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Sydney’s bike wars rage on, with 2GB shock-jock Alan Jones threatening to organise Town Hall meetings to roll Lord Mayor Clover Moore and have the cycleways ripped up by the next Lord Mayor.

Mr Jones claims Ms Moore wants people to ride bikes, so we get cycleways. In his inimitable tabloid style he compared this to him liking camels and therefore imposing camel lanes on the city.

This might make sense if we all had an unused camel parked on our balconies or tethered in the back yard of the terrace house, but we don’t, finding a bike to be far more useful and cheap to feed. There is also a lot less cleaning-up involved.

It might also make sense if Ms Moore had not been twice elected on a pro-cycleway ticket. But she was and Mr Jones wasn’t, and I invite him to run for Lord Mayor on his pro-camel ticket, just to see if Sydneysiders really want a Lord Mayor who likes camels.

When Mr Jones interviewed Ms Moore on-air he talked over her in his bullying style, while Ms Moore stoically repeated her usual themes of climate change, traffic congestion and the Sydney 2030 strategy.

But Council holds the winning hand here, commissioning another ‘independent’ poll showing that 75 per cent of inner city residents support a comprehensive cycleway network.

Fortunately for Sydney the 2GB audience largely lives outside the City boundaries – represented by those aggressive tradies in utes with a Daily Terror on the seat next to them, the tabloid visible to riders during all-too-frequent sideswipe attempts (Ask any regular road rider about it!).

So it’s politically safe to build cycleways within the City. Feel for the tradies, though, with 34,000 Commodore utes being recalled because of a faulty tailgate latch. Camels might be more reliable.

Clover should have seen this shitstorm coming, however. Constructing the first major section of the cycle network in Bourke Road Alexandria simply invited a blowtorch reaction from this light industrial precinct full of warehouses, building supply companies, vehicle-hire outlets and the like. It’s not an inner-city demographic and they all depend on vehicles for their trade.

Until the path actually connects to a network, it will remain only lightly used by riders because it runs from one heavy traffic hotspot to another, dangerous and unwelcoming to riders. Seeing only one rider every two minutes in peak hour just confirms the bike-sceptics in their view that much of the support for the network comes from people who will never use it.

And the residents of Bourke Street Surry Hills, at the other end of this broken route, have a legitimate complaint that they have lost their on-street parking in favour of a bike path with significant design flaws. As they circle the block looking for a parking spot near home, they have ample time to wonder why they have to pay the price for Sydney’s overall progress.

The worst damage from the 2GB campaign is that the RTA and state politicians will be listening, reading that cycleways are unpopular in marginal seats. So don’t expect any epiphanies from the RTA or the Lib/Labs in the foreseeable.

But one day, when the cycleways actually link up and go somewhere, the bikes will multiply and it will be obvious even to a tradie/climate sceptic that congestion is being reduced, to their benefit, and 2GB will find another target for its vitriol.

by Michael Gormly

19 responses to “Bike wars blaze on the airwaves”

  1. Owl says:

    Well I normally enjoy your coloums Michael but to be fair, if Clover Moore had genuinely consulted with locals, businesses and residents she could have avoided all the friction. Bourke Road and Bourke Street were never going to be ideal for separated bicycle paths for obvious resons such as safety, inappropriateness and congestion. However the parallel routes (Alexandria Canal, and the Moore Park cycle way) just one block away can allow cyclists to avoid riding with cars and it makes far more sense to improve them.

    It was revealing when Clover was approaching elections in 2008 following the Medina “consultation” farce in Surry Hills that she went quiet on the cycleways for several months releasing none of the promised information so her one-sided cycleway plan could not become an election issue. We had great difficulty even working out where the cycling network was going to be constructed as the streets were not named in council material and the network was depicted in isolation from a proper map.

  2. Hi Mr or Ms Owl,

    You are wise, but where did I say that Clover consulted in a genuine way? I think manipulation of the consultation process is rife at all levels of government and one of the more serious challenges to our democracy.

    I am planning to write an analysis of this soon.

    At the heart of the problem is an attitude within bureaucracies and government that they are the experts, they run the place, and residents are little more than a minor irritation on the fringe.

