City cycleways needed now, Rivulet can wait

Hobart alderman Tanya Denison has proposed the Hobart Council investigate the possibility of using the Hobart Rivulet tunnel underneath the city centre for a walking and cycling commuter route.

The Council voted on Monday 7 October for officers to prepare a report based on Alderman Denison's proposal.

Alderman Denison says in her rationale for the motion that “pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles are increasingly competing for finite space. Given the constraints on the ground level to physically increase the area available for travelling, the consideration of novel approaches to creating alternative commuter connections that are convenient and inviting is warranted.”

This is not the first time someone has suggested refitting the Rivulet tunnel for other purposes.

Masters student Tiffani Navratil wrote her thesis “Daylighting the Rivulet” about the possibilities for converting the underground sections of the rivulet for other uses. 

She envisaged opening up the tunnel and creating green spaces alongside the rivulet at certain points to create small parks through the city.

While Alderman Denison is to be commended for thinking of ways to create safer routes for people walking and riding, this sort of complex and expensive project would be a long-term proposition and is unlikely to be a viable commuter corridor.

Most commuters are heading to a destination in the city rather than wanting to ride through it, so it’s unlikely the relatively short section of tunnel would get high usage as a commuter route.

Refitting the Rivulet for other purposes is an interesting idea, but is more likely to be useful for recreation and tourism rather than a transport corridor.

We know that what we need now is a connected on-road, separated cycle network that takes people to where they need to go, 356 days a year.

Having a protected cycleway at ground level that delivers people directly to their workplace, schools and shopping areas will always be more convenient and desirable. And having a network accessible every day of the year, regardless of weather, will also encourage regular commuter behaviour.

Collins Street is a prime route to develop into an on-road, separated cycleway and would provide a connection to the current separated routes of the Intercity Cycleway and Hobart Rivulet path.

There are also the personal safety issues that many women feel about walking or riding in environments where they feel they may be physically attacked. The tunnel would have to be very well lit with frequent, easily accessed entry and exit points for women to use it and even then, that may not be enough.

Underutilised land and infrastructure can all be considered for cycling routes, but we know the cheapest and easiest way to encourage more people to ride is to build an on-road, separated network just as cities throughout Australia, Asia and North America are currently doing.

Image: JJ Harrison