Sad consequences of political opportunism

Over the recent long weekend three riders were injured, one critically, when struck by a car in a crash on a road where planned bike facilities did not go ahead.

Black Forest Drive near Macedon has a frightening safety record—so bad that the TAC and VicRoads were determined to fix the problem back in 2010.

But the move was overturned by the then Coalition Government.

Read more - Dark deeds on Black Forest Drive, April 2011

The road was once the Calder Highway, however, when the new freeway to Bendigo was built most traffic moved away.

It is a known phenomenon with abandoned highways around the world where drivers take the reduced traffic conditions as a licence to misbehave. The wide, open road with little traffic results in higher speeds, increased inattention and distraction, and risky driver behaviour.

The standard fix for the problem is simple—reduce the former four lane highway to two lanes, one in each direction, forcing drivers to slow and take much greater care. There are studies that prove the efficacy of this treatment.

No sooner had VicRoads began this project, some locals complained.

Local Liberal Member, Donna Petrovich, and senior members of the government, recognised an opening to make political hay by seizing upon this local resentment and moving to roll back the proposed safety initiative, described as a "dangerous decision by the former Labor government”.

Work had already started on the new line marking for the single traffic lane and wide shoulder for bikes, but it was scrubbed out.

Bicycle Network and local riders sought to have the safety measures retained. Because of the low traffic volumes, abandoned highways can make attractive bike routes, if they are modified by appropriate safety and traffic slowing treatments.

Apparently this was not considered when then Roads Minister, Terry Mulder, and then Parliamentary Secretary for Transport, Ed O’Donohue returned the road to its four lane configuration.

What was truly puzzling was the attempt by Mulder, O’Donohue and Petrovich to depict the move as a step to improve safety.

Note Minister Mulder’s press release of 30 March 2011: “Restoring four lanes makes Black Forest Drive safer”.

Bicycle Network ensured that it accurately documented this issue because it was clear that a road becoming popular with riders had its safety compromised.

Now tragically the worst has happened and it is time to question whether this could have been avoided.

Mulder has retired, Petrovich is no longer in office, but Ed O’Donohue is still around, currently Shadow Minister for Police.

We'd love to hear whether he would make the same call today.