A cycle of illogical decisions
At the outset I declare that I am unashamedly pro-bike. Cycling is a great sport, a clean form of transport, and has undoubted health benefits for those who regularly ride.
Most years the annual “pollie pedal” route is through my electorate – as was the case this year. Had I not been heavily pregnant, I would have ridden with the team again (albeit for a short distance).
But I have to say: what’s the deal with designated bike lanes?
I certainly get the theory behind it – a safe, purpose-built area for cyclists to travel. But I am growing increasing concerned that the proliferation of those white lines with little white bikes neatly painted in them is becoming confusing, dangerous and in some cases utterly pointless.
The placement of bike lanes defies logic in many areas. These lanes can appear in very short sections (I’ve seen just a 2 metre long line with enough space to print one little bike and nothing for kilometres either side) and disappear just as quickly.
I’ve noticed 200 metres of bike lane on a road almost literally in the middle of nowhere and hours away from any town – again flanked either side by kilometres of no lane. What is the point? Are avid bike riders being dropped into this remote zone to cycle for a few minutes and be picked up?
I think Government investment in recreational bike paths is really worthwhile. A great off-road bike network can be a wonderful asset for any town – urban or regional.
One part of the Rudd Government’s stimulus spending was $40 million for the National Bike Path Project. Ostensibly to “create jobs” with the added benefit of safer cycling.
But the proliferation of mere sections of bike lane that disappear as mysteriously as they appeared serves no real purpose than to add another few metres to an arbitrary tally somewhere. To enable the Government to crow about “creating another 250 kilometres of bike lanes”.
I suspect there are whole teams of public servants out there identifying any section of Australian road wide enough to squeeze a bike lane in – and sending out the painting team to make it thus. Nothing is “created” except a white lane in the middle of nowhere and the cost of maintaining a pointless paint job.
I also think there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to bike lanes – when can a motorist drive across such a lane? Bikes have right of way, don’t they? What if there’s a bike lane, but a bike rider chooses not to use it?
For example, in Victoria “The legal status of a bike lane depends not on the road markings but the roadside signs” and “Whether or not cars are allowed to park in bike lanes again depends of the parking restrictions defined by roadside signs and on the type of bike lane.” (Bicycle Victoria website)
Right. So we must keep an eye out for those roadside signs with the bikes as well as the coming and going bike lanes then?
We also have many bike lanes now being painted green in order to improve the visibility (though there’s debate about whether they actually reduce it at night). An in some cases these have a different status.
The rub is that overseas studies have shown that designated bike lanes on roadways actually lead to more accidents. Research in Helsinki found that cyclists were much better off taking their chances cycling in traffic than using the 800 kms of cycle paths. And a Berlin study found that the 10% of Berlin roads that have cycle paths produce 75% of all serious cycling injuries and fatalities.
I personally think that bike lanes have become fashionable for Governments at all levels because they represent a relatively easy “green” initiative.
There’s been a lot of rhetoric about the Environment from the Rudd Government but, as we know, very little action. It was saddening to see $11 million stripped from the practical Landcare program in the budget last week - a practical initiative that actually delivered real benefits in local communities.
I can’t help thinking that the random sections of bike lane that pop up everywhere are yet another example of Governments wanting to “be seen to be doing something”, rather than achieving anything of real value.
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