The ABC - Friday 2 July 2010

Lycra lunacy?

The Sydney City Council's moves to extend cycleways across the city have been welcomed by riders and criticised due to concerns over safety and pedestrian rights.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER, PRESENTER: Lycra lunacy: that's how one critic described Sydney City Council's enthusiastic embrace of cycleways. Of course for years commuters have yearned for a solution to the increasing pressure on roads and public transport. Some saw a ray of light last May with the opening of an ambitious cycleway plan that promises over 200 kilometres of cycleways around inner Sydney. Lord Mayor Clover Moore is determined to remove bikes from the road and on to dedicated cycleways. But there's opposition, including questions as to the safety of the plan and whether the legal rights of pedestrians are being traded away in the rush to transform Sydney. Greg Miskelly reports.

GREG MISKELLY, REPORTER: Despite the extreme cold, these cyclists in Pyrmont are experiencing a warm inner glow. The reason? Bright green bike routes keep appearing around town.

CYCLIST: I only used it yesterday and the day before for the first time, 'cause the signs went up saying that I could use it and it was unblocked, and I think it's really great.

MARK SYDENHAM, CYCLIST: It was virtually unrideable years ago. The traffic was quite horrendous - a lot of trucks, trucks navigating driveways. One would take their life into their own hands trying to traverse Bourke Road. Today it's a corridor and it's accessible, I would say, to every cyclist.

GREG MISKELLY: Mark Sydenham has been a cyclist for 32 years. He's excited about Alexandria's Bourke Road and its new two-way bike path.

MARK SYDENHAM: Well the appeal is going forward. It's really to encourage a whole new generation of cyclists to, to mobility, to interact in and around their community.

CLOVER MOORE, LORD MAYOR, CITY OF SYDNEY: We have done extensive consultation; 80 per cent of people asked us to provide a transport option. We have done extensive research, and we have modelled our network on - specifically on Sydney conditions.

GREG MISKELLY: Sydney Mayor Clover Moore sees her council cycle plan as the centrepiece of a state bike strategy.

CLOVER MOORE: We really need transport options in Sydney. Too many people are stuck in their cars or stuck on overcrowded buses and we really need to address that.

GREG MISKELLY: It's a 10-year project with a cost of $74 million that promises dedicated cycle paths into 165 suburbs. But this fluoro rebranding of Sydney's transport has struck marketing problems. In the narrow streets of Surry Hills, new two-way bike paths and shared intersections aren't always welcome.

DAVID POTTS, FRIENDS OF BOURKE STREET: We feel that in order to create this space, council has compromised the safety of all road users.

GREG MISKELLY: The Friends of Bourke Street are a group of local residents who have opposed the City of Sydney's bike plan on a raft of issues. David and Rosemary Potts are now worried about community safety.

ROSEMARY POTTS, FRIENDS OF BOURKE STREET: On Bourke Street there's over 23 intersections coming in at the sides and this is where the conflict is going to come, where there's going to be pedestrians, there's going to be cars trying to turn left or right and there's going to be the cycleway people as well.

GREG MISKELLY: Local Peter Whitehead is a cyclist who also rejects the plan.

PETER WHITEHEAD, FRIENDS OF BOURKE STREET: Bourke Street already is a very good place to ride. I've been riding up here for years. There's no problems. But to put an expensive bi-directional cycleway that's too narrow, they are less safe because they've got - there's driveways coming out, there's people who aren't used to looking both ways when they come out.

PETER KHOURY, NRMA SPOKESPERSON: It's become apparent that Bourke Street's an example of what not to do when you're building a cycle path. From what we can gather, it appears that the local residents weren't consulted. The residents are up in arms because they've lost parking opportunities, local businesses are up in arms because of the impact it's had on their local businesses, motorists are up in arms 'cause it's created even more congestion on the road.

GREG MISKELLY: Peter Khoury says the NRMA, while fully supporting cycling, has real concerns that poorly planned cycleways won't solve massive transport problems.

PETER KHOURY: The people who use our roads are overwhelmingly using them in their motor vehicle. Around 80 per cent of people use their car regularly; less than two per cent will use their bicycle regularly, and when they do, the majority of those use it for recreational purposes. So it's not actually taking more cars off the roads.

