COVID-19 Temporary Bike Lanes – Sydney Harbour Bridge and Pacific Highway

The last few weeks have brought great change for us all, with many working from home, shopping on line and many local families out walking and cycling for physical exercise. Traffic congestion is no longer an issue, as the there is minimal traffic and at the same time our paths are full with walkers and bike riders. These paths cannot always cope well with the volumes of pedestrians and bike riders due to the requirements of physical distancing. This is our present which, even if rules are relaxed a little, will continue for many months, if not years.  There is a clear case now for reallocation of road space throughout North Sydney and other areas from motor vehicles to pedestrians and bike riders, for use for temporary bike lanes, jogging lands and to widen footpaths to enable adequate physical distancing especially around pharmacies and other doctor’s surgeries and essential retail.

A major example of the need for more space is the Sydney Harbour Bridge Cycleway which is the only bike connection between North Sydney and the City CBD. This cycleway is narrow, quite popular in use and has difficult if not impossible access for older riders and those riding heavy bikes due to the necessity to climb 55 steps. The cycleway is an inadequate width to fully allow for appropriate physical distancing.  Bike North therefore recommends that this cycleway should be made one-way (northbound) and a new southbound cycleway be created using the western road lane adjacent to the trainline which is now surplus to requirements.

This new one-way bike lane would be easily accessible at the south either from Kent Street or using the RMS access near the Sydney Observatory. Similarly it would be easily accessible at the north from the Lavender Street roundabout, or a better alternative would be to continue the bike lane along the Pacific Highway where it would connect to a future West Street cycleway and nearly complete the long needed and missing North Shore Cycleway. 

The Pacific Highway bike lane could also continue to the boundary of North Sydney at St Leonards to provide access to that major commercial health and education precinct. Coordination with Willoughby Council could then continue this bike lane to Chatswood and intersect the Gore Hill Cycleway providing a safe, separated cycleway to Artarmon, Lane Cove and Macquarie Park.

While this bike lane is urgently needed as a ‘temporary’ bike lane to address major issues arising from the COVID-10 epidemic, it also provides an opportunity to trial this bike route for the future. While the current level of isolation rules may ease in the near future, there is no doubt that for at least the next 12-18 months many people will still need to keep within their home boundaries more than usual and change their behaviour outside the home and that a consequential reduction in car journeys and need for more greater space for walking and cycling is likely to continue over this period.

We can also expect that the world will be very different even once the pandemic is considered over. We can expect that behaviour changes such as the extent of working from home, and the level of on-line supermarket delivery will continue, albeit to a lesser degree, now that it has been demonstrated that these changes in the way people work and shop is quite possible. We can expect to see more people able and willing to work from home on some days, while at their workplace at other days. We can also expect to see more people shop on-line. Even small levels of change in community behaviour will have significant impacts on traffic congestion which until recently has been considered a major issue for transport.

We are already seeing a major uptick in everyday cycling. More bikes being bought and many more North Shore residents, including families, are walking and cycling along the few available paths, for exercise and to generally get outside.  While the number of transport journeys overall are now quite low, it is clear that many of those journeys are now being taken by bike. In these unique times, many of those who previously used public transport appear to prefer to use a bicycle.  It’s also quite likely that people perceive it is safer to ride due to the lower volume of motor vehicles, although this is not necessarily the case due to higher speeds. There is a need now to dedicate unused road space for temporary bike lanes with a longer term view for more permanence in a lower car use world.

Another impact we could anticipate in a post COVID-19 world is a greater emphasis on health and its relationship to physical activity including a rediscovery of the contribution both walking and cycling make for people’s health.  A consequence would be a great emphasis on active transport.

Further impacts by COVID-10 on the economy and loss of jobs already and in the future would also result in a greater need for the use of bikes as cheap transport, especially while public transport is unpopular or does not fully support people’s needs.

Bike North would be happy to discuss these points, provide further input to these proposals and any other cycling issues with the relevant Council officer. The best Bike North representative for this purpose is Carolyn New (carolynn@iinet.net.au or 0427 018 516)

Yours sincerely

Tom Rubin

President, Bike North