Illustration: Matt Davidson.
Honestly, why doesn’t Robert Doyle erect barricades, put up signs and establish checkpoints around the city to reinforce the obvious? If you’re not on two legs, two wheels or public transport, Melbourne doesn’t want you any more. Our city no longer likes motorists or their cars and it would be better for everyone if the lord mayor just came out and said it.
He came close last year, when he wrote in the foreword to the Transport Plan for Melbourne: ”We are a walking and cycling city, and council provides infrastructure to improve the safety and convenience of cyclists and pedestrians.”
I’ll try to remember that when next I’m forced to drive into town because the weather’s foul or the train or tram systems fail me. Which is pretty often.
The latest salvo against drivers came last week when the council announced it would reduce northbound traffic lanes from two to one on the western side of Princes Bridge to make way for ”a wide green bicycle lane”.
It’s supposed to be a three-month trial, with roadworks beginning in June, but I’ll bet the lord mayoral Lycra that we will never get that second lane back. (Yes, he wears it on his bike rides; sorry for that image.)
The council says the switch should improve safety by ”moving cyclists from the footpath, which is often crowded, onto their own larger, dedicated lane on the road”.
In a tortured attempt at minimising anger and frustration among motorists forced to queue even longer on St Kilda Road approaches, Doyle said it would affect only 22 cars. Strictly speaking, that’s probably true at any given time. But it will be happening over and over again, a fact the lord mayor did not acknowledge.
Neither did the council press release, which said disingenuously: ”There will be no significant impact to travel times and, while queues will be longer, the same number of vehicles will be able to pass through the [Flinders Street] intersection.” Really? I suspect it will take less time to crawl across the bridge on hands and knees than it will be to drive.
I have no argument with separating cyclists and pedestrians, but I’m not sure it should be at the expense of motorists. Besides, a two-wheeled Fast & Furious plays out every night on the footpaths immediately below Princes Bridge’s south side, and nothing is done about that.
Anyone who has walked along Yarra Promenade by Crown Casino or Southbank Promenade’s restaurant strip during the evening peak knows they are at risk from commuting cyclists. The speed limit for bicycles there is supposed to be 10km/h, but few take notice of it. A drugged-up Lance Armstrong would have trouble keeping up with some of them.
Indeed, when I was editing the Herald Sun five years ago, we hired a speed-gun expert to monitor bicycle traffic on the promenades and found that many cyclists were travelling at twice the speed limit and, in some cases, more. A recent walk there indicated nothing’s changed.
The council has done little or nothing to deal with that – maybe it’s because while they are happy to put limits on drivers, they are disinclined to upset the cycling lobby.
The RACV was quick to condemn the council’s Princes Bridge plan, calling it ”yet another solution on the cheap” that would do little to improve congestion or safety. Their roads and traffic manager, Dave Jones, said it proved the council had learnt nothing from the problems it created through ill-considered changes to La Trobe Street traffic flows. He might have also cited changes to Albert Street on the eastern fringe of the city, where similar ”Copenhagen-style” bicycle lanes – wedged between parked cars and the footpath – continue to delay and confound motorists and their passengers, who have to dodge cyclists when they alight from vehicles.
The pain for motorists does not end there: on-street parking fees are about to jump almost 40 per cent to $5.50 an hour, while rates in council car parks can be double that. (Our private car parks are already among the most expensive in the world.) All in the name of a glossy Transport Plan. Forgive my scepticism, but it sounds like nothing more than a grab for cash under the guise of greening the place. The council is not the first enterprise to do that.
This undeclared war on motorists can’t eliminate cars entirely, though. If that was truly the goal, the council would get rid of on-street parking and turn the space over to pedestrians and cyclists, without penalising moving traffic. But it needs the revenue from parking meters, not to mention fines: it expects to collect $40 million in infringements in the next financial year, aided by those insidious sensors the Doyle administration has been installing in spaces across the city. They mean you can be ticketed even though your meter might show minutes remaining.
It’s no wonder people are taking their business elsewhere.
Bruce Guthrie is a former editor of The Age and The Sunday Age.