Cycling an essential element for Covid19 pandemic transport response

Moreland Council meeting on 13 May 2019 adopted a Councillor resolution on Transport with some support for cycling, including fast-tracking speed limit reduction in local areas to 40kms, priority be given to pedestrian and cyclist at signals and crossings, requesting a state government grants program to deliver active transport improvements, and bringing forward protected cycling lanes on Cumberland Road, Pascoe Vale. A report on further actions has been requested for the July meeting. (See Full Council motion at end of post)

We don’t know how long pandemic physical distancing may be in place, but it is likely to be dependant on the accessibility and rollout of a safe Covid-19 vaccine. Epidemiologists warn this may be 18 months to 2 years, so we should be planning to have changes in place for the next two years, at least until the end of 2021.

Australia is facing a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ as cycling booms, advocates say | ABC News (17 May 2020)

“There is an enormous tsunami of problems coming out of Covid to rebuild our economy.” says Stephen Hodge, Director of We Ride Australia. “It is that public transport will not be able to carry that level of people it normally carries. If everyone gets in their car, the roads won’t move.”

Prime opportunity for dedicated bike lanes on Sydney Road

Dedicated bike lanes on Sydney Road has been put forward in the current time due to increase in cycling traffic and need for increased physical distancing in transport. This is especially important given 3km of the Upfield Bike Path will be closed for up to 2 years due to level crossing removal. The official detours are insufficient and are mostly avoided by cyclists.

The VicRoads survey from 2019 revealed that 52 percent of people wanted separated bike lanes on Sydney Road. Reallocation of space would also enable increased footpath space for cafes, restaurants and pedestrian use for physical distancing, as well as provision of street trees.

Brunswick Greens MP Tim Read has been campaigning for dedicated bike lanes on Sydney Road since he was elected. The pandemic provides the perfect opportunity for the Dan Andrews Labor State Government to trial temporary lanes to assess their impact while providing safe space for the increasing numbers of people needing to cycle commute to the CBD. Tim Read currently has a sign on campaign letter to the Premier running to the end of June to build protected bike lanes on Sydney Road.

Moreland Council have consistently advocated for a trial of dedicated bike paths on Sydney Road, but each time their advocacy to the State Government on this has been rejected.

VicRoads 2019 survey – majority supported bike lanes on Sydney Road

While many traders on Sydney Road are concerned that loss of parking may lead to reduced sales, there is research that indicates a large number of those who shop park off Sydney Road anyway and walk there. The World Resources Institute articulates that: “As social distancing eases and people can return to patronizing local shops, cafes and restaurants in-person, bicycle use can also provide proven stimulus to economic activity on main streets and commercial areas. Studies have shown that cyclists spend on average 3 times more than car drivers with local businesses, and that cycling infrastructure is correlated with higher retail sales.”

A Moreland Council Intercept survey (PDF) done along Sydney Road in July 2019 found Overall:

  • 39% of people surveyed on Sydney Road arrived to the area by car;
  • 31% by foot;
  • 18% by public transport;
  • 8% by bicycle.

Traders over-estimated the number of people arriving by car (average trader estimated was 61%) and under-estimated how many walked (average trader
estimate was 14%).

Even the RACV is advocating for a bike superhighway down Sydney Road as one of tn important cycling routes in Melbourne. Infrastructure Australia has included the RACV initiated project in its priority list.

Make safe the desire line cycling routes during Upfield Path closure

Secondly, due to the Upfield Bike Path closure, Moreland Council traffic engineers should be investing as soon as possible in improving the safety of desire line routes that cyclists are using. Council engineers have already identified opportunities in this regard.

Question: Given the much increased numbers of people cycling for recreation and commuting, for physical distancing but also reduce crowds on trams and trains as a response to the pandemic, what has Moreland Council done so far, within the powers and control of Council, to improve cycling on desire line routes while the Upfield Bike Path has been closed ?

