El coche nos (H/T Paul Barter)

According to NSW Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, on-road cycle paths in the centre of Sydney are in the wrong place and exacerbate traffic congestion. However his Department flatly contradicts him. It reckons they’re not only in the right place, they don’t slow traffic either!

The prospect of increased traffic congestion from road space “sacrificed” for cycle paths is a common fear of motorists. The Roads Department’s view that the fear is misplaced is therefore an important one for anyone interested in promoting cycling.

In a great piece of reporting, Jacob Saulwick of the Sydney Morning Herald used FOI to access Departmental briefing notes prepared for Mr Gay on the controversial issue of City of Sydney’s on-road bike path network. As I discussed here back in March, Lord Mayor Clover Moore wants more cycling in the city but the NSW Government wants less.

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Mr Saulwick searched through 467 pages of departmental documents and briefing notes signed by the CEO and given to the Minister, going back to January 2010. He found a consistent theme at odds with the stated view of the Minister. For example the Department advised Mr Gay:

Given that the bi-directional paths do not occupy previous general traffic lanes, no significant delays to other road users arising from the cycleways have occurred

The RTA did not identify or advocate the use of alternative routes for any of the cycleway routes selected by council

The Minister singled out College Street and Kent Street, arguing they were “inappropriate” locations for bicycle paths. He proposed the College Street path be shifted to Hyde Park. The Department however did not support his view, arguing instead:

Observations by RTA Network Operations and Sydney Region Traffic Engineering Services personnel indicate that recent changes appear to have had little or no impact on the capacity or operation of College Street and its intersection with William/Park streets…. The option of relocating the function of the College Street bicycle path to Hyde Park is not recommended…. in any event, removal of the bicycle path on College Street would have limited benefits for traffic flow if the western lane was then to revert to car use.

The reason the City of Sydney’s on-road bicycle paths don’t slow traffic is they didn’t require traffic lanes to be given over to cycling. They replaced parking spaces, not traffic lanes. The traffic capacity of the affected roads accordingly remains unchanged.

In fact traffic flow might improve a little due to fewer delays from vehicles reverse-parking. Fewer vehicles cruising for parking spaces might also improve traffic flow. And over time some motorists might elect to cycle instead given the existence of bike paths.

The losers here are motorists who want to park in the city centre and adjoining residents and businesses who now have less on-street parking available. However their loss has to be balanced against the benefits.

Council is aiming for bicycles to win 20% mode share and it says its counts show cyclist numbers increased 80% over the last two years. Turning on-road parking spaces into traffic lanes to increase road capacity has a long history in Sydney – constructing a bicycle lane is exactly the same thing.

The City of Sydney is responding to an increasing demand from its residents to prioritise amenity over traffic flow. Cars have a shocking impact on amenity because they’re noisy, polluting and dangerous.

This is the centre of Sydney, not the suburbs – cars are less valuable here. It’s dense and pedestrian-intensive. There’s relatively good public transport, good walkability and now there’s the beginnings of a good cycling network.

Parking should no longer be the priority. A bicycle path provides a higher and better use than under-priced on-road parking spaces. Moreover the conversion can be constructed at relatively low cost.

Responsibility for cycling was transferred from Mr Gay to the Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, earlier this year.

Kudos to Jacob Saulwick and the Sydney Morning Herald for ferreting out this information.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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