Duncan Gay, the New South Wales minister for transport, describes himself as “the biggest bike lane sceptic in the government”. On his journey in to the NSW parliament he has to drive past a $5m protected cycleway on College Street in Sydney’s central business district which was installed by Lord Mayor Clover Moore in 2010. Gay has ordered the cycleway to be removed, leading to consternation from cyclists in Sydney who point out that the College Street cycleway carries more cyclists in peak times than motorists on the adjoining road. They also point out that the path didn’t originally take a lane away from motorists so there has been no impact on travel time for motorists. (The College Street lane took the place of on-street car-parking.)
A number of Australian cycle advocates and engineers are currently at the Velo-city conference in Nantes and have expressed their outrage at Gay’s actions.
Cycle campaigner Sue Abbott told BikeBiz: “The cycleway is used so much. It’s a very pleasant ride and is somewhere you can go on a really busy street, and even ride with children in safety. Taking out the lane is appalling.”
She added she would be taking direct action to oppose the path’s removal once she returned from Velo-city: “I’ll be chaining myself to everything going.”
Fiona Campbell, Manager of Sydney’s cycling strategy, is also at Velo-city. She was upset but diplomatic about the reasons for the cycleway’s imminent removal but stressed that the College Street cycleway, which she helped to create, was an extremely well-used travel corridor.
State documents, found via a freedom of information request, show that the protected cycleways in central Sydney regularly carry as many people as in cars on adjacent roads, and the cycleways had "no significant impact" on causing delays to motorists in the city centre.
A 2011 report for Gay’s transport department compiled by the Roads and Traffic Authority and Roads and Maritime Services concluded: “Given that the bi-directional paths do not occupy previous general traffic lanes, no significant delays to other road users arising from the cycleways have occurred.”
The report also said: “The removal of the bicycle path on College Street would have limited benefits for traffic flow if the western lane was then to revert to car use."
Gay has ignored the report’s expert advice and is ploughing ahead with the removal of the cycleway.
By ripping out the protected curbs along the one and a half mile route – which is to happen as early as this week – the State government is also over-riding the desires of the city. Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that the plans to remove the College Street cycleway without providing a replacement would put people’s safety at risk: “Safe, separated cycleways are essential for fixing congestion in the CBD and protecting people who choose to ride,” she said.
Transport minister Gay claims the extinguishing of the path is to expand capacity for cars and buses likely to be diverted on to College Street due to the construction of a light rail system in downtown Sydney. Cycle advocates say its during such disruptive times that cycling comes into its own, as was shown in Copenhagen last year when city-wide construction work led to a huge upswing in cycle usage. Gay also claims that he’s not against cycle lanes in principle but that the College Street path is in the wrong place. He prefers for bike paths to go through parks rather than beside roads (a solution rejected by the experts in the Roads and Traffic Authority).
Gay is a staunch supporter of Australia’s mandatory helmet law for cyclists, has proposed banning cyclists from some roads, and is also a vociferous champion of making cyclists carry licence plates. An Australia without mandatory cycle helmets would lead to “rage everywhere” and would be akin to letting “anarchists run the world,” he has said. He is “increasingly persuaded” that cyclists need to be licensed – banning cyclists from some roads would be considered “on a safety basis.”
The New South Wales government has a history of aiming to discourage cycling in favour of motoring. In 2009, Carl Scully, the then transport minister, said that cyclists should be banned from roads. In a column for The Age newspaper of Australia, Scully wrote that “the claim put to me often by cycling lobby groups, ‘that bicycles are non-motorised vehicular transport and have as much right to be on the road as any other vehicle’, was a claim I rejected firmly every time.” His piece was headlined “Cyclists do not have the same rights as motorists on roads”.
Scully said he was unpopular with cycling organisations because “I made it quite clear that I believed riding a bike on a road was profoundly unsafe and that where I could I would shift them to off road cycle ways.”
Roads, for Scully and now, it seems, for Gay, too – are for motor vehicles only. ”It may be necessary to regulate the manner and time in which [cyclists] may use our roads,” wrote Scully in 2009, a view apparently shared by the current roads minister.
Credit for graphic: Michael O’Reilly.