Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards has written about the need to keep people pedalling with pop-up bike lanes.
A Darebin Council decision made last week to rip up a separated bike lane on South Crescent, Northcote barely raised a whimper, seemingly another decision buried in the council papers. But it’s a worrying back pedal in what’s been a time of startling progress.
The quip is that during last year’s lockdowns people either ‘got fit or got fat’. Some took to the streets, exploring their neighbourhoods on two wheels. Others took to the couch, exploring their Netflix Recommended for You list.
One of the hidden costs of lockdown three (or was it four, I lost track in the end), was that physical activity levels among our young people plummeted: the already disturbingly low levels among children fell to just 10%.
But pop-up bike lanes have helped reverse this trend. On South Crescent, bike riding increased by 22% and 69% amongst young people. On Heidelberg Road, where another pop-up bike lane has been installed, bike rider numbers have increased by 30% since December.
I almost cry with joy when I see the variety of people now pedalling. Roads that were only frequented by lycra knicks are now resplendent in jeans, slacks and tracky dacks.
People who have long wanted ride a bike now feel confident to do it and love being able to spend more time outside while also shaving down the hours wasted sitting in a car.
Victoria took a while to get moving. While the rest of the world started building better places to ride in May, our state started building in November. But the progress since then has been great – the City of Melbourne is fast-tracking 40 kilometres of protected bike lanes that previously had a timeline of up to 10 years and the Andrews Government has committed to rolling out 100km of pop-up bike lanes, which includes the Heidelberg Road lane.
The danger though is the South Crescent decision might slam the brakes on further progress. It shows just how easily our elected officials are spooked. Yes, it was a close call. A perilously close 5-4 vote. But the Councillors still decided to go back to the past.
Of course, the council received complaints from people who drive cars. Melburnians are frustrated at how despite the move to work from home, traffic levels quickly bounced back to pre-covid levels.
As we all know, sometimes drivers see the solution as wider roads. They won’t accept the evidence that shows that capacity of a road is determined by the design of its intersections, not its width.
Most disturbing was the handful of cyclists complained about the South Crescent lane. This sealed the fate of the bike lane.
These cyclists were unhappy with the quality of what they were given. But we need to remember that what once took years to build is now taking weeks. And they’re being built at a tenth of the cost.
Of course, that means they’re not going to be perfect. But they are better than what was there before. And we shouldn’t let perfect get in the way of better.
With many more kilometres of pop-up bike lanes to be built in the next few months we need leaders prepared to move forward despite the voice of the loud minority. Leaders who are prepared to stake their reputation on creating the world as it should be, not keep it as it is.
Most importantly, we should never forget the wise words that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.