OPINION // WHEN the Baw Baw Shire began digging holes for new street trees in Queen Street Warragul the cycling community was outraged they were to be planted in bike paths.
But it was the council’s response which highlighted the real problem at play. The council justified the move – which was supported by VicRoads – by saying the paths were shared with parking and by no means a dedicated cycle lane.
Unlike many bike paths on major roads in Melbourne and more major regional centres, Baw Baw’s are not dedicated. In fact, they are effectively parking lanes with bike logos slapped on to look good. Motorists can legally block cyclists by parking in the shared lanes, and even the planned lane widening cannot control how wide or well parked a stopped vehicle will be.
The question which should be asked by the cycling community is this: what will Baw Baw do to improve safety for its growing cycling population?
Queen Street is a busy road with plenty of heavy traffic travelling at around 60km/h. A state-wide study conducted by cycling safety group the Amy Gillett Foundation found, where speed zones were recorded with crash data, 77 per cent of all bike rider crashes occurred on roads with limits between 50 and 60km/h.
There are many measures which can be taken to improve safety and Baw Baw’s community assets director Phil Cantillon told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen he hoped the widening of Queen Street’s shared lanes would reduce cyclists’ needs to dive into traffic to avoid parked cars. The photo above shows how much space is left for lane widening, but is only a best-case example – the truck pictured pulled toward the centre when its driver saw me standing at the present edge of the shared lane.
Other arrangements could be considered, though cost and road width are always factors. One of the most simple is to simply remove bikes from the road altogether and widen the footpaths. While easy to implement on Queen Street, this presents other issues: blind driveways and risks to pedestrians.
Another option is to create dedicated bike lanes on the very edge of the road, possibly even separated from the parking lanes with a small barrier. This does not resolve the dooring issue having bikes on the right side of shared lanes creates, but does separate bikes from moving traffic. If trees are planted on Queen Street where they are planned to be, this option will not be possible.
Even simply marking dedicated bike lanes on the inside edge of the shared zone instead of widening the shared zone as planned could remind drivers to look out for bikes and how much space must be left.
There are many other possible solutions which could put cyclists in a better position than they are now, and pleasingly the council’s past-last minute decision to consult puts all of them on the table.
While the shared bike lanes remain as they are, however, it is worth asking yourself if you know the road rules when it comes to driving around bicycles. Many motorists do not and are frustrated by cyclists legally riding alone or two-abreast in road lanes in areas without adequate bike riding infrastructure or illegally overtake cyclists on roundabouts. Many cyclists also break rules, though always come off second best.
Be sure to research Victoria’s road cycling rules – we can complain about safety, but we can also do something about it.
What do you think? Comment below.
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