Melbourne’s ‘cycling superhighway and roundabout of death’: The safest and most dangerous streets to ride a bike
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New protected bicycle lanes in inner Melbourne are now some of the safest cycling routes in the city according to bike riders, but their favourite place to ride only has painted lines separating them from cars.
The Amy Gillett Foundation’s BikeSpot survey has also found that seven notorious locations highlighted in the survey three years ago have again made it into the top 10 places where cyclists felt most unsafe.
Liz Irvin rides along Canning Street, Carlton most days and says it’s a highlight of her commute. Credit: Eddie Jim
They include Chapel Street in Prahran/South Yarra, and Collins Street in the CBD, where there are narrow bike lanes and riders risk being knocked off by people opening car doors.
Hopkins Street, Footscray and Johnston Street, in Collingwood/Fitzroy – both busy thoroughfares without bike lanes – are also among as the most unsafe, along with the notorious Haymarket “roundabout of death” at the top of Elizabeth Street.
St Kilda Road and Heidelberg Road in Ivanhoe were the second and third most nominated as safe places to ride, out of 10,000 submission made so far, after bike lanes fully separated from traffic were installed there since the last survey in 2020.
Victorian government monitors show the number of bike riders on St Kilda Road has increased threefold since the new bike lane opened earlier this year. But the stretch has also received the highest number of unsafe submissions, because of conflicts with motorists at intersections.
“At pretty much every intersection there is a stress point, where motorists are either not giving way, or cutting across the lane to turn left,” said Anthony Aisenberg, director of survey partner CrowdSpot.
Bike lanes with bollards or other infrastructure to protect cyclists from traffic on busy or high-speed roads are considered essential to encourage more Melburnians to cycle as a climate-friendly and congestion-busting alternative to driving.
But they have been controversial because they can require removing on-street parking, with the City of Melbourne pausing its rollout of new lanes 18 months ago after a backlash from some traders.
However, the survey has found the safest route in the city is Canning Street, Carlton, which only has a painted-on lane for cyclists.
Instead, it has bollards at regular intervals that stop motorists using it as a thoroughfare, which Aisenberg said had turned it into an “unofficial cycling superhighway”.
“So you can make a safe environment without building dedicated infrastructure,” he said.
Liz Irvin rides along Canning Street most days and says it’s the highlight of her commute from Brunswick East to the CBD.
“It’s just a painted bike lane, but everyone loves riding on it,” said Irvin, who works for a consultancy that is advising the Amy Gillett Foundation on its survey. “It’s a really low-traffic street, and there’s so many bikes using it, and we outnumber cars, so it’s a great experience. It’s such a simple way of creating a nice environment for cycling.”
London has used a similar strategy of erecting bollards and other “traffic filters” to limit vehicles in its so-called Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which are designed as areas where locals can safely walk and cycle.
Monash University transport researcher Lauren Pearson said concerns about safety were holding back the “massive potential” for more Melburnians to replace cars with bikes for commuting and shorter trips.
Pearson surveyed almost 4000 Victorians in 2020 and found that 78 per cent were interested in using a bike to get around, but were only comfortable riding in protected lanes.
“We know that when we provide this infrastructure it helps people feel safe and enhances their safety, and it also enhances the number and diversity of people who are riding a bike,” she said.
Cycling infrastructure particularly benefited women, she said, who are currently less likely to ride a bike in Melbourne than men and more likely to be concerned about sharing roads with traffic.
The BikeSpot survey, which is funded through a federal government cycling safety program, will continue until the end of January and be used to identify locations to prioritise for future cycling upgrades.
The state government has set a goal of increasing cycling and walking from 18 per cent of all journeys to 25 per cent by 2030 as part of its climate change policies.
Active Transport Minister Gabrielle Williams encouraged people to take part in the survey, which would “help inform our future planning so that cyclists feel safer on our roads”.
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