Pop-up promise flops

There was great optimism in October 2020 when the Victorian State Government committed to building an unprecedented 100 kilometers of pop-up bike lanes in Melbourne.

Bicycle Network strongly backed the initiative because of the potential to expand the places to ride that cater for all people on bicycles.

However, with some of the lanes being little more than a splash of temporary yellow paint rather than the proper separated facilities, we need to speak up.

The following series of four before and after photos from Melbourne’s northern suburbs show that what’s being touted as pop up bike lanes are little more than a change from white paint to yellow paint.

Before photos were taken in June/July 2021. After photos were taken in Jan 2022.

Westgarth Street, Northcote, south side, heading west toward city
Victoria Road, Northcote, east side, heading south toward the city
Westgarth Street, Northcote, north side, heading east away from the city
Also Westgarth Street, Northcote, north side, heading east away from the city

It’s true that on these routes there have been some small steps forward, with upgrades such as rumble strips and more green paint in the bike box (see below).

But overall, the lanes fall well short of the anticipated giant leap forward.

They clearly fail the 8 to 80 test. Would you be happy if your 8 or 80 year old loved one was riding on these pop ups? Are they places that will mean people interested in riding but concerned about vehicles hop on their bike in our post-lockdown world?

Some of the pop up bike lanes are extraordinary. Transformative projects such as Heidelberg Road will leave a legacy that lasts long after COVID-19 is gone (as long as they become permanent). So it’s reasonable to expect the others would at least be in the same ballpark. 

But a deep dive into the promises is concerning. While the City of Melbourne pledged to deliver ‘40 kilometres of protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements', the Victorian Government promised 100 kilometres of ‘new and improved cycling routes…to make it easier and safer for people cycling’.

The notable difference being between the bold, concrete word ‘protected’ and the coy, flexible words ‘improved’ and ‘safer’.

The signs put up along these disappointing routes are interesting. On close inspection (you’ll have to zoom in), you’ll see the fine print uses the words ‘new signs and road markings’.

But a picture tells a thousand words, and the image on the signs undoubtedly creates the expectation of a separated barrier to protect people riding their bicycles.

Fortunately, the pop-up bike lane project is still in progress. Work is proceeding at pace to complete the promised 100 kilometres by 30 June 2022.

With the pop-up lanes being built at five times the normal speed and a fifth of the cost, it was understood these lanes wouldn’t be perfect. It was also understood that they weren’t the finished product and improvements could be made later.

So maybe it’s not over? Over to the Victorian state government to make sure their pledge meets community expectations and they fix these lanes. Surely they won’t seek to shelter behind the dubious claim that by painting white lines yellow they’ve ‘improved cycling routes’ and made it ‘safer’ for people on bikes.

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