27 June 2013 — CONFERENCE: In 2011, 8.5 per cent of Yarra City residents rode to work – the highest rate of people riding to work in Australia.
And it’s not by accident. Since 2006, the City, part of metropolitan Melbourne, has been working at its bike lane strategy.
Speaking at the Making Cities Liveable Conference last week, Yarra City’s sustainable transport officer Kate Simnett said 2006 was a huge year for bike strategy development.
Ms Simnett said Yarra City had 80,000 residents and 35,000 households in an area that included “inner old suburbs with titchy little streets and footpaths”.
“So it was easy because there were lots of little streets that are nice to walk on, and difficult because there were really narrow roads for bike paths,” she said.
But Ms Simnett said the political landscape was in cycling’s favour with two councillors, including the mayor, “cycling everywhere” and the other ones cycling a lot.
“So with councillors riding the bikes they were very interested in our bicycle strategy.”
Ms Simnett said 38.7 per cent of Yarra’s riders were women, and that women were considered an “indicator species” for bike-friendly cities.
Studies have shown women are more averse to risk than men, which means they have an increased demand for safe bike infrastructure as a prerequisite for riding.
When the infrastructure is in place, they hop on their bikes. Like in Yarra.
Ms Simnett said part of the strategy was a commitment to place bike lanes wherever possible as streets were being resheeted.
The paint was a minimal cost, she said. And the council had also committed to an annual budget of $200,000 for getting bikes on roads.
“To have that annually has made a big difference to us,” she said.
The council had also adopted a hierarchy which rates the importance of the road user. First are pedestrians, followed by cyclists, public transport, freight, motorcyclists and, finally, cars.
It was “a great tool” for getting people in local government on board, she said, forcing them to look at every road first in terms of walking then cycling.
Other initiatives have been introducing a 40 kilometre an hour speed limit throughout the entire city – the only one in Victoria below 50km/h, and wider bike lanes to keep cyclists out of the opening car door area on one side and with a buffer from moving cars on the other.
Ms Simnett said the guidelines for roads were that they needed to be 3.3 metres wide, but Yarra had narrowed them to 2.5 metres. It also had the effect of dropping the speed limit by a further 5km/h.
Another initiative is bike and pedestrian head starts at traffic lights.
This was very important for streets like narrow Brunswick Street which has parking on both sides and tram lines down the middle. With literally no room for bike lanes, riders are given a green light before cars so they can set off without worrying about someone turning left on top of them and making them clearly visible as a road user.
And while it’s too early for accident data, Ms Simnett said anecdotal evidence was that bike riders felt much safer with their early starts.
But while it’s done a lot in the past seven years, Yarra was not stopping, she said.
“We would potentially like to have a 30km/h limit – although we are not gaining much traction for that yet,” she said.
Then there are physically separated bike facilities through parking loss, again controversial, more head starts at traffic intersections and more bike corrals and bike parking facilities off the footpath.
But Ms Simnett said while Yarra had 45 kilometres of streets with a dedicated bike lane on each side, the suburb of Richmond had proved difficult with older and much smaller roads.
But even that hasn’t stopped her.
Bike routes were being developed through small local streets so cyclists can “wriggle through the suburbs”, she said.
“It’s a long-lasting strategy.”