- Bikeways around Brisbane are busy!
- The national campaign for #SpaceForHealth gathers momentum
- Is the tyranny of cars coming to an end around the world?
- On a local level, in Brisbane, we’re still struggling to get the details right
Brisbane’s Busy Bikeways
Brisbane’s bikeways continue to see record numbers of people getting out to exercise. Check out this cool drone flyover showing all the people using Kedron Brook Bikeway last Sunday afternoon:
Kedron Brook Bikeway is one of Brisbane’s best, with a wide cycleway and a separate footpath. You might notice there are almost as many people using the dog off leash area on other side of the Brook also attempting to socially distance.
Right now Brisbane’s bikeways and shared paths are struggling to cope with demand. Many of our shared paths are as narrow as 2m (below the AustRoads minimum standards) and just can’t fit all the people trying to get out to exercise while seeking to maintain a healthy distance.
That’s why a long list of Australian health and transport experts have called on decision makers to take urgent steps to increase space for walking and cycling during the pandemic… “to ensure that safe physical activity and social distancing can occur on our streets now and when the economy is reopened”.
Of course, cycling is not just about recreation and exercise during lockdown; it’s about getting where you need to go. One of those people getting where they need to go by bike is Rachel, who we last caught up with when she was campaigning as a council candidate. She also came along to our cargo bike expo to check out options for family transport. When we ran into Rachel this week, it looks like she found some very cool new wheels! 🛒+🚲= 💚
All over Brisbane, families have been getting out for exercise on bikes. But how can we keep that going as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic? It’s great that people have (re)discovered cycling, but will they decide it’s a useful way to get where they need to go once the lockdown is relaxed?
Here’s a group taking a ride from the Norman Creek Bikeway through Coorparoo this week. They’ve taken the footpath (which is perfectly legal in Queensland), but as you can see, it isn’t exactly a smooth journey. This is the route usually taken by hundreds of students to Coorparoo Secondary College, and by locals accessing the train station. Is it good enough to expect people to continue to “make do” with patchy infrastructure, and hope they will continue with healthy habits? Health and transport experts say no, we need to do better.
Brisbane City Council is uniquely positioned to act quickly to take advantage of the quieter traffic conditions, and rapidly roll out infrastructure to support walking and cycling, following the lead of cities around the world.
National Campaign for #SpaceForHealth
This week, the national campaign for #SpaceForHealth and #HealthyStreets started to gain traction in the media, starting with a piece in The Conversation. Physical activities such as walking and cycling are perfectly compatible with physical distancing – but only with the right infrastructure. The pandemic has highlighted the volume of street space given to motor vehicles, at the cost of space for people to walk and cycle. Now is the perfect time to address that imbalance.
There are promising signs in NSW, where the government is working with local councils to implement temporary traffic changes, and create temporary roadside public spaces to allow safe physical distancing and keep people walking and cycling as the country moves out of lockdown and back to work. Councils like City of Sydney are keen to get onboard to find streets that could be quickly and temporarily changed to add space for people walking and riding. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore says “this includes 30km speed zones, shorter wait times for pedestrians at traffic signals and temporary changes to street layouts using lane dividers.”
There’s every indication that those cities which innovate and create space for people to move are going to be the ones which bounce back well after the COVID-19 lockdown eases. The others will be left behind stuck in traffic. Let’s not be left behind, Brisbane!
Queensland Walks, together with Bicycle Queensland, Queensland Outdoor Recreation Federation, Heart Foundation and 10,000 Steps, also wrote to Queensland Mayors and Councillors, asking them to prioritise active travel and recreation in response to COVID-19 and in the coming months and years ahead.
Among their requests were more safe pedestrian crossings and refuges, as well as slower designed streets. We thoroughly support these calls. People around Brisbane have shown that they want to get out and walk and ride bikes; but our street environments often really don’t encourage that. This example is from Woolloongabba on a popular path connecting two parks. Longlands St is supposed to be restricted to local traffic only, yet it still carries a lot of through traffic—often travelling quite fast. There are similar examples all over Brisbane; crossings which can be quite manageable for a capable adult cyclist or pedestrian can be a nightmare for parents walking or cycling with their kids.
We need #HealthyStreets that are safe and welcoming environments for everyone!
It’s not just health experts saying this; financial and planning experts have recommended that small-scale projects which focus on sustainable modes of transport are the way forward for reactivating the economy when physical-distancing measures are relaxed.
Morten Kabell is a former Mayor of Technical and Environmental Affairs in Copenhagen. He reflected:
“While Mayor, I was often asked ‘how have you been able to afford this in Copenhagen?’ I’d reply, ‘how have you been able to NOT afford it? 25 years ago we were a few days away from going bankrupt. So the city invested in the cheapest infrastructure — bicycling.”
That’s an important lesson as we slowly emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, and set our wobbly economy back on its feet. Let’s make smart decisions about how we get going again!
Is the tyranny of cars coming to an end?
Cars—both moving and stored—have had a monopoly on urban space for 70-100 years. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of cities around the world are suddenly changing how they perceive and use public space in their streets. As this article highlights:
“It is briefly non-obvious that one person driving a car should know, in advance and without checking, that they can drive it to the heart of any community; need no permission to pump smoke into nearby strangers’ lungs; that most of our city commons should store cars. Most especially, it is non-obvious that the huge river of tarmac in front of your home isn’t for children to play in or people to sit in or trees to grow in, that all those activities should continue to be physically risky, while piloting a car at speed is the sole OK use.”
