The Buckley Street level crossing removal at Essendon has gone through the design phase, and the proposal is very unfriendly for cyclists and for disability access.
Cyclists will be expected to either take long detours or to dismount and use pedestrian underpasses that contains stairs. The ultimate condescension in cycle planning with this project is the suggestion that a small ramp to wheel bicycles up and down stairs is sufficient cycling infrastructure for this major transport project.
This is, so far, an outlandish design and one wonders what people with prams or mobility scooters will do regarding the stairs.
Users of cargo bikes, tricycles or bikes with trailers are particularly problematic and will have to either contend with using a patently unsafe road with no cycle lanes in a restricted tunnel space, or an underpass made for pedestrians with stairs with a ramp that is poorly designed for their vehicle.
Like at Camp Road level crossing removal, it is clear state Transport policy isn’t being following to provide adequate cycling infrastructure at the Buckley Street crossing.
The Buckley St level crossing removal at Moonee Ponds is in the state seat of Essendon held by Labor’s Danny Pearson, who won the seat in 2014 with a two party preferred margin of 8.7 per cent. (Moderately safe). Going ahead with this anti-cycling design fits the pattern of pork barrelling new cycling infrastructure in marginal electorates in SE Melbourne and in the seat of Yan Yean in north east Melbourne, to the detriment of Labor’s heatland.
The following letter to Ministers and others was penned by Jenica Brooke. It was posted at the Melbourne Commuter Facebook page on February 13. It has been reproduced below with her permission.
Dear Premier, Hon Daniel Andrews; Minister for Roads and Roads Safety, Hon Luke Donnellan; Minister for Major Projects, Hon Jacinta Allan; Treasurer, Mr Tim Pallas; LXRA CEO, Mr Kevin Devlin,
I am writing out of concern about the direction of the Buckley St level crossing removal project; specifically, the lack of safe cycling facilities included in the design.
A key cycling route, in the Principal Bicycle Network
Buckley St is identified by the Victorian Government as part of the Principal Bicycle Network. It is a key commuting corridor, and the only direct east-west connection between the Maribyrnong Trail and the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. It is used by many locals accessing destinations on Buckley St, accessing nearby locations in Essendon and Moonee ponds, by commuting cyclists from the West, and by recreational cyclists.
Victorian Government policy and strategic context
The Victorian Government has policies in place requiring new infrastructure projects to make improvements for cycling safety. I refer to these documents in particular:
- The Victorian Cycling Strategy 2018-28: Increasing Cycling for Transport
- Principal Bicycle Network
- Towards Zero
- Victoria’s 30-year Infrastructure Strategy
- Victorian public health and wellbeing plan 2015-2019
The Victorian Cycling Strategy aims to get more people riding bikes “by delivering a safer, lower-stress, better-connected network” with “more direct, separated cycle paths” The proposed Buckley St level crossing removal design fails on every one of those points.
In particular, I draw your attention to section 1.7 in the Victorian Cycling Strategy:
“All major transport projects currently being planned and built such as the Level Crossing Removal Project and the West Gate Tunnel Project include substantial new and upgraded cycling infrastructure, including infrastructure to fill gaps in the strategic cycling corridor network.”
“The Victorian Government will continue to require high-quality cycling infrastructure as part of major transport projects. Government policy requires the needs to cyclists to be considered early in the scoping stage of transport projects, including connections cyclists may need to make outside the project area.”
The Towards Zero vision of reducing cyclist deaths and injuries on Victoria’s roads requires investment in physical separation with proper, wide, visible and integrated bike lanes and paths. Where separation is not possible and cyclists must share road space with motor vehicles, as a bare minimum other traffic calming measures should be implemented, including reduced speed limits. This is clearly articulated in the safe systems approach in the Victorian Cycling Strategy. The current Buckley St plan has neither separation, nor any other safety measures.
I have been in contact with the social media team at LXRA to clarify my understanding, and can summarise the key issues as follows:
- The Buckley St road under rail trench will not have any bike lanes included, meaning cyclists will have to mix with 60kph motorised traffic.
- The trench has only one lane in the westbound direction, meaning there is no safe opportunity for motorised traffic to pass cyclists traveling west.
- The LXRA guidance to local cyclists is to use the service roads to access the pedestrian underpasses instead of using the road. This is an absurd “solution”, for reasons I will outline below. No cyclist I know is ever likely to utilise the pedestrian underpasses; it is a rational choice to ride on the road.
The end result of this design is that cyclists will be at greater risk than they already are, due to increased likelihood of conflict with motor vehicle drivers from the reduced number of lanes, and a complete lack of protection provided by the infrastructure.
