Last week we visited Sydney, Australia for the first time. I was shocked and saddened to see the awful cycling conditions that cyclists endure in downtown Sydney. I am used to Vancouver, Canada, where constantly improving cycling infrastructure has led to flocks of cyclists on the streets of downtown Vancouver, even including children at times.
At peak commuting hours, cycling to work is wonderful, as I cycle with thick packs of cyclists, which makes me feel quite safe. Add to that the fact that much of the time I am on separated cycling routes, and I actually feel completely safe on my bike in downtown Vancouver.
Saddened by Unsafe Sydney Cycling Situation
By contrast, what I saw of downtown Sydney was a nightmare. Cycle lanes just end in the middle of nowhere; and there are hardly any safe, separate cycling lanes. There are quite a few painted cycling lanes, most of them old and faded – but faded old paint on the road does NOT magically protect cyclists from speeding cars. Cyclists KNOW this, which is presumably why this lane is completely empty.
Here is a video made by Australia’s Cycle that shows very vividly how useless painted lanes (as opposed to physically separated lanes) actually are (my thanks to Stephen Mitchell, one of the Directors of Cycle in Australia, for sending me this link, and to Ed Hore, Director of Cycle, for telling me about this great site). To see the video, you need to be logged into Facebook):
– In the past couple of weeks Brisbane City Council has rejected a petition via Brisbane CBD BUG to install protected bike lanes on Sylvan Road in favour of retaining on-street parking that is for the most part used by local residents to park their cars near their residences.While this footage is not filmed on Sylvan Road (it is the Bridge Street section of what will be the Northern Bikeway) the footage shows exactly why protected bikelanes are desperately needed on these major routes.Many thanks to Chris and Paula Hall for allowing us to share their footage.
Posted by Cycle on Thursday, June 4, 2015
In our experience of Sydney, cyclists seemed to be few and far between – and the few there were often scooted up onto the sidewalks (presumably so that they could survive a little longer).
Signage on Sydney sidewalks often indicates that cyclists and pedestrians can share the sidewalks – BUT without bothering to demarcate lanes. I know from cycling in Vancouver that demarcated lanes are ESSENTIAL to maintain order, and to make life pleasant for both cyclists and pedestrians.
Related: Bike Share in Brisbane – Most Tourist-Unfriendly Bike Share System in the World?
Related: Melbourne Bike Share – Why is it Failing?
Even down at Darling Harbour, where there are lots of broad off-road paths, there are hardly any cyclists – and the reason appears to be that there are no demarcated cycle paths. The very few cyclists I saw at Darling Harbour were hopelessly tangled up with pedestrians, hardly able to move, let alone cycle.
Vancouver Shows that if You Build It, They Will Come … Sydney Shows the Opposite
Compare Darling Harbour to a similar setting in Vancouver – where there is also spectacular scenery where the land meets the water (admittedly without a spectacular Opera House, though). Vancouver has made the most of this for cyclists by providing miles and miles of wonderful off-road, demarcated cycling lanes – notably the Seaside Bike Route and the Stanley Park Seawall Bike Trail – and thousands of cyclists are out on them every single day. In fact, they bring in an enormous amount of revenue to the city, as tourists hire bikes specifically to ride these awesome routes.
If you build it, they will come – but Sydney shows clearly that if you DON’T build it, they WON’T come. No wonder that Vancouver is ranked third most livable city in the world, while a beautiful city like Sydney only comes in at no. 7! And if that ranking was based on cycling facilities only, the gap would be much greater.
To make matters worse, some of the motorists seemed to be very aggressive – just walking, Maggie was almost run down by a fiercely honking motorist, in a situation where a Vancouver motorist would have politely stopped. We agreed that although we are fairly fearless cyclists, we will NOT try cycling in downtown Sydney. We are afraid to share those streets with Sydney motorists. Of course it’s possible we were just unlucky, and met the ONLY aggressive motorist in Sydney? I would love to hear from a reader who can confirm that optimistic theory.
Recently I reported that Sydney has shelved bike share because they don’t think it will work with the bike helmet law. After what I saw of downtown Sydney, I think the REAL reason is that the powers that run Sydney just don’t like cycling.
I am a member of the online community The Sydney Cyclist, and I have seen see a lot of the members lamenting about the anti-cycling authorities. For example, back in July, Sydney cyclists were organizing a protest to try to stop the demolition of the College Street Cycleway. Unfortunately, when confronted by workers and police, the protesters were unable to stop the demolition from beginning. This photo from the Save College Street Cycleway Facebook page shows the result – a perfectly good cycleway, which was apparently an important part of the cycling infrastructure for commuters, just closed down. What a waste!
Last week the College Street Cycleway looked like this:
And here’s another view of the wrecked bike route, with the beautiful St. Mary’s Cathedral in the background.
As so often happens with cycle ways, there is a sign saying “Use alternative route” – but none is provided. As I have written before, it seem that cyclists are expected to fly or die. The photo below shows a cyclist on College Street. He should be on the OTHER SIDE of the concrete barrier, protected from cars. But he cannot be there, because the cycleway is being demolished. No doubt it will drag on for months and even years.
From what I could see, one of Sydney’s few decent cycleways has been completely demolished. It was part of an overall very bleak picture. I saw a few brave cyclists on College Street, but they were few and far between.
College Street runs past Hyde Park, and I saw from the signage that cyclists are permitted on the broad paths. However, once again, no demarcated lanes – and no cyclists to be seen.
All in all, the following photo seems to sum it up for our experience of Sydney cycling.
Nonetheless, I sincerely hope I am wrong about all this. It seems hard to believe that such a huge, wealthy, modern city could be so Neanderthal about cycling. Next month I will be in Sydney for a bit longer, and I hope to find that SOMEWHERE in Sydney there is safe cycling!
If you are a Sydney cyclist, I would LOVE to hear from you! Hopefully, you can show me that I am wrong,
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