ABN: 54 709 768 966

15 December, 2017

Lucy Hughes Turnbull AO

Chief Commissioner

Greater Sydney Commission

 

BIKE NORTH RESPONSE TO THE

DRAFT GREATER SYDNEY REGION/DISTRICT PLANS OCT 2017

Foreword

As a stakeholder in Sydney’s future transport arrangements, particularly as they relate to suburbs and networks on the northern side of Sydney Harbour, Bike North has examined the aspirations and ideas put forward in the revised “Draft Greater Sydney Region Plan 2017” and its companion report “The Greater Sydney Commission Draft North District Plan”.

Bike North is one of Sydney’s largest bicycle user groups and is closely affiliated with Bicycle New South Wales. We are vitally interested in promoting the bicycle as a realistic transport option for people wishing to travel over shorter distances within Sydney and we view the bicycle not only as a significant alleviator of Sydney’s traffic problems but also as a significant improver of people’s health and well-being.

In this context, Bike North makes the following observations about the ideas and aspirations set out in the revised Draft (Greater Sydney) Region and District Plans. In doing so we make no judgements about the feasibility or appropriateness of any objectives in these Draft Plans other than those that relate to active transport - specifically bicycle transport. Clearly, however, other objectives in the Plans impact on their active transport objectives and to the extent that concerns may emerge from this impact, Bike North also comments on those concerns.

Timing and Opportunity

We understand and applaud the Greater Sydney Commission’s intention to create orderly and effective plans for a ’30 minute’ Sydney in the future - a place that is prosperous, liveable, sustainable and adaptable.

However, if bicycle transport is going to be seriously employed to help achieve the goals outlined in these plans, Bike North has two major concerns about the methodology being employed.

Firstly, it is critical that corridors for the major cycling network routes are defined and quarantined now otherwise they will be built out by other public infrastructure and/or private developments. What has been outlined in in the “Draft Future Transport Strategy 2056” and its companion report “The Draft Greater Sydney Services and Infrastructure Plan” as potential cycling corridors are still far too nebulous. Therefore, at present, they do not adequately support the aspirations of the Region and District Plans where bicycle transport is concerned.

Secondly, but equally as important, the timeframes set out in the Future Transport Strategy and the Services and Infrastructure Plan for defining the principal bicycle networks are way too long. Local Councils need to know within 2-3 years what their local bicycle networks will have to feed into so that they are appropriately planned and built because it is the local councils that are managing the ever growing populations in their areas whose housing, living and transport needs have to be accommodated now, not planned for in 40 years time.

The remainder of Bike North’s comments are set out under the same headings as those used in the Draft Greater Sydney Region and District Plans.

Infrastructure and collaboration

In this section the report acknowledges that for the three cities concept to work, it has to be supported by appropriate infrastructure. In particular, planning needs to “safeguard corridors for future infrastructure investment as well as locations for future centres”. Even the Future Transport documents, however, do not identify those corridors applicable to bicycle transport in anything other than generalised terms. This needs to change and soon. Retro-fitting cycleways is always much much more expensive than integrating them from first principles and invariably produces a more compromised outcome.

Furthermore, as the discussion of bicycle transport infrastructure in ‘Future Transport 2056’ is very rudimentary and the supporting diagrams are nebulous at best [especially in terms of time-frames], how can we ‘get smarter about staging growth by being selective about where, when and what to invest in to deliver successful places’ if we don’t know what those investment options are ? And how can bicycle infrastructure ‘adapt to meet future needs’ if, for example, all the available transport corridors have already been allocated ?

Collaboration between the Greater Sydney Commission and State and local governments to map out the principal bicycle network and quarantine corridors for its construction has to occur within the next three years at a maximum.

The acknowledgement in the Plans of the need to design places for electric vehicle recharging in our city centres is commendable. Bike North envisages a huge and fast growing demand for such facilities as e-bikes become more and more popular and therefore  is completely supportive of this development. ‘E’bikes conquer topography - up until now a considerable deterrent to bicycle use for many people - and the availability of this technology will encourage many to use bicycles for transport who might not otherwise have done so.

