Cr Leppert writes –
Council endorsed a draft Annual Plan and Budget for 2022-23 on Tuesday night, and it is now out for public consultation.
Minutes before we started debating the budget, news broke of a female cyclist having been hit by a truck on King Street in the city. She died at the scene. Her name was Yukako.
7 News described the incident as the cyclist having “lost her balance at the intersection of La Trobe Street and then collid[ing] with a truck.”
We don’t have more details of the collision (witnesses are asked to contact police with information), and so can only speculate the extent to which it could have been avoided had the infrastructure, or road rules, been different. What we do know is that this is an appalling tragedy, no matter the causes. For the cyclist, her loved ones, and for the truck driver, who will remember this moment forever.
This is what I lose sleep over. Not only on Tuesday night, but throughout my time as a councillor.
Two cyclists have died in the City of Melbourne since I was elected in 2012, both on arterial roads, and another 448 have been hospitalised (TAC). Hospitalisations took a huge dive during COVID, but are on the rise again in 2022, with car traffic having already returned to pre-COVID levels. Most incidents, but not all, could have been reduced in severity or avoided with safer infrastructure.
As a cyclist, as a planner who knows how much safer the city could be, and as a decision-maker who shares responsibility on Melbourne City Council, every cyclist death and injury tears me apart.
I wrote my speaking notes for the Council budget debate before the news hit, and the focus of my remarks was what I perceived to be an underspend on safe cycling infrastructure. The news broke as the budget debate started, and if ever there was a stark reminder that compassion counts for nothing if nothing changes, and that government’s budget decisions are the only real measure of its priorities, this was it.
I may be accused of opportunism, but I have decided to publish, and elaborate, on my remarks made at the Council meeting on Tuesday. After all, the budget is now out for public consultation, and it’s in the public interest that we put the City of Melbourne and Victoria’s budget priorities into context.
Because we know that we are global laggards when it comes to safe cycling infrastructure, and that we can do better.
Melbourne and Sydney
The City of Melbourne’s safe cycling infrastructure budget increased significantly after the declaration of a climate emergency and the decision to expedite delivery of the bike lanes promised in the Transport Strategy 2030. The 2019-20 budget included Exhibition Street lanes – a major breakthrough in Council politics! – and the 2020-21 budget included a record $16m for bike lanes (including funds rolled over from the previous year, and some grant monies from the State Government). The previous record spend before that was $5.1m in 2012-13, when Council delivered the La Trobe Street lanes.
This year, 2021-22, the first budget of this term of Council, we budgeted $11.5m, including $3.44m for Exhibition Street which was again delayed. We lost $4m in December when the expected State Government contribution, via the Melbourne City Recovery Fund, was declined after Ministers intervened. I fought to add $1.17m back into the budget from Council funds at the December 2021 meeting to ensure that we could still deliver important flagship projects in 2021-22, being Arden St and Macaulay Rd, meaning the 2021-22 cycle infrastructure budget ended up at $7.17m.
And now we have endorsed a draft 2022-23 budget which again includes $3.22m for Exhibition St rolled over from 2021-22, and another $4m for local projects, totalling $7.22m. The Arden and Macaulay projects have not been delivered within 2021-22, so funds for those projects will also be rolled over on top of the $7.22m.
I can’t tell you about the behind-the-scenes wrangling on cycle infrastructure expenditure, but the forward estimates look like this: $4m for 2023-24, $4m for 2024-25, and $3m for 2025-26. The downward trajectory is clear.
That’s $18.22m over the next four years, if the draft budget is adopted as is.
Let’s jump north of the border and look at the City of Sydney. Their 2022-23 draft budget, released this week, has a cool $69.4m for bicycle related works over the next four years.
Sydney is spending an average of $17.35m per year on cycle infrastructure compared to Melbourne’s average of $4.56m per year.
The City of Sydney is smaller (25km2) but more populous (~250,000 before COVID hit) than Melbourne (37.7km2 and ~170,000 respectively), and it also has considerably more revenue and, of course, quite a different political disposition.
Sydney’s draft budget also itemises their major (>$5m) infrastructure projects, so one can see when their major cycleways will be delivered (p65). You can see when the Liverpool St, Castlereagh St, College St, Surry Hills to Central, and King St cycleways will be constructed – wonderful! They have a transparent bicycle plan and they stick to it.
