New Sydney CBD cycleway proposed

An artist's impression of the Liverpool Street section of the proposed new cycleway. Photo: City of Sydney Council.

By ALEC SMART

The City of Sydney Council has proposed a new 1.7km cycleway for the CBD that will integrate with Central Sydney’s busiest cycling networks. The bike path, connecting the city to the Eastern Suburbs via Oxford, Liverpool and College Streets, will travel in both directions.

Part of it will travel along a pre-existing cycle path that the NSW Govt ordered demolished in 2015.

In a statement, the City of Sydney announced: “We’re working on transport changes to improve safety on some of the city’s busiest bike routes.”

Controversially, the Oxford Street section will run down the middle of the road, instead of along the edge, like most Sydney cycleways.

The proposal, launched on 18 November, is undergoing public consultation, which closes at 5pm on Friday, 18 December.

If approved, the cycleway will be built with lighter weight materials than conventional permanent cycle paths. While it affords the same protections to cyclists, this will allow for cheaper, faster installation, causing less disruption to traffic during its implementation.

It will also undergo a six-month trial, to monitor whether it impacts negatively on buses, loading bays and parking along the Oxford Street section.

The cycleway will consist of: 730 metres along Oxford Street (between Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, and College Street, on the south-eastern corner of Hyde Park); 300 metres along Liverpool Street (east to west between College Street and Castlereagh Street); and 700 metres along College Street (between Liverpool Street and St Marys Road, replacing the one demolished by the NSW Government in January 2016).

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said, “Cycling numbers have grown significantly over recent years, especially during Covid when many took to cycling for the first time.

“The proposed cycleway will help reduce the impact of noise and pollution, provide a safe space for people to ride on the road, and encourage people to stop and enjoy local cafés, restaurants and local businesses.”

Support for cyclists

A recent Ipsos survey, commissioned by the Committee for Sydney, found a 52 per cent majority of Sydney residents support new cycling lanes in the city.

Independent City of Sydney councillor Angela Vithoulkas, of the Small Business Party, told the Sydney Sentinel: “An integrated safe cycleway is a welcome addition to the city, but it’s important to note that our residents and business owners have been severely impacted by poorly executed and unsafe pop up cycleways recently, and will understandably be cautious of this announcement.

“Transport for NSW and the City of Sydney have treated our people with disdain and disregarded their valid and vocal concerns for many months now. I hope they do better with these.”  

Vithoulkas was referring to the six ‘pop-up cycleways’ erected during the Covid-19 lockdown without public consultation. The 10km of temporary routes necessitated road closures and caused consternation in some zones, such as along Moore Park Road, where they impacted heavily on residents by removing already limited parking facilities.

Historically, the City of Sydney has been largely supportive of cycling. They created their Bicycle Action Plan in 2007, part of which involved constructing cycleways which were physically separated from vehicular traffic by concrete partitions. In May 2009, the first of these, a 200-metre stretch along King Street in the CBD, opened. The College Street cycleway was constructed in 2011 (although demolished in January 2016).

Reactions across social media to the new cycleway have been mixed, with opponents criticising the removal of one city-bound vehicle lane along Oxford Street in order to install the cycleway, leading to anxiety over increased traffic congestion during morning rush-hour.

College Street debacle

After learning that a new College Street cycleway was planned, many respondents drew attention to the fact that there was previously a cycle path along the western side of College Street, adjacent to Hyde Park, operational between 2011 and 2015. It carried up to 2000 cyclists each weekday morning, hosting up to 12 riders per minute during its peak operation period between 7.00-9.30am.

The $5million College Street cycleway was proclaimed unnecessary in September 2013 by then New South Wales Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, Duncan Gay, who wished to implement NSW Government’s Sydney City Centre Access Strategy. The strategy, described as “helping to unlock Sydney’s transport capacity”, focused on reducing traffic congestion.

Gay, a self-declared “cycle path skeptic”, also said during an interview with Radio 2UE’s breakfast program on 2 May 2014, “I am increasingly persuaded that we need to look at a licence for cyclists.”

If introduced, it would have meant displaying number plates on bicycles.

Gay eventually issued an order to remove the College Street cycleway, despite an 8 July, 2011 briefing he received from the then chief executive of the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), Michael Bushby, which said, “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.”

In September 2015, the College Street cycleway was closed, which many interpreted as a means to facilitate the diversion of cars around the CBD and South East Light Rail, construction of which began the following month.

Roads and Maritime Service (RMS – RTA’s successor) oversaw the destruction of the concrete partitions and removal of the cycleway in January 2016, despite significant public opposition.

Opponents included the Lord Mayor, who said, “Safe, separated cycleways are essential for fixing congestion in the CBD and protecting people who choose to ride.”

Reprisal?

In October 2015, in what appeared to be a retaliation for the NSW Government’s action, the City of Sydney created alternative cycleways along Castlereagh, Liverpool and Kent Streets, which meant for the first time there was a dedicated, continuous bike path from Sydney Harbour Bridge to Central Station.

However, the Castlereagh route, only separated by painted lines and not protective concrete partitions, only services cyclists between 6am-10am and 3pm-8pm, and operates as a loading zone the rest of the time.

In March 2017, the Daily Telegraph revealed: “Accidents involving ­cyclists along College Street in the city have almost tripled since the integrated cycleway was scrapped by the State Government.”

This was confirmed by Bicycle Network, Australia’s largest cycling organisation with nearly 50,000 members: “City of Sydney data from the original College Street cycleway shows that a bike rider was involved in a crash once every 258 days. Since its removal, a bike rider is now involved in a crash once every 92 days,” meaning cyclists were four times as likely to be involved in a collision with a car after the RMS removed the popular cycleway.

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