OPINION

Are separated bike lanes key to Canberra's future as a cycling city?

We take pride in Canberra being an outdoorsy kinda place, sometimes you have to wonder - is it really?

Most people drive everywhere and spend way too much time indoors and when you see cyclists, they're often sports-cyclists darting around the city like they're in the Tour de France, rather than everyday citizens of varying shapes, ages and genders getting from A to B at a speed that suits.

Cyclists in Canberra are left to fend for themselves alongside the city's ever-increasing traffic.  Photo: Karleen Minney

Cyclists in Canberra are left to fend for themselves alongside the city's ever-increasing traffic. Photo: Karleen Minney

This city could be a place where success is measured in terms of the number of people that are actually outdoors - walking, cycling, playing in parks and sitting in outdoor cafes - just as much as it is by its house prices and other economic indicators, just like every other city.

The light rail project, which is intended to eventually link up all of the town centres, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to remake Canberra's main roads to not only accommodate the trams but also separated bike lanes, leading to less cars, a healthier populace and a more vibrant city. 

To be successful, separated bike lanes must be on the most popular routes in-and-out of the city: Northbourne Avenue; Barry Drive, Canberra/Adelaide and Commonwealth Avenues, etc. The new light rail routes from Civic to Gunghalin and Woden would be the logical place to start.

The most important aspect of bike lanes is the curb. After all, don't cyclists deserve as much of a physical barrier from cars as pedestrians would expect? A useful litmus test for a new path could be: is it safe enough for unaccompanied children to ride along?

"The brave souls that currently plunder Northbourne Avenue on two-wheels are summonsing blind luck to protect them."

If planners doubt how this would work in Canberra then they only need look to Amsterdam to see how the city's separated cycle paths, which line every single main road and most secondary roads, runs effortlessly alongside the roads, tramlines and footpaths, creating the perfect conditions for nearly everyone to ride. Yes, there are plenty of fantastic bike paths scattered throughout the Canberra suburbs but these are mostly meandering scenic routes. 

The brave souls that currently plunder Northbourne Avenue on two-wheels are summonsing blind luck to protect them from the dual-cabin utes, oversized SUVs and worst of all, drivers checking their phones just a metre away.

The recent Sydney and Melbourne Building streetworks did produce a separate (raised) bike lane for that block of Northbourne Avenue. It's a great start - but there are 13 more blocks before reaching Flemington Road.

There are a smattering of other separate bike lanes on secondary roads in Civic West, Kingston Foreshore, Woden, Gungahlin and elsewhere that appear to be abandoned experiments. 

Most bike paths in Canberra are meandering scenic routes. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Most bike paths in Canberra are meandering scenic routes. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Bike paths should be on the most direct and well-lit route - and at one height rather than a mixture of raised and street level.

Doubters who say that Canberra could never be a cycling city like Amsterdam because we're too spread out are ignoring the increasing densification of our city centre, where a lot more people are travelling short-distances.

But on its current trajectory, cycling in Canberra will probably remain the domain of the crazy-brave, sports-cyclists; and the weekend riders at the other end of the spectrum who keep off the main roads because they wouldn't risk theirs nor their children's safety.

This would be a missed opportunity to get a new crowd onto bikes, especially young people, who would enjoy cycling into the city if was easy and safe to do so, and who could save some money for the more important things in life like buying a house, or just smashed avocado on toast.

Danny Corvini is a Canberra writer.