Bikes cop blame as city has prospered

Opening a newspaper today is like waking from a 10 or 20-year coma: stories with the bleatings of city merchants complaining about bike lanes and calling for more cars to crowd city streets.

No, you haven’t been in a coma, but some of the Melbourne’s business community must have been long comatose, based on their feeble knowledge of the changes that have transformed Melbourne in recent decades.

Their argument seems to be that more cars in the city result in more money in cash registers, and thus a stronger city economy; bike riders on the other hand, restrict car access, therefore diminishing trade, and crimping the growth of commerce.

Anyone who has been half-awake since the turn of the century knows that exactly the opposite has happened: car trips into the city have been steadily declining while bikes and public transport have been building, and all the while the surge in visitation, employment, retail sales, construction and city living points to an economy that is competitive and healthy.

This should surprise nobody.

The crowd you want in cities is people, not motor vehicles. Across the developed world the decline in central city traffic is related to the growth in people on the streets, and a consequent increase in the full range of economic transactions.

Parking meter revenue may be an exception. Good riddance.

Private motor vehicles have their uses but choking up CBD streets is not one that anybody is encouraging in 2022.

Major world cities that are fiercely competing for footloose business, research, talent, tourism and residents are taking determined steps to accelerate the transformation of their transport systems towards public and active transport, and away from the private car.

Melbourne has been doing exactly that.

At the very same time as business leaders were lamenting new bike lanes on city streets, deep below Swanston Street billions of dollars are being spent on Melbourne Metro, the new underground rail system that will pour unprecedented numbers of people into the city every day.

Our tram and bus systems are in line for reorganisation in the wake of the Metro Tunnel opening, further improving the capacity, priority and distribution of on-road public transport.

And Melbourne’s tremendous success with bike transport will continue. Tens of thousands of bikes flow into and around the city every day, numbers that will double and double again and again in the coming years.

And because at some point everybody becomes a pedestrian during a trip, the city's streets, laneways and arcades will be full to overflowing with people walking who will need more space as well as time at intersections to cross streets.

Who would want to be in a car in that environment?

Some people who will be driving are those in the logistics business, and they should be welcomed and included this plan.

The movement of people and goods is the aim of any first-class transport system, and keeping Melbourne thriving will require a substantial local freight task.

If our business leaders are really serious about the economy, they should be pushing for fewer private cars in the city and much better planning for an efficient logistics sector that will need to make creative use of street space now wasted on private parking.

Can we hope that these business leaders will wake up and realise that it is 2022, bikes lanes are here to stay, and Melbourne is not winding back the clock?

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