By Virginia Simpson-Young, in Bulletin 8 of 2020 (October 2020)
The Glebe Society and cycleways
The Glebe Society has received some flack for its failure to wholeheartedly embrace the Bridge Rd pop-up cycleway. For 50 years, the Society has promoted cycling, walking and public transport as key to improving Glebe’s ‘amenity’ and, more recently, to reduce carbon emissions. Despite this, the Society has concerns about the cycleway that cannot be ignored. Before considering these concerns further, I think it’s worthwhile showing that the Society is serious about its support for cycling.
The Society’s Traffic and Transport Subcommittee has advocated for cycling for decades; it’s terms of reference state that:
under its Constitution one of the objectives of the Glebe Society is to improve the amenity of Glebe by promoting a better public transport system, both public and private, including facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.
The Objectives of the Subcommittee include ‘to maintain and promote transport options suitable for Glebe as a village community best served by public transport, walking and cycling’ and ‘to reduce the use of private motor vehicles by the promotion of public transport, walking and cycling.’
A quick flick through some previous Bulletins gives a flavour of the Society’s commitment to cycling. In October 2012, the Glebe Society made a submission to Transport for NSW on the Draft NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan. Then Glebe Society President, John Gray, wrote:
The use of public transport, walking and cycling need to be made attractive options for commuters. In our view this is best done through the development of an integrated and viable public transport system and providing facilities for safe cycling and walking. … We ask that funding be made available by the NSW Government to put these initiatives into effect. While we recognise that certain road projects will need to be undertaken in Sydney, our view is that investment in public transport and the encouraging of cycling and walking will have far greater long-term benefits.
In an article on the front page of the Bulletin in 2017, the Transport and Traffic Convenor wrote:
The cycleways in Glebe and Forest Lodge are not satisfactory. The ones we have are disjointed and often put cyclists onto our busiest streets, where the risk of injury is a major concern.
And, of course, the Society has long fought to save the Glebe Island Bridge to improve access for cyclists and pedestrians (eg. Bulletin 9/2013 and the article on p.17 of this Bulletin).
The Bridge Rd cycleway has been welcomed by some of the Society’s Facebook readers (and condemned by about an equal number). The general tenor of the positive comments was that the Bridge Rd cycleway is sorely needed and even if it’s not perfect, it’s better than no cycleway:
- Very glad to hear this. This stretch of road is a real blackspot for cyclists – my husband has almost been hit riding along here several times! And I avoid riding partly because I’m too much of a nervous rider to even attempt this part of the Anzac Bridges Rozelle/Blackwattle Bay loop. Would love it to become permanent!
- Bridge Rd should be an arterial road for cars, trucks and bikes. Unfortunately, there is no parallel road that can be used by bikes. I am all for the bike lanes.
- Enough negativity over the bike lanes … Long overdue.
- Brilliant news. Too little, very late ‒ but far better than nothing!
The reason that our support has not been wholehearted is that there are serious problems with the Bridge Rd pop-up cycleway that have serious implications. A number of concerns about the cycleway’s heavy impact on residents’ amenity have been made in our August letter to Andrew Constance, Minister for Transport and Roads and Rodd Staples, Secretary, Transport for NSW. Apart from the massive disruption to the lives of people living on Bridge Rd, there are safety issues that cannot be swept under the carpet. The cycleway, as it currently stands, is simply unsafe for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
There is every reason to believe that the Bridge Rd pop-up cycleway does not conform to the Australian standards and guidelines that exist for cycleways. Generally, during the design process, such standards must be met. However, because the Bridge Rd cycleway is temporary, this requirement does not seem to hold.
Austroads which is ‘the collective of the Australian and New Zealand transport agencies, representing all levels of government’ and includes Transport for NSW, has produced a document called Cycling Aspects of Austroads Guides which ‘contains information that relates to the planning, design and traffic management of cycling facilities and is sourced from Austroads Guides, primarily the Guide to Road Design, the Guide to Traffic Management and the Guide to Road Safety.’ A quick look through these documents shows that the Bridge Rd cycleway does not meet the standards. These guidelines are interpreted in a user-friendly and cyclist-centric section of Bicycle NSW’s website called Ray’s Corner. This site also refers to the various Australian Standards that apply to cycleways.
