Bike path rage rides counter to expert opinion
Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2012
THE O'Farrell government says they are in the wrong spot, and they are the defining political issue of the coming Sydney lord mayoral elections. But hundreds of pages of briefing documents prepared by the state's roads department say that cycleways in Sydney's CBD make little or no impact on the city's general traffic congestion.
And the cycleways are also on the most appropriate routes, the briefings say, contradicting the Roads Minister, Duncan Gay, who insists they are in the wrong place.
Since they started to be installed in 2008, the City of Sydney's bike paths have acted as a lightning rod for a localised version of the culture wars.
To their critics, they are unused monuments to the green vanities of the lord mayor, Clover Moore, uselessly clogging city traffic.
And the O'Farrell government has repeatedly said it wants to review the location of the CBD cycleways, a sentiment echoed by a number of candidates running against Cr Moore at the council elections.
But a freedom of information request capturing all reports prepared since January 2010 by the Roads and Traffic Authority and Roads and Maritime Services finds the opinion among traffic experts is that cycleways have not got in the way of traffic.
This is partly because no car traffic lanes have been removed for the cycleways, only on-street parking.
"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," says a briefing for Mr Gay, signed by the then chief executive of the RTA, Michael Bushby, on July 8, 2011.
Mr Gay has been one of the most critical voices against the location of the cycleways.
In an interview with 2UE's Jason Morrison in April last year, in which Mr Morrison said cycleways added 20 minutes to a car journey across the city, Mr Gay said he was angry about which streets the cycleways were on.
''There's that one in College Street and Kent Street where it is inappropriate … I actually support bike lanes, it is just that the ones that are there at the moment are in inappropriate areas,'' Mr Gay said.
In an interview with the Herald two months later, Mr Gay said the RTA had told him other routes would provide less of a traffic problem than cycleways in Bourke, Kent and College streets. ''The RTA has indicated to me there are routes that would connect with the outside ones that are not the current ones that would be less of a problem with traffic congestion,'' Mr Gay said in the interview published on June 18.
The College Street cycleway, which Mr Gay sometimes passes
on his way to Parliament, particularly vexes him. In an estimates hearing in October, Mr Gay insisted more cyclists rode on College Street than the cycleway.
''It has been the case every day when I use it, and I tend to use it during the peak periods,'' he said. The minister raised the idea of relocating the College Street cycleway to the adjacent Hyde Park.
All along, however, officials in the RTA (since renamed RMS) were talking down the issue and supporting existing routes.
''The RTA did not identify or advocate the use of alternative routes for any of the cycleway routes selected by council,'' the July 8, 2011, briefing signed by Mr Bushby says. The briefing says the RTA advised the council against other cycleway routes because they would have had more of an impact on bus traffic.
As for College Street, a briefing signed by Mr Bushby on October 21 and read by Mr Gay on December 12 says: "Observations by RTA Network Operations and Sydney Region Traffic Engineering Services personnel indicate that recent changes appear to have had little or no impact on the capacity or operation of College Street and its intersection with William/Park streets."
It also says: "The option of relocating the function of the College Street bicycle path to Hyde Park is not recommended."
And: "In any event, 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."
Mr Gay was not happy with this. "What if it wasn't?" he wrote below this comment.
The RMS also reported back to Mr Gay that counts commissioned by the City of Sydney showed the majority of cyclists on College Street used the cycleway, and not the road.
The Herald's freedom of information request sought all reports prepared since January 1, 2010, into the location of CBD cycleways.
In 467 pages of response, there is a one-page undated document that cites traffic problems in the afternoon peak hour caused by the bike path on Kent Street. But the vast majority of the rest of the analysis supports the paths.
A spokeswoman for Mr Gay said the minister supported bike lanes in the city but stood by his view that some of them were in the wrong spot.
The spokeswoman said a new central Sydney traffic and transport committee, to be chaired by the director-general of Transport for NSW, Les Wielinga, would assess the location of cycleways.
But that committee, announced in March, has not yet met. And apart from Mr Wielinga the government has not decided on its members.