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This is why bike lanes are working

Date

On Your Bike

After wearing out his knees with basketball and running, Michael O'Reilly became yet another MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man In Lycra).

View more entries from On Your Bike

Cyclist numbers in La Trobe Street, Melbourne have tripled in the afternoon peak.

Cyclist numbers in La Trobe Street, Melbourne have tripled in the afternoon peak. Photo: Justin McManus

"Bicycles should only be allowed on bike lanes."

It's a phrase one often hears from people who are opposed to cyclists being on the road.

But when bike lanes are being built, people complain about that, too. It's extremely likely the people who moan include many who think, um, cyclists should only be on bike lanes.

Matching numbers: Cyclists and cars in College Street, Sydney, on an early morning this month.

Matching numbers: Cyclists and cars in College Street, Sydney, on an early morning this month. Photo: Peter Rae

Separated bike lanes have been much in the news lately (and I'm talking proper infrastructure, not painted white lines in the door zone of death).

In Adelaide, new lanes on Frome Street have been the cause of much conflict. In Melbourne, installation continues in places such as St Kilda Road, William Street and Clarendon Street, while La Trobe Street now has a cycle way from end to end. Flemington Road is also a site of likely future development.

But the most controversial network has surely been in Sydney. It was spearheaded by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, but construction was halted by the incoming Liberal government before a single cross-city route had been completed.

Melbourne has a high proportion of female cyclists.

Melbourne has a high proportion of female cyclists. Photo: Justin McManus

After two years, construction has recommenced but controversy still rages, especially regarding the usage rates of the lanes and their possible impact on motor vehicle traffic. A popular perception has been that the lanes are not being used.

This contention was neatly skewered four weeks ago by the Sydney Morning Herald's Transport Reporter, Jacob Saulwick.

A Freedom of Information request turned up a gem of a report by Transport for NSW that showed just how effective the bike lanes are. The information was contained in a longer report – so here are some salient paragraphs, in case you missed it:

Confidential analysis prepared by Transport for NSW shows separated bike lanes installed in central Sydney have doubled the number of cyclists on the road but led to fewer total injuries among them.

"Detailed analysis shows ... the number of reported injuries has been halved on the sections of road where separated cycle ways have been constructed," the analysis says.

The documents also show that the separated bike lanes in central Sydney regularly carry as many people as in cars on adjacent traffic lanes.

The Kent Street cycleway moves 34 per cent of the people using that road in the morning peak, but takes up 25 per cent of the road space. The College Street cycleway, which the government proposes to rip up, moves 20 per cent of the people on 20 per cent of the road space.

Here's a graphic showing some key numbers:

Last week, Sydney's Daily Telegraph reported that they had commissioned their own study of bike lane usage. While the article stressed that cars carry more people into the city than bicycles, the proportional road use was much the same as in the Transport for NSW study.

For example, the oft-maligned Bourke Street lane in Surry Hills carried 338 cyclists during peak commuting time, with 683 cars travelling on two car lanes.

So why does the controversy continue? Here are a few salient points about separated cycle ways:

They are for rush hour: Transport systems are designed for peak time, not down time. Don't worry that bicycle lanes might be sparsely used in the middle of the day – the people who rode on them are already at work.

They reduce congestion: Put four cars in a road lane, and they'll fill its width and stretch for more than 20 metres (and note the percentage of single-occupant vehicles in the graph above). Cyclists take up far less space. So, bike lanes appear sparsely occupied even when they're carrying more people than an adjacent car lane. The good news? Most bike lanes still have capacity to spare.

They have to lead somewhere: Cyclists seeking the safety of a bike lane don't want to run a dangerous gauntlet to get to it. Sydney's cycle ways have facilitated a dramatic increase in cycling numbers, but will only show their true worth when completed. We wouldn't criticise pedestrians for being reluctant to use a half-finished path through bushland.

They are best in high-traffic areas: Lanes create safe conduits for mass cycling movement - but until we have a separated lane leading from everyone's front door to their every destination (probably never), motorists and cyclists will have to co-exist on our roads.

The advantages of separated lanes have also been revealed by a report on Melbourne's La Trobe Street lanes, which found that bicycle numbers in the afternoon peak had tripled. Meanwhile, reprogramming of intersection signals meant travel time for motor vehicles was largely unaffected.

As Bicycle Network spokesman Garry Brennan told me: "We just have to keep building this stuff and eventually people will come to see that everybody benefits."

It's not the first time that Saulwick has uncovered good news about bike lanes through a Freedom of Information request: in 2012, he reported that the College Street lane was having little or no impact on motor vehicle travel times.

Meanwhile, Sydney faces a race against time to get the lanes installed before construction work on the light rail commences next year. And we'll have to wait up to seven years for many key cycling corridors to be built in Sydney's inner suburbs.