Concerned about the safety implications of the pop-up cycleway, a group of local residents calling themselves ‘Bridge Road Friends’ chipped in to commission an independent safety audit by Traffic Engineering Centre, a consultancy firm based in Sydney, practicing predominantly in areas of traffic engineering, traffic planning and forensic traffic engineering. This firm numbers Transport for NSW and City of Sydney amongst its many clients. The safety audit was carried out on 6 September 2020 and changes may have been made to the cycleway since then. The report is entitled Bridge Road, between Wattle Street and Lyons Road, in Camperdown, NSW, with an emphasis on the newly installed pop-up cycleways Stage 5 (existing road) Road Safety Audit.
The report identified 26 safety issues with risks assessed as either ‘intolerable’, ‘high’, or ‘medium’. An example of an ‘intolerable’ risk is when the cycleway ends abruptly, potentially bringing cyclists, vehicles or pedestrians into each other’s path.
The Safety Audit got the attention of the Sydney Morning Herald (and several other newspapers) which ran an article on 23 September by Angus Thompson, entitled: ‘Serious injury or death: dangers found on COVID-19 cycleway’. It includes this useful information:
A Transport for NSW spokesperson said the department and council assessed the safety of each route before construction, the cycleways would be monitored throughout their installation, and audits were carried out on other routes to identify safety concerns.
It is not clear whether this has taken place for the Bridge Rd cycleway.
The safety audit commissioned by Bridge Road Friends has been criticised by Bicycle NSW for being ‘anti-bike’ and ‘contained two fundamental mistakes of law’. Whether or not this is correct, it is clear that the cycleway is dangerous and does not meet all safety standards.
Safety concerns are not limited to the ‘Bridge Road Friends’. The Society was contacted by a Gottenham St resident on 24 September who said:
There are safety issues. We are in Gottenham St and when turning onto Bridge Rd, the posts are too close and the swept path does not allow a vehicle to turn left without either knocking a post down or making their way onto the path of oncoming traffic.
The other issue I have noticed is that due to terrace houses fronting Bridge Rd it is impossible to see cyclists coming without ‘nosing’ into Bridge Rd because the view is obscured from Gottenham St. This poses a potentially fatal risk to an oncoming cyclist who is travelling along at pace adjacent the kerb on Bridge Rd. Prior to the pop-up cycleway cyclists had the opportunity to veer across towards the centre of the lane away from the kerb and vehicles entering Bridge Rd. Now the cyclists are trapped.
I am not against it, however the council needs to do a full risk assessment and swept path analysis etc by a traffic consultant because it does not work. I am sure it can work with the appropriate level of design and consultation. Further I would hate to accidentally injure a cyclist or worse because of this poorly planned piece of infrastructure.
Only the next day, 25 September, the same person sent another email, saying:
Unfortunately, the inevitable has happened … A cyclist has been hit by a car turning at Gottenham St.
This intersection was identified as ‘high risk’ in the Safety Audit. A second accident occurred near here on Sunday 27 September.
And why has an unsafe cycleway been built? Lack of consultation and rushed planning. City of Sydney has justified these failings on the grounds that the cycleway was urgently needed because of COVID-19 – no time to consult, no time to conduct appropriate studies. In a letter to the Glebe Society dated 17 September, the Lord Mayor clarified that the cycleway was a joint venture between City of Sydney and Transport for NSW and that
the NSW Government approved construction of the temporary cycleways through the Ministerial Order COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020, which is why there wasn’t the extensive consultation that the City normally carries out.
City of Sydney’s response
Residents have brought their concerns to City of Sydney Council. At the Council meeting on 21 September, Councillor Phelps tabled the privately-funded Safety Audit and outlined residents’ concerns; requesting that the City ‘liaise with Transport for NSW to close the Bridge Rd cycleway and relocate the Glebe pop up cycleway to a safer, more suitable location as soon as possible.’
The motion was substantially changed with an amendment by Councillor Scully which watered down Councillor Phelps’ strongly-worded account of residents’ concerns and struck out the request that the cycleway be removed. The amendment noted that Council is responding to community feedback and making changes to the cycleway as required.
