Melbourne is at a crossroads. Since the mid-twentieth century, urban planning has prioritised independent car travel. The 1969 Metropolitan Transportation plan recommended 510 kilometres of freeway for Melbourne. Since then, successive state governments have diligently rolled out the majority of this network.
This theme has continued. It is clear that planning for automobile dependence is not the way forward. A growing population, combined with increasing inner-city residential, commercial, entertainment and educational precincts will ensure a Melbourne that is gridlocked – not just logistically, but also economically.
What’s down the road? On its way to eight million people by 2050, Melbourne is facing substantial challenges. After decades of suburban and metropolitan fringe growth, residents are once again streaming into the inner city to make it their home.
As the economic cost of congestion in Melbourne is estimated at $AU3 billion per year, continued prioritisation of cars is not only dumb urbanism, it is dumb economic policy. It begs the question: what planning will influence the adoption of more sustainable transportation?
From A to B
Clearly, we need to develop a sustainable transport network that connects major employment precincts, residential nodes, service nodes and sport and recreational facilities. While a multi-modal approach is required, the most immediate and costeffective role in this solution is active transport.
The City of Melbourne, while recognising the importance of enhancing bike movement, continues to assume the central city is the only destination, rather than noting that many journeys will be between nodes around the city, not just in and out of it.
The role of the bicycle is changing for many Melburnians, and a hierarchy of networks to match is needed. In addition to the expansion of the off-road shared bicycle path networks, the city must invest in bicycle freeways to make these shorter journeys around the city viable.
A network of bicycle veloways would: link eastern and western suburbs across the top of the city, and the Federation and Capital City Trails to the south and south-west; create a new north-south connection on the east of the city, new connections between the Bayside trail and Federation trail networks; and new linkages servicing the emerging E-Gate, Fishermans Bend, Dynon Road corridor, Arden/ Macaulay and Collingwood areas.
The cost of a high quality bicycle network would be modest in the context of the overall annual transport and health spending undertaken by all levels of government. An inner city bicycle freeway network would cost a fraction of the several billion dollars planned for the proposed East-West Tunnel, yet has the potential to move comparable numbers in peak periods, boost our productivity and enable a healthier community – and hence reduced recurrent health costs to Melburnians. Unfortunately, increasingly debt-adverse governments are yet to provide this essential infrastructure. Our changing householder demographics and urban densities require this now to ensure we remain one of the world’s great liveable cities. The upcoming Metropolitan Planning Strategy must include a robust and funded sustainable transport plan, including a bicycle freeway network. Cycle movement requires less road space and it is often possible to elevate cycle movement above roads and within open space corridors to enable increased bicycle journeys and safety without loss of road capacity or parking, such as the B1 Veloway proposal.
Macro-level planning to pave the way
We need to look beyond the boundaries of local government, especially in the inner city where there are many municipalities. A metropolitan-wide approach to delivery should be adopted, with support from local government.
While it is evident that we need to tackle the transport bottleneck from a multi-modal perspective, we can make significant gains in modal shift to active transport if we invest now in a high quality network of bicycle freeways. We are now well into the 21st Century. Moving quickly and decisively is imperative to ensure that sustainable travel plays a major role in Melbourne’s future.