June 15, 2020
Source: Australian Financial Review
Author: Jenny Wiggins
Date: 14 June 2020
Cities are being urged to fast track moves to create more liveable urban centres and permanently install more dedicated bike lanes as traffic rebounds and people return to work.
Sydney has started construction on the six “pop-up” bike lanes the state government and City of Sydney announced in May on existing roads to the west, east and south of the CBD with the aim of opening them in June and July
How long the pop-up cycle paths remain and whether more are built depends on how popular they are, with NSW’s transport department planning to monitor them.
Gabriel Metcalf, chief executive of the Committee for Sydney, wants the city to use the pandemic to reclaim roads for active forms of transport.
“Do we want to exacerbate congestion and pollution by encouraging car use or reduce traffic on the roads by getting more people cycling?” Mr Metcalf said. “It’s vital that we choose the latter option.”
Mr Metcalf says cycling is one of the best ways to move large numbers of people while maintaining physical distancing, but that people don’t cycle as much in Sydney as they do in other big cities such as London and Paris because of the lack of cycle infrastructure. “We want to see a cycle network built in Sydney over the next three years,” he said.
In 2018, the NSW government outlined a plan for an extensive cycle network across greater Sydney in its future transport strategy, but its completion date is not until 2056.
James van Rooyen, founder of retailer Bicycles Online (which marketed bikes as the “safe rout” to commute to work in March when COVID-19 was spreading), says sales have spiked since people “rediscovered” cycling during COVID-19.
A quarter of the 2180 people nationally who responded to a recent survey of the company’s customers said less traffic during the pandemic had made them more confident about cycling on roads, while more than half were cycling more since the lockdowns.
The responses also showed increasing numbers of people were considering using e-bikes when they returned to work, and most thought there was not enough cycling infrastructure, Mr van Rooyen said.
Bicycle Online’s sales of electric bikes have risen threefold to 207 over the past four weeks compared with the same period a year earlier. Its total bike sales, including electric bikes, are running at about 3000 a month, with sales of commuter bikes (which have road tyres designed for urban travel) doubling over the past four weeks.
The City of Sydney said cycling in some neighbourhoods rose up to 51 per cent during the pandemic, but bike riding numbers were down 13-14 per cent in the CBD as fewer people travelled to the city to work.
As virus restrictions ease, people should be encouraged to walk and ride, Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said.
“Pop-up cycleways are adaptable, inexpensive and built using easy-to-install infrastructure, such as painted road markings, temporary kerbs, lane dividers and flexible poles,” Ms Moore said.
Sydney is beating other Australian cities for progress on cycle lanes, according to cyclists’ group Bicycle Network, which has created the Pop-Up Bike Lane League.
Sydney is in the lead because of its “clear and confirmed plans of action”, followed by Melbourne (plans for pop-up bike lanes announced but exact locations undecided) and Brisbane (which has set up an advisory committee to sort out missing links in the city’s bikeways.)
Bicycle Network, which has more than 45,000 members, says its counts of cyclists have shown a near-trebling on some bike paths during COVID-19 compared with before the virus outbreak.
It has called on federal, state and local governments to invest $904 million in boosting cycling, including building hundreds of kilometres of separated bike lanes around Australia and introducing incentive schemes such as rebates on bikes and a $5 a day incentive for any Australian who rides to work.
But while the group has had responses from the Victorian state government and acknowledgment from some federal ministers, chief executive Craig Richard said little action had been taken other than in NSW.
“It’s been acknowledged that we can’t go back to the old ways of packed public transport and congested roads, but we’re still yet to see real commitment to change,” Mr Richard said. “Pop-up bike lanes are cheap and can be designed and installed in less than two weeks, but the clock is ticking.”
Bicycle Network says bike lanes can be built in days rather than months, and is promoting a Dutch guide on “how to build a bike lane in 10 days”.
Dan Crawford, president of the Brisbane Off-Roader Riders Alliance, said governments should also be planning off-road tracks for locals and tourists, such as the Blue Derby mountain bike trails in north-east Tasmania.
“In Brisbane, council has been working on an off-road cycling plan for over 12 months with no visible progress – we still only have 19.7 kilometres of oversubscribed official trails. We just hope they put some speed behind it now,” Mr Crawford said.