the weather on my face, and I never have to worry about finding, or paying, for parking. I meet people, and see birds, when I’m out and about and enjoy stopping for a chat. Explorations to Elwood or across the River reveal less familiar places.
The downside of riding on road is being in a constant state of heightened apprehension lest a car open its door in your path, or a car back out without warning. All senses are alert. Visually alert to what the cars around are doing, while listening for the speed and size of the vehicle behind. Cars have become both more powerful, and larger, in recent years.
Entering roundabouts is particularly fraught. Bike lanes disappear. When a rider takes the lane, as the bike symbol suggests they should, an impatient driver behind may come uncomfortably close and flounce off with added acceleration after having been delayed by a few seconds.
Bike riders and pedestrians are categorised as ‘vulnerable road users’ in the road safety literature and it is a goal of Victoria’s Road Safety Action Plan (2021 – 2030) to protect them. The outcome that is sought is that “vulnerable road users are supported by the road system, not impacted by it”. Vulnerable road users have a ‘lack of protection from impact forces’, or in plainer words, ‘humans are fragile’. I prefer the term ‘unprotected road users’. It has a less passive feel to it.
In Port Phillip between 1 July 2017 and 1 July 2021, 152 bike riders required hospitalisation after crashes1.
It is hard to argue that road safety initiatives should not prioritise vulnerable road users.
Perceptions of unsafety are a major deterrent for cycling, especially for women. Women have a strong preference for protected bike infrastructure that connects home, school, work and shops. Men outnumber women cyclists by about 50%.
In the National Cycling Participation Survey (2019) respondents were asked to prioritise actions that could encourage bicycle riding. The most supported actions were:
- more off-road paths and cycleways (60% of respondents rated this a very high or high priority),
- better connections between bike paths and schools (55%),
- more on-road bicycle lanes (51%),more signage highlighting bicycle routes (46%),
- better connections between bike paths and shops (41%),
- more bicycle parking (40%)3
I agree that the shouty yellow lines do not sit well with the City of Port Phillip’s urban fabric. They are part of a general escalation in order to be noticed. You’ve got to stand out. Speak louder. Wear hi viz. Painted bike lanes may increase the visibility of cycling but do not meet the safety test. They do not protect cyclists from potential injury. The ideal is for a network of coherent, connected, integrated safe separated paths on key routes, with road design to support lower speed environments on local streets.
As Alan Davies said at an event in 2013, while dedicated bike infrastructure is the gold standard, if you could get to a point where bikes and cars could share the road safely, there would be no shortage of excellent infrastructure. The City of Port Phillip enjoys, thanks to the original surveyors, many wide and generous roads. They should be safely accessible to all road users.
A trial is a trial. The pop up bike infrastructure trial requires systematic data collection and evaluation rather than abrupt abandonment as sought by Councillor Bond. The treatments are new, they’re novel. Driving and riding with care, let’s give them a go. The real test will be whether the participation of women and children increases. Putting unprotected bike riders at further risk is unconscionable.
The Port Phillip Bicycle Users Group will be riding the pop up bike routes on Sunday 17th to experience them and complete an evaluation.
1Marc Augé In Praise of the Bicycle REAKTION Books 2019 available from the Port Phillip Library Service
2Transport Accident Commission Road Trauma Statistics
3Austroads 2019 Australian Cycling Participation: Results of the 2019 National Cycling Participation Survey
Janet Bolitho is the former president of the Road Safety Action Group Inner Melbourne