Tensions run hot on bicycle plan

A backlash against further advances towards Melbourne becoming more bicycle friendly was felt when Melbourne councillors discussed a new draft bicycle plan last month.

In a direct reflection of polarised community views about cyclists, some councillors expressed thinly veiled resentment that cyclists were again being given non-deserved privileges.

Councillors unanimously adopted for public consultation a Draft Bicycle Plan 2016-2020.

There was no argument about sustainability benefits or that improved safety and infrastructure should not be pursued.  But underlying tension towards cyclists themselves bubbled to the surface.

Cr Ken Ong said of the plan: “It talks about education for children, parents and new residents.  It doesn’t talk about education for cyclists and behaviour of cyclists and the etiquette of cycling in the city – a built up, extremely busy city of 900,000 people a day.”

Cr Ong was skeptical about the breakdown of the 7000 people who contributed to the plan.

“I do have a suspicion that a lot of them are cyclists who will be supporting this,” he said.  “There would be discussion at bicycle forums but guess who turns up at bicycle forums?  Cyclists.”

He encouraged council officers to specifically seek the views of non-cyclist residents who, he said, had issues with speeding cyclists.

“I would like to see how we can encourage an education program … to say ‘there is a way to ride in the city’,” he said.

“If you go to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, you don’t see a lot of people riding racing bikes in the middle of the city.  I drive at 40km per hour and some of them overtake me.  What is the rush in the city when we are telling everyone to slow down?”

“Many of us who walk in the city have had a number of near misses.  I really need to get this off my chest.”

“As a person who walks everywhere in the city, it bugs me like hell,” he said.

“Yes, when I look at all this, we are going to make the city better.  But we’re not Copenhagen. We’re not Amsterdam.  We’re Melbourne!”

Cr Jackie Watts agreed that speeding cyclists were a problem.

“I have had many problems in parks, in having to leap away or bring my grandchildren out of the way of cyclists,” she said.

“The problem we have in Melbourne I think is the tension between recreational cyclists and commuter cyclists.”

Cr Rohan Leppert, however, pointed out that the draft plan did include actions to address cycle speed and education.

“There’s a lot in here beside the general vibe that we’re turning the city over to bikes,” he said. “There’s a lot of detail in here which goes into how we can make sure that those tensions which councillors have talked about tonight can be addressed through better infrastructure, through education and through better education.”

“I do get increasingly frustrated that the very fact that we have a document before us called the bicycle plan has unleashed proxy debates about us being pro something, anti something and its all far more complicated than that.”

“It’s never so black or white.  This isn’t an anti-car council nor is it a pro-car council.  It’s all of those things, and none of those things at once.”

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said:  “Everyone wants access everywhere. That is not possible in a busy city with a million people coming in.”

“It’s our job to balance that, and that’s what this plan does and it does it better than any other city that I know.”

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