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Submission to Greater Sydney Commission

BIKE NORTH OBSERVATIONS ON 

THE GREATER SYDNEY COMMISSION (GSC)

DRAFT NORTH DISTRICT PLAN

 

As the largest bicycle user group in Sydney’s northern district, Bike North welcomes the opportunity to comment on the findings of the Greater Sydney Commission’s Draft North District Plan. 

 Bike North applauds and is wholly supportive of the idea central to the Commission’s work so far, that any journey to work by residents in this area, or for that matter any other district in Metropolitan Sydney, should be no more than 30 minutes in duration. 

 Bike North also, of course, is very encouraged by the GSC’s embrace of cycling as a valid form of transport with a valuable part to play in the achievement of not only the Commission’s goals but also national goals for productivity improvement.

 Urban planners worldwide now accept that motor vehicles are not the answer to the problem of transporting large numbers of people efficiently and effectively through built-up areas. In considering current vehicular traffic volumes in Sydney’s Northern District for example, 196,350 more people (a population increase of 22%) by 2036 will mean potentially 22% more journeys being undertaken than at present. Clearly, existing transport infrastructure will have to be improved to facilitate the GSCs goal of enabling people to get to work, services or recreation within 30 minutes of setting out on their journeys !

 However, spending money on more roads to support car travel as the way to achieve this goal will simply be beyond the means of the nation to afford, even if more roads could achieve the outcome sought which experience shows us they will not. So other, far more cost-effective modes of transport such as public transport, walking and cycling are going to have to be provided for.

 What will encourage people to use bicycles for transport ?

 Bluntly speaking, the factors most likely to influence people’s choice of cycling as their transport mode within a city are topography and risk to life and limb. The more challenging either of those factors are in a given area the more likely they are to influence people away from cycling as a viable transport solution. Therefore, as a community, if we want to better facilitate cycling as a viable transport mode, Bike North is strongly of the view that the problems of topography and safety have to be addressed in a number of ways and by governments at all levels.

At various points the draft GSC North District Plan seems to be acknowledging these realities, which is encouraging, when it refers for example on page 109 to the proposed Principal Bicycle Network “made up of high quality, high priority routes that facilitate direct, barrier free travel between centres. Routes will be separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians and local bike routes will connect in to form a finer grain cycling network” .

Furthermore, the Principal Bicycle Network (PBN) routes within the North District do seem to connect its identified major work and service centres. However, paying for these routes and ensuring that there are local bike routes for them to connect with must be accepted as essential to the success of cycling as one of the key transport modes in the Sydney of 2036. 

The Principal Bicycle Network and bicycle infrastructure

The “Principal Bicycle Network” (PBN) for Metropolitan Sydney is the latest version of an idea that has been under development in NSW State Government circles for at least a decade and has lately been commendably supported and workshopped by Roads and Maritime Services, local councils and Bicycle NSW.  

It is also clearly identified in the GSC’s Draft North District Plan as being key to the role-out of the cycling infrastructure that will make cycling viable as a transport mode in Sydney 2036. Bike North has recently suggested some expansions to the PBN map that will better facilitate cycle route connectivity with all the identified work and service centres in the North District and thereby better achieve the 30 minute journey time objective of the Greater Sydney Commission. The earlier version of this map would not have achieved this outcome. 

However, from the users’ perspective what makes the PBN so attractive, so essential, is that it addresses the two concerns identified earlier in this response of :-

  • ameliorating topography/providing more direct travel and, 
  • following best practice, separating bicycle traffic from faster moving vehicular traffic and slower moving pedestrians both of whose needs must be accommodated by separate infrastructure.

The PBN follows established main transport corridors throughout the city whose gradients better suit fast cycling, and because, following best practice, it is separated from all other traffic and is dedicated for bicycle use only, it eliminates the risk of collision with other moving vehicles or pedestrians.

Given its importance in the GSC’s Plans, Bike North is firmly of the belief that construction of the PBN should be prioritised as suitable for Federal infrastructure funding, just like any other major transport project, and funded for completion within ten years at the outside.

The pace of Sydney’s infrastructure construction at the moment is such that without agreement about the form of the PBN, and funding for its construction, many opportunities are being lost to capitalise on realignments and reuses of existing roads infrastructure that might otherwise make the roll-out of a PBN less disruptive. 

For example, construction of the NorthConnex project is being undertaken without any consideration of how Pennant Hills Road and/or its adjoining footpaths might be used as part of a PBN in the future. The North West Metro construction might also have made possible the building of a PBN tributary along an adjacent route. Furthermore, the recent announcement of a proposal to build a tunnel to the Northern Beaches has the potential to create additional uses for the road corridors from which the tunnel will remove traffic. The inability to act on these opportunities may, in time, be shown to have serious cost and efficiency implications for the eventual PBN roll out. Therefore, time is of the essence here and Bike North strongly urges the GSC to give its full support to any case for implementing the PBN as soon as practicable.

As important as the PBN is to partially solving Sydney’s transport woes, there is however a range of other measures that will need to be taken to make the PBN accessible and to make local use of bicycles a realistic alternative to car or foot transport.

The role to be played by local authorities in providing local bicycle networks that will not only facilitate access to the PBN but to local business and services cannot be overestimated. 

As the city generally becomes more and more dense, especially around the major work and service centres within each district, there is going to be more and more medium and high density housing near those centres that, to keep it affordable, won’t necessarily have parking spaces for cars. In those circumstances, walking and cycling infrastructure close-in becomes essential. 

