News / Transport

Cyclists take over Sydney Road

Hundreds attend Critical Mass ride

A woman on a bike on Sydney Road surrounded by cars
Sydney Road is often hazardous for cyclists sharing the road with cars and trams.

Mark Phillips
Friday, November 11, 2022

MOTORISTS would be well-advised to steer clear of Sydney Road next Friday evening when Brunswick’s main thoroughfare is expected to be swamped by hundreds of cyclists.

Critical Mass, a grassroots movement that uses direct action to advocate for safer roads for cyclists, has chosen Sydney Road as the route for its next group ride from the city.

Potentially hundreds of riders on two wheels will take part in the action which will begin at the State Library in Swanston Street at 5pm and arrive at Brunswick about half an hour later. It will finish at Warr Park in Albion Street, where candidates for the November 26 state election have been invited to speak.

The Critical Mass action comes amid renewed focus on bike safety and public transport accessibility on Sydney Road ahead of the election.

There are also calls for pop-up separated bike lanes to be installed in Sydney Road during construction works for the Brunswick level crossing removal project, which will force the Upfield cycling and pedestrian path to close for months.

Next Friday’s Critical Mass ride in Sydney Road follows a similar event in the CBD on September 30.

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Faith Hunter of the Merri-bek Bicycle User Group — one of the organisers of next Friday’s event — said the Critical Mass ride aimed to highlight the need for a safe and accessible Sydney Road for all forms of transport.

Currently, the road has no separate cycling lanes, with the area closest to the gutter on both sides of the road reserved for short-term parking. This forces cyclists to share the road with cars and trams.

But trams are also inaccessible for people with mobility problems, including wheelchair users and parents with prams or strollers. There are no raised tram stops between Brunswick Road and North Coburg, which means that modern trams designed to accommodate wheelchairs do not use Sydney Road.

“Sydney Road is a community asset and it needs to be accessible by the local community to thrive,” Ms Hunter said.

“It is one of the most constant issues we hear about from locals who say it is dangerous and inaccessible. It’s not nice to walk on and it’s out of bounds for those residents who travel by bike, especially families.

“Sydney Road is surrounded by people, including families, who use bicycles as part of their everyday trips and local schools have very high active travel rates; yet it is rare to see residents shopping or visiting Sydney Road by bike.”

Cyclists taking part in a Critical Mass event in the Melbourne CBD earlier this year. Photo: Matt Hrkac

Almost four years ago, Vic Roads conducted wide community consultation about future options for Sydney Road which included permanent separated cycling lanes and less on-street parking.

A community survey found that the preferred option was for all on-street parking to be removed, allowing wider footpaths and cycling lanes, with trams and cars sharing the middle two lanes of the road.

Feedback was that this would make Sydney Road more a destination than a thoroughfare, although business owners had concerns about the impact removing parking would have on trade. A compromise that would allow on-street parking outside of peak hours was also relatively popular, but all four options proposed were polarising in one way or another.

Ms Hunter insisted traders could benefit from increased bike usage of Sydney Road.

“We’ve seen removing parking on shopping strips like Acland St, St Kilda and High St Northcote has not led to less business for traders and Sydney Road has far more off -street parking available than either of these strips,” she said.

“It’s about time the community got to enjoy Sydney Road again and make it part of their local trips. Without accessible tram stops and protected bike lanes that are safe for everyone in the community to use Sydney Road is missing out.”

This was the most popular option for Sydney Road from consultation by Vic Roads in 2018 and 2019.

Meanwhile, Merri-bek Council will not decide whether to publicly advocate for a temporary separated bike path on Sydney Road during construction of the Brunswick skyrail until after there has been consultation with road users, including business owners.

Councillors debated a motion at their meeting on Wednesday night whether to lobby the relevant government Ministers for a commitment to install temporary, pop-up bike lanes between Albion Street and Park Street.

Councillor James Conlan, who put forward the resolution for pop-up lanes, said the level crossing removal project represented a major opportunity to trial protected bike lanes on Sydney Road and for the state government to demonstrate its commitment to meaningful community engagement and minimising project disruption during the project.

“Protected bike lanes would also be a boon for local business, as countless consumer spending studies from Melbourne and North American cities demonstrate that people who ride and walk to local shopping precincts, spend more money on average than those who drive,” he said.

“Contrary to much public commentary, the impact of removing on-street car parking to accommodate protected bike lanes would be minimal, as 80% of people who visit Sydney Road, Brunswick, arrive by foot or bike, with only 20% cent driving.”

But the motion to lobby for separated bike lane was soundly defeated six votes to three, which Mayor Mark Riley said was “disappointing”.

Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos urged for more consultation before rushing to install pop-up lanes.

“Sydney Road is quite a complex road in terms of traders, trams and buses and, of course, pedestrians all using it,” he said.

“There are also potentially other options around side streets.”

A previous attempt to trial pop-up bike lanes on Sydney Road during the Coburg level crossing removal construction works in 2019 was rejected by the state government.

This time, a pop-up lane has the backing of the MP for Brunswick, Tim Read.

“We know that path is going to be shut for at least a year so it would make very good sense to have a separated bike lane from Albion Street to Park Street on Sydney Road to take some of that bike traffic,” he said.

At a recent transport forum at the Brunswick Town Hall, Labor candidate Mike Williams agreed Sydney Road needed to be revitalised, but said this had to be done with all stakeholders on board.