No joy for bike riders in Midtown designs

Hobart Council has released draft plans for a redesign of the “midtown” section of Elizabeth Street but it hasn't heeded calls from its community action team for safer bicycle infrastructure.

The council’s draft redesign for the blocks between Melville and Warwick streets was the subject of a long community consultation process involving local businesses, residents, students and people who work in the area.

This “project action team” met several times and were helped by consultants and experts who talked about the options and answered the community’s questions about what was possible and examples of what had been tried elsewhere.

At the end of the detailed consultation period the action team came up with a list of 19  recommendations for the redesign of Elizabeth Street, with a strong emphasis on Elizabeth Street becoming a “movement corridor” for people walking and riding.

In terms of bicycles, the action team called for:

  • Provide protected and separated uphill (northerly direction) cycle lane.
  • Provide bicycle parking facilities
  • Provide advance stop line (bike boxes) for bicycles at approaches to all intersection areas, spanning both lanes of traffic
  • Reduce the speed limit to 30km/hr

This is similar to the 2019 plan for Hobart cycleways put forward by the Tasmanian Bicycle Council, which proposes a protected bike lane on the uphill side of Elizabeth St and no car parking on the downhill side with a 30 km/h speed limit.

The Tasmanian Government and RACT have also put forward visions for Elizabeth Street which include the removal of on-street parking to make way for safer conditions for people walking and riding.

The action team acknowledged that their vision for midtown would involve the removal of some on-street parking to make room for wider footpaths and separated cycleway, and were 100% united in their call for this.

Painted lanes wrong response

With the community consultation team strongly behind the removal of car parking for better bicycle conditions, and Elizabeth Street being such an acknowledged link for people walking or riding, it would seem to be the perfect site to show how all road users can be better catered for. Especially as there are a number of new apartment buildings proposed or approved for the area.

But instead, the council’s draft design has opted for narrow painted bicycle lanes in the dooring zone of parked cars.

Research out of the Monash Accident Research Centre by Dr Ben Beck last year, showed that narrow painted lanes next to parked cars can be more dangerous to riders than no paint, as drivers pass up to 40 cm closer to riders in lanes.

“Our results demonstrate that a single stripe of white paint does not provide a safe space for people who ride bikes,” Dr Beck said when the research was released.

“When the cyclist and driver share a lane, the driver is required to perform an overtaking manoeuvre. This is in contrast to roads with a marked bicycle lane, where the driver is not required to overtake. This suggests that there less of a conscious requirement for drivers to provide additional passing distance.”

Other councils and road managers have moved away from narrow painted lanes next to parked cars because of the dangers they pose, especially to less confident riders who may position themselves too close to parked cars and the risk of dooring to get out of the way of traffic.

VicRoads has published guidance to Victorian councils that on low speed, low traffic volume streets where painted lanes may be suitable, there must still be a 1 metre buffer painted between the parked car and start of a bike lane to account for the dooring risk, such as in the picture below.

The council also rejected a 30 km/h speed limit along Elizabeth Street at a meeting in July, in favour of 40 km/h speed limits. This decision was made after hearing the evidence that 30 km/h was a safer speed limit for people walking and riding if they were hit by a vehicle, and one which was being adopted by cities around the world to improve road safety.

The good news is that the draft designs include more bike parking along the street and green bicycle boxes at intersections so riders can be better seen by drivers. 

A non-riding feature in the draft designs which could cause problems is the proposed kerb bulbing that extends the footpath at street corners. This is good for providing more footpath space, but it also makes it difficult to build separated cycleways in the future as the narrowed intersections don't always leave enough space for cycleways.

While Elizabeth is a well known walking link, there is great potential to make it a better cycling link and increase rider numbers by building bicycle infrastructure and changing road conditions to make it more comfortable to ride. Some of the new apartment buildings being proposed for the area are 1.5-2 km from the waterfront - up to a 30 minute walk, but only a 10 minute bike ride. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the council no longer has money budgeted to construct the project but it's still working on design ready for future funding, so hopefully it listens to bike riders and people who’d like to ride along Elizabeth Street and changes the draft design.

If you’d like to have your say on the designs, you can see them and comment at