News / Transport

‘Betrayal’: bike users group lashes council over abandoned projects

Cyclists urge council to restore Victoria Street path to its capital works program

Bike users including seven-year-old Joshua (front) on Victoria Street, which has been removed from a list of future council infrastructure projects. 

Mark Phillips

A SEPARATED bike path in Victoria Street in Brunswick has been removed from Merri-bek Council’s capital works program in what a prominent cyclists group has described as a ‘betrayal’ by the council.

The Victoria Street bike path, which has previously been listed for design and construction over the next couple of years, is one of at least eight cycling infrastructure projects have been taken off the capital works program, says the Merri-bek Bicycle Users Group.

The group says there is no longer any allocation for design and planning of new dedicated bike lane projects in the council’s proposed five-year budget for 2023 to 2027. This would mean that it would be at least 2030 before any expansion of the municipality’s bicycle network could be approved and built.

“Merri-bek Council’s proposed 2023-2027 Budget is betrayal of Merri-bek’s legacy of delivering leading bike infrastructure – and abandons long-established plans to build a network of dedicated bike lanes,” said Merri-bek BUG convenor Faith Hunter.

“As it stands, Merri-bek has only 5.1 kilometres of dedicated bike lanes throughout the municipality. With 16% of carbon emissions in Merri-bek resulting from fossil fuel dependent forms of transport, this backflip on active transport also amounts to an abandonment of Merri-bek’s 2030 emissions reduction target.”

The group is now rallying its members and supporters to put pressure on the council to amend its draft budget to reinstate funding for new bicycle infrastructure.

It held a ‘Bust the Budget’ planning session on Sunday and is encouraging the cycling community to make a submission to the council before the final budget is adopted next month.

The council denies it has abandoned dedicated cycling infrastructure and says it will continue to engage with Merri-bek BUG, but says it must balance community needs with available income.

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Ms Hunter said Merri-bek BUG was disappointed to see that this year’s draft budget has dropped from the council’s capital works program a number of protected bike lane projects that have been in its plans since 2019.

She said that according to the draft budget, the only cycling infrastructure project that would still go ahead over the next five years would be a 300 metre extension of the O’Hea Street shared path to Derby Street in Pascoe Vale.

Ms Hunter said research showed that bike paths that were separated from motor traffic were both safer and encouraged more people to cycle.

Among the projects that are no longer in the budget is the dedicated bike path on both sides of Victoria Street in Brunswick from Pearson Street to the Upfield line.

According to previous capital works plans, design of the bike path was meant to begin next financial year, and just last year was budgeted to cost $1.1 million.

“[Council] officers put in a lot of work getting it added to the State Government’s Strategic Cycling Corridor which means that when it is built it is easier for Council to get funding for it,” Ms Hunter said.

“It would provide a strategic link from the West Brunswick Shimmy to the Upfield and Brunswick activity centre and railway stations, and there are almost no safe links for people living in West Brunswick.”

Other projects no longer listed on the capital works program include Blyth Street in Brunswick, two in Coburg, two in Pascoe Vale South, two in Glenroy and one in Hadfield.

The decision to reduce the number of bike infrastructure projects in future capital works plans does not impact on a permanent separated bike path in Dawson Street, which has already had money allocated to its completion.

Merri-bek Mayor Angelica Panopoulos did not comment on specific projects, but said the 2023-27 budget proposed spending of more than $8 million over four years on footpaths, bicycle paths and transport infrastructure.

“Investment in bike infrastructure gives more residents the opportunity to meet their transport needs with a low cost, equitable and accessible option.”

“This is in addition to renewal and upkeep of existing footpaths, bike paths and shared paths,” she said.

“This commits $10 per person, per year for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements.”

With submissions for next year’s budget closing on May 21, Merri-bek BUG is calling for the council to design the Victoria Street protected bike lane in 2023-24, and to schedule more work designing, planning and building dedicated bike lanes between now and 2027 so that a pipeline of projects is established ready to take advantage of funding opportunities.

It also wants the council to be held more accountable for changes in transport use from cars to walking, cycling and public transport.

Ms Hunter said Merri-bek BUG appreciated the pressure the council budget was under given rate capping, record inflation and climbing construction costs, but she insisted bicycle infrastructure was a low cost investment that would generate a big dividend.

“Residents are also feeling the pinch and looking for ways to make their household budgets go further. Investment in bike infrastructure gives more residents the opportunity to meet their transport needs with a low cost, equitable and accessible option — getting around by bike safely,” she said.

“The relatively inexpensive nature of bike infrastructure provides also a solid return on investment – with social, environmental and economic benefits for all residents.”

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