The spell by which building our urban public realm around cars-first, everything-else-in-the-space-left-over is now broken almost everywhere, but Australia seems to be one of the last hold-outs of urban car-dominance. We have a brief moment to seize. What will we do with it?
It’s important that we take on the lessons from the past: in this (long) article, Carlton Reid looks back to the bike boom of the 1970’s, which suggests our current situation is is not entirely unprecedented. We’ve seen similar circumstances before, with a boom in the use and sale of bikes and unprecedented numbers of riders on paths and roads. Right now people are dusting off old bikes or joining the queues to buy a new one; road space is being reclaimed overnight by global cities installing pop-up cycleways; and 1950s levels of motor traffic mean more people are cycling, even on roads that would otherwise be bumper-to-bumper. The BBC asked even asked recently: are we witnessing the death of the car? But the bike boom of the 1970’s didn’t change America’s path down the road of car dependence.
However the COVID-19 lockdown has shown a different future is possible. Cars dominate because choices were made to allow such dominance. Choices can be remade; minds can be changed.
New York is the latest global city to create #SpaceForHealth. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that he is committed to closing up to 100 miles of streets to motor vehicles, and opening them to people, to promote social distancing during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Brisbane we need to do this! #HealthyStreets.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called regional mayors to encourage people to commute on foot or by bike to help avoid a dramatic increase in car use when lockdown restrictions are partially lifted.
“The real risk is that you end up with a situation where people go back to work in their cars, into city centres that are not designed to take that amount of traffic, that congestion makes it harder for buses to get through and you end up with this vicious cycle.”
And this video needs no translation; it starts with the Mayor of the French city of Montpellier spray-painting bike symbols on his city’s popup bikelanes. Less than 2 years ago, Mayor Saurel was famously skeptical (hostile even) to the idea of cycling infrastructure, but now he’s totally convinced of the opportunity—indeed, the necessity—of bikes for transportation.
Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner, Cr Ryan Murphy how about some tactical urbanism like this? We’ll even bring the stencil!
We had an incredible response to our petition for better facilities for cyclists and pedestrians at the ‘new’ intersection of Gladstone Rd and TJ Doyle Memorial Drive, Dutton Park. Over 200 signatures within 24 hours of going live, and more than 600 by the time the petition close on Sunday night. Thanks to everyone who added their names; whether you’re someone who likes to get out and ride the River Loop, or you commute on Gladstone Rd, or you just believe that kids should be able walk and cycle safely to school, you have helped send the message that building infrastructure that prioritises motor vehicle traffic to the detriment of people walking and cycling is just not good enough in a location like this.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Inner City South State Secondary College construction site, on Annerley Rd, there’s another dangerous squeeze. Thanks Gabba Ward Councillor, Jonathan Sri for the heads-up.
Brisbane City Council, if a lane needs to close for road work, surely the answer is close one of the two general traffic lanes to cars, and make that the bike lane. Especially now while there’s extra bicycle traffic and fewer motor vehicles on the road!
On the north side, there’s some disturbing news about the Jim Soorley Bikeway too, where Council is planning to shut the path for a month to fix a bridge. The closure, first announced with signs on the path on Wednesday, is due to start next week. While we’re delighted that Brisbane City Council is doing necessary maintenance work on this bikeway, as it is a popular and safe connection for families, commuters, utility cyclists and many others, we’re very concerned that the only alternative route Council is suggesting—along Nudgee Road—is totally unsuitable. It carries a lot of heavy vehicle traffic, and in places there is no safe space for cycling or walking whatsoever.
The Jim Soorley Bikeway was well used before the covid-19 shutdown, with more than 1,000 riders a day, and hundreds of pedestrians. And the number of riders and walkers along the path between Nundah and Nudgee has ballooned in the past few weeks. Surely a safer option than Nudgee Road would be to have a temporary bridge or at least a safer detour for people to use? If Nudgee Road is the only option, then it would be a good place for council to put in a temporary separated two-way bikeway on the most dangerous parts of the road, as we’ve seen done in cities around the world prioritising space for active transport. This is an opportunity for Brisbane City Council and the Department of Transport and Main Roads to find creative options to keep people active, healthy, safe … and connected.
It wasn’t all bad news this week; there was a small ray of light on the east-side: After years of campaigning for the surface of the shared path over Canning Bridge (where Lytton Rd crosses Norman Creek) to be fixed, on the last day of the Wynnum Rd Stage 1 widening project, finally the shared path was resurfaced. It’s smooth, and much much safer!
Finally, we welcomed news this week from Minister Mark Bailey MP that speed cameras are back on Queensland roads. Tragically, this follows a spike in speed related crashes and fatalities during the Coronavirus pandemic.
While speed cameras and a heightened police presence are good, they can’t be everywhere. It’s time to work on attitudes to driving; and that starts with how our streets and roads are designed, how speed limits are set, and how we talk about what the street network is for. Wide open roads through the city and suburbs, and traffic signals designed to move motor vehicles quickly, invite fast traffic. Here in Brisbane we have roads with multiple wide lanes and intersections which are designed not to slow turning vehicles. Pedestrians seem to be considered an impediment to “traffic”, and facilities for cycling are only provided if they can be squeezed into “left-over” space.
Cities around the world have taken the pause imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic to reassess the priorities for their streets and neighbourhoods. Health and transport experts agree that a return to “business as usual” is not good news for health or the economy. It’s time to prioritise the projects that will create #HealthyStreets and #SpaceForHealth.
If you need help getting that message across to decisions-makers or local community groups in your area, here’s another good message from Brisbane West BUG: