By Pierre Vairo

    By the time this article goes to print, Maribyrnong Councillors will have voted (again) on whether to proceed with the 3.5kms of proposed safe bike lanes linking Footscray and Maribyrnong on Summerhill and Rosamond Roads.

    Regardless which way the vote turns out, the inescapable reality is that the inner-west (like other rapidly densifying cities) will need to encourage more people to ride or walk to their destinations if our roads and suburbs are to escape the hell of perpetual gridlock.

    Apartment buildings are popping up in Maribyrnong at an astounding rate. Our population is forecast to increase 69% by 2051, that’s an additional 64,000 residents in 25 years. The suburbs of Footscray, Maidstone and Maribyrnong will take the bulk of new residents, doubling their populations.

    Our road networks will be unable to keep up with this level of population growth. While Transurban may build the occasional new toll road, or widen a freeway in exchange for extensions to their tolling contracts, roads like Summerhill and Rosamond will never be widened. The traffic flow on them today will only worsen and travel times will only get slower.

    Some of us may be lucky enough to live close to a train station, or a good bus route, but public transport doesn’t work well for all trips, especially shorter ones to local shops or schools.

    Bikes, scooters, and other personal mobility devices are the solution to avoiding inevitable traffic jams. They’ll also guarantee you a convenient park at your destination. Electrified versions of these open the door to a wider array of people, not just people who are ‘fit’. 

    However, many bikes in Maribyrnong rust away in backyards or balconies because their owners have nowhere to ride them; our roads are filled with trucks but devoid of safe bike lanes. Research by Footscray’s own Dr Lauren Pearson shows that residents in Maribyrnong aren’t riding because they feel it’s unsafe to do so.

    According to publicly available Google data, only 1.8% of trips in Maribyrnong are made by bike, dwarfed by the 74.7% of trips made by car. Dr Pearson’s research also shows that 75% of Victorians would choose to ride if they had a network of safe bike lanes linking their homes to shops, schools, stations and workplaces. Amazingly, this number jumps to 85%-90% for residents of Maribyrnong.

    Other than avoiding traffic jams and saving travel time, those that choose to ride will also benefit from better health, happiness and connectedness with their neighbours. 

    A well-connected network of safe bike lanes brings other benefits too. They bring a sense of transport independence to the one third of Australians who can not drive a car, more kids will be able to safely get themselves to and from sports on the weekend, it allows those who are doing it tough to avoid the pain of soaring petrol prices, and some families may even find that they can now sell the second car.

    The benefits of cycling are amplified by the environmental benefits of cleaner air and reduced carbon emissions. Whether you agree with bike lanes or not, whether you use them or not, they bring benefits to all. As the proposed Summerhill and Rosamond bike lanes have shown, they are not without public controversy. Regardless, our Council must have the conviction to build a network of safe bike lanes to save us from choking on toxic traffic fumes and deliver us into a better future. 


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