BEST OF 2023: 30 km/h speed limit in our streets? On your bike!

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Car blurred as it passes a 50km/h zone in Canberra.

Canberra already has a 50 km/h speed limit in its suburban streets. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Year in Review: Region is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2023. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking this year. Today, Ian Bushnell tackles the issue of speed limits.

Bike lobby group Pedal Power has a lot of great ideas to make life easier for cyclists in Canberra, but it must have overdone the fresh air to propose 30 km/h speed limits for Canberra suburban streets.

Not to mention the speed humps and other pacifiers it would like to see installed to make sure no one can possibly manage that speed.

It’s all in the name of road safety, of course, and there is no doubt that speed can be a cause of accidents and a determinant of how badly someone can be injured.

For an unprotected cyclist, the result can be catastrophic.

But the ACT already has a range of lower speeds aimed at making our streets safer.

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Suburban streets already have a 50 km/h speed limit, and in some of them, it is virtually impossible to get to that level given the narrowness and windiness of the roads.

The day-long school zone speed limit of 40 km/h is so widespread across Canberra that it could be called a general pacifying measure in itself, given that some are on major roads where schools are well set back.

Speed-inhibiting infrastructure is already making a difference outside schools and on known rat runs and accident-prone areas.

To spread into neighbourhoods to protect cyclists would be inviting resentment and a community backlash.

Besides, the lycra lads and ladies don’t mind a bit of speed themselves and not just on roads.

Many a walker on the shared paths can attest to the sheer terror of a speeding cyclist looming up from behind and swishing past without warning or a desultory “on your right” (because it seems no cyclist worth their salt will use a bell).

There is no guarantee that cyclists would let themselves be slowed by road humps or other pacifiers. They need to get to work on time, too.

Besides, far too many ignore the road rules when it suits them, running red lights, using pedestrian crossings, or not worrying too much about indicating. Or they decide it’s fine to ride two abreast because that’s what the law allows, even if it scares the life out of drivers dealing with oncoming traffic and the narrowing road space ahead of them.

And while a registration plate can identify a driver, cyclists do not have to register their bikes, some of which might be worth more than some of the older cars running around.

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Pedal Power argues that the lower speed limit would encourage more people to take up cycling, saying they would feel safer when vehicles are crawling along.

Maybe, but would that still be enough cyclists to justify such a low-speed limit or the expense of installing infrastructure?

And how would you enforce it? Speed vans deep inside neighbourhoods? Cameras on every lamp post?

What is important is for every road user to be aware of their surroundings, to ride and drive to the conditions and to be watchful of each other.

The focus should be on education, infrastructure that will separate cyclists from vehicles, maintaining and growing the path network and providing cycleways between key centres, all of which Pedal Power supports.

Calls such as an unachievable and unenforceable speed limit detract from what needs to be done so motorists and cyclists can both use our roads safely.

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I agree Ian. In addition, trying to maintain 30kph will require so much attention on the speedometer that a driver might very well run into the cyclist he/she is trying to avoid. As a person who has been driving in Canberra for 50 years, it has taken me a long time to adjust to the 40kph speed limit in Civic. So stressful to think we may have to go down to 30kph.

The ACT Government is anti-car, and it is their stated aim to make driving so difficult as to coerce people onto bicycles and scooters or walking – this is simply another step in that direction (I only hope Mr Steele never needs the emergency services to get to him through his planterbox&speedbump-ridden streets).
But the ACT Government doesn’t seem to realise that, not only is it not practical for everyone to always walk, scooter or ride, but also that their strategy is unlikely to be effective while they continue also to make it increasingly difficult to walk, scooter or ride (for all the times the ACT Government messes with some bit of infrastructure, it almost invariably provides little, if any, overall improvement, and more often makes things more difficult for one or more modes of “active travel”). It’s not totally surprising: having seen video of our Transport Minister trying out an electric scooter, it’s obvious he doesn’t spend much time on/in anything with less than four wheels!

Hi Bob, when you say that is the “stated aim” of theACT Government “to make driving so difficult as to coerce people onto bicycles and scooters are walking…”could you share with us on the Riot Act a link to where a representative of the ACT Government has stated this? That would be great thx. Secondly when you say that it is not practical for everyone to always walk, scooter or ride, you may have forgotten to include that it is also not practical for everyone to drive everywhere.

Well said Bob. Roads are for powered registered vehicles push bikes should stay on footpaths and cycleways. It amazes me how little some people clad in lycra value their own lives. Build more cycle paths I say. Peddle power has too much say and pull with the Barr regime. Its time for a change.

