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Safety plan for deadly highway

The dark history of Black Forest Drive has possibly reached the final chapter, with new plans announced to tame the dangerous former highway.

Regional Roads Victoria has announced a $6M project to reduce the four-lane, undivided highway to two lanes with provision for a bike facility.

A wide, painted median will also be added, with turning lanes. And entries from a number of side roads will be sealed to prevent debris from spilling into the bike lanes.

Black Forest Drive has an appalling safety record with six fatalities and 36 serious injury crashes between 2001 and 2020.

The 11.7 km stretch between Woodend and Macedon is popular with riders, but hazardous because of driver distraction.

Black Forest Drive was once the Calder Highway before it was by-passed when the freeway was opened in 2001.

With four lanes, the road had capacity for 40,000 vehicles a day, but after the new freeway to Bendigo opened, it was only carrying 2000 cars a day.

With so little traffic and so much space the road became a deadly playground for distracted and careless drivers.

It was dangerous for all road users, but particularly for bike riders who were attracted to the now low-traffic road.

It is standard practice world-wide for decommissioned highways to be reduced to two lanes so that they are acceptably safe for road users.

Why wasn’t this done to this section of the old Calder Highway? Actually, it was.

Because of its poor safety record, the former four-lane highway was reduced to two lanes and a wide bike facility in 2010 in a project undertaken by the TAC and VicRoads.

But foolishly, locals mounted a highly political and ultimately successful campaign to have the decision reversed.

Claims were made that a four-lane highway was essential for local access, and as a route in emergencies. It would be laughable if it did not turn out to be so tragic.

The road returned to four lanes and the bike facility was rubbed out. The then coalition Government in Victoria thought they could defy the evidence and claim a marginal seat in the process.

Inevitably riders died and were seriously injured in the years that followed.

Ten years on there is hope that the case for safety will prevail.

The proposal is now out for public consultation.

There is a survey and a map outlining the planned upgrades. Feedback closes on 21 October.

This article was made possible by the support of Bicycle Network's members who enable us to make bike riding better in Australia.