Importantly, the motion stated that ‘Transport for NSW are conducting a Road Safety Audit in advance of the formal completion of the cycleway’. (It did not specify what constitutes ‘formal completion’) and committed the City to obtaining the Road Safety Audit for the Bridge Road pop-up cycleway from Transport for NSW once it is completed and making it public. In addition, Council resolved that the City ‘liaise with Transport for NSW about the resident-led safety audit of the Bridge Rd cycleway, seeking urgent mitigation of the risks identified’.
Transport for NSW’s response
The cycleway is a joint venture between City of Sydney and Transport for NSW, but, as the Society was told in a letter from Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Transport for NSW ‘has full control over the design and construction of the cycleway’. Presumably they also have some responsibility for its safety.
According to Bastien Wallace, General Manager Public Affairs for Bicycle NSW, Transport for NSW has not made the design and construction plans for the cycleway available, which makes it difficult for Bicycle NSW to assess the safety of the cycleway.
The NSW government is not living up to its commitment to make roads safer for road-users, including cyclists. The NSW government’s Road Safety Plan 2021 states that
The global trend towards more on-demand services and a delivery culture is making our urban environments busier. Increased numbers of people on local roads, including more trucks, pedestrians and bicycle riders, means we have to design roads to be shared and safe for everyone … bicycle riders make up 16 per cent of all serious injuries. Most of these casualties occur on our urban streets.
Yet according to Bicycle NSW, the ‘State Priority Target to reduce road fatalities by 30 per cent by 2021 (from 2008–10 levels) … has not happened for bike riders. According to the Centre for Road Safety Statistics fatality rates are increasing’.
Bastien Wallace told me that cycling advocates face an uphill battle with Transport for NSW, which has consistently prioritised motor transport over human-powered transport and cars over bikes. A good network of cycleways is critical to cyclists’ safety, but those cycleways should meet appropriate safety standards.
Damned if you do and damned if you don’t
The safety issue is a case of ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. The Glebe Society (and any other organisation or individual that support cycleways) are damned if we do take safety concerns seriously (because it might discourage cycleway development) and damned if we don’t (because it requires turning a blind eye to potentially preventable dangers).
The need for a cycleway network in Sydney is so strong that some advocates are reluctant to discuss the Bridge Rd cycleway’s safety issues in case it leads to the cycleway’s removal. Bastien Wallace from Bicycle NSW is leery of any expression of concern from the public about cycleway safety. She said: ‘We are very used to anti-bike campaigners pretending to be concerned about safety in order to block bike infrastructure’.
Where to from here?
The article in last month’s Bulletin by Mark Stapleton outlines the Society’s concerns and calls for greater responsiveness by Transport for NSW and City of Sydney. Since that article was written, the safety risks have become more apparent and the need for action more urgent. Action needs to be taken before another casualty occurs.
It now seems that City of Sydney’s commitment to making changes as required in response to community feedback may not be adequate to address the litany of issues plaguing the cycleway. We wonder how City of Sydney is able to make such changes, given that, as Lord Mayor Clover Moore has told us, Transport for NSW ‘has full control over the design and construction of the cycleway’.
We call on both City of Sydney and Transport for NSW to respond to the privately-funded Safety Audit and, as a matter of urgency, produce another if they do not concur with its findings. The Society is also concerned that a Safety Audit being conducted by Transport for NSW on ‘formal completion’ of the cycleway may be too late. As a starting point, we would like to know what’ ‘formal completion’ means and when it will occur.
We reiterate our request that City of Sydney conduct formal community consultation about the cycleway and suggest that consultation not be left until a decision is made about the cycleway’s permanence. We believe that Council and Transport for NSW should conduct community consultation as soon as possible, that includes Bicycle NSW and relevant experts in cycleway design and management.
If you would like to provide feedback to City of Sydney and/or Transport for NSW on the Bridge Rd pop-up cycleway, here are the contacts provided by the Lord Mayor in her letter to the Society:
Transport for NSW: Tyson Kinnane – 1800 573 193; firstname.lastname@example.org
City of Sydney: Craig Ryan – 9265 9333; email@example.com.
1.‘Swept Path Analysis is the simulation of a vehicle moving within a digital design. Its purpose is to create designs (such as roads, driveways, developments or parking facilities) that can accommodate vehicle needs during operation, or to ensure that specific vehicles can manoeuvre through specific routes.’ (https://www.keysoftsolutions.co.uk/)