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Councils to lift their game?

Victoria has some of the best bike infrastructure in the nation, thanks to forward-looking local government. But Victoria has some of the worst examples of missing bike infrastructure in Australia, thanks to backward-looking local government.

As much as your local council can be an enabler of change for the good, it can also be a determined blocker.

There is now optimism that this could be about to change with news that the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) is gearing up to move the sector towards greater engagement with active travel.

The MAV and government health agency VicHealth have formed a partnership aimed at improving the mental and physical wellbeing of Victorians.

The MAV has created an information hub for councils "aimed at improving the capability of local government to plan, design, deliver, activate and evaluate walking and bike riding programs and projects."

The MAV says: "Walking and bike riding are important parts of the transport system and are growing in importance and popularity.

"There are also significant mental and physical health benefits gained from walking and bike riding.

"Our recent survey of Victorian councils found that more than 80% of councils have a walking and/or cycling plan, and that more than 90% of councils plan to deliver walking and cycling improvements each year.

"And more than 40% of councils are also planning speed limit reductions in high conflict areas, recognising the safety and other benefits of reduced speed in those places.”

Disappointingly the same survey also reported that 80% of councils would do more if they had more funding.

The problem with many councils has long been that they regard active travel facilities as discretionary rather than essential, nice things to have if you can get someone else to pay for them.

They get themselves a fancy bike plan, then sit on their hands for years waiting for money to drop from the sky.

And right now, when COVID recovery funding is available for shovel-ready projects, they can’t get their hands in it because they never did the required planning and preliminary design to get projects even close to shovel-ready.

Maybe the new enthusiasm at the MAV can spark some action.

"Data, case studies and evidence have been pulled together across metropolitan and regional Victoria, Australia and internationally to inform councils’ decision-making for walking and bike riding projects,” the MAV says.

"The material has been collated specifically for council officers working in infrastructure, engineering, health promotion, community development and transport to guide the design and delivery of active transport infrastructure and behavioural interventions.

"Considering and responding to the impacts of Covid-19, now is also a great time for trials and pop up treatments."

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