A New South Wales roads minister who describes himself as “the biggest bike lane sceptic in the government” has ordered a $5m AUS (£2.5m) segregated bike lane in Sydney to be removed, despite it carrying more cyclists at peak times than the corresponding road.
The College Street cycleway closure by NSW minister for roads, maritime and freight Duncan Gay is now being protested by campaigners who say it is a loss to Sydney’s central business district.
Cycle campaigner Sue Abbott told BikeBiz: “The cycleway is used so much. It’s a very pleasant ride and is somewhere you can go on a really busy street, and even ride with children in safety. Taking out the lane is appalling.
“I’ll be chaining myself to everything going.”
In 2011 Gay’s department wrote a report that said: “Given that the bi-directional paths do not occupy previous general traffic lanes, no significant delays to other road users arising from the cycleways have occurred.”
The report also said: “The removal of the bicycle path on College Street would have limited benefits for traffic flow if the western lane was then to revert to car use."
Lord Mayor Clover Moore also opposed the plans, saying: “Safe, separated cycleways are essential for fixing congestion in the CBD and protecting people who choose to ride,” she said.
Last year we reported how Mr Gay said that he was being “increasingly persuaded” that cyclists need to be licensed and also said he was considering banning bikes from some of Sydney’s roads – both measures that he claimed would improve the safety of riders.
Mr Gay made his remarks in response to a series of incidents in recent weeks in which cyclists have been seriously injured, as well as two fatalities in the past fortnight, the latest coming yesterday when a man was killed following a collision with a bus at Neutral Bay.
Speaking to 2UE Breakfast, Mr Gay said: “The thing I really need to look at is, if we’re going to put rules in place, and I need to be tougher on car drivers, but I am increasingly persuaded that we need to look at a licence for cyclists.
“It’s not going to worry the ones that are doing the right thing, but the bad ones that are running lights, crossing over, being aggressive, they’re a large part of the statistic,” he went on.
During March 2014, six cyclists out on a club run on Southern Cross Drive suffered serious injuries when the group they were riding with was hit by a car.
According to Mr Gay it is possible that cyclists might be banned from such roads for their own protection, the minister saying, “We will look at it on a safety basis.”
He continued: “The hard thing is, if I put a carte blanche ban in, there are some really good rides that cyclists do, and part of it involves Southern Cross Drive and then on down to Wollongong. I understand how important this is for cyclists, but there have been a couple of accidents there.
He acknowledged that there had been a fall in the number of cyclist fatalities, “but that’s no huge solace because last year was a record year,” with 14 riders killed on the roads of New South Wales.
“We need to get people to be more careful, but the key is to get the people in bigger vehicles to understand that they need to be more observant, but the other part is we need cyclists to actually obey the rules and be helpful as well,” he added.
“Before the phones run off the hook, as I know they will, it is a very small section of cyclists that don’t do the right thing. It would be probably under one per cent,” he concluded.
Phil Ayres, the chief executive of Cycling New South Wales, told Guardian Australia that most of its 10,000 members would be “fundamentally against” attempts to require cyclists to be licensed.
“But we are an organisation that’s grown up to understand there are arguments in favour of it and we’d certainly want to be at the table with government to discuss cyclist safety,” he said.
“It’s important to realise though that licensing bike riders won’t stop them from being hit, as has happened so horrifically in recent weeks and months. Licensing isn’t a safety issue – if you magically licensed all bikes overnight, it won’t stop the accidents.”
He acknowledged that cyclists need to follow the laws of the road, but denied that law-breaking riders were a significant issue.
“There is a rogue element in any group of people in the community,” he explained. “We don’t condone any riders not obeying the road rules – everyone has to adhere to them. It’s not OK to roll through a red light.
“But the thing with cyclists is that they aren’t surrounded by tonnes of metal. What would be a fender scrape for a car is the maiming of an individual or a loss of life for a cyclist.”
In November 2009, one of Mr Gay’s predecessors as NSW roads minister, Carl Scully, who served in that capacity from 1996 to 2005, said that cyclists should be banned from the roads.
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.