9 August 2020

Council resumes

Council committee meetings resumed this week after the winter recess. They were back online, in response to the recent enhanced COVID alert – which actually makes it a little easier for us to listen in. The Public and Active Transport Committee heard a presentation on bus network performance during the pandemic. There was only a very brief mention of cycling at the end of the meeting in response to a petition for improved walking and cycling facilities to help the community cope with COVID restrictions. Chair Cr Ryan Murphy outlined the initiatives Council had taken:

  • ‘Share the path’ signs at 44 locations,
  • Convening the Active Transport Advisory Committee with the state government to work closely with the BUGs and BQ to address gaps in the network at the interface between Council and State Government responsibility, and
  • the “CityLink cycleway, which is the first foray of cycling infrastructure deep into CBD” which officers are proud to be working on.
Deflated

Cr Murphy also mentioned that he was off to a cycling event at 10am. We were on the edge of our (bike) seats for a further announcement, but soon left feeling a bit deflated that it wasn’t about the long awaited CBD protected cycleways.

However we do acknowledge that it’s important to get these right. As Cr Murphy points out, a number of other cities have installed pop-up bikeways and ripped them out after only a few days – which is quite unproductive. There will always be a few who complain loudly no matter what, but if cycleways are done well, a lot of people who would normally be ambivalent will appreciate the improvements to the street overall.

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So, let’s keep agitating constructively. Brisbane people want to ride, and will be out in big numbers the moment new, safe cycleways open.

In the meantime, it’s great news that the Brisbane Cycling Festival will be returning in 2021, with a new home at the RNA showgrounds.

Now about that 100 million dollars….

At last, thanks to a question on notice by Councillor Steve Griffiths we have the official information about what was delivered under the $100million Better Bikeways for Brisbane program during the 2016-2020 Council term. What’s clear is that $100million doesn’t go very far – just over 10km.

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A few things stand out:

  • Bikeways are expensive in Brisbane. Not just major projects like the Botanic Gardens Riverwalk, at $100,000 per linear metre. But even for small projects, like the short, 2.5m wide shared path across level ground through a park in Coorparoo which cost $110,000. Don’t get these contractors to build your driveway folks!
  • Lights are expensive too. Most startlingly, how could installation of new lighting to the existing bikeway between Stafford City and Royal Parade cost $1.5million for 7 lights?? (The response also claims 365m of new pathway, but we’ve checked, and that has been funded under separate projects.)
  • Then there’s the $2.5million spent not duplicating the Land St underpass beneath Coronation Drive. We understand there is a cost for planning and feasibility studies even if a project doesn’t proceed to construction, but $2.5million would pay for a lot of full-time professional staff.
  • There was a separate project for improvements to the intersection of Land St and Patrick Lane, which as we know involved adding bike crossing signals, a bit of new paint, and some plastic armadillos. That cost another half a million dollars. How??
  • $1.3million for “North Brisbane Bikeway – NBB to Kedron Brook” has so far not delivered anything on the ground, and apparently the choice is still open between 3 alternative routes. But the BUGs have said repeatedly and consistently: we want the North Brisbane Bikeway to continue north.

There’s not a lot to be gained by simply criticising past performance, although we do think it’s important to hold Council to account in spending public money wisely. However it is very clear to us that going forward, Brisbane needs to find ways to get much better value out of investment in bikeways; for example, repurposing existing pavement space which is currently blocked by a few parked cars, and using cheap and easy-to-install barriers to transform that to space for people to move. We also need to ensure that every road resurfacing and rebuilding project, and every major development includes provision for active transport from the very initial plans.

One particular project in the list above deserves a special mention though: When a bikeway connection from Paley St to Mabb St in Kenmore was first mentioned in Council’s 2018-2019 budget we thought it sounded like a good idea – especially for kids accessing Kenmore State High School, and as a local link to avoid Brookfield Rd. It wouldn’t be a trivial project though, as it would require a crossing over McKay Brook, and there is a long set of stairs at the end of Mabb St.

Last West BUG  heard from Council, the pathway was still in planning phase, so we were quite surprised to see it listed as delivered in the 2016-2020 Better Bikeways for Brisbane program.  Chris went to check it out on the weekend. Our verdict: if Council really did pay someone $350,000 to deliver 286m of new pathway between Paley St and Mabb St we think they should have checked more carefully before signing off!

State Election News

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On the state election campaign trail this week, Mitch from Airport BUG caught up with Leanne Linard MP whose Nudgee electorate borders the airport precinct.

Mitch took the opportunity to congratulate the government on the Gateway North Cycleway. But he also pointed out that Sandgate Rd (which is a state government road) remains an important local connector, and sections of it are quite hostile for cycling. The bike lanes simply disappear right where you need them.

Another fellow dropped by on his electric scooter, which he uses as his “last mile” connection from the train station to his workplace. Previously he relied on taxis and Ubers, so the scooter paid for itself within the first 2 months. Personal mobility devices (including bikes and scooters) are a great way to extend public transport, and mean less congestion on the road and less need for fields of car parking.

National News

At the national level, on Friday, in the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 (reviewing the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic), Victorian Senator Janet Rice asked about the “Roads to Recovery” and “Local Roads and Community Infrastructure” programs:

“What proportion is being spent on bike and walking infrastructure, given that we know there’s been a massive increase in bike riding since the pandemic began. Has the government done any work on comparing the value of investing in bike and walking paths in terms of employment, health, climate, mental health and wellbeing compared with investments on road upgrades?”

