City of Sydney cycleways

The council has pushed its pedal power target back by over ten years.

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At the beginning of the month, the City of Sydney closed public consultation for its latest plan to fix the fragmented network of cycleways that snake through inner Sydney, starting and stopping, hard lines on a map that break off into dots.

The City’s Cycling Strategy and Action Plan 2018-2030 is the sequel to—or, arguably, a remake of—its 2007-2017 plan to install cycling infrastructure in Sydney LGA, from the Rocks in the north to Alexandria in the south, Moore Park in the east to USyd in the west. Despite similarities with the 2007-2017 plan, the 2018-2030 plan is a draft; this second part of the project is still under review. The strategy is designed to prompt a cultural shift in Sydney, letting drivers and passengers become Copenhagenised velophiles, or just about.

Since 2007, City council has seen some success. It constructed the first separated cycleway in 2009, along King Street in the CBD. It’s really just a short strip between Clarence Street and Sussex Street, connecting city south to the Pyrmont Bridge via a narrow, two-way pathway shared by cyclists and pedestrians. Still, in context, it was an achievement. The council built the Bourke Road cycleway shortly afterwards, and cycling in the area reportedly increased by 30 per cent straight after it opened. Its uptown other half, the Bourke Street cycleway, opened in 2011 and won a Sydney Design Award in 2012.

However, progress has been slow as a sauntering pedestrian on a shared path.

The 2007-2017 plan aimed to increase the number of bike trips made in the city by 8 per cent over 10 years, from less than 2 per cent in 2006 to 10 per cent in 2016. The 2018-2030 plan aims for 10 per cent of all trips to be bike trips by 2030, effectively pushing the 10 per cent target back by more than ten years. The City’s latest report doesn’t address its failure to meet target. However, it does indicate that the combined number of residents and non-residents who cycle to work will need to increase by 14.8 per cent by 2030. This could prove to be quite a challenge, given that this number only increased by 2.29 per cent from 2006 to 2016.

The 10 priority regional routes, including a USyd to UNSW route, are only 32 per cent complete. The Inner Sydney Regional Bike Network, a multi-council initiative proposed in 2009, is also incomplete. The network was originally envisioned as 284 kilometres of separated cycleways and shared paths but, judging by the City’s latest report, that number seems to have dropped to 191km. Either way, only 55km has been constructed, leaving 136km to go. Creating a connection across the railway lines at Eveleigh is one of the council’s top priorities. An Eveleigh connection would provide USyd students with quick access to Alexandria and the city proper, so we don’t have to go via Redfern or Macdonaldtown.

The City is making an effort, increasing its capital spending on cycling and walking from around 9 per cent of its budget for 2018-19 to around 24 per cent for 2019-20. However, as the council makes clear in its latest report, its ability to meet its 10 per cent target will depend on funding from the NSW government.

The state government pledged to spend $62 million on cycling and walking projects in 2017-18, working with the City of Sydney and other councils across Greater Sydney. The most recent round of funding applications has closed but the arrangements have not yet been released. Bicycle Network has urged the government to invest $260 million for 2018-19 and $1.06 billion over the next four years in cycleways and end-of-trip facilities. In recent years, the NSW government has not followed through on a series of promises to provide bike paths: the O’Farrell government’s 2011 NSW 2021 plan, which aimed to double the relative proportion of bike trips in Greater Sydney by 2016; the two following proposals, which restated the 2011 target; and the 2012 NSW Long-Term Transport Master Plan, which promised similar things.

It is no secret that the state government and the City council have come into conflict over Sydney’s stunted cycleways. Notably, the Baird government sparked outrage by demolishing the College Street cycleway in 2015. The commuter corridor along the eastern edge of Hyde Park serviced over 2000 cyclists a day until then Minister for Roads, Duncan Gay, who once described himself as the “biggest bike-lane sceptic in the government”, led the push to tear it up.

“The value of cycling in Sydney has been undermined by hysterical claims that bike riding will cripple the city’s economy…and wilful ignorance of good practice overseas,” Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore, told the Guardian at the time. The Mayor pointed out that the government’s decision to destroy $5 million worth of cycling infrastructure ran contrary to its own City Access Plan, announced in 2013, to reduce congestion in the city centre.

To its credit, the state government built new cycleways along Castlereagh Street and Liverpool Street to compensate. However, documents obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald reveal that the government commissioned—and ignored—advice from a transport consultant, when he said: “College Street provides a better north-south connection to the proposed King Street east-west link and the gateway to the Eastern Suburbs at Whitlam Square than Castlereagh Street.”

Sydney is evidently a long way off from making it onto the Copenhagenise Index, a list of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, which saw Copenhagen, Utrecht and Amsterdam take the top three positions in 2017. But, if NSW supports the City, it might finish more than the other end of King Street by 2030.