Melbourne’s Bicycle Network Wreck: A tangled web of bad decisions, designs and implementation

Those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past are doom to repeat them
The City of Melbourne’s refusal to subject Melbourne Bicycle Lanes to review has only compounded problems and undermine public confidence.
The Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and others who claim that the various segments of Melbourne’s bike strategy are separate and as such not related does not wash.
“Latrobe Street does not relate to Swanston Street which is separate from Princes Bridge and that St Kilda Road is also a separate issue to both”
Robert Doyle said that Latrobe Street could not be part of a review because it was in place.  Stephen Mayne said he would support a review if it included Latrobe Street.  
The logic that the proposed review did not include Latrobe Street or that Princes Bridge is not related to the St Kilda Road bike path astounds logic.  Of course they are related, they form part of a network of bike paths in the same way that various Streets , Lanes and Roads, trains trams etc form part of the City road/transport network. They are explicitly related and all directly impact and effect each other. They can not be separated and should have been included in a ongoing review of Council’s transport strategy plan.
There has failed to undertake progressive strategic pubic review of the roll out of its ill-considered Transport plan. The consultation process undertaken was flawed in its implementation. Like the magician or trickster that asks a serious of questions and then shows you the answer written down on a hidden piece of paper.
We already know that the process and management of the consultation was flawed.  Most stakeholders we contacted have said they did not think they were consulted, instead they were just informed and told what was going to happen and their main concerns were ignored. 
A major part of any effective consultation and design project is the review process. The ability to stop and review a project at various stages of the project, each aspect and segment.  The City of Melbourne has failed on all accounts and most can be attributed to the administration of the process , the role of the responsible chairperson and lack of review.
It all depends, of course, on what your goal is. If you have a set idea and you goal is to bring that idea into existence no matter what the cost then all kinds of mistakes will inevitably be made.
There are a number major problems and issues identified with  Melbourne’s Bicycle Network planning, each one in turn has an impacted on the other and every segment and aspect of the overall design ..
Disclaimer and warning
First it needs to be stated that a good designed bicycle network should make a positive contribution to the transport mix to any city. It must seek to address all stakeholders concerns and not favour any one interest group above the interests of another. So before anyone goes on and seeks to engaged in personal abuse and vilification lets be clear Bicycle Paths are good and should be encouraged.
Those that engage in such personal abuse and attacks are not helping to serve their cause. Writing abusive emails or making threats or acts of intimidation might make you feel good at a football match but that is all. Please note that all abusive comments are logged and recorded.
Having stated that there are a number of issues and principles that need to be established to assist in planning the network.
Major roads should be avoided 
Where possible a bike path should seek to use less congested roads and streets. Canning Street, Carlton, is a good example of a inner city bike path that works.   It is a local street that carries minimal traffic and is ideal for cycling. This is evident by the fact that it is Melbourne’s most popular bicycle commuter route.
Lane separation
The so called “Copenhagen Bicycle Lane” separation design should be avoided and only adopted as a last resort. To date they have not worked in Melbourne.  Melbourne unlike Copenhagen has wider streets and different overall traffic patterns.
Consideration should be given, in the first instance, to installing a chevron line marking bike lanes,  The bike lane on Claredon Street, East Melbourne, should have been considered as a preferred option before adopting a “Copenhagen Bicycle Lane” closed separation option. 
The Claredon Street Bicycle Lane design addresses cyclists main concern for safety related to lane separation and risk of “dooring”. (Accidents that occur of inattentive drivers and passengers of parked vehicles opening car doors in the path of an oncoming cyclist). The Claredon Street design includes chevron line markings and wider bicycle paths that allow a cyclist to travel away outside the danger zone.
Not only are chevron segmented lanes safer they are also cheaper and as such allow for construct “more bike path for our buck”. The Claredon Street design solution was recommend by Melbourne’s Senior Traffic Engineers but was excluded from consideration by management and Cathy Oake, Chairman of the Council’s Transport portfolio.
Financial resources are limited and any design should have be subject to a  cost benefit analysis.
The closed “Copenhagen style” bike lanes that have a physical separation barrier are ten times more expensive to construct the the Claredon Street option ., Closed lanes create congestion, restict use of the road space by other users, including emergency access, and generate additional safety issues concerns with other road users.