    It’s true that authorities have to deal with a constant barrage of impractical demands and complaints from people who have strange points of view, but sorting them from the intelligent feedback — and responding in a kindly manner — is just part of the job.

    The current system is self-perpetuating as the ineffectiveness of resident action (unless your agenda is identical to that of the authority) discourages participation from a broader public and so the stage is occupied by serial complainers and NIMBYs, described as ‘council nerds’ in a Courier publication recently.

    We need a whole new model, not only of consultation but of decision-making, much of which should be devolved to local precincts. Devolving that power would attract a much broader cross-section of residents into local politics.

  3. Kylie says:

    Hello Mr Gormly. I’m not sure that I agree that the residents at the Surry Hills section of Bourke St really do have a legitimate complaint about the changes on the road. Why is public property “theirs” to store their private property on?

  4. kwv says:

    Mr Jones wants people to listen to him, boasting his ego, so we get BS from people like him and from The Print Media A Bolt.

  5. Mark W says:

    I am curious Mr/Ms Owl. How is it possible that a continuous link between Mascot and Wooloomoloo (as the Bourke St/Rd cycleway will be when completed) could be better if it were replaced by a route from Mascot to Huntley Road Alexandria (where the canal terminates) and anther route through Moore Park?
    How exactly does a cyclist transport from the end of one route to the beginning of the other? Where does a cyclist go when they reach the Flinders Road Anzac Pde intersection? And for that matter, can you explain exactly how the mythical Alexandria Canal path might be constructed without a (major) multi-billion dollar urban renewal/redevelopment project in the same area?

  6. Owl says:

    “At the heart of the problem is an attitude within bureaucracies and government that they are the experts, they run the place, and residents are little more than a minor irritation on the fringe.”

    Hello Michael. You sure got Clover described. She used to be supportive of residents and local areas. Now she’s turned into a monster. Her arrogance and dismissive attitude towards residents and businesses is astounding. I think her cycleway project is most unfortunate, misplaced, and should have been designed completely differently with far greater sensitivity to the local environments. Choking up Sydney’s roads with an unsafe design will ultimately benefit no one and will have to be undone. This politician has gone off half-cocked, without doing a proper study on impacts. Her rationale is based on propaganda, and ideology. It is contrary to factual data on cycleways. What a waste she’s caused. If she’s not stopped quickly it’ll be a case of “Never was so much damage done to so many for so few.”

  7. @Kylie — the road is not ‘theirs’ of course. But when you buy a house with no off-street parking while being allowed to park outside your house on the street, it hurts when the parking is taken away against your wishes. You still have to park somewhere. Meanwhile the rest of Sydney enjoys their parking privileges. In a town with woeful public transport, on-street parking has long been a common practice. On the other hand, why do bike riders (like I am) assume they ‘own’ the same space? Especially if they live elswhere and don’t even use the cycle path?

    The fact remains the residents of Surry Hills are paying the price for general amenity, and it’s unfair.

  8. Owl says:

    I can’t see congestion being reduced with these cycleways no matter how many ride bicycles (and every cyclist does not equate to one less car). The roads are being narrowed and choked. The cycleways are single file each way so once you have more than a handful of cyclists using a cycleway it’ll be reduced to the speed of the slowest. Many cyclists will have little choice but to use the narrowed roads. What a mess that will be with no shoulder lanes, frustrated motorists, circling traffic seeking parking, cyclists with an inflated feeling of entitlement, and the potential for car dooring from both sides of parked vehicles if parked beside the cycleway… and massive loss of local amenity. These are rate payers and many have made massive financial commitments and paid years of mortgages, why should transients who don’t live in the area, and maybe don’t use the area, don’t pay rates here, and make no comparable financial commitment to it, have more rights? Surely there is a more reasonable way to resolve cyclist’s needs than taking over the roads and amenity.
    Mark W the whole concept of a continuous link from Mascot to Woolloomooloo was always fanciful. Moore Park to Wooloomooloo yes (and take the bus lane left at Flinders to Taylor Square). The bottom section of Bourke st never needed a cycleway. The Alexandria Canal is not my problem but connecting it with routes to Erskineville, Redfern, Central station perhaps also via Young street might make more sense. Then one could go left to Central Railway or right to Moore Park along Devonshire street.