The answers from Mr Simon Atkinson, Secretary, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and Mr Phil Smith, First Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure Investment Division, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications were disappointing.

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In other countries that have made significant commitments to improving active transport in response to the COVID pandemic (notably the UK) there has been leadership and investment at the national level. It seems the Australian Government has been content to rely on nominations from local councils and state governments who don’t seem very interested in championing alternatives to road-building.

Bike paths play a critical role in taking vehicles off the road and facilitating health and wellbeing benefits. But it’s an ongoing challenge to break away from the ‘normal’ mode for Australia’s urban transport infrastructure planning, which mostly centres around roads for cars. As this author argues: If we respond to COVID-19 with transport infrastructure stimulus that follows our traditional ‘car-centric’ investment paradigm, we forego an opportunity to break free of our costly automobile dependence.

“What if, rather than sticking to the certainty that roads are the only answer because our models tell us so, we opted for more experimentation rather than prediction?”

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How can we convince Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government to break free from “predict and provide” and take a more innovative approach to planning?

Meanwhile, look what has popped up in Newcastle! Well done Newcastle Cycleways Movement. We’re still waiting to #Space4Health in Brisbane…

Around the Suburbs

There was some good news in Brisbane’s north, as erosion protection and repairs to the Jim Soorley Bikeway are finally set to get underway this month. … Although we’re fairly sure we’ve said that before.

When you’re tired of waiting for Council to make safety improvements on your regular commute, there’s always the DIY option. Kudos to the person who found a good use for some spoke reflectors on the Salisbury Bikeway at Rocklea.

Also from the south: we’re happy to report that the Salisbury Bikeway along Riawena Rd is open again after being closed for two months for repairs. However, it was disappointing to discover that only the 300m or so immediately east from Regis St was replaced during that time. The remaining section to Orange Grove Rd is as bad as ever, and will presumably require another lengthy closure when it is finally upgraded.

On a lighter note (bad pun intended), lighting has now been installed along the “Southern Bikeway” at Tarragindi (or the Tarragindi Bikeway according to the signs) between the old Veloway and Cracknell Road.

We can also report that there are new lights on the Veloway just south of Klumpp Rd at Upper Mount Gravatt. This was previously a very dark patch, so the lights are a welcome improvement.

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Let the kids ride!

Check out this footage from last week’s Community Cycle for Protected Bike Lanes thanks to The Gabba Ward office:

It was actually a little challenging to get a group of riders on to Stanley St East, and then to hold our position occupying the left lane. The road expands and contracts from 2 lanes to 4 and back to 2 a number of times, but if you cycle in the shoulder where there aren’t parked cars or build-outs, it becomes difficult (and dangerous) to move back out when you come to an obstacle. Stanley St East could be easily reconfigured to provide a separated, 2-way bikeway extending the Gabba Bikeway out to Coorparoo without any impact on the number of through traffic lanes. It could transform from one of Brisbane’s most congested roads to an attractive, vibrant street, and an efficient travel corridor for people of all ages and abilities.

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Nearby, some local kids recently petitioned Council to build more bike trails in the East Brisbane and Coorparoo areas, including a dirt jump track near Coorparoo Skate Park. If Council won’t build it, they asked to at least be allowed to build their own.

Council responded:

“This request for BMX facilities within The Common Park will be considered as part of either capital upgrade or the Coorparoo Ward Suburban Enhancement Fund, subject to consultation with local residents and environment groups, noting the site’s proximity to Norman Creek. In the meantime, Goodwin Park, Yeronga, and Muriel Avenue Park, Moorooka, both have BMX facilities available, and both are less than 10 kilometres from The Common Park. In late 2019, Council opened a new BMX facility at D.M. Henderson Park in MacGregor and there are plans for a BMX track at Murarrie Recreation Reserve.”

Imagine being a kid asking for somewhere to build some dirt jumps to have fun on your bike, and reading that.

The facilities at Yeronga and Morooka are totally inaccessible from East Brisbane and Coorparoo other than by car, whereas at least the track at MacGregor can be reached without having to ride much on the road – but it’s 14kms away. On the weekend kids were queuing up to have their turn there.

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There are many more BMX and pump tracks on the north side, but we know there’s still demand for more. Do you think Council are over-thinking their “Brisbane Off-Road Cycling project” – which as far as we know hasn’t yet delivered anything in the eastern suburbs??

We absolutely don’t condone people building off-road cycling trails in bushland reserves, but we do think Council could do a much better job of providing local facilities which people of all ages will use and enjoy.

We’d be very curious to see a comparison of usage per dollar spent on Council’s “river access hubs” versus the few off-road bike tracks around.

Magpie Alert!

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One more thing: It might only be the start of August, but Spring is in the air, and it seem the magpies have had an early burst of testosterone. We’ve had reports (and experience) of being swooped already. As always at this time of year, we recommend wearing eye-protection, and keeping your hands on the bars to keep control of your bike. Being swooped by a magpie can be startling, but is unlikely to do real damage. Waving your arms around or swerving risks losing control of your bike, which can have much worse consequences, particularly in traffic. You can help warn your fellow travellers by logging any aggressive birds on the Magpie Alert site.