November 20, 2009 – 2:27PM
The recent road rage incident in Sydney involving a lycra-clad road warrior confronting a bus driver perfectly illustrates the growing resentment building between road users in cars and on bicycles.
The introduction of power-assisted bicycles such as the increasingly popular electrical bicycles will introduce another level of complexity in the potentially lethal mix of road users. Electrical bike commuters have the choice of negotiating the traffic on congested roads or weaving around electrical scooters driven by the physically infirm, or pedestrians on their two legs out walking their four-legged companions.
Former NSW minister for roads Carly Scully’s philosophy in dealing with the problem of different speed of potential road users and the different protection offered to drivers of cars, motorcyclists and push-bike riders in case of accident is to insist that these different categories don’t mix.
However, bicyclists are not one uniform group, but a broad church of lycra and non-lycra clad riders. The group of bicyclists that all Governments want to see more of and need to protect are the commuters that choose bikes over cars to get to work. Indeed the people that the Victorian and NSW governments are trying to entice on the roads and bike paths are the people stuck in traffic on the motorways leading into the city.
The NSW Government have set aside $13.5 million for bicycle initiatives in the current financial year including new bike paths, education programs and local roadworks.
In Victoria, VicRoads is upgrading its principal bicycle network — arterial cycling routes in Melbourne, managed by VicRoads while local councils are maintaining the municipal bicycle network of local cycling routes managed by councils. Also Parks Victoria are looking after recreational off-road bike routes, which are shared with pedestrians.
The problem is that the links between the networks are often missing and the local bike routes might stop at the council border. The Victorian Cycling Strategy and the bicycle strategies of the local councils are trying to address this.
However, none of the bicycle strategies in my view have properly addressed the future of bike commuting and what infrastructure investment is required for mass bike commuting in metropolitan regions. This is best achieved by electrical bicycles or with assistance from an electrical engine driving one wheel powered by the latest in battery technology . The Lithium ion batteries powering the second and third generation electrical bicycles on sale now are light two to three kilograms, can be recharged in a few hours ( the electricity cost is about 20 to 30 cents) and are relatively inexpensive. These will give the commuter a range of 30 to 50 kilometres if pedal-assisted.
The problem of integrating these bicycles in the existing road infrastructure has already raised safety issues for other slower categories of road users and has in some instances led local governments or local police in restricting their use on roads. The question is: are we going to look at power-assisted bikes as a safety problem or a mobility opportunity?
I certainly favour the opportunity that electrical bikes offer the typical not-so-fit commuter in middle-age like myself to get some exercise while they get to work in a safe and convenient way.
My concept for the investment in public health, the environment and building communities lies in the investment in new infrastructure for bicycle commuting. We need to develop under-used road reserves in major metropolitan roads into a dedicated commuter bike-way that will allow separation of commuters in their cars and commuters on electrical or pedal-powered bikes and give the bike riders the most convenient and direct route into the city.
At the same time as the bike way is built, eBike Service stations servicing can be constructed where batteries can be charged and exchanged. Also education and encouragement provided by local councils and state governments and other groups such as the RACV is essential.
Also private businesses leasing out of ebikes and providing other infrastructure such as ebike parking at the ends of the bike way would entice people to abandon their cars.
Below I have presented my vision of the bike commuter road network that would serve to connect the north and eastern growth areas in Melbourne with the City of Melbourne. The Eastern Commuter Bike Way would link in with the on-road and off-road bicycle networks, which would serve to funnel traffic onto the proposed commuter bikeway.
The bike way would be a dedicated commuter bicycle road along the median strip of the Eastern Freeway corridor in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne with a western terminus in inner north Carlton and an eastern terminus in outer eastern Bullen. There would be links to the principal bicycle networks and local bicycle networks and also doesn’t preclude the building of an elevated train line above it along the same course at a later stage.
Bicycle parking and electric bike charging points would be built along the bike way and at each terminus in partnership with private companies.
An essential part of the scheme would be to provide incentives for private companies to acquire a fleet of electrical bikes for the use of city commuters from the north and eastern suburbs by converting car parking spaces to electrical bike parking spaces in the inner city and link in with public mass transport allowing bike commuters to choose to change over to public transport or continue to their final destination on their bikes.
The cost to the state and federal governments of providing the infrastructure would be about two or three times the total budget for NSW for their bicycle initiatives.
However, I would argue that this bike way is an investment in public health, the environment and in building stronger communities for the future that would go some way in ensuring the liveability of Melbourne when we reach the projected 7 million population mark.
Dr Roger Kalla is director of Klimatechnologies, a company that imports and develops sustainable solutions for housing and transport in an urban context. www.klimatechnologies.com