5-star safety rated bicycling zones: an infectious idea

Nothing quite matches a day cycling in Sydney, to stoke the ol’ furnace of critical thought. I note their planners’ preoccupation with the overall percentage of trips according to mode: car, train, bus or bike. Sydney has a target of 10% of trips by bike. By that they mean roughly half of all people might start using bikes for one fifth of their journeys. I would much rather an approach that aimed to help the people who really do care about their health, wealth and wellbeing, reap the full benefit of cycling, by doing it 100% of the time. I’m talking about people who are so committed, they would actually move to Bourke Street, or wherever a bike path has been made, if that’s what they needed to do, to be rid of the burden of a car in their life. But for their move, they should at least be rewarded with a 5-star safety rated bike route, into the city, not the staccato bike paths Sydney is building. Sydney: build at least one goddam bike path, I can take my family along with a clear conscience. And who knows, maybe people in the rest of the city will see the potential of life without cars, and actually lobby en masse for more bike lanes.

I note Christiania was founded as a car-free zone in Copenhagen in 1971, and that people living throughout the rest of Copenhagen started demanding a universal network of bike paths just 4 years later. Indeed, good ideas are infectious.  


  1. Anonymous says:

    Life in the glass half full lane

    I must say I agree with you on the weird, staccato nature of the present day cyclelanes of Sydney. They seem perhaps afterthoughts, or thinking poorly out-louds. They make the idea of cycleways a bit harder to sell at the moment, falling short of expectation for cyclists whilst upsetting the car addicted populous. I’m hoping they prove to be a work in progress. They are better than anything out in the western suburbs, but that is not saying a lot. If a control project could have happened in a less well heeled part of town it might have proven useful, the rents being less, bike commerce may have more chance to spring up. Like the hippy economy perhaps in Christiania.

    • Steven says:

      Re: Life in the glass half full lane

      I’m sure they are works in progress. The next oil price rises will see them patronized more, then extended. The problem is they aim for a 10% bike share, by helping 50% of people use bikes for 20% of their needs. Now I wonder if a “control project” couldn’t take in the former Carlton Brewery site, and land flanking the train tracks?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to disappoint you, but the Bourke St cycleway is already the longest (and a costly) continuous cycleway near Sydney CBD. It tries to separate bicycle from motor traffic, and it actually get cyclist Somewhere. Yes, there’s a few annoyance here and there, and a ticket will teach that motorist not to park over the bike lane again. But if you’re dreaming of car-free streets, keep on dreaming. Parramatta has re-open half of its Church St pedestrian mall to cars, so did Onehunga in New Zealand. If you still want to keep a glimmer of hope, than part time weekend car ban still have some political mileage.

    • Steven says:

      I take your point: the Bourke St cycleway sure beats none at all, and you’re right to defend it, lest, heaven forbid, a new mayor takes it away.
      I need explain myself to you. I don’t dream of car free-streets. I’ve turned my attention to disused rail lines and the edges of storm water drains, where we can at least move without having to worry about ignorant drivers. The only thing those dismal zones lack, are destinations. However, they link up all the brownfield sites that are being redeveloped. So I’m advocating a 3rd way, which is to develop networks of brownfields, interconnected with rail trails etc., as a kind of parallel new city, that we can occupy. What do you think?

  3. Anonymous says:

    The staccato nature of the Sydney cycleways is the result of turfwars, primarily between the RTA and the City of Sydney. The principle issue is that the RTA has control over arterial roads, and they are unwilling to allow cycleways on these roads. The City of Sydney has control over the lesser roads in their area, and it is on these that they are building cycleways.

    Yet it is the RTA arterials that actually link places, and without access to them the City of Sydney has is forced into their current piecemeal strategy. For example, the Bourke St cycleway should obviously link with the College St cycleway, which should obviously link with the King and Kent St cycleways, but the RTA control all those inbetween bits, and they’re not having any of it.

    And the NSW Government, who are meant to control the RTA, either don’t control it, or don’t wish to antagonise their suburban bike-hating voters.

    • Steven says:

      That’s a neat summery. Thanks for posting it here. I recently saw (though didn’t study) a c1900 map of former industrial rail lines in sydney, and was surprised by how extensive a network there was once. I wonder what would be involved in giving new life to old easements, as bike trails? And what about a continuous bike path beside, or even over the waters edge, ringing the harbour? And what about cross city bike tunnels? Rotterdam has a bike tunnel under the harbour. Sydney wants a 10% bike share, so why not spend 10% of its roads budget on serious bike infrastructure wherever it can be built WITHOUT getting into fights for space with car users?

