Bicycle Network: Better Transport
Victoria Liberal National Party 2010
The Liberal Party put their bicycle related commitments in their Sport and Recreation policy
The Libs are back! what does it mean for bike riding?
by Harry Barber
8 December 2010. When I started at Bicycle Network Victoria in early 1993 the Kennett government had been in power for three months. It was a Kennett government minister, Bill Baxter (National), the Minister for Roads and Ports who launched the Principal Bicycle Network (PBN)
The Mark One PBN identified a grid of north south and east west arterial roads in metro Melbourne on which VicRoads would develop bicycle facilities.
At first there was no funding to go along with the plan so bike lanes could only be painted if there were works on a road that was on the PBN. These projects got the network started.
After the 1996 election Geoff Craige became Minister for Roads and Ports. We prepared ‘after’ photos of bike facilities in a number of locations and posted them to Bicycle Network Victoria members who lived near the proposed facilities. This campaign lead to a $1m a year commitment of direct funding for the Principal Bicycle Network including for the routes in the campaign.
The Department of Infrastructure Annual report 1997 – 1998 says ‘Progress with key directions to achieve efficient and orderly movement of road users and road freight include: …completion of bicycle projects on the metropolitan principal bicycle network at St Kilda Road, Studley Road, Flemington Road, Brunswick Road and a further section of the Yan Yean bicycle path. Completion of bicycle facilities on the Breakwater Bridge near Geelong and the Broken Path in Shepparton.’
As you can see from the DoI report, by then the Principal Bicycle Network concept had been expanded to include regional centres.
There were two other key Kennett Government Ministers who made a strong contribution to bike riding: Mark Birrell and Graeme Stoney.
Mark Birrell Minister was Minister for Conservation and Environment which included the agency that is now called Parks Victoria. He carried on the tradition set by Brian Dixon in the Hamer government of strong Liberal support for shared paths.
Birrell set the vision for the Bay Trail and funded projects such as the floating boardwalk on the north bank of the Yarra at Herring Island. In 1995 Mark Birrell opened the $3m Yarra Gardiners Bridge – at the time the biggest bike investment that had ever been made in Victoria. Birrell's other Ministry was Major Projects at a time when the casino and Exhibition Centre were being built. Birrell ensured that riders would be able to use the south bank by standing form on the requirement that the Crown Land stretch 30m back from the river.
Graeme Stoney was MLC for Central Highlands Province which took in the alignment of the decommissioned Mansfield to Semour rail line. Reflecting on how this asset could again bring value to his electorate lead Stoney to investigate and become a champion of rail trails charing the Parliamentary Rail Trails Committee and lobbying his own government for funding.
Speaking at the 2003 Victorian Rail Trail Conference Stoney said
'Straight after the election in 1992, I went to Mark Birrell the new Minister for Conservation and gave him a letter ... suggest[ing] we assess all closed lines in Victoria with a view to turning some into walking and riding tracks. He was a bit dismissive. Who would use them? The state was broke – so there was absolutely no money for wildcat ideas.'
“In 1993, Mark calls me into his office – said he had made some inquiries. ‘Most of the land you want belongs to the PTC [the state rail authority]’, he said. ‘The Department [for Conservation] doesn’t want a bar of it because it’s more to look after. There is no money but it is a great idea.’”
“Our hardest job was to find a mechanism to get the land from the PTC to the Crown. Many people still don’t appreciate just how tough that process was – if we had failed there would not now be one complete rail trail in Victoria and the land would have been sold off by the PTC as it wound down.”
“From 1996 to 1999 the momentum for Rail Trails was awesome. We declared 17 official Rail Trails, we got an extra $1.6m for Murray to Mountains, finished Warburton [which had been started under Kirner] and started others.”
The Labor Governments
This reflection is not the place to review in detail the Bracks and Brumby Labor Government's contribution to developing bike riding which has been substantial.
The Labor governments have built on the transport role of bike riding started by Liberals in 1995. Spending on the Mark Two Principal Bicycle Network is now at $18m a year of direct funding and includes on average another $10m of bicycle works as part of other road projects. There is now a formal mainstreaming policy. Labor continued to invest in the off road path network and in their time in government have spent $17.6m on rail trails.
Labor also extended the ‘portfolio’ of bicycle investments that they had inherited by, for example, investing in improving and increasing bike parking at railway stations and in large scale behaviour change programs such as Ride2School.
The Baillieu Government
The Baillieu Government inherits a state government approach to bike riding that their Liberal predecessors pioneered in the 1990s. As the importance of bike riding as a solution has increased so has the state response.
Today’s Liberals are aware that the bike is a good problem solver. Herer are some extracts from their Sport and Recreation policy which is attached.
• ‘The Labor Government has squandered opportunities to build shared bike tracks along vacant and underutilised reserves at a cost to opportunities in tourism, health and recreation and the provisions of an alternative transport corridor for commuters sick of congested roads and an overcrowded and unreliable public transport system. ‘
Peter Ryan, the new deputy Premier, has been a long time supporter of what is now the Great Southern Rail Trail. This support is reflected in the Liberal National policy. Here are some extracts:
• Support tourism and job opportunities in regional and rural Victoria by expanding the regional bike trail network, in consultation with various stakeholders.
• Regional bike trail networks have been an outstanding success in regional and rural Victoria and were commenced as an initiative of the former government. They have generated significant tourism and jobs opportunities in regional and rural Victoria but due to Labor’s neglect of regional Victoria the bike trail network is ad hoc and disjointed. Bicycling has grown into a major industry, with Bicycle Network Victoria alone having over 40,000 members.
• The Integrated Regional Bike Trail project will be important in offering opportunities for serious and recreational bike riders, enabling the linking of country towns, and providing opportunities for business to support this growing network of bike tracks.
The policy reflects and understanding of the link between bike riding and preventing disease.
• ‘Continuing support for community programs to encourage more people to be active and improve physical activity levels in Victoria.
• Continuing to improve the bike path network and extend the state bicycle strategy to address recreational cycling, as well as cycling as sustainable and affordable transport.’
What does the future hold?
It will take some time for the new government to find its feet. We will be offering to help them be a success in their bicycle investments and will of course report back to you on how the relationship develops.