City of Melbourne unveils radical new bike plan for city cyclists

Bike riding along road's bicycle lane

Sue Hewitt

Posted June 17, 2020

Pop-up bike lanes and wider footpaths part of $41 million plan to reduce congestion.

Metropolitan councils across Melbourne should follow the City of Melbourne’s lead to create pop-up bike lanes and wider footpaths as the city emerges from lockdown, says RACV. 

RACV’s call comes on the back of the City of Melbourne’s announcement it will remove hundreds of car spaces to make way for 40 kilometres of cycling lanes over the next two years.

The mayor Sally Capp says the popularity of cycling and walking has exploded during the COVID-19 lockdown and people returning to the city are seeking ways to commute while keeping social distance as well as feeling safe cycling.

"By fast-tracking the delivery of bike lanes on key routes, we're creating streets that people can feel confident riding along, which in turn will free up space on our roads, buses, trams and trains,” Sally says.

The bike lanes will be built in two stages, with 20 kilometres completed in 2020-21. The first areas to be upgraded will be Exhibition Street between Flinders Street to Bourke Street and Rathdowne Street between Victoria Street to Faraday Street. The next upgrades are William Street from Dudley Street to Flinders Street, Abbotsford Street from Flemington Road to Queensberry Street and Swanston Street from Grattan Street to Cemetery Road.

"These priority routes will better connect suburbs like Carlton, East Melbourne, North Melbourne, Brunswick and West Melbourne to the central city,” Sally says.

Transport portfolio chair Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley says the council is working with the Victorian Government to fast-track protected bike lanes on key routes to maximise safety for bike riders without impacting heavily on cars.

He says Melbourne is following the lead of Paris, London and Milan, which have successfully integrated cycling as a key mode of transport to reduce congestion and accommodate growth.

The first project is installing 3.5 kilometres of protected bike lanes along Rathdowne and Exhibition streets and upgrading intersections along Canning Street over the coming months. “This is one of the most important routes for cycling to the city from the north, but is currently unsafe with sections of the street having no protected bike lanes,” Nicolas says.

"We will use plastics, rubber and recycled materials that can be installed quickly so we can accelerate bike lane delivery.

“The infrastructure we install will be functional for years to come and can be progressively replaced with fixed lanes over time as required."

RACV’s senior planner mobility futures, Stuart Outhred, says other municipalities should adopt a similar approach of quick-build, low-cost measures to encourage people to choose cycling and walking as an alternative to driving and public transport, as COVID-19 restrictions ease. 

Without such measures he says congestion on Melbourne’s roads could rebound to worse than pre-pandemic conditions as people return to work but are either unwilling or unable to access public transport due to social-distancing restrictions.   

Woman riding bicycle down the street with helmet

The popularity of cycling and walking have both risen dramatically since Melbourne's lockdown.

“We are concerned that the road network will be overwhelmed with people driving for more trips, causing delays that cost business and frustrate commuters. To mitigate this, there is likely to be a need for people to avoid travelling at peak times, to work from home where possible, and ride or walk, especially for short journeys.” 

He says although many people have taken up cycling and walking during the COVID-19 crisis, lack of infrastructure and safety fears may discourage them from adopting these active transport options as part of their everyday commute.  

RACV research shows more people would like to ride bikes but are scared of riding in traffic and want physically separated bike lanes

Stuart says that, as a long-time advocate for active transport, RACV welcomes the City of Melbourne's  plans to temporarily reallocate road space to cater for increased pedestrian and cycling activity. He says the plans are a great local example of an encouraging global trend and should spark other local municipalities to consider similar initiatives.

“The approach of creating safe spaces for walking, jogging and cycling implemented in other cities like Vancouver, Milan, Berlin and Auckland could also be replicated across greater Melbourne, not just the CBD.

“We’d encourage other councils to rethink how they are using road space in their municipalities.”

It’s all about choice, he says, and giving people safe options to ride bikes or walk means that they don’t need to jump in cars and add to congestion.

The pop-up cycling paths are a quick build, using paint rather than concrete to define spaces, which provides flexibility to change or remove any infrastructure that’s not working, Stuart says.

“This is a low-risk, low-cost approach to allow people to walk or ride bikes by reallocating road space,” he says.

Victoria’s Bicycle Network reports that the City of Sydney is also creating more than 10 kilometres of pop-up bike lanes to cope with commuters when COVID-19 restrictions ease.

The network’s chief executive officer Craig Richards says that the return-to-work commute in Melbourne will be challenging.

“The fear that boarding a train carriage will be like boarding a mini cruise ship could mean many of us find a new way to get to work.” He says that if every public transport user moves into their single-occupant vehicle, the traffic will be “worse than ever”.