Once again, the Draft Report recognises this repeatedly, for example on Page 46 “ …well planned centres …reduce the need to travel by car by co-locating residential, health, employment and education facilities” and “promote healthier lifestyles and community cohesion with improved walking, cycling and transport access to a wider range of services and opportunities”. Additionally, the need for bike parking security and, where longer commutes are involved, showering facilities are perennial concerns that will have to be addressed in all building codes for commercial, service and recreational facilities.

Clearly local Councils have a vital part to play in planning and constructing local cycling infrastructure to ensure that the GSC’s local transport and accessibility goals are met but sadly, at the moment, many Northern District Councils don’t even have contemporary bicycle plans let alone adequate bicycle infrastructure. Bike North would therefore welcome any assistance the GSC can provide in encouraging these Councils to act on their responsibilities on this issue. 

Supporting the idea of bicycle transport

A significant barrier to the wider acceptance of cycling as a legitimate transport mode is the fear of injury on the part of cyclists and the opposition, and sometimes outright hostility, of many motorists towards them. These feelings will not be changed without cultural change in the way road users perceive their status on the road. 

Currently the RMS focus is on ensuring that motor vehicles enjoy an almost absolute priority on most NSW roads thereby encouraging a mindset that is detrimental to walking and cycling in highly active areas. This makes any attempt by policies that have been set to prioritise walking and cycling in designated road areas impossible to implement. If walking and cycling as alternatives to motorised transport are ever to be more widely adopted by the community, there is a compelling case to be made for all local roads to be prioritised for walking and cycling with speed limits ideally reduced to 30kph. 

At present, it is extremely difficult to get RMS approvals for speed limits under 50kph except in very high pedestrian areas in a CBD. Local streets where children should be able to play and ride their bikes don’t qualify. Interstate in Australia however, things are different. 

Perth is leading the way with its Safe Active Streets program which provides safe child and adult friendly streets for walking and cycling that connect to a Principal Bicycle Network. These have recommended 30kph speed limits, and they are also designed to those speeds.  [See :-  http://www.transport.wa.gov.au/activetransport/safe-active-streets-program.asp.] Other states and Territories are also working towards similar people friendly streets such as South Australia with its Bike Boulevards and Greenways and the ACT with its Active Travel Streets. 

Bike North strongly recommends that similar programs be trialled in Sydney’s Northern District to facilitate greater uptake of active transport modes.

In addition to greater limitations on the speed limits applied to local roads other initiatives that will be needed to encourage greater confidence in, and acceptance of, bicycle usage in Sydney’s North District include :-

i.Changes to signalisation regimes. 

Under current signalisation policies pedestrians and bike riders on separated cycleways are severally compromised. Examples include the 6 second limitation for most pedestrian and bike signals; bike signals that cancel if the rider rolls off the locator point. Specific roads need to be specified as for cycling and/or for walking and greater priority assigned to these travel modes, while still enabling people to use bikes on all other roads.

ii.Regulatory changes

New regulations should be considered that could inexpensively and quickly open up more infrastructure for everyday cycling. For example, footpath cycling, especially for older children, the elderly and all other less confident riders could be allowed as it is in other jurisdictions throughout Australia, especially along busy roads which provide connections to local streets.

There are cheaper ways to designate legal crossing of roads – signalised bike lamps are expensive infrastructure and subject to long delays for RMS approvals. One solution that could be trialled to free up bicycle travel might be the Idaho Stop – rolling stop / giveway at stop signs, as people on bikes have far greater visibility at an intersection than motorists.

iii.Cycling awareness education 

Participation in an accredited cycling skills course should qualify for a certain number of hours of practice in car licence qualification. Cycling skills and behaviour based courses should be encouraged in schools and there should be a much faster rollout of bicycle compounds at railway and metro stations, major bus stops and commerce centres to create an awareness of the possibility of bicycle use as an everyday transport option.

Summary

  • Bike North is committed to the GSC’s transport ideal that any journey to work by residents in the Northern District, or for that matter any other district in Metropolitan Sydney, should be no more than 30 minutes in duration. 
  • Bike North applauds the GSC’s embrace of cycling as a valid form of transport with a valuable part to play in the achievement of not only the Commission’s goals but also national goals for productivity improvement.
  • Bike North is strongly of the view that the problems of topography and safety have to be addressed in a number of ways, particularly by grade separation and reasonable gradients, if greater adoption of cycling as a viable transport option is to occur in the Sydney of 2036.
  • Bike North is therefore firmly of the belief that construction of the PBN should be prioritised as suitable for Federal infrastructure funding, just like any other major transport project, and funded for completion within ten years at the outside.
  • The role to be played by local authorities in providing local bicycle networks and infrastructure that will not only facilitate access to the PBN but to local business and services cannot be overestimated. 
  • The provision of better targeted cycling infrastructure alone will not encourage increased bicycle usage by the travelling public. It must be accompanied by a culture change among all road users resulting from a regulatory framework more protective of cyclists and pedestrians and from cycling awareness principles about which all road users must be educated and to which they must allcommit.

The utility of the bicycle as a transport mode in urban environments has been recognised for over one hundred years. In NSW in the last ten years alone, there have been two major policy documents prepared by the State Government - “Action for Bikes 2010” and the 2013 paper “Sydney’s Cycling Future” that acknowledge that reality. The economic and health benefits of cycling for transport are well understood and beyond dispute. What now needs to be accepted more than ever before, and what the Greater Sydney Commission recognises, is that our continued reliance on motor vehicles as a transport solution in urban environments has become less and less sustainable and makes less and less sense economically for the nation. 

Bike North will assist the GSC wherever possible in working out how the bicycle can be used to achieve the Commission’s transport objectives.  

 

Justin Holmwood

Advocacy Co-ordinator

BIKE NORTH

28th March, 2017