  9. Owl says ‘every cyclist does not equate to one less car’.

    Mostly, however, they do as most cars carry only one person and when that person is on a bike, that’s one less car, an 11x space saving on the road.

    OK, riders who switch from public transport are another matter but at least they create a bit more room on the bus or train.

    But an 11x space saving is a pretty good multiplier effect. And even riders who choose the road are mostly replacing a car, and tend to be the faster riders. In the city, realistically, bikes do not hold up cars. Rather they constantly overtake those polluting, gridlocked metal hulks.

    But there is undeniably merit in your argument — every solution has its problems!

  10. Owl says:

    Michael, mostly however I think one cyclist = one car is a fallacy. If you live in any sort of proximity to the CBD you’ll have public transport options to go in and out if that’s where you want to go. But if you’re going laterally across suburbs rather than to or from the CBD then public transport can be a real problem.
    I couldn’t see myself for example doing manual work and riding a bicycle to Ryde by 7.30am one morning, or to Mascot the next morning or Hunters Hill the next, as could happen if you’re a labourer. And I have done that job. Nor could I see a mother with young kids mixing busy work schedules with picking up kids from day care by bicycle. Bicycles may be fine from A to B for some routes but lots of people have far more destinations than one to go to, and not always are they conveniently placed for cycling with or without cycleways, nor for all weather.
    As for your equation of one car = 11 bicycles in road space. I’d far rather have one car in front of me than 11 bicycles and I’d bet it takes up a lot less space too. I agree many cars carry one person, but many also carry two or more, and people aren’t the only things cars carry. Most cyclists wouldn’t manage a TV, or a large shopping trolley of goods, or suitcases, or home renovation materials, and it would be a rare person who’d carry a baby on a bicycle let alone two or three youngsters, and what about granny and grand pa with his hip joint? Put them on the carrier too or make them cycle? This whole problem needs a fair process, a proper study of impact on people, safety, and best options rather than the gung-ho no-regard-for-anyone-else appoach that Clover has taken.

  11. Hi again Owl,

    While you make some points, nevertheless in European cities which have adopted cycling wholeheartedly, over 30% of trips happen on bikes. Sydney, with exactly the same variety of transport needs, including the situations you outline, has around 1%.

    Clearly we need to change this, to the benefit of us all — less congestion, cleaner air, less global warming, better health.

    A large proportion of car journeys are 10k or less. It is these that bike transport will mostly replace, not your examples.

    The main obstacle to more people riding is the danger of mixing it with Sydney traffic, and cycleways address this. I think this logic is rock-solid.

    And bikes can carry a lot more than you suggest. In 1975 I demonstrated this by delivering and distributing the whole run of a newspaper by bike. I recently published a lovely pic of an Amsterdam mum carrying two small kids plus the shopping on a standard bike.

    I have recently carried on my standard mountain bike a case of wine from bottle shop to home; a G4 mini-tower computer from Woolloomooloo to Marrickville; and an eight-foot potted Yucca tree on my bike. Then you can get tandems, bike trailers etc.

  12. Owl says:

    But this the problem Michael, European cycleways are typically more than double the width one way of these 2-way cycleways. You can ride comfortably more than two abreast, even 3 or 4 abreast one way. Secondly they have ditched the idea of 2-way cycles as being too dangerous. Thirdly you won’t get car-doored on European cycleways. Fourthly Sydney is hillier and more spread out, and public transport would take you a day to get to or around many areas if you could get there at all, and cycling is simply impractical so people need their cars. Then you have helmet laws here will always reduce cycling numbers. In Europe cycling boulewards are becoming more popular. I’d support those in some streets but not narrow 2-way cycleways.
    Finally if you really think a significant number of the 99% of people who do not currently cycle will start carrying household appliances, cases of wine, and babies on bicycles I want some of what you’re taking!

  13. Hi again Owl, Yeahbut…

    We know the current Sydney cycleway design is flawed, as I have mentioned. One problem facing Sydney is: Where you you put wide, one-way cycle paths? In Bourke St for instance? Imagine the uproar from motorists and residents then! The city is only at the baby-steps stage so-far, and I think that one day the current cycleways will be significantly altered.

