Melbourne City Council Cycle Path is a disappointing maneuver

As Lord Mayor Sally Capp recently pointed out on these pages, only 27% of trips to the city before the pandemic were made by car, and more people were choosing to cycle into town. Yet more than half of the city’s street space has been given over to cars.

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You don’t need me to tell you that cars are space-saving, expensive to run, bad for the climate (yes, even electric cars have environmental impacts). Designing a city around them and sacrificing so much space to them is ridiculous as we grapple with the reality of climate change and rising oil prices.

When it comes to business complaints, the truth is that motorists driving through town aren’t randomly stopping at stores to shop. The loss of 421 on-street parking spaces to create safe bike lanes is a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands of off-street parking spaces available in the CBD. Retail traffic declines cannot be blamed on bike lanes.

As it stands, these segregated bike lanes, which have largely only avoided abuse by conservative radio hosts, take up 1% of the city’s roads. Yet they are currently used by 4% of road users and entice more people to get out of their cars and cycle.

But cycling only becomes a smart choice for new cyclists when it’s safe, and most of that danger comes from having to be so close to cars. Every time I’ve hurt myself on my bike it’s been because I was in an area without a separate bike lane and a car almost wiped me out because they changed lanes without looking.

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For decades planning for road use has been mostly about drivers saying “we just need one more lane, if you give us one more lane it’ll all be sorted”. Then everyone is surprised when the population grows and that new lane fills up again because we haven’t planned or provided enough alternative means of transportation.

People keep saying ‘we’re not Amsterdam’ as some kind of weird justification, as if Amsterdam is popping up out of nowhere as a cycling paradise in its own right. amsterdam used to be almost like blocked with cars like Melbourne, before local activism and political leadership led to change.

I hope that at Tuesday’s council meeting, our elected officials will think about the residents of the city and what will help us live better in the future. We don’t need more space for cars. We need more separate cycle lanes, a proper vision of Melbourne’s real future, and leaders who aren’t afraid to show their toughness.

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