Shared zone “an accident waiting to happen”

By David Schout

A serious accident at a busy cyclist and pedestrian zone on Swanston St is “waiting to happen” according to a concerned user.

In a detailed presentation to the City of Melbourne in June, cyclist and tram user Stephen Maguire detailed his experiences at the shared zone between Melbourne Central Station and the State Library.

Mr Maguire said the zone, where cyclists were given right of way except when a tram is approaching, was not being used correctly by either group.

He said pedestrians were often oblivious and unaware of the shared zone and didn’t perceive bikes approaching due to either a blocked view or distraction on their phones.

Cyclists, by contrast, can aggressively move through the zone at speeds of up to 40km/h, were eager to get past a tram about to stop, and were similarly distracted with headphones.

“I’m a biker. I understand the angst that comes up in some people,” Mr Magurie said.

“I think somewhere in history bikes were moved off the road for their own safety, but I believe now that pedestrians have become vulnerable as a result of that. The combination of these two groups will conspire to cause what I think will be a serious accident.” 

A 2016 TAC-funded survey indicated the Swanston St shared zone was one of the top 10 most feared cyclist spots throughout all of Melbourne, as riders reported feeling uneasy about pedestrians unassumingly walking onto their path.

Mr Maguire proposed a range of solutions to better ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety on the shared path, for which he was praised by several councillors.

These included installing speed humps, more effective signage and painted paths, and a speed limit of 5km/h.

He also said the problems faced outside the Melbourne Central and State Library stop were not confined to that particular spot, and “could be extrapolated to other shared zones”.

Council transport portfolio chair Cr Nicolas Frances Gilley said council was aware of issues between cyclists and pedestrian at tram stops, but confirmed VicRoads data indicated there had been no reported pedestrian/cyclist collisions at the particular CBD spot.

However, the 2016 study noted that only serious crashes tended to be recorded in the database.

“It should also be stated that there could be minor crashes at these tram stop locations, but these are less likely to be captured by CrashStats database,” the study said.

Cr Frances Gilley said that primarily, the shared zone required a certain awareness from all users.

“It is important for all people to be aware of their surroundings in the central city and to share the space. People on bikes need to stop when trams have their doors open and only travel at 10km/h if the tram is stopped and the doors are closed. Pedestrians need to wait on the footpath until a tram arrives before moving out to board and not walk along the bike lane.”

He confirmed the City of Melbourne would install green pavement treatment and a bike symbol on the two approaches to the tram platform adjacent to the State Library.

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