This time last week, I was in Adelaide at the national Australian Walking and Cycling Conference 2017. After one of the sessions, we had a discussion about whether shared bike lanes were the way forward, debated contested urban spaces, and some of the major implications for cities when they don’t adequately plan for future active transportation (cycling) growth. So imagine my surprise when I got home to Brisbane to find my local two-wheeled brothers and sisters taking innovative action on just these issues! NG.
On the weekend, Brisbane cyclists staged a ‘die-in’ protest on Victoria Bridge.
The Brisbane cycling community has been having an on-going battle with Brisbane City Council, which has slowly been restricting bicycle access to the city via this bridge.
Although there have been some good moves towards improving Brisbane cycling infrastructure of late, for some local cyclists, this news is considered particularly serious setback as it involves major bike commuter access and safety for riders getting in and out of Brisbane, as Victoria Bridge is one of the main city throughfares.
So the latest plan to remove the current bike lane completely, proved too much for some Brisbane cyclists.
This latest proposed restriction, will be a major issue for thousands of bike commuters who use it to get into the city as part of their daily travel.
Victoria Bridge currently has a designated bike lane each way installed, which the Brisbane City Council is planning to remove as part of the new Metro improvements. The Metro project is a $944 million push to remove general traffic from the bridge and double pubic transport capacity – which sounds like a great idea. The planned Metro improvement will remove ALL private cars from Victoria Bridge, leaving only buses to use the road. But to do so, BCC Active Transportation chairman and representative Adrian Schrinner claimed this week that:
“Independent expert civil engineers have assessed the Victoria Bridge, and due to weight restrictions, it cannot be widened without undermining its structural integrity. It is simply not safe for cyclists to be in the same lane as Metro vehicles and buses and there is no space to provide an on-road barrier to allow on-road cycling to continue.”
So, the BCC says that the Metro proposal will have cyclists sharing the side footpath with pedestrians.
This is unacceptable to a number of vocal pedestrians and cyclists alike, most citing safety issues as one of the many, but major concerns.
This is a very real and convincing concern, given that Brisbane is still reeling after the recent death of number of cyclists, including a 16-year old cyclist and an older road-rider earlier this month at Mt Nebo as just two examples.
Many locals feel there have been far too many cyclists dying on unsafe commuter main roads when riding into the city.
So this mass protest was staged and the concerned cyclists took over the bridge to stage a ‘die-in’ protest.
Leading the charge in this protest is the Greens Cr Jonathan Sri (Councillor for The Gabba), who has been outspoken about the cycling safety issues and claims that BCC is probably ignoring alternative options to the proposed plan for restructuring Victoria Bridge. He is also concerned about this change causing detrimental conflicts between pedestrians and cyclists – and he is not the only one. An interesting point raised by Cr Sri is that:
“the council has made the mistake of focusing too heavily on current cyclist numbers, rather than recognising that cyclist numbers will continue to grow in the future. All we are suggesting is that council converts that widened pedestrian-only lane, which will be almost four metres wide, to be shared by bikes and pedestrians and that will address a lot of our concerns”.
Is this ‘suggestion’ possible?
Outside of the actual protest, one of my favourite comments came from Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk who said “The reality is that this administration has done more to advance cycling in this city than any other time in the city’s history”.
Point taken. But, given that Brisbane is still so far behind the times, this is not saying much. Applying this pollie-speak logic, if Brisbane City Council did nothing for cycling in the last 200 years, then painted a white line on the road, that would also constitute more to advance cycling in this city than any other time in the city’s history – but that still doesn’t mean it is adequate or safe or enough. Nor are these issues a tit-for-tat-points-scoring game where if the council does one thing to support cycling (which to be fair they have done quite bit more recently), then you should be happy with what has been given to you and there is no need to keep developing improvements as it has already ‘advanced cycling more’ than previously.
I am just presenting this event as an interesting case – you make you own mind up about whether it is productive or not. I am still deciding how I feel about it.