GREG MISKELLY: Clover Moore argues the dividends of the plan are huge and will pay off into the long-term.

CLOVER MOORE: We can't just do business as usual. Business as usual means we have the highest rate of obesity in the OECD, we have a congestion rate that's costing us currently $4 billion a year, we have overcrowded public transport. And our cycling option will address those issues.

GREG MISKELLY: It's a sentiment shared by Elaena Gardner, the President of BIKESydney, a cyclists' support group. She's not concerned with any initial imperfections.

ELAENA GARDNER, PRESIDENT, BIKESydney: It's early days, and some of this is, you know, a little bit maybe experimental; it hasn't been done before, and so there's this opportunity to test things and see how they might work.

GREG MISKELLY: Elaena Gardner thinks Sydney, like other global cities, should have a functioning cycle network and welcomes any focus on safety.

ELAENA GARDNER: I think it's a debate the community needs to have; a big, open public discussion about why we're doing this.

GREG MISKELLY: But it's not just road users talking. As head of St Vincent's Hospital emergency room, Dr Gordian Fulde is witnessing an increase in cycling-related injuries.

GORDIAN FULDE, ST VINCENT'S HOSPITAL: My biggest worry as a doctor in an emergency department is that you can break your arms, but what happens if you get a head injury? Bicycle helmets are good, but they're not for major impacts.

GREG MISKELLY: His safety concerns are not just for those riding bikes. Here on the Pyrmont Bridge, pedestrians and cyclists are being encouraged to get to work in a new 10 kilometre-per-hour shared zone.

HAROLD SCRUBY, PEDESTRIAN COUNCIL: It happens a lot, but these people don't have number plates, you can't identify them, often they cycle off.

GREG MISKELLY: Harold Scruby from the Pedestrian Council supports active transport like cycling and walking. But he fears the price of moving bikes off roadways may be paid for by unprotected pedestrians in the shared zones.

HAROLD SCRUBY, PEDESTRIAN COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: If you look at Clover's cycle paths throughout the city, about two-thirds are coming up onto the footpath. No insurance, no risk assessment.

CLOVER MOORE: I know that currently it is illegal for cyclists to be on footpaths. We're looking very carefully at our roads system. We would like to be able to create separated lanes for cyclists on all our roads. That is not possible.

GREG MISKELLY: Harold Scruby says governments are ignoring existing law where pedestrians have the right of way in shared zones.

HAROLD SCRUBY: The first thing that has to be done is by the RTA; they must mandate that the maximum speed on a shared path - that's a footpath - is 10 km/h.

GREG MISKELLY: While various education campaigns aimed at cyclists are happening, Harold Scruby thinks it's inevitable injured pedestrians will end up suing councils.

CLOVER MOORE: Look, where we have to accept liability, we have to accept liability. I think we've got to get on and create as safe an environment as we can.

NEWSREADER: The court heard he struck 77-year-old James Gould who was crossing Beach Road at Mentone. Mr Gould died from his injuries the next day.

GREG MISKELLY: In Melbourne, a pedestrian fatality during a bike race led to tough, new dangerous riding laws for road cyclists, but in NSW there are no new cycling laws planned.

CLOVER MOORE: If we need to introduce new laws into our parliaments, well, yes, of course, as a private member, I could do that. I think it's really important that councils work with governments on this transport change, and if we need laws, well, yes, we'll have to introduce them.

GREG MISKELLY: And as the new cycle paths transform Sydney into a biking city, cyclists too welcome any means to make the roads safer.

ELAENA GARDNER: At this stage, the infrastructure is at a point where there are some points in the infrastructure where the cyclist has very little choice other than to break the law. I think it's a good opportunity to examine a whole lot of options available to us in law reform.

GREG MISKELLY: While the debate over shared zones continues, the question as to how to best deliver on street safety remains.

GORDIAN FULDE: We have a very compact city. We have a hilly city, and it is just nearly an impossible question to answer how do we get these mixtures to go? But the reality is more and more people are cycling, more people are using motorised two wheels as well and we're seeing more and more people coming to grief.
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