Wendy Hargreaves From: Sunday Herald Sun January 31, 2010 12:00AM
’ANOTHER bike down,” groaned the grumpy tram driver, pulling his human sardine can to a halt in Swanston St. He’s on the radio to base and doesn’t mind who hears him.
“Idiots. These idiots stack all the time. You should see him lying there waiting for an ambulance. He’s not even hurt. I’ve seen four today. Bloody sick of it.”
Well, Mr Grumpy Pants Tram Driver, I’m bloody sick of you.
Riding a bike down Swanston St within inches of a massive hunk of metal takes more nerve than an Olympic bob-sledder.
Most days, I ride my treadly along Melbourne’s so-called spine. It’s no doddle. It’s more like a blood-bath roller derby – and not the busty-chicks-on-skates variety.
I’m talking about stacks causing injuries and they happen every single day.
No ride to work is complete without the white-knuckled terror of slamming on the brakes to avoid someone or something. I ride slowly to avoid the next obstacle, but all I get is abuse from speedier cyclists trying to get past.
If it’s not a dreamy pedestrian crossing the road without bothering to look, it’s a harried courier driving his van into your front wheel, or throwing open the driver’s side door in your path.
And don’t get me started on the low-flying equine wee spurting from the the business end of those smelly horse-drawn carriages. Urrggghhhh.
Every week brings a new and more spectacular near-death experience during the ride to work. No wonder people drive.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to see Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s bid to become the cyclist’s new best friend.
In a spectacular double back flip with a pike last week, Cr Doyle revealed his plan to officially ban vehicles from Swanston St. Not that long ago, he wanted the complete opposite – more motorised traffic on the street. I’m so glad he saw the error of his ways.
Cr Doyle now wants four blocks of 2m-wide bike lanes along Swanston St, with nifty zebra stripes to let everyone know what’s what (see artist’s impression, right).
Footpaths would be wider as well, with absolutely no taxis, delivery vans or feather-crested gee-gees in sight.
What a fantastic idea. Let’s hope the council rubber stamps the plan at the Town Hall on Tuesday night.
The only thing wrong with it is that it’s not extended to more city thoroughfares. There is talk of designated cycle paths in Elizabeth and Bourke streets.
Williams and Albert streets are also slated for better bike paths. Bring it on.
More than 5000 cyclists ride into the CBD each day, with at least half of them pedalling along Swanston St. The council figures also show steady growth in cyclist numbers every year.
And we don’t want another cyclist fatality to force authorities into action.
The council was quick to ban giant tour buses from Swanston St after the death of 33-year-old cyclist Carolyn Rawlins, who was hit and killed by a tour bus on September 18, 2008.
Her bike tyres became stuck in tram tracks and she fell in front of the bus. She was three months pregnant.
Even more tragically, like many fellow cyclists Carolyn had spoken to her husband about the dangers of cycling down Swanston St.
Within months of Carolyn’s death, the council banned big tour buses from Swanston St. The safety of cyclists improved, but dangers remain.
Hopefully, it won’t take another fatality for the council to speed up the latest plans.
But there’s not much hope of that. Nothing moves quickly at the Town Hall.
And if the Swanston St bike lanes ever happen, my grumpy tram driver won’t have anything to whinge about.