Shame on you for contributing to increased danger on the roads for vulnerable road users Mr Bushnell. Conflating side issues such as inadequate off road cycling paths versus pedestrian paths, what cyclists wear – and why, and of course the dreaded rogue cyclists without bells or care, is an obviously deliberate tactic that demonstrates a poor understanding of transport user psychology. Must do better – please!

I have nothing against promoting cyclists but why keep punishing drivers who are constantly attacked by rogue riders. When are we going to be able to identify them for offences? Under common law all road users should have a number plate. It protects everyone. Side mirror smasher cyclists and other rogues need to be identified for reporting.

privatepublic6:48 pm 05 May 23

Having lived and worked overseas in one place was a standout. The population of the suburb is similar to greater Canberra. The local road near my residence was marked at 80km/h. The road is a proper cement (none of the crap re-sealed stone roads like in Canberra), encompassing three lanes per side. Numerous smaller roads are connected. Vast number of pedestrians. They employ four sets of lights and four pedestrian overpasses over about 6-8 km thereabouts.

Most people drive in between 50-80 Km/h tops and drive to the conditions at hand. You never really look at your speedo (paying serious attention front, back and sides)(easy to take a motorcycle out), and if you do check your speed, most of the time you are doing under the speed limit. The police do enforce, but mostly keep to the left and not stupid speeding or silly roadcraft.

Every school day the police come out with serious amounts of force and direct traffic, to keep kids and cars/motorcycles apart. Works a treat. Other parts of the city have a high road toll due to small size motorcycle accidents – U-turn/no helmet/ running up the rear of cars and so on. Considering the amount of people and cars, the accident rate is small, unless the motorcycle accidents are added to the whole accident toll.

BTW speed cameras were not well received by the public and thus have been removed.

Canberra has always put cars first, then bikes and with virtually no consideration for pedestrians. ACT government won’t pay for overpasses over Canberra Avenue, saying it’s too expensive. They won’t put in traffic lights or pedestrian crossings near the two Catholic schools so people can get from the schools into Kingston, because it doesn’t want to slow the traffic. There is a pedestrian crossing at Fyshwick and the next one is in Manuka. Long walk to the crossing and back again to get to Kingston. Instead, people play chicken with the traffic, having little other option.

“BTW speed cameras were not well received by the public and thus have been removed.”
They have? Do you live in the ACT?

privatepublic12:10 am 07 May 23

Did you not read the info I provided? I was talking about another country within Asia I was residing in. Yes the speed cameras were removed. As of this moment they will reinstall CCTV cameras on major highways and anyone doing outrageous speeds will be picked up by police further up the road who are on duty. People who speed will be issued a citation on the spot, which is a better outcome than receiving a mail in the post a few weeks later.

Unable to provide links, it was word of mouth from the locals. (workplace and friends)

Some of these highways are fully fenced to prevent wildlife such as deer getting in the way of cars, people tend to speed on these highways, police utilising radar or lidar tend to look the other way unless your are hogging the right lane.

I currently live in the ACT.

Oh OK – so how is that relevant to ACT?
What other ACT legislative policy do you want to see overturned based on your “word of mouth from the locals” experience in this Asian country?

Ross of Canberra7:41 pm 11 May 23

If one looks after the pedestrians, the cyclist would rarely be in a high-risk environment. Both territory and national legislations have progressively compromised the safety of pedestrians evidenced by that they’re barely mentioned in the road rules.
Territory developments purloin public roads only for the benefit of the rarely-seen commuting cyclist.
Developers create spaces for cars and bicycles to the exclusion of non-residential pedestrians.
Q. How might a pedestrian cross at a roundabout?
A. It’s not easy.
Q. How might a driver give way to a pedestrian crossing a road they’re about to enter?
A. It’s sufficiently problematic that it doesn’t happen.
The fix needed is simply pedestrians > bikes > cars.

Agree question and answer 1, but question 2 is really not problematic, it’s just that most motorists don’t know that the road rules require motorists to give way to all traffic on any road they are entering, including pedestrians crossing that road.
So many motorists fail to obey this rule, so most pedestrians are visibly confused when someone obeys the rule (literally like a deer in the headlights!), and then the motorist behind usually takes the occasion to ‘sound a warning’, presumably of their ignorance of the road rules.

Victor Bilow5:41 pm 05 May 23

I have ridden bikes when I was young all over the place, intown and out and driven a car since I was 17 and the speed limit was 60km/h in town and unlimited out of town and I was taught how to cross roads and keep myself safe. No cycle paths, not many stop lights or pedestrian crossings. So what is the problem with today’s MOB? maybe a lack of common sense or just want someone else to blame. Yes I did fall of my bike and run into a