In response to a recent spate of collisions between motor vehicles and cyclists, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay – who has previously described himself as "the biggest bike lane sceptic in the government" – said he was considering a plan to licence cyclists.

Rather than speculate about a program that doesn't exist anywhere in the world, the minister should open his eyes to the compelling evidence that bike lanes do work and protect cyclists. He has the power to ensure that safe lanes are delivered on key routes as quickly as possible.

As a cyclist, do you use bike lanes? Where are lanes needed? Would you be more keen to ride a bike if there were protected routes you could use?

To encourage constructive debate, this blog will be carefully moderated; please stay on topic.

Follow Michael O'Reilly on Twitter or email him.

296 comments

  • Who pays for them to be constructed?

    Commenter
    dhv
    Location
    The real world
    Date and time
    May 29, 2014, 7:28AM
    • DHV, bike lanes are funded in various ways, mostly through general taxes and rates (it's a fallacy to think that car registration pays exclusively for roads etc).

      If you click on the link in the article on the words "race against time", you will see that the City of Sydney Council pays for the bike lanes in the CBD.

       

      Commenter
      Michael O'Reilly - On Your Bike
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 8:20AM
    • Its an interesting question and certainty not liberal governments with $0 dollars allocated in the Victorian and federal budgets for cycling infrastructure. Stacks of cash out their though for roads. It's pity roads and private motor vehicles are not an effective or sustainable transport solution.

      Commenter
      Decadence
      Location
      Glenroy
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 8:36AM
    • "If you click on the link in the article on the words "race against time", you will see that the City of Sydney Council pays for the bike lanes in the CBD."

      So therefore dhv if you do not pay rates in the City of Sydney Council area you are free loading.

      Commenter
      d d
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 8:48AM
    • Have to be careful with the numbers - even when comparing one lane taken for bikes its been compared to one lane for cars and the number of people transported is still higher for cars - then the added congestion to the other car lanes compounds problems in the city.

      Put simply this maybe a long way to get to a corrupt end for a congestion tax in the city - just like "speed cameras save lives" and "Provisional 1 and Provisional 2 licenses save lives".

      By removing one lane of traffic for bikes it maybe a cynical way to appease people but how far do most people in cars travel? The congestion gets worse with one lane less and Bam we then get a Congestion Tax - so everyone pays through Rates and Taxes then through more User / Congestion Tax and less productivity.

      Commenter
      Auryn
      Location
      The Fountain Of Knowledge
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 9:02AM
    • "So therefore dhv if you do not pay rates in the City of Sydney Council area you are free loading."

      Yes, all of those freeloaders driving to work in their Audis, Porsches, and Range Rovers!

      "Have to be careful with the numbers - even when comparing one lane taken for bikes its been compared to one lane for cars and the number of people transported is still higher for cars - then the added congestion to the other car lanes compounds problems in the city."

      The majority of people I see commuting in cars around the CBD are sole occupants. So as long as you are not referring to bus routes it is doubtful more people are transported in cars in the same space.

      Most bike lanes have been created from removing on-road parking with no loss of lanes. Where a car lane has been removed (e.e St Kilda Rd Melbourne) data has shown the extra car journey time to be only about a minute.

      Commenter
      Doug
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 9:22AM
    • Michael, It's a fallacy that the councils pay for the roads also. Fuel excise does, rego contributes and Sydney council certainly doesn't pay for Richmond's bike lanes.

      road users need to help pay for road infrastructure. If bike users contribute $$ to this, then no-one would have an issue. again, it's the self entitlement issue that people have with bike riders.

      Commenter
      me me me
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 9:35AM
    • Most roads and bike paths are paid for from local council rates. So, mostly, everyone pays for both.

      There are some roads and bike paths that the State Governments and the Federal Government contribute to, but not anywhere near as much as is paid in registration and fuel taxes.

      The reason people are so upset about bikes is a testament to bikes being a disruptive technology. The growth in bike use has been phenomenal, and this growth is unlikely to slow for some time yet.

      Commenter
      Tone
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 9:38AM
    • Bike lanes are NOT for cyclist! they are implemented so car drivers do not have to maintian their driving skills and can disobey road rules with minimal loss of life. Its about time we looked well forward in time to autonomous transport. Take the control away from the driver, -what you think its impossible - ever used park assist?

      Commenter
      jakster
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 9:50AM
    • Just to clarify, I was actually on a traffic committee a few years back. Councils pay for almost all road infrastructure except for major roads. When I suggested that the State government should be paying compensation for all the cars that go through our suburb, I was told by a State Government representative "but we do". This person then told me that the State government give $200,000 a year to our council for the roads - about enough to pay for about 1/4 of a roundabout.

      Commenter
      Tone
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 29, 2014, 10:01AM

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