As mentioned previously, the need to carefully manage available land corridors for transport is critical especially as these corridors are coming under increased pressure to cater for more and more journeys by a variety of conveyances.

In particular, existing road corridors need to be very carefully managed to avoid wasted usage, especially where footpaths are concerned. NSW is one of the few jurisdictions in the Australian Commonwealth that currently does not allow bicycle riding on footpaths and given the competition for space to accommodate different active transport modes in the Sydney of the future, the NSW Parliament will have to be flexible on this issue.

Once this adjustment is made, the demands for more bicycle transport infrastructure can be managed more effectively as infrastructure use generally is optimised. In high demand areas of the city, Bike North is of the opinion that there is no justification for insisting that bicycle riders continue to use the roads where under-used footpaths could easily provide separate and safe alternative pathways.

Liveability

As firm believers in the health benefits and ease of use of bicycle transport, Bike North fully endorses the ideas expressed in the Greater Sydney Plans regarding accessibility as being key to ‘liveability’ in urban environments.

Especially over shorter distances, the bicycle can provide better access to economic, social, recreational, cultural and creative opportunities – and easier connections with family, friends and the broader community – to assist people to fulfil their potential.

At the moment in Sydney, the prospect of local car travel for many is a disincentive to community engagement. Proper cycling infrastructure can not only encourage people to get out more in their local communities it also enables them to get some exercise into the deal while they’re doing it.

More business for local shops and services and less traffic; less stress; more human scale; more contact with community diversity that builds resilience and social connection; better access to great places for people where artistic, cultural and creative works are visible, valued, distinctive and accessible - these are all outcomes that can be achieved and enhanced when active transport options are realistically made available to people in communities.

As Sydney attempts to combat the crisis in housing affordability, it is encouraging to see that more diverse housing options are being considered in areas close to services and amenities. However, to achieve the goal of affordability, many of these places in the future may not have car parking spaces.  Therefore, the establishment of active transport networks and infrastructure becomes imperative to ensure people’s access to amenities.

Productivity

Bike North has a number of concerns about the solutions and statements advanced in this section of the Plans in support of achieving a more productive urban environment.

Having strategies and actions to deliver a metropolis of three cities and rebalance opportunities for all residents to have greater access to jobs, shops and services is certainly a laudable and highly desirable objective in urban planning. However, where the Plans talk about that access being provided by “efficient transport connections and safe and convenient walking and cycling routes” the discussions that follow seem to dwell on road and rail infrastructure and where active transport is referred to it is usually in the context of walking rather than cycling. The connection between the concept of a 30 minute city and bicycle transport is not always obvious.

The Plans do acknowledge that diversification of commuting patterns can reduce infrastructure stress which in turn implies that diversification of transport modes can also contribute to such an outcome but cynically referring to “walking and cycling facilities that make healthy transport choices attractive” without any reference to the Principle Bicycle Network suggests that the planners still see bicycle transport as a more exceptional and not as a more natural transport choice. More definition of the role of the bicycle in assisting to solve Sydney’s transport problems would help to allay suspicion that the Plans’ authors are simply ‘just going through the motions’ when bicycle transport is referred to.

As a transport mode, the bicycle seems to be seen as the provider of feeder transport to mass transit systems and there is none of the discussion about securing bicycle corridors that there is about the need to secure such corridors for mass transport and road systems.

Sustainability

Once again, the recognition of the need for Green Grids and the measures to be taken to secure them is commendable and essential for any successful modern city. That cycleways are contemplated in the Green grids is equally wonderful in terms of enabling bicycle journeys to take place in separated and shady areas. However, care needs to be taken to avoid using the green grids as the only corridor for the Principal Bicycle Network in the event that competition for transport corridor usage intensifies. Such a strategy will not deliver a bicycle network that is fast and direct between centres particularly for commuting cyclists because the green grids will tend to follow a lot of unfriendly topography which will make bicycle usage less attractive and less efficient.

 

Justin Holmwood

Advocacy Officer

BIKE NORTH

14 December, 2017