As cycling booms, Melbourne is adding 40 km of new bike lanes

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The City of Melbourne has announced it will fast-track the installation of 40 kilometres of bike lanes to help more people get into the city safely in the wake of COVID-19.

Cycling and walking have boomed in popularity in recent months as other exercise options (such as gyms and local sport) haven’t been available. As lockdowns ease and more and more people return to the city for work, appropriate social distancing will remain key. The City of Melbourne hopes that improved cycling infrastructure will encourage more people to ride to work, thereby reducing crowding on public transport and congestion on the roads.

“By fast-tracking the delivery of bike lanes on key routes, we’re creating streets that people can feel confident riding along, which in turn will free up space on our roads, buses, trams and trains,” said Lord Mayor Sally Capp. “Our research shows that it’s essential to create physical protection from motor vehicles to encourage more people to ride in the central city.”

The lanes will be built in two stages, the first consisting of 20 km worth of infrastructure, delivered in 2020-21 through a $16 million investment from the City of Melbourne.

The council will focus on the following roads initially:

– Exhibition Street (Flinders Street to Bourke Street)
– Rathdowne Street (Victoria Street to Faraday Street)
– William Street (Dudley Street to Flinders Street)
– Abbotsford Street (Flemington Road to Queensberry Street)
– Swanston Street (around the University of Melbourne from Grattan Street to Cemetery Road)

“Our first project will be to install 3.5 kilometres of protected bike lanes along Rathdowne and Exhibition streets,” said the City of Melbourne’s transport portfolio chair, Councillor Nicolas Frances Gilley. “This is one of the most important routes for cycling to the city from the north, but is currently unsafe with sections of the street having no protected bike lanes.

“As well as creating physically separated bike lanes on Rathdowne Street, we will upgrade intersections further north along Canning Street. The works will be completed in stages over the coming months.”

It’s not entirely clear how much protection the new lanes will offer cyclists, but the council has made it clear that the focus is on getting the lanes up and running as soon as possible, before upgrading the infrastructure later on.

“We will use plastics, rubber and recycled materials that can be installed quickly so we can accelerate bike lane delivery,” Cr Gilley said. “The infrastructure we install will be functional for years to come and can be progressively replaced with fixed lanes over time as required.”

The Age newspaper reports that a total of 228 on-street carparking spaces will be removed from city streets in order to make room for the new lanes. There are currently 23,500 metered and un-metered parking spaces on the streets of the CBD, in addition to 217,000 private and public off-street parking spaces.

This latest infrastructure upgrade comes in the wake of similar initiatives in cities around the world as governments seek to prepare for life post-COVID-19. It also follows an open letter from a long list of Australian health and transport experts calling for decision makers to “take urgent steps to enhance 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.”

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