Yet again, the proposed ramp at the northern end of Sydney Harbour Bridge – meant to ease the burden of cyclists and meet accessibility needs – has been delayed. Roads Minister Melinda Pavey advised yesterday (21 March 2018, Sydney Morning Herald) that cyclists will have to wait another two years before the state government decides to deliver this much needed alternative to hauling bikes up the steps to access the bridge.
Instead, the government has decided to build lifts at either end of the Bridge, due to be completed by the end of this year. Although this is positive news and will enable people in wheelchairs and parents with strollers to gain access to the Bridge, this does not meet the needs of the thousands of cyclists who use this route everyday.
Currently over 2000 cyclists use the Sydney Harbour Bridge each day and are forced to dismount and walk their bike up 55 stairs. The situation is even more precarious on wet days when the stairs can be slippery and put cyclists at further risk of injury. Unfortunately for many cyclists who are trying to take advantage of the incredible health and wellness benefits derived from cycling, this obstacle can be even more cumbersome, particularly for cyclists at more elderly stages of life as well as families and children.
The main criticisms of the ramp, raised on behalf of residents of North Sydney by Mayor Jilly Gibson, surrounded the impacts the ramp would have on Bradfield Park in terms of tree felling and sightlines.
As illustrated in the proposed design for the ramp, it has a minimal impact on the historically recognized Harbour Bridge and does not affect the accessibility or functionality of the Milsons Point train station. Despite any critique of the design, the ramp will, quite simply, encourage more people to get on their bikes and ride into the city using a much more convenient and safer route, once complete. This will have a knock-on effect of easing congestion across this already heavily congested traffic route.
Looking towards our European counterparts for inspiration, it was recently reported that in the City of London (commonly known as the Square Mile), there are more cyclists on the roads during peak rush hour than there are cars, taxis, buses and motorcycles. Even with this 4-fold increase in cycling over the last 19 years, the City of London recognizes that “significant changes in cycling infrastructure provision and/or travel behaviour may be needed to spur further growth in cycling on City streets” (Cycling now the most popular form of rush hour transport on London streets, report shows, Henry Robertshaw for Cycling Weekly on 19 February 2018).
This is an important insight that the NSW Government needs to take heed of – active transport is vital to the economic, social, health and environmental growth of any major city. We can have – and indeed need to pursue – world-class active transport facilities. This starts with the government embracing investment in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
With NSW far from meeting the UN’s suggested target of 20% of transport funding dedicated to active transport, pedestrians and most notably cyclists, are being short-changed when it comes to infrastructure spending in favour of cars. This recent article from The Conversation shows just how little funding is given to active transport at both the city and state level. Although it is encouraging to see that at the city level there is some improvement, with Sydney allocating nearly a quarter of their transport budget for 2019-2020 to active transport (20 March 2018).
But there is still a long way to go before Sydney becomes a mecca for walking and cycling. If the proposed Sydney Harbour Bridge cyclist ramp is any indication of where we are headed, there is a lot of progress that needs to be made, and the government is best placed to set the tone of the conversation. Bicycle NSW strongly encourages the NSW Government to consider the health of its residents and the future of its cities by prioritizing active transport and changing perceptions on the dominance of the automobile.