Melbourne’s budget is reported per the regulatory standard, though I did prevail in my push to have four years’ worth of capital works projects published in the budget at the ‘program’ level, rather than just the summaries for years two to four. While Exhibition St is its own item in the budget, the ‘cycle infrastructure’ program is not split into individual projects. This is because our current approach to new bike lanes (other than Exhibition St) is to install cheaper polymer concrete separators, and so it is much cheaper to build Melbourne bike lanes per km than it is to build a beautiful hyper-visible, fully physically separated Sydney Cycleway.
I have gone along with this approach because, in my judgment, and in the current political environment, I felt that it was better to get the kilometres in quickly, catalyse the transport mode shift, and retrofit more permanent concrete solutions later. We have built 16km of bike lanes this way.
It is entirely possible that we will be able to deliver on all 50km of cycle lanes on Council roads by 2030, the target set in our Transport Strategy 2030, but under current budget forecasts these will overwhelmingly be at the cheap pop-up quality, not the quality expected of permanent interventions. (As for the 44km of cycle lanes on State-controlled roads, at current rates we have absolutely no chance of meeting that target.)
And that brings me to the State. If you think the City of Melbourne / City of Sydney comparisons of cycle infrastructure spending are stark, hold on to your hats.
Victoria and New South Wales
The NSW State Government has committed $950m for ‘active transport’ projects over the next five years in Greater Sydney, and their Minister has flagged that this probably needs to double.
The Victorian Government has committed just $52.01m to ‘active transport’ in Greater Melbourne over the next four years. This includes St Kilda Road lanes as part of Metro (though the timing is still not clear, with only $817k budgeted for 22-23 for detailed planning, and another $28.718m some time after that; p85). The rest is ‘active transport’ ($10.805m in 22-23 and nothing after that; p83) and ‘walking and cycling upgrades – Stage 2 (metropolitan various)’ ($11.628m in 22-23 and only $43k after that). There will also be a few new bike lanes or off-road paths built above and beyond the $52.01m, where these are part of major contracts like the Mickleham Rd upgrade, and various city-strangling freeways.
NSW has a Minister for Active Transport.
Victoria has a Minister for Roads.
The NSW Minister, Liberal Rob Stokes, sings the praises of cycleways as economic boons, congestion busters and contributors to getting Sydney as a whole moving more efficiently.
The Victorian Minister, Labor’s Ben Carroll, is a cyclist, a consistent advocate for active transport, and truly does understand the benefits of mode shift to active transport. But Daniel Andrews threw out Westminster conventions when he was elected Premier, and now it’s the Andrews-Pallas-Pakula show. You cannot find three powerbrokers more hostile to active transport and to local government, and so Ben Carroll’s best intentions are starved of funds by the blokes who are really in charge.
I’m an unrepentant lefty ratbag Green, but let me be clear: the Liberals in NSW are so much better on this stuff than Labor in Victoria.
The Liberals looked at the data, saw that cycleways are much more efficient way of moving people around than one lane of car traffic, so they are now funding the City of Sydney model throughout Greater Sydney and they are out there selling the economic and social benefits. Labor’s powerbrokers in Victoria look out of the windows of their chauffeur-driven cars to and from the Parliament precinct and think the way to bust congestion is to reduce the 1% of central city road space given over to physically separated bike lanes and give that space to cars, which already have more than 50% of the road space. It’s insane.
I concede that a lot of this comes down to the individual in charge, regardless of the party they belong to. NSW has not always had friendly Ministers. The Active Transport Ministry and enthusiasm came with the change in Minister, with Rob Stokes publicly announcing a change in government attitude in 2019. Rob Stokes still has clout in the NSW Cabinet. Ben Carroll in Victoria, sadly, not so much.
Where to from here
If you cycle in the City of Melbourne, please continually share your feedback on where lanes are working or need improving, and where we need more. Our officers read ALL of the feedback.
There is a State election in November. Hold your local MP’s feet to the fire and then do the same to their primary contender. The safety of Victorians depends on it.
The City of Melbourne’s budget is out for consultation now, until 14 June 2022. Please have your say and make a written submission, whatever your views are on infrastructure or any of our priorities. You can make a submission even if you are a worker or visitor to the city and don’t live in the municipality.
Other Councils’ budgets are all out now as well. If you live outside the City of Melbourne, check your local Council’s website and scour their draft budgets.
And don’t let the media commentators and State MPs who actually control funding priorities in this state get away with their regressive attitudes towards active transport. Write letters: to them, to the contenders that want their jobs, to the editors of The Age and Herald Sun, to your local papers, to anyone who will listen. Nothing changes if politicians don’t feel public pressure.