Shared Use paths around the municipality are suffering congestion from increased numbers of people exercising, walking dogs, walking prams, and families cycling as well as cycle commuters. This is especially a problem in the Brunswick and Coburg southern areas of the municipality.

Cities globally are boosting cycling infrastructure

Cities around the world are fast tracking temporary cycling lanes for Space for Health for people to move about the city, commuting to work or school, or shopping with cycling an inherently safer form of mobility than the potential risk with crowded trams or trains.

About 85 per cent of public transport users in Melbourne will have to switch to cycling, walking, or keep working from home to avoid major traffic jams and ensure safe distancing on public transport as COVID-19 restrictions ease says research by the Institute of Sensible Transport as reported by the Age.

The results illustrated in the below graph demonstrate the enormity of the challenge in changing mobility behaviour. According to the Institute of Sensible Transport Policy Note, in essence, up to 7 in 8 former peak hour public transport users would need to find an alternative option.

The big shifts include:

  • ~140,000 extra people avoiding public transport or travelling outside of peak.
  • Over 130,000 extra people working from home.
  • 50,000+ people choosing to cycle.
Institute of Sensible Transport estimation of mobility change to encompass pandemic physical distancing

City of Melbourne Council is already rolling out more than 12 kilometres of temporary pop-up bicycle lanes to allow people to socially distance in Melbourne’s city centre, according to an Age report.

Bicycle Network argues that on a national level there should be a $904 million bike riding stimulus package which would use pedal power to safeguard our health, create jobs and improve the spending power of Australians as we work our way out of the COVID-19 crisis.

Cycling count data from late April indicates that on some important bike trails the number of cycles has trebled due to people commuting, exercising and physical distancing due to the pandemic.

Cities around the world rolling out cycling infrastructure as space for Health. Source: Bicycle Network

Warning on Transport mobility by Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer

Dr van Diemen, the Deputy Chief Health Officer of Victoria said on saturday 22 May, that public transport users and the Victorian community need to prepare for “fundamental changes” to everyday life as the state begins to get moving again after the lifting of many restrictions on June 1.

“We are under no illusions that the way we function as a society and that includes how we use public transport will need to change fundamentally,” she said.

“This is not an immediate resumption of life as usual or life as, as it was before COVID and that’s something that’s been acknowledged across the world.”

Dr van Diemen highlighted that planning was underway, in consultation with public transport providers and unions, for a more COVID-safe commuter network.

“We are working very closely with, with the Department of Transport and providers and unions to look at ways to alter the way the public transport is used … including cleaning, including requirements for how people seek to distance themselves on public transport,” the Deputy CHO said.

She said that the current medical advice from the nation’s top infection control experts was that masks were not needed by public transport users but that the final position for a post-lockdown plan for trains, trams and buses was not yet finished.

“Our advice on top of that is for commuters to again be exceedingly vigilant,” she said.

“Please don’t take any form of public transport if you’re sick.

“Please be very very aware of physical distancing and aensure really good cough and sneeze etiquette if you do happen to be on public transport and need to cough or sneeze.” warned Dr van Diemen as reported by the Age.

Uptake of cycling, especially in the inner city, is important as it creates more physical distancing capacity for those that can’t cycle and need to use the public transport network or prvate vehicles. More people driving to the CBD is also not viable due to the road gridlock this would produce and the limited CBD car parking.

Northern Region Cycling and Walking Trails

Here at the Extend the Upfield Bike Path to Upfield campaign we have a couple of suggestions that the state government should also fast track for walking and cycling as part of it’s Covid-19 recovery stimulus response.

Firstly, it should fast track implementation of the Dan Andrews 2018 election promise of Creating a ring of new parkland in our growing suburbs. In the northern suburbs this includes:

  • create a new 2,778 hectare Upper Merri Park, near Craigieburn
  • expand the Quarry Hills Parkland to cover 1,088 hectares, near South Morang
  • complete the Plenty River Trail, building another 17 kilometres of walking and cycling trail stretching from Mernda to the Western Ring Road at Greensborough
  • invest in new bike and walking trails across Nillumbik, Moreland, Banyule, Darebin, Hume and Whittlesea council areas
  • undertake a feasibility study for a new Wallan Regional Park

Much of this work is likely to be shovel ready and could be fast-tracked, creating jobs in outer suburban Melbourne. There are also projects listed in the south-eastern, and Melbourne’s west and south-western suburbs.

