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Melbourne Lord Mayor proposes banning cycles from major city centre streets, while New South Wales cyclists may have to carry ID

The Melbourne ban would be unprecedented, say opponents, while cost of IDs could be prohibitive

Australia is cementing its position as arguably the least cycle-friendly country in the world with various states proposing measures aimed at restricting and punishing bike users for misdemeanours, along with fines on a par with those for motor vehicle users.

In New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, politicians have suggested cyclists carry ID like drivers do, while in Melbourne the Lord Mayor is proposing banning cyclists from certain major CBD streets.

Australia was among the first in the world to bring in a minimum passing distance in certain states of 1m up to 60km/h and 1.5m above that speed, but is one of the few countries in the world to have mandatory helmet laws. Surprisingly, in parts of Australia cyclists are allowed on motorways.

New South Wales cycle IDs proposed

The New South Wales government's roads minister, Duncan Gay, has convened a series of roundtable meetings during which members discussed requiring cyclists over 16 or 18 to carry photo ID, with a likely increase in fines of up to $69 for lawbreaking, which is close to the scale of motoring fines.

During Monday's second roundtable event, which was attended by motoring and cycling groups, including Bicycle NSW and the Amy Gillett Foundation, members expressed willingness to introduce a minimum passing distance but rejected calls for mandatory cyclist ID. 

The Bicycle Network's Chris Carpenter called the ID proposal "a distraction, not a solution". 

He said: "The 1.2 million who ride a bike each week across NSW are being neglected. Sadly, the state lags well behind the rest of the nation in providing the essentials that bike riders require to be active and safe.

"Decent bicycle infrastructure is the most urgent need. Yet, at the recent ‘Roundtable on Cycling Safety and Compliance’, hosted by Roads Minister Gay, we again witnessed the hoary old issue of rider registration and compulsory identification put forward for discussion.

"Bicycle Network rejects any proposal to force people riding a bike to carry an ID.

"It is in the public interest to get people physically active: real community benefits flow from such a policy."

Carpenter criticised "broken promises" including the slashing of a rail trail election commitment from $50m to $5m, and said "every other state is putting the Premier State to shame".

It looks unlikely the cyclist ID scheme will take off, however. Although Gay has said he is "increasingly persuaded" by rider ID schemes, he was advised by the Roads and Maritime Service the costs to cyclists, and the administrative and enforcement costs to government and police, as well as physical difficulties of placing number plates on bikes - would be prohibitive. The RMS said in 2011 "This would have a regressive impact on lower-income families."

Meanwhile, in Melbourne...

In Melbourne, the Lord Mayor suggested cyclists be banned from key CBD streets, a matter which is actually in the hands of transport body VicRoads. Whether he is able to do this or not Lord Mayor Robert Doyle is keen to discourage cyclists from using Flinders, Lonsdale and King Streets, which have seen 22 serious accidents in five years.

However the Lord Mayor later said he did not mean a bike ban, but a system of "preferred streets for bikes", in the interests of safety.

Carpenter argues that rather than banning bikes, however, streets need to be made liveable, and active travel promoted.

“Banning bike riders on specific streets would be an unprecedented move and would set Melbourne back years in terms of liveability,” he said.

The Victorian government has committed $122.5 million over six years to improve safety for cycling and walking. However Melbourne has the familiar problems of bike lanes that disappear at junctions and that are only part-time.

VicRoads has said it will continue to identify locations for cycle infrastructure to encourage cycling on safer streets without the need for a ban. 

The Bicycle Network's Craig Richards recently said of an estimated 12m Australians who want to ride a bike but can't, two million will die as a result of not getting enough exercise, and another two million will suffer serious illness, costing the Australian economy billions each year.

Meanwhile, the Amy Gillett foundation anticipates the one metre matters will be law in south Australia within a year.

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