Removing bike lanes isn’t just a bad idea, it’s economic vandalism
An “attempt to remove cycle paths”? Now I heard it all! Over the past 55 years, Melbourne has grown from 2 million to 5 million people. The CBD has evolved from a low-rise downtown to a dense mix of residential and commercial towers. Throughout this time, the available space on Hoddle Grid roads has remained the same. In fact, available road space has hardly changed since 1837.
It should be obvious that it is more and more difficult to drive through the center of a city, the more its population increases. Yet if you listen to many Melbourne media commentators and business lobbyists, congestion is a baffling injustice engineered by government ideologues.
It’s time to take stock of reality.
Compared to similarly sized cities around the world, it’s incredibly easy to drive a car into central Melbourne. It may be cold comfort for those stuck in traffic, but it’s true. It’s so easy, in fact, that 43 per cent of car journeys to the Hoddle Grid don’t stop, they drive straight across – without contributing a dime to the local economy.
More than half of all street space in the Hoddle Grid is allocated to car-only lanes, even though cars are by far the least space-efficient mode of transport available (cars take up 9.2 square meters per person based on average occupancy, compared to 1.5 square meters for cyclists, 0.6 square meters for tram passengers and 0.5 square meters for pedestrians). On-street parking still occupies 5% of the space. Sidewalks occupy 26%, while trams occupy 9%.
Bike lanes punch above their weight: bike trips make up 7% of all trips in the Hoddle grid and are growing, while physically separate bike lanes take up just 1% of road space. Existing cycle lanes still have plenty of capacity for more cyclists, while car-only lanes have already returned to pre-pandemic levels and full capacity.
The idea that we should reduce the 1% safe cycle lane allocation to squeeze more car lanes, which would reduce the number of people moving through the available space, is economic vandalism. Footfall, not through traffic, drives business. Citing COVID as a reason to convert bike lanes to car lanes is disingenuous: car lanes were at capacity years before the pandemic hit, and we can no more create more road space after the pandemic than we can. before.
Last year Melbourne City Council even asked Deloitte to investigate the economic recovery potential of removing cycle lanes to make room for more parking and driving. This independent assessment returned a resounding “no”. Ultimately, bike lanes are efficient movers, generating more customers for city businesses, and so we need more of them.