Of course doing the 300 metre Merri Creek path extension as part of the M80 Upgrade provides important access to parklands in the growing northern suburbs.

Secondly, the State Government could fast track the investment of $162 million to build the cycling and walking trails in the Northern region trails strategy. Once again, many shovel ready projects to build 480 kilometres of new paths to create about 650 Full Time Equivalent jobs, which also integrates into the suburban parklands election commitment.

Northern Region Trails Network – (proposed and existing)

We know we have a climate emergency, and transport emissions are a large part of the problem. World Resources Institute says that “Each kilometer cycled avoids 250 grams of CO2 emissions, making bicycles a key option for low-carbon transport. Copenhagen’s cyclists are collectively estimated to avoid 20,000 tons of carbon emissions annually, the equivalent of 50 million miles driven by private passenger vehicles.”

It is time the Victorian State Government stepped up and used this pandemic to invest in cycling infrastructure.

Moreland Council Resolution
Cr Dorney moved, Cr Riley seconded –

That Council:

  1. Notes that the re-purposing of parking spaces would, in some instances provide greater opportunity for pedestrians to pass each other while maintaining social distancing, including where customers are queuing outside a business while observing maximum occupancy requirements or waiting for take-aways.
  2. Authorises the Chief Executive Officer to investigate locations (where people are overflowing on footpaths or roadways due to social distancing requirements), and consider temporarily removing car parking, whilst considering these options:
    a) No more than three parking spaces are repurposed at each location;
    b) To contact the occupiers of properties abutting the spaces to be repurposed to discuss the proposed change;
    c) Temporary low-cost infrastructure (e.g. parklet platforms, pedestrian ramps, bollards, planter boxes, traffic cones) is used to demarcate the area for pedestrian use;
    d) Any parking spaces repurposed in this manner are reviewed within three months of the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency in Victoria.
  3. Writes to and seeks a meeting with the Minister for Roads The Hon. Jaala Pulford to discuss the following measures advocating measures to support people safely walking and cycling during the COVID-19 State of Emergency, advocating that:
    a) Clarification be provided to remove the delays Moreland has experienced in the rollout of further speed limit reductions on local roads from 50km to 40km per hour, as per the Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy (MITS) 2019;
    b) Priority be given to pedestrian and cyclist at signals and crossings
    c) A grants program to be made available to local governments to quickly deliver pedestrian and cyclist improvements to support safe movement and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    d) bringing forward protected cycling lanes on Cumberland road, Pascoe Vale
  4. 10.29 pm Cr Carli Hannan left the meeting and did not return.

  5. Writes to and seeks a meeting with the Minister for Public Transport The Hon. Melissa Horne to address the following outcomes to encourage a safe return to public transport use following the COVID-19 State of Emergency, advocating that:
    a) A temporary suspension of myki fares be implemented on the public transport network once the state of emergency ends, to encourage the return to public transport
    b) Off-peak services become more frequent to support social distancing through reduced crowding.
  6. Receives a report at the July Council meeting detailing further opportunities to support safe movement for pedestrians and cyclists during the COVID-19 state of emergency including:
    a) Opportunities to repurpose car parking to support safe pedestrian or cyclist movements;
    b) Locations for trials of 30km/h speed limits on local roads, as per MITS 2019;
    c) Pedestrian and cycling improvements that could be delivered in the short term.
    d) Providing greater clarity on the consistency of use of shared pathways across our city, particularly the Merri and Moonee Ponds Creek trails
    e) opportunities for social media education on etiquette and safety on shared paths


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