But this discussion did raise a few other issues for me. For example, it still pains me that such discussions (about Brisbane, or bicycle access in general) are still held as if they are in isolation and are removed or separate from so many of the other social and environmental issues we are facing as cities. I’m sure the Mayor and others, are very aware of the imminent disastrous health, environmental and economic statistics on current (let alone forecasted) petrol emissions, obesity and mental health issues in our community – and the plethora of research linking cycling and physical activity to mitigating such impending and costly issues …. but it appears that such issues still so often not included as part of the public debate on such issues (like the Victoria Bridge usability and access. These issues are critical for future mobility and sustainability planning of a cosmopolitan city and ensuring the wellbeing and productivity of its inhabitants….maybe these tenets are so ‘implicit’ in these discussions that I missed them…. now… back to more important things – ROADS for motor vehicles – I mean buses!
Brisbane is trying to move towards being a ‘greener’ city
At this point I think it is important to also keep in mind a few things. Public Transport needs to be expanded to accomodate the ever growing number of commuters into the city. How to retrofit a predominately car-based city is a dilemma for all concerned. Brisbane City Council has committed and has been working towards moving to a ‘greener’ city for a number of years – and has made some very good headway in this area to date. The bike ways that have been implemented in and around Brisbane are awesome. Although many see Victoria Bridge being closed to cyclists for the purpose of allowing more ‘gas guzzling buses’, keep in mind that 600 out of the 1200 buses in Brisbane’s fleet run on compressed natural gas with the aim to reduce the city’s emissions.
Some argue that buses are not the best public transport mode to transfer large about of people in and around the city. My view is that it is easy to identify and criticise the problem, it is much harder to come up with the solution.
Brisbane has taken some positive steps to improve cycling infrastructure in and around the city – like updating current bikeway and bike paths.
So is this protest beneficial to progressing the cycling agenda or not?
Not all Brisbane cyclists agree
This protest was quite polarising for Brisbane cyclists. It was very interesting to see the comments and various views expressed on the protest invite page – where a number of cyclists voiced opposition for this protest and gave some super solid reasons.
Here are a few examples of some of the alternate view from cyclists:
- Be understanding or empathetic to the cause, they won’t even know what the underlying reason for it is. They’ll be all be thinking one thing; f***ing cyclists inconveniencing us again. This is a terrible idea given the hostile contempt many motorists already hold towards cyclists, which will in all likelihood only be only aggravated further as a result of this protest.Surely there is a better way than intently aggravating motorists. This won’t do cycling any favours in my opinion.
- Yeah, blocking the car lane will REALLY endear cyclists to the motorists…Did anyone actually think this through???
- We should of course always advocate for better and safer bike facilities; but possibly people don’t know that it is completely legal to ride a bike in a bus lane. They’re our lanes too!
- I have stated clearly before that activist behaviour in this instance will only put up more barriers to what you wish to achieve at all levels. The cycling community has won many wonderful pieces of infrastructure and legislative changes but want more in a very crowded space where recreational cycling really is unnecessary and a bonus if and when it comes about. More pressing is the dangerous and intimidating cycling behaviour on the cycle and shared paths that is only increasing. This is our issue and needs rigorous education and behavioural change to make the oaths we already have safe for families and children.
- Sorry Jono – I can’t support this one.
- Since the Council has now stated that they are in fact providing room for bikes on the bridge as part of their planning. What is the purpose of this? Other than to upset other road users and further create division between them and cyclists.
What is a ‘die-in’ protest?
This involved a hundred or so cyclists and their bike strewing themselves on the ground to visually represent the danger and impact that maybe inflicted if this plan goes ahead – and also in homage of those who have already lost lives in bicycle road accidents.
After meeting at South Bank, and with the Bee Gees Staying Alive as their anthem, the group rode to the bridge, gathered for a minutes’ silence to remember those who have already died, then set up for the protest.
Some cyclists came very prepared, with a few splaying red sheets underneath them to simulate blood pools – it was visually very effective.
The whole event was well received and a massive foot crowd watched on and offered comments of appreciative support from the side-lines.
The ‘die-in’ was a very effective strategy and got well publicised in local and national media outlets as a result.
This publicity had to do with the effective and provoakative imagery of having so many ‘dead’ bodies laying all over the main city arterial – and literally stopping traffic (all traffic was diverted for the hour-ish long protest).
Following the die-in (which didn’t last too long) the group collected their things and rode away dinging bells and waving to onlookers and media.
I’d be interested to see if this event gets the results is was aiming for.
Do you support this bike protest?