The idea that cyclists should share road space with drivers might sound like putting the fox in the hen house, but it’s the best option we’ve got for significantly expanding cycling in Australia.
A spokesman for the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation, Julian Ferguson, says the magic formula in Europe for boosting cycling is to “slow cars down to 30km/h and where speeds are above this, you need to have separate, segregated paths”. (See here for other possible explanations).
I think the 30 km/h limit is good advice. It’s consistent with the recommendations of Toronto medico Dr David Mckeown, who says a 30km/h limit on residential streets and a limit of 40 km/h on other roads would improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
He points out a pedestrian has only a 5% chance of dying if struck by a car travelling at 30 km/h. However the likelihood of dying rises to 85% if the car is doing 50km/h.
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Of course a fully segregated system of paths for arterial travel is preferable but it’s going to be a long time coming. Funding for dedicated cycling infrastructure has always been limited but it’s now getting even harder to come by.
For example, the Baillieu government in Victoria has completely stopped funding for new cycling infrastructure projects. Only a few councils — like the cities of Sydney and Melbourne — are putting serious money into cycling infrastructure.
It’s not just lack of money though that’s holding back infrastructure. Dedicated cycle paths need to take road space away from motorists. That’s an enormously difficult task, as the City of Sydney recently discovered when the O’Farrell government showed its displeasure and it’s power. Motorists won’t give up territory easily.
If we’re going to get reasonable cycling conditions within the life time of anyone reading this, we can’t rely solely on segregated infrastructure, as important and desirable as it is. The primary strategy for boosting cycling has to be use of existing roads. That requires two basic areas of action.
First, establish an arterial cycling network based largely on use of quiet residential streets. The “father” of utility cycling in Australia, Alan Parker OAM, laid out the basic idea years ago.
Second, give cyclists priority over cars on the network. Make it clear the routes are for cyclists and residents; that cyclists have priority over drivers; and cars are restricted to a modest maximum speed — say 30km/h.
The main road network is more problematic. Many cyclists will continue to use it but motorists will resist loss of roadspace and/or slower maximum speeds. It should be the priority for whatever infrastructure funding becomes available but, as noted above, that’s likely to be a slow and fraught path.
A more immediate priority should be pressing for highly visible changes to the law to emphasise cyclists’ legitimate right to the roads. I support the moves to legislate on “dooring” and requiring motorists to provide a minimum one metre clearance when overtaking cyclists. Increasingly though, I’m drawn to the simpler idea that cyclists should have a legal right to occupy the centre of the road (or the centre of the outside lane).