City chills pop-up rage

The panicky and fevered reaction against the pop-up bike lanes and on-street dining initiatives that spread across Melbourne during COVID times can be safely cured, according to a report to the City of Melbourne.

The sight of unexpected new bike lanes and people sitting at dining tables in parking spaces during the year sent drivers and small business operators apoplectic.

Projects that were designed to bring more people into streets deserted due to work-at-home measures were assailed because they might add a minute or two to trips through the city by car.

There was a moment there when it was thought that the positive transformation of inner-city streets might be halted or undone.

City councillors were ramrodded into ordering an independent traffic review to assess transport measures that could be applied to support the reactivation of the economy post-COVID.

The review, by consultants Deloitte and PBA Transit Planning, delivers an ice bath to the council’s critics and ensured that cooler heads prevailed when the City’s Future Melbourne Committee considered the issue last Tuesday, and voted to stick with the plan.

The review backed the rollout of protected bike lanes, predicting that bike commuting to the CBD will exceed pre-pandemic levels with safer infrastructure.

“We’ve seen bike usage double outside the city since the pandemic, and we’re looking forward to testing whether e-scooters could become another safe, environmentally friendly option in the coming months,” the Lord Mayor, Sally Capp said.

“Everyone coming into the city is adding value to our economy and we have made improvements for all transport modes so that everyone is a winner.”

Deloitte identified a number of transport-related obstacles to getting more people back into the city: road capacity for vehicles has been reached; unmetered car parking reduces availability for productive vehicles; 43% of traffic is the city is just passing through;  and people may be reluctant to get back on public transport.

The review predicts that bicycle trips into the CBD have massive potential for further growth.

"In March 2019, on Royal Parade, counts showed 800 bicycles in an hour—twice the number of people per lane as in motor vehicles,” the review says.

"Based on European experience, this bicycle route could carry two or three times that number of people.

"Unlike the motor vehicle mode, there is significant room for expansion before bike riding reaches its ‘maturity’ as a transport mode.”

The review says people who ‘discovered’ riding during the Covid period may continue to opt for this mode of transport.

Others would be attracted to it due to the increased safety and accessibility offered by improved bicycle lanes, reduced Covid risk compared to public transport, increased awareness and use of electric-assist bicycles, and seasonal changes that bring more daylight hours and improved riding conditions.

The review identifies that the bicycle has competitive advantages for travel into the city.

"Typically, in urban areas with higher densities, bicycle trips compete over 5–10 kilometres with peak hour motor vehicle and road-based public transport trips. In this competition the bicycle has several advantages:

  • Road congestion is avoided and journey times are predictable.
  • Travel times are similar.
  • Cost is lower.
  • The bicycle offers flexible departure times and the chance to avoid crowded public transport”

The report also suggest Melbourne could follow Europe in providing incentives for using active transport such as free bike share, subsidies for e-bikes, and financial assistance for bike maintenance.

Click here for the council report, including the Deloitee review.

Click here for the City of Melbourne media release.

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