February 11, 2010
IT HAS been a long time coming, but at last we are seeing some evidence of Melbourne seeking to be the bicycle-friendly city it should be. City roads have been the site of a running conflict between cyclists and motorists who must share an ever more congested space. Naturally, cyclists come off worst: half-a-dozen cyclists end up in hospital every day and an average of nine are killed and almost 500 seriously injured each year. Now three councils are involved in creating a weekend clearway along bayside Beach Road, the city’s most popular, and thus contentious, recreational cycling route.
On Monday, Kingston Council approved a 12-month trial of no-standing restrictions for cars on Beach Road between Mentone and Mordialloc from 6am to 10am on weekends. Port Phillip Council introduced weekend parking bans along its section of the road in 2006. This Tuesday, Bayside Council will debate whether to follow its northern and southern neighbours’ example. It should.
A Bicycle Victoria survey found more than 9000 cyclists use the road between 6am and 10am on weekends, when only 10 per cent of parking spaces are occupied. A clearway will increase the safety of all traffic. The councils are conscious of resistance from some residents (although most have garages, driveways and side streets available for parking), but the need to protect users of a major through road must outweigh any inconvenience.
After the death of a 77-year-old pedestrian on Beach Road in 2006, The Age said the growing numbers of drivers and cyclists demanded an urgent planning response. ”Even with the best intentions, the capacities of roads and pathways in areas such as Beach Road have not kept up with these numbers, which compromises the safety of all users.” As The Age reported a week ago, 90 per cent of Victorians say the roads are not safe for cyclists. Most bike owners who do not ride to work – and 50 per cent of urban car trips are less than five kilometres – cite the dangers as the main deterrent.
More than a million bicycles have been sold in Australia each year for the past eight years. Bikes have outsold cars for 10 years in a row. Yet cyclists are all too often still treated as intruders on the roads, in large part because transport planning has not matched road or bike lane space to their soaring numbers. Two-thirds of drivers may see cyclists as a hazard, but 78 per cent see that the only solution is better facilities for cyclists. The Beach Road decisions are only a first step towards a long-overdue re-evaluation of the importance of bikes – for transport, health and the environment – in Melbourne.