    The hilly Sydney thing is a furphy. For a start, it means half of Sydney is downhill. Secondly after two weeks’ regular riding you really don’t notice the hills. Compared to Europe with six months’ driving blizzards each year, and places like Amsterdam criss-crossed by canals, Sydney is relatively ideal for cycling — if it wasn’t for the ignorant, aggressive drivers.

    If you don’t think people attuned to bikes will carry things on them when necessary, watch this space…

  14. Mark W says:

    You have not addressed my questions about the supposed alternative routes, rather you have chosen to either ignore ‘not my problem’ or highlight the problems with the supposed alternate: Victoria Coren with demonstrate your hostility to cycling generally: Eg. “take the bus lane left at Flinders to Taylor Square” How an inexperienced rider is meant to feel safer riding in the bus lane on a section of road where the buses are very frequent, and moving along at the speed limit (or more), let alon negotiate the connection between the bus lanes and the Moore Park pathways (going in either direction), is a mystery. This glib suggestion exposes your concern for cyclists safety as a yet another furphy (you must have a nice collection of those by now). It’s all about parking. Can you at least be honest about that?

  15. Mark W says:

    Bizzare section of prose between the colons. Can’t explain how that got through. Cut paste delete and mysterious reappearance of deleted text.

  16. Owl says:

    Mark W, I’ve made myself crystal clear in my replies, I don’t think the direct Bourke road/street route you are arguing for is a good idea at all. It’s obvious Bourke Road is a bad mistake, disjointed, unsafe, and the whole design is completely dismissive of those who have made financial commitments there. The CoS endorsement of it on You Tube is pathetic.
    If you don’t want to ride bus lanes (left at Flinders to Taylor Square) then take back streets or a side street to Bourke Street. I ride Bourke Street myself as I live in it and never found it to be a problem. As for hostility to cycling in general, rubbish. I support Bourke Street becoming either a cycling boulevarde or extending the one way section to allow a safer cycleway, or using Moore Park (or South Dowling, or Crown, or Riley streets too). I cycle recreationally, as does my wife. But I hate being lied to and having local amenity stripped away when it is not necessary.

    If you’re so concerned for inexperienced cyclists why would you support luring them onto a cycleway design that is proven to be more dangerous than riding on roads? Why not be honest about that? Two-way cycleways in urban areas with lots of cross streets are expressly advised against overseas, and that’s in countries with good cycling cultures. I believe the cycling lobby here has gone for inappropriate infrastructure regardless of its suitability, hoping to attract non cyclists even if it results in unnecessary deaths. I don’t think you are genuinely concerned for inexperienced cyclists, and for those whose businesses are damaged, nor do you give a damn about loss of amenity for any local residents. And that’s where we differ, because I do care. So get the wheels turning in your head for a change, and lobby for something safer that we all can support.

  17. Mark W says:

    OK Owl, Let me get this straight. You are accusing me, and others who support the COS Cycleways of wishing for increasing the death rate of cyclists in Sydney. And we also do not care about loss of amenity (…on street parking) for local residents. Well I guess I lose the argument. You are such a persuasive debater. Don’t worry. I’ll probably get killed riding my bicycle on the new cycleways. Then you can experience some schadenfraude at my expense. You are all class.

  18. Owl says:

    No Mark W I’m not accusing you of wishing for increasing the death rate of cyclists, those are you words. I am simply pointing out the inconsistencies in your stance, and the lack of concern that shows. Perhaps that’s why you are getting so het up about it.

  19. Jack Chomley says:

    Fortunately, we have choices in this country, it’s real simple to just leave Sydney and go somewhere else to live, that you like. I left 35 years ago, best thing I ever did. 🙂

  20. […] At all levels of government there are policy documents that identify increasing cycling as a priority. New South Wales, for example, has a state target to “more than double the mode share of bicycle trips made in the Greater Sydney region, at a local and district level, by 2016”. Surely as part of this plan it will be important to legitimate cycling, make it seem attractive to the public, and maybe balance the inexplicably virulent attacks on cycling and cycling infrastructure by some radio commentators? […]

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