For the price of the 350m St Kilda Road physical lane separation proposal we could install 4Km of chevron bike lane and even more bike lanes could have been upgraded for $2.6 Million spent on Latrobe Street, making it much better and safer overall for cyclists and commuters alike.
The chevron lane separation design is overall a better choice. An option that the City of Melbourne failed to give due and proper consideration.
Public Safety
There are serious issues related to the safety of disabled commuters, taxi and bus passengers with the “Copenhagen closed lane” design.  Drivers and passenger alighting from vehicles parked next to a 21 metre physical concrete barrier have to remain balanced on the separation barrier and extra take care in crossing the neighbouring bike path  to get access to the adjacent footpath. A dangerous situation that discriminates against disabled computers the most.  Unloading from taxis and buses is almost impossible. Try unloading a bus load of 20 or more passengers onto a small narrow concrete strip away from the footpath as will be the case in St Kilda Road.
Whilst bicyclists may be safe from dooring, motorist now run the risk of opening doors in the path of passing traffic. Issues the council had failed to mention in its report.
The other solution is to withdraw On-Street parking adjacent to closed bike lanes but that would result in a loss of Council revenue.
Latrobe Street
Costing $2.6Million the Latrobe Street bike path that has just recently been installed has already proven to be a disaster. It’s design, location and implementation is wrong, safety issues not properly considered and a nightmare in terms of urban design, heritage, cleaning and storm water drainage.
The problems with Latrobe Street are considerable and should have been identified earlier in the design stage of the development and should have been subjected to a review process now it is in place.
The fact that these issues were overlooked raises serious questions in relation to the management and professional standing of the City of Melbourne engineering services. (Most likely a managerial problem)
The failure and refusal of the City Council to undertake a comprehensive review of previous bike lanes on Albert Street and the Northern section of Swanston Street should have alerted the City council of the problems that Latrobe Street is facing. Senior Engineers who did express these concerns were ignored or overridden by management
Apart from the design issue the other significant problem with Latrobe Street is the choice of transit route. Latrobe Street should never have been chosen.
The City Council should have developed Abbecket Street or Franklin Street as an alternative bike path option.
Latrobe Street is proving to a big embarrassment to the City Council and this is the main reason why the Lord Mayor and management were opposed the motion put forward by Councillors Richard Foster and Jackie Watts. It would have been prudent and responsible for the City Council to pause for one month and engaged the community by holding a mid project public review before proceeding to make the same mistakes in St Kilda Road.
The City Council knows it is facing a major problem and is desperate to try and keep the lid on it all in a futile effort to avoid it boiling over or erupting adding to the  inevitable in a total loss of confidence in the Council’s engineering services. After all they Council approved the project and spent $2.6 Million creating the problem on Latrobe Street. 
Avoiding an open public review or attacking those that advocate a review and rethink is not going to make the problem go away.
Like the Collins Class submarine patching up the project to try and make it work is a be a big ask also. Piecemeal band-aid solutions to a problem that should not have been created in the first place.
The City Council, as part of its consultation processtold stakeholders that there would be no loss of amenity or parking. 
Already Council has had to consider removing on-street parking. There are numerous issues related to the design of crossroad intersections and driveway access that place both cyclist and motorists safety at risk. In short the management and design of the project has little to desire, it’s far from the success the Councillors claimed it was. 
Princes Bridge
Princes Bridge is a work in progress. Already the promises made by the Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle,  have proven to be false.  Travel time across the bridge is twice as long then prior to the south bound lane closure. the number of cars transiting from Swanston Street into Flinders Street is 2 to 25% less then before. 
Councillor Stephen Mayne reported that Council has estimated that there has been a 12% reduction in traffic throughput out of Swanston Street (this does not correspond with  independent surveys. Prior to the lane closure there were 20-22 cars per light cycle. Currently only 14-16 Cars are exiting into Flinders Street per light cycle) The reduction in throughput and performance could be address to some extent by tweaking the light signaling, something that the Lord Mayor said the Council would do but to date have not changed.  It has been suggested that the Council Engineers had planned to cause congestion and by doing so aimed to reduce the number of motorists using the bridge.
Robert Doyle said that Princess Bridge Lane closure was a trial but no one seriously considered this as anything other misdirection.