      • Anonymous says:

        Today on my trusty news feed reader I read an old blog entry of yours from April 14, 2011, titled “A flaw in Sydney’s Cycle Path Planning” and wrote a spectacularly detailed bit-by-bit reply before then attempting to view the blog post in it’s intended state rather than through the twisted lens of the news feed, only to find that this post no longer seemed to exist, and that my efforts were for nought.

        Well, I figured I would just post that reply here, because it is somewhat on topic in this post, and I’ve already commented here so the water has been tested and is just the right degree of tepidness, or whatever the noun form of tepid is.


      • Anonymous says:

        Oh, where do I start with this one? How about bit by wrong bit.

        “One of the arguments that shaped the design of Sydney’s bike paths [is that] before they built separated lanes, 40% of injuries to cyclists were caused by car doors.”

        Well, no, that wasn’t one of the arguments as far as I’m aware. The big argument at the centre of the case for the cycleways was this; they are the only way to encourage mass cycling of the type you are familiar with in Denmark and the Netherlands. Only a small proportion of weirdo thrillseekers will ever be willing to cycle on 40km/h plus roads amongst cars. The cycleways are not built for those brave warriors – they are built for the timid masses.

        “Actually, [long-term riders] are in greater danger, as drivers no longer have to look for cyclists on the road side when opening their doors—aren’t cyclists meant to be in the bike lane?”

        Because the cycleways will create a mass cycling culture over the next few decades, motorists will become so used to the phenomenon of cyclists speeding past their car doors that they will naturally learn to look for them. After all, they will probably also be cyclists (when they’re not driving), as will their mothers.

        “And here is my real bone of contention: you can’t be hurt by a car door opening, when riding slowly.”

        Doors can open at the precise moment you are alongside them, so all cyclists are vulnerable. And at my stately speed of 20km/h I wouldn’t want to run into a door, and nor would I be able to avoid reflexively steering away from it if it opened too close for me to brake effectively. And if I steered away from it I might get run over – by one of those speedy lycra-clad dudes no doubt.

        So no, the door zone is not “just as safe” as the separated cycleways, despite their flaws.

        “The system favours inner city residents who don’t have to go far on their bikes, while penalizing Sydney’s poorest, those who commute on bikes from outer suburbs.”

        Who are these “poorest…who commute on bikes from outer suburbs”? Face it – there’s only a handful of such people, and if they’re being disadvantaged by a few inner-city cycleways it’s to the most infinitesimal degree. The system focuses on the inner-city because, surprise, it’s being done by the City of Sydney – the local council for the inner-city. What a scandal that they’re doing something for their constituents and not somebody elses!

        But actually they are doing something for everybody else, because as I mentioned at the start of this rant, the whole premise for the cycleways is to convert the great motoring unwashed (of the inner-city at least) into becoming cyclists, and this would naturally free up so much road space that the poverty-stricken folks from the burbs you purport to champion would have acres of empty road space to either drive or cycle in.

        “And I would not have to say any of this, if Sydney had just bitten the bullet and ran wider separated paths on both sides of the road, and booted the parked cars out altogether. History will remember Sydney and New York as the two cities who blew it, by trying to keep drivers happy when plainly they couldn’t.”

        Yes of course, and I’m quite sure the good folks at the City of Sydney agree with every word. But as I’ve said before on these pages, they don’t have the power you assume they have. It’s easy to blame tha gummint, but there’s more than one gummint involved, and they’re not friends with each other. We have a measly little local council trying to create a cyceway network in the face of both passive and active resistance from the big bad RTA and state gummint. The City of Sydney have taken a big risk – to build the only thing they could within their power – a crappy network of crappy cycleways – in the hope that it would kickstart demand for a better network of better cycleways. They’ve taken that risk because they believe that if they didn’t the state gummint would continue to ignore cycling for another 60 years or so.

        It’s a high-stakes game, and while criticism of the cycleways is absolutely warranted I think it’s important to sheet that criticism home to those at fault – the state gummint (who are agin the cycleways, and subvert their design at every opportunity), and not the City of Sydney (who are building them).

        • Steven says:

          Thanks for taking the time to write that. The unspoken context behind my swipe at Sydney’s bike lanes, is a view of mine that great bike paths in the wrong places (along waterways say), provide a better kick start to cycling than compromised bike paths in the right places. I am most remiss though, in not sitting down and studying Sydney’s waterway and rail trail options, and new development opportunities around them, before upsetting people actually living in Sydney, who are fighting to defend the foothold those bike lanes have given you. Of my post, and your comment, your comment wins 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *