For Sydneysiders protesting the pollution, tree culling, noise, and alleged property damage of WestConnex over social media, Dutch cycling porn – online gushing over a Dutch cycling nirvana – provides some reprieve.
Sydney cycling aficionados, like advocates in other car-centric cities, have long lauded the Dutch (and Danes) for their bicycle-friendly cities.
Yet Sydney’s slow progress may be stifling the cycling network’s capacity for a planned uptick in cyclists, and the creative nerve to adapt like the Dutch.
It took a spate of cycling fatalities, following a boom in car-centric infrastructure in 1950s and ‘70s Amsterdam, to spark protests that initiated a cycling revolution. Officials responded with cycling infrastructure, plus reduced car speed limits, parking, and driving space.
Last October Get Into Gear, a Sydney cycling blog, compared pre-transformation Amsterdam to Sydney: “Sound familiar?… this is the very crisis we face in Sydney right now.”
A Streetfilms documentary on the planning of another Dutch haven, Utrecht, has garnered 20 000 Vimeo views in two months, and Sydney social media attention. Planners managed to keep cars out of the city centre, so less than 15 per cent of these trips are made by car (60 per cent are bike trips).
Of Utrecht’s 350 000 residents, 98 per cent of households own one bike, while 50 per cent own three or more. In August the city completed the world’s largest bicycle garage, which holds 12 500 bikes, and can be cycled, taking passengers straight to the railway station.
Utrecht’s Vredenburg Road takes 33 000 cyclists daily but does not permit private cars. Since cyclists do not have to compete with motorists, they can cycle helmetless. The planning’s messaging is clear: the city centre is for people.
City network cannot support more cyclists
This week Transport for NSW data showed that 8000 to 9000 fewer vehicles traverse the CBD on weekday mornings compared to 2015, having been held back by light rail construction for the last four years. The City of Sydney is proposing a cycling path along Castlereagh Street, which will be freed up with the repositioning of bus routes when light rail services begin. In August the City announced that the NSW government would fund four new bike routes to link some network gaps.
University of Sydney transport analyst, Professor David Levinson says that while “Sydney is slowly moving in the direction of Utrecht, in that more road space is being dedicated for bike lanes… the movement is too slow to achieve significant progress.”
He says that the City of Sydney’s 2030 target, that 10 per of all city trips be made by bike is not supported by the proposed network. While the target covers three to four times as many cyclists as today, the network “is not three to four times as large or more protected.”
BIKESydney president, David Borella, says road space needs to be reallocated to walking and cycling, as unprotected cyclists are “frightened to cycle in, and even walk near big traffic flows.. Important though they are, separated cycleways alone will not get us there”.
“You can’t ‘be Utrecht’ if you don’t first build off-road cycling trunk routes,” he says. These could include: incorporating cycling paths around the airport in projects like WestConnex, and building a City West Cycle Link, through the Rozelle rail yard, “which would be gamechangers for cycling.”
Professor Levinson says cyclists cannot travel between Green Square and other neighbourhoods via separated and protected bike lanes. Though it is “possibly the best precinct in Sydney for biking, the point is not simply what you can do in a neighbourhood.”
Green Square, which in May won the Green Building Council of Australia’s highest rating, incorporates low speed streets, pedestrian-only zones and separated cycleways.
Planning visionaries needed
Mr Borella thinks ‘going Dutch’ can happen when politicians and community members realise that it is not impossible to shift “heavily car-centric cities”. He says changes in planning laws can promote developments with better walking and cycling infrastructure, while a new street design guide (as in Auckland) can enable engineers “to create a connected network of walking and riding streets, particularly as we are now building a second road network underground”.
Professor Levinson gives a Dutch mindset to Sydney topography, suggesting that narrower streets, less suited to cars, can prohibit them for most uses.
Similarly main streets, with on-street parking, should have space for separated cycling lanes as, “what is more important, storing cars 23 hours a day or moving people?”
He says there are strategies yet to be envisaged to plan the transition: including promoting and regulating e-bikes, planning protected bike lanes from station entrances, and school cycling strategies.