Are quiet streets an alternative to dedicated cycleways?

The recent Hobart City Council redevelopment of the New Town Road shopping strip has thrown up a choice for bicycle riders across the state. Instead of pursuing a separated or unseparated cycleway, the City is proposing to send bicycle riders down quiet back streets along a signed route.

The project’s consultant advice said that due to heavy traffic and high-frequency buses, one lane of parking would need to be removed to make way for bicycle riders or they could be detoured down Clare and Pedder streets.

Rather than have the argument about removing on-road car parking to accommodate a separated cycleway, the project team have opted for the back street cycling route.

This decision shows how difficult it is to shift people’s views about removing on-street parking for safer cycling infrastrucure. The consultant’s advice clearly shows there is an oversupply of on-street parking and there is side street and business parking available.

Unfortunately, the belief continues that shops need parking directly outside their door and to remove that will disadvantage the business. This is despite research from the US which shows that businesses in streets where bike lanes have replaced parking do just as well and sometimes better than comparable areas.

Cycling South has come up with a design for an unseparated uphill bicycle lane on New Town Road by removing several car parking spots where there are other alternatives for parking.

However, this won’t address the need to get more low-risk bicycle routes in place that will attract new riders who are currently so worried about safety it prevents them from riding.

Hobart has already gone down the back roads path, recently installing bicycle route signs through Battery Point while the ongoing saga of a Battery Point pathway drags on.

The street signs indicate a preferred bicycle route but no other traffic calming measures have been enacted to make it safer than riding on other streets. Although the streets chosen are local, low traffic volume and Marieville Esplanade and Napoleon Street already have speed humps.

However, there is the possibility of cementing the route as a safer option by using bicycle logos and other road treatments to show it’s a priority bicycle route and lowering traffic speeds, preferably to 30km.

Without significant traffic calming measures or cutting local streets off to through traffic, the signed route is only a small step up from riding on a road without bicycle infrastructure.

The US city of Portland has set up a network of quiet streets called greenways which prioritise walking and cycling. Speed humps, kerb extensions and no-through roads slow traffic, green street signs show the route direction and distances, and bicycle logos (sharrows) painted on the roads show a riding position outside the range of an open car door. The more than 100km of greenways have a traffic speed of 32km or less, have easy street crossings for bike riders and connect with off-road trails.

South Australia has picked up Portland’s greenways concept with signage and sharrows on local roads and streetside plantings, but hasn’t dropped the speed in those roads or employed other traffic calming measures.

Melbourne also has some back routes signed, especially in suburbs like Collingwood where streets are narrow.

Such routes are cheap to set up and could be a safer alternative if there is also strong traffic calming, while the campaign for separated cycleways on major roads continues. They may also be a better alternative to roads where separated lanes are not practical because of too many driveways.

But will traffic-calmed quiet roads be enough for those people who won’t ride because of fear of being hit by a car? And is it okay for councils to send bicycle riders on longer, more complex back road routes while car drivers get to take the most direct roads?

Councils and state government may be reluctant to remove on-street car parking because it will cause conflict, however, they both have a role in educating the community about the best use of limited road space and the need to get more people active.

Until they do, Tasmania will struggle to get convenient, separated networks of cycleways that will encourage more people to ride.