Drivers stuck behind bicycle riders in the single westbound lane are likely to demonstrate frustration and aggression directed at innocent bicycle riders, who have been placed in that unhappy situation by the lack of forethought and care from this Victorian Government.
No bicycle lane; a set of STAIRS instead
The underpasses included in the design are clearly designed for pedestrian access, they are not designed to be suitable for cyclists. Advice from LXRA is that the underpasses will have stairs, with a ramp to wheel your bike up and down.
It should be obvious that stairs are an unsuitable “solution” for bicycle riders. This is NOT cycling infrastructure; this is pedestrian infrastructure. The two user groups have very different needs, and should not be treated as one user group in your designs.
It is unreasonable to expect that bicycle riders should take a detour, dismount, and walk their bikes through unsuitable pedestrian infrastructure. The inconvenience alone will mean that many cyclists will not choose this option.
Besides the inconvenience, there are significant safety concerns with this approach. Walking up and down stairs in cycling shoes is dangerous – cleated shoes are not designed for walking on hard smooth surfaces. The risk of somebody slipping and falling down the stairs while trying to wheel their bike up or down the ramp is significant.
There are cycling clubs in the area who use this road for recreational rides in bunches of up to 20 riders. You cannot seriously expect a bunch of road cyclists to take this detour.
From an equitable access standpoint, this design fails again. You need to consider non-standard bicycles in your solution. Anybody using a cargo bike, a bike with a trailer, a tricycle, a tandem bike cannot safely use this underpass due to the size, weight, and awkwardness of the vehicle.
Imagine you are riding your cargo bike with two children in the carrier. It’s not possible to carry this up stairs.
Seek alternative routes
The LXRA has also suggested that cyclists should simply take alternative local roads. This misses the point entirely, that Buckley St is itself a destination which people need to get to.
Taking alternative roads can also be more dangerous overall. For example, when I am riding east on Buckley St it is usually to get to the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. Buckley St gets me there safely because the intersections at Mt Alexander Rd and Pascoe Vale Rd are controlled by traffic lights. If I detour south to Park St, as has been suggested by LXRA, I face uncontrolled crossings at both major intersections. Trying to pick a gap in four lanes of traffic (each way) to cross Mt Alexander Rd is an unacceptable risk.
What can be done?
I call upon the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Hon Luke Donnellan, to step in and ensure safe and sensible access for ALL road users. This car-centric planning at the expense of vulnerable road users simply has to stop. The treatment of cyclist user requirements as being synonymous with pedestrian user requirements has to stop.
I call upon the Minister for Major Projects, Hon Jacinta Allan, to hold the LXRA accountable for following the Government’s policy, and make meaningful improvements to cycling safety on Buckley St. It is unacceptable to simply abandon cyclist requirements in this project.
I call on the Victorian Treasurer, Mr Tim Pallas, to exercise his oversight powers for major projects, and ensure they are being implemented in accordance with Government policy. As a Victorian Taxpayer, I expect the enormous cost of this project to actually deliver the benefits that it should. In this case, the project officially promises safety improvements for road users. The current design does the opposite. In accordance with policy, I expect the inclusion of proper bicycle facilities in all new road and rail projects.
I call upon the Victorian Premier, Hon Daniel Andrews, to show meaningful leadership in support for cycling safety. This government has so far had a very poor record of supporting any cycling initiatives, despite in-principle support for the TAC’s “Towards Zero” campaign, despite an urgent need to address Melbourne’s escalating congestion, and despite vocal support for asthma sufferers, who continue to suffer due to motor vehicle emission-induced air quality problems. All of these issues align with making cycling a safer and more popular transport choice for Victorians. The lack of actual support for cycling from the Premier is baffling in this context.
I call upon the CEO of the LXRA, Mr Kevin Devlin, to redesign the Buckley St project to either widen the trench to allow for proper bicycle lanes, or to change to a rail under road option, which would lessen the width restrictions on the road in the road under rail option.
I call upon the Active Transport Victoria to advocate strongly and publicly for the fulfilment of Government policies supporting cycling safety and the delivery of improvements to key cycling routes such as Buckley St.
It is not too late to implement a design which will future proof safety on Buckley St for generations to come. It is not too late to implement a solution which enables equitable and safe access for all users.
The Buckley St level crossing removal should either have the trench widened from its current design to allow for bicycle lanes, or a rail under road solution should be explored, to overcome the restrictions on road width which are evident in the current proposal.
I look forward to a response from each addressee at your earliest convenience.
Watch the promotional video highlighting the ‘cycle-friendly’ infrastructure, yet will actually place cyclists who use the road at far greater risk as no dedicated path will be provided for cycling in either direction in the tunnel.