The Battle for Victoria Bridge

DieIn2The question of bicycle access on Victoria Bridge is back in the news this week, with The Brisbane Times running an article pointing out that the latest metro proposal which would see cyclists sharing space with pedestrians on the 2.6m upstream footpath is a very poor solution. But to understand this issue more fully, it’s worth rewinding a couple of years:

In the lead up to the March 2016 Brisbane City Council election, the Victoria Bridge featured in the campaigns of each of the three major political parties. The Greens led out with a $40 million commitment to upgrade the Victoria Bridge, removing general traffic to make room for increased bus capacity and separated space for pedestrians and cyclists. The bridge also featured prominently in the election plans of both Labor and the LNP due to its importance for public transport. For Labor, this meant it would carry their proposed light rail, while the LNP talked about “greening” the bridge for their Metro public transport project. Since it was the LNP which won the Mayoralty and the majority in Council, that latter plan is obviously the one of relevance now.

In September 2016, public transport advocacy group Rail Back on Track put out a media release calling for a 4-6 month trial conversion of the Victoria Bridge to a green bridge, allowing buses, bicycles and pedestrians only. Their position (which we supported) was that the trial would be an opportunity to test the impacts of closing the bridge to private vehicle traffic, and to assess the benefits to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

In December 2016, Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner started a petition to the Queensland Premier to make Victoria Bridge “green” by removing general traffic. Although primarily aimed at increasing bus capacity on the bridge, that petition also noted the bridge’s important role carrying pedestrians and cyclists (more than 22,000 per day). Motoring lobby group RACQ came out in support of Council’s proposal, noting that a car-free Victoria Bridge could lead to less congestion in the long-term: “An improved bus network will lead to less congestion and a ‘green’ bridge could also result in improved access to the CBD.”

In a meeting with Cr Schrinner, Belinda raised our concerns about his “greening” proposal; pointing out that there is not enough room for 4 bus lanes and a bike lane in the 15m kerb to kerb space on the bridge, and that the existing footpaths are already quite narrow and crowded. At that time, Cr Schrinner indicated that he did not support an outcome which would effectively remove bicycle access from Victoria Bridge.

In early January 2017, Brisbane CBD BUG  wrote to the Lord Mayor and the then Minister for Transport, Stirling Hinchliffe MP with a proposal to reallocate space on the Victoria Bridge away from cars, and in favour of public an active transport. Their detailed proposal aimed to address the issue of busway capacity quickly, at minimal cost, and without compromising existing services through the Cultural Centre bus station. The proposal replaced the general traffic lanes on the bridge with an extra bus lane, and a 2-way protected bikeway. The bikeway would in turn free up pedestrian space by removing bicycles from the footpath and allowing the barrier fence on the downstream footpath to be removed since it would be adjacent to slower bicycle traffic, rather than cars or buses.

CulturalCentre

In April 2017, Brisbane City Council commenced consultation on their plans for the Brisbane Metro. We encouraged people to get engaged, noting that the Metro concept had changed significantly since it was announced by the LNP team in the lead up to the 2016 election, and flagging concerns that the 4 lanes proposed for buses would leave the bridge effectively impassable by bicycle. We highlighted that the shared space on the upstream side was already narrow and crowded, and not suitable for two-way traffic comprising people cycling, walking, and using mobility devices.

VicBridgePushLater that month, following our first Big Push Ridewhich saw a large and enthusiastic group ride over Victoria Bridge – we launched a petition to the Brisbane City Council to keep the bridge open for people on bicycles. That petition requested that the business case for the Metro consider the impact on public health of discouraging active travel by closing Victoria Bridge to bicycle traffic; and that plans for the Metro include funding for alternative routes to ensure that active travel remains viable and attractive for short trips between the Brisbane CBD and South Bank and West End.

Meanwhile, we had also petitioned the Queensland Government to include bicycle access on the new bridge from South Bank to the casino development at Queens Wharf (to be named the Neville Bonner Bridge). The response from then Minister for State Devlopment, Dr Anthony Lynham rejecting that petition cited the existence of nearby alternative routes, including the Victoria Bridge.

When Council finally released the business case for their Metro project at the end of May 2017, our fears were confirmed: the only way across Victoria Bridge by bike would be on the inadequate footpath on the upstream side.

VicBridgeCrossSection2

Clearly, a 2.7m shared path constrained by railings was completely inadequate for the large number of pedestrians and cyclists wanting to use the bridge. Further, it became apparent that the crossing to Brisbane Square would be removed, so pedestrians and cyclists squashing on to the upstream footpath would only be able to access the CBD via a long diversion to Adelaide St. We began to wonder whether there was any thought being given to active transport planning at all.

Fortunately, local Greens Councillor Jonathan Sri, representing The Gabba Ward was on the case, helping us to organise a protest ride and “die-in” on the bridge in July 2017. As hoped, that helped bring attention to the issue of poor cycling safety and poor active transport planning. (See reports on 7 News and Nine News)

DieInBicycle Queensland also spoke out on the issue of bike access over Victoria Bridge in August 2017, and we rode across en masse again in Road Safety Week 2017, on The Big Push for Road Safety.

In Council’s meeting on 31 October 2017, Councillors Jared Cassidy and Jonathan Sri asked further questions about Victoria Bridge, noting that the latest Brisbane Metro plan would see cycle traffic mixed with pedestrians on a narrow shared path, in contrast to the Deputy Mayor’s position that bicycle and pedestrian traffic should be separated wherever possible on busy routes.

At that time, the Deputy Mayor was optimistic that Council, the Queensland Government, and Queens Wharf developers would be able to work together to achieve a solution to the bridge problem that would be positive for active transport between South Bank and the CBD. We hope that optimism still holds!

The Victoria Bridge is the most direct link between the CBD and South Bank, and also has the most cycle-friendly gradient. For the sake of all ages and abilities cycling (AAA), and for the comfort and convenience of the thousands of pedestrians who use it daily, we cannot afford to compromise bicycle access on this bridge.

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