Health

Opinion: Perth cycle paths under scrutiny

BY JOANA PARTYKA

A grassroots campaign by local cyclists is highlighting the burgeoning problem of insufficient bike paths and lanes in Perth.

Painted black and chained outside various Perth landmarks, a range of bikes display posters targeting the State Government and its inaction toward delivering promised designated bicycle lanes. The signs have been spotted around the city in recent months.

Although many of the “phantom” bikes have since been stolen or removed, this has focused attention on the deficiency in appropriate cycling infrastructure in Perth. Sure, there are some fantastic bike paths catering for recreational riders along the coast and river, but what about urban commuter routes?

And what of the cyclists forced to ride in the gutter, that precarious corridor in which one must dodge tree roots, debris, poorly installed manholes and irate drivers?

Where are the dedicated bike lanes to protect and support cyclists and boost general traffic efficiency?

Perth Bike Plan—a success or a shambles?  

Last reviewed in 1996, the Perth Bicycle Network Plan was established to provide metropolitan cycling facilities and fill holes in the network.

Naysayers claim the plan has never come entirely to fruition. No new cycleways have been built in the past two years, according to The West Australian.

In an article published on Wangle.com.au, Bicycle Transport Alliance of WA president Steven McKiernan says the standard 10-year review of Perth’s Bike Network Plan is more than four years overdue.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell indicated in March that the plan would be reviewed in coming months.

The Perth Bike Plan reports: “People will have the assurance that, no matter where they wish to go, they will be able to do so safely and conveniently by bicycle if they choose to do so”.

But is this really the case? I, for one, have abandoned my tri-weekly 30km round trip to university in direct response to the marked lack of safe and convenient bicycle routes.

The plan cites 2029 as the target date for cycleway improvement, and upgrades do occur every so often, but it doesn’t seem enough.

Infrastructure needs investment

The ongoing improvement and maintenance of cycling facilities in Perth seems to have fallen dramatically behind other Australian cities.

Councils in Melbourne, for instance, have increased funding for bike infrastructure for the fourth consecutive year, prompted by a surge in urban bicycle use.

Back home, the State Government has made just $1 million available in 2011/2012 for allocation to local councils for use in improving Perth’s bicycle network.

While Perth certainly isn’t as big or populous as Melbourne, it paints a telling picture of the modest worth assigned to bicycle infrastructure in our city.

Cycling WA CEO Garry Chandler says existing cycling infrastructure supports the current level of commuters. 

Yet this doesn’t make cycling a viable or attractive alternative to driving.

Mr Chandler says it is important more emphasis and investment are put into areas which actively reduce the volume of cars on roads, struggling to cope with the growing population.

“There are many aspects to providing sufficient infrastructure, including the provision of sufficient and safe pathways, start and end-of-journey facilities, bike skills education for both cyclists and motorists, and the easy use of public transport — particularly rail — that encourages cyclists to use their bikes rather than cars,” Mr Chandler said.

He adds while most new developments and road improvements cater for cyclists, more needs to be done to encourage people to take up cycling as an alternative means of transport.

“With our climate and the existing network of shared pathways in the state, there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to achieve this,” he said.

Road user education in a bid to alleviate intolerance

Since Perth’s bicycle-bound population is relatively new and small, motorists and cyclists sometimes fail to see eye to eye.

Some drivers are aggressive, convinced cyclists don’t belong on the road.

Equally, some cyclists cruise around with chips on their shoulders, following road rules one minute and switching to pedestrian ways the next.

It’s a topsy-turvy world out there on the bitumen, where nobody really seems to know the rules.

Mr Chandler suggests tolerance, awareness and respect are a two-way street (pun intended!). Educating both parties would be beneficial to the situation.

“I think the onus is on cyclists and motorists to respect one another’s space and rights on the road and to show more tolerance to one another,” he said.

“The more cycling becomes an accepted form of transport and more people are seen on their bikes, the less of an issue it will become.”

Poor quality bike paths—not for much longer

So, the bike network will come under review later this year, hopefully resulting in more and better-quality bike lanes on major thoroughfares and popular routes.

What of the substandard paths and roads in the meantime, however?

Rather than ditching your rides as did yours truly, Mr Chandler suggests facing your enemy.

“I’d encourage cyclists to make their local shires aware of any potential dangers or hazards on the roads and pathways in need of repair,” he said.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell declined to comment on the issue.

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