This time, cyclists should move over for trams

Councillors in Melbourne’s inner north block Public Transport Victoria from building wheelchair-accessible stops on one of the city’s busiest tram routes because the design doesn’t include a bike lane – it’s a not a good look, is it?

As Melbourne grows, we have to find a way to get around our city together: cyclists and motorists, pedestrians and tram-travellers alike.

Photo: Paul Rovere

And as a life-long commuter cyclist, it’s not a look I want to share.

In August, Moreland City Council denied Public Transport Victoria’s application for a permit to build three new super stops in Nicholson Street, East Brunswick. The reason? Plans for the stops didn’t include bike lanes.

According to Moreland Greens councillor Dale Martin, the council wanted stops similar to the super stops in High Street, Northcote, where there are dedicated bike lanes. But the proposals for the Nicholson Street stops included nothing more than “painted bike shadows on the ground at intersections".

Although PTV was invited to come back to the council with amended designs, Councillor Martin says, it seems they threw their hands in the air and went off to VCAT to appeal instead.

Upgrades to Nicholson Street have stalled.

Photo: Justin McManus

Councillor Martin says, "We must do everything we can to protect the safety of the huge volume of cyclists that we have in our city.”

Thanks, councillor. But no cyclist in their right mind would use Nicholson Street for a north-south commute anyway. It’s too wide, too fast, the surface is crap and there’s those giant bumblebee trams rattling up and down the middle of it. (Not to mention the endless – presumably council-approved – apartment developments that have turned it into cement-truck central.)

But that’s OK. Cyclists don’t need to use Nicholson Street for a north-south commute, as anyone who rides around Moreland knows. There’s a perfectly good back-street alternative with dedicated cycling lanes less than 100 metres west of Nicholson Street that links to Canning Street in North Carlton and the city beyond: the “John Street shimmy”, the council calls it.

The popular bicycle lane on Canning Street in Carlton North.

Photo: Justin McManus

Nicholson Street doesn’t connect with anywhere particularly useful for a cyclist trying to get into the city: a bike lane along its length would eventually deliver you to the huge intersection with Victoria Parade and the mess of trams and other vehicles in Spring Street. No thanks.

About one-third of Moreland residents ride a bike at least once a month, according to the council’s cycling strategy, and something like 5000 locals use a bike to get to work every day. So the council is right to make safe cycling a priority.

But encouraging cyclists to mix it with the Nicholson Street traffic and its 60km/h speed limit hardly looks like protecting their safety.

A bike lane on Nicholson Street makes about as much sense as some of the other “bike-ification” projects around the inner city: think of Fitzroy Street, St Kilda and Cecil Street, South Melbourne, with lanes that appear but don’t go anywhere in particular: more feel-good gesture than transport solution.

As Melbourne grows, we have to find a way to get around our city together: cyclists and motorists, pedestrians and tram-travellers alike.

If that means some of us have to cede a little bit of space to others here and there to make things work, then that’s what we ought to do, as long as we get a bit of space back somewhere else in return.

We need to start thinking of the greater good, and in this case the greater good is served by getting the Nicholson Street trams moving quickly, and making it safer and easier for people to get on and off them – especially parents with prams and people in wheelchairs.

If that means cyclists have to take a detour through Moreland’s back streets … well, most of us are already doing that anyway. The council should concentrate its cycling energies there.

Matt Holden is an Age columnist.

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