Alternative access
Most of the North bound traffic crossing Princes Bridge turns right into Flinders Street and then turns again either at Russell or Exhibition Street.
It would be desirable if Princess Bridge was closed to all non essential vehicular traffic.
The freeing of Princes Bridge from vehicular traffic would allow for better public transport interchange services but this can only be done if there was an alternative river crossing East of Princes Bridge.
The Swan Street Bridge is not suitable and is already suffering severe congestion by traffic transiting in a West East direction.
The  other option is for the construction of a second bridge bridge connecting  Linithgow and Batman Avenue providing a North-South traffic alternative.
Flinders Street
Next on the Council’s agenda is the South bound lane on Princes Bridge,  
In order to construct a south bound bike lane the City of Melbourne in association with Vicroads needs to reduce the volume of traffic and the number of lanes using Flinders Street and tuning left into Swanston Street. Most of the cars on Flinders street are exiting the Eastern end of the City and travelling South.   Flinders Street West of Swanston already restricted to one lane traffic . 
The construction of an alternative river crossing off Batman  Avenue joining Linlithgow Avenue on the South side would ease traffic demand on Flinders/Swantson Street South on to St Kilda Road.
The Council’s solution is to remove a lane of traffic which will generate congestion which in turn will reduce the number of cars through displacement.
Road Safety and Consultation
One major criticism of the Council’s consultation process was the failure of the City Council to publish all the submissions received. Instead the council  published an edited summary provided by the administration. The failure and refusal of the city council to publish the submission has added to the mistrust and  loss of confidence overall in the consultation process.
Most of the “consultation” that did  take place was in the form of information of what was already decided. There was little to no consideration of variable alternatives.  Many of the stakeholders contacted said they did not think the City Council listened or considered their opinions or concerns. They were just heard out or sent information so the Council could claim it had consulted widely.  
A major part of the consultation undertaken was with the members of the bicycle lobby meeting on coffee shops and various venues, this was disproportionate to other road users.
Earlier on in May that the Council’s “Pedestrian, Bicyclist and Motorcyclist safety plan had to be deferred as Motorcyclist and Scooter Riders were not consulted in the first draft presented to Council. Motorcyclists and scooter riders face the same problems as cyclists in terms of safety and they rightly felt their concerns were not being addressed and in many cases the priority given to cyclists was compounding problems related to their safety
Council Engineering Services Department also overlooked a number of other significant stakeholders in the consultation process.  Missing from the list of was Ambulance Victoria and the Metropolitan Fire-brigade who were not listed on the road safety plan .
There is ongoing concern that the various bike paths, tram stops and lane reduction has compromised Melbourne’s emergency response capability.
St Kilda Road “Copenhagen lanes” will also impact on  emergency services response times between the Alfred Hospital and the City.
There is a recognized urgent need for a series of “Emergency stress testing” to ascertain the preparedness of the City to cope with an emergency or possible terrorist attack. We can not afford to ignore or put off this issue much longer. The sooner it is addressed and a comprehensive stress plan is implemented the sooner we can identify problems and restore confidence in the cities preparedness to copy with an emergency.
Major Stake holders sidelined
Organization such as Vicroads, the RACV, Bus proprietors, Street Traders, Emergency Services, the State Disability Advocate and the Taxi industry have all had their concerns down graded or discarded.  Details and copies of their submissions have not been made been published on the Council’s web site.
War in Cars: Engineering Congestion
Instead of managing traffic the City Council is engaged in a war on cars by “Engineering Congestion” in the belief that Cars will bypass the city. This will ave a flow on effect and impact on small business retailers who fear losing customers to the suburban shopping centres. Retailers are already suffering from the city’s high cost of car parking.
City Council will do anything to avoid criticism or accountability
Last Tuesdays refusal to engage the community on public debate and undertake a review, before pushing ahead with designs that are proven to not work provides little hope or confidence that the Council is prepared to address important issues, other than placing  the perceived needs of cyclists ahead of all other road users and stakeholders.
No satisfactory explanation has been given for not alternative solutions that are better, cheaper and more effective. 
Welcome to Melbourne “Bike obsessed” City Council. A Council that will go to any length to limit to prevent any rethink or review of its Transport plan
Greens Councillor, Cathy Oake, is chairman of the council’s transport portfolio