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Cyclists still find their path blocked by bureaucracy

It’s time bikes were seen as an ally to help tackle congestion.

VICTORIAN cyclists have failed to win the State Government’s affections. While we have a minister for public transport and another for roads, cyclists are rarely given much of a look-in.

This is in sharp contrast to the Government’s rhetoric on the matter.

Roads Minister Tim Pallas, who has responsibility for cyclists, spoke freely in Parliament one February night last year about the virtues of cycling.

“Cycling is a wonderful undertaking, and it is increasingly becoming not only a social and environmentally responsible activity but an important way in which to deal with our congestion issues,” he said.

He has also ridden from Williamstown to work at Spring Street to show his support for bikes. But that’s where the good news for cyclists ends.

For example, Pallas scoffed at plans by Melbourne City Council to transform St Kilda Road into a bicycle-friendly boulevard.

“People have a right to drive their cars, and they have a right to do it without being impeded up on … for the purposes of looking after 2000 cyclists,” Pallas said in March. He was likewise scathing of plans for a car-free day in the city.

Most recently, the Government banned bikes on trains during peak hours. Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky defended the ban as a “commonsense approach”, but it is not common sense to rectify a public transport shortage by banning some people from using it. And it’s not as though we’re talking about a small interest group: Bicycle Victoria says there are 1.2 million bicycles in Melbourne, of which 70,000 are used each day on average. That’s a lot of people who could be adding to car congestion or packed trains.

Bike riders shouldn’t have to sneak around on back streets, through parks and along footpaths at odd hours just to make sure no one is inconvenienced.

The State Government’s position suggests that it is a contest between cars and bikes for space on the roads, between bikes and commuters for space on trains. This is wrong. Bikes help relieve congestion on the roads and on public transport — they should be the greatest friend to the roads and public transport ministers.

It’s not just the verbal support that is lacking for bikes in Melbourne, which is losing ground as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Few dollars are being spent by the State Government encouraging bike use.

Anyone who has visited Brussels, Amsterdam or Copenhagen recently would know Melbourne’s bike network is rudimentary at best.

When the Government announced its $10.5 billion 10-year transport plan in 2006, less than 1% was allocated to helping cyclists.

With Melbourne’s population expected to overtake Sydney within 10 years, courtesy of 1000 new arrivals each week, bikes will have to play a bigger role in tackling congestion.

The Government should ensure there are uninterrupted “bike highways” into the centre of the city from north, east and west — easier for motor vehicles and bicycles.

Since 2001, 53 cyclists have been killed on Victoria’s roads, another 5576 have been injured, 1702 seriously.

A Melbourne City Council study in October reported the number of cyclists entering central Melbourne each day had doubled in the past year, but less than half of cyclists felt safe.

Even if the State Government does nothing to encourage more people to ride to work, health concerns, road congestion, booming petrol prices and a cramped and unreliable public transport system will send people to their local bike shop in droves.

It is time bikes were not treated as an adversary by the Brumby Government and seen as an ally to help tackle congestion and improve fitness and Melbourne’s liveability.

Jason Dowling is The Sunday Age‘s state politics reporter.

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Well, yes. I had a neighbour once, a Dutchman, who emigrated to Australia in the 1950s and made the front page of the Sun (as was then), for riding his bike to work down St. Kilda Rd. every day. The tone of the article (he had kept it, preserved)was one of ridicule and fear at him advocating another “backward” attitude – something poverty-stricken post-war continentals did, not in the bright new world of Suburbia Australiensis. So Tim Pallas, does he go golfing with the good ol’ boys of the car industry? Is he doing a George Bush, just to try to present himself as a bit better rounded than the average politician? Well, he would have ridden over Shepherd’s Bridge on his way in from Williamstown – the most god-awful bit of major cycling infrastructure in town. Or on the Bike Punt across the Yarra – where’s that gone? Oh, that’s right, no more funding. But they can build Eastlink, and some mythical cross-city tunnel for billions of dollars. Where does the cognitive dissonance start, Tim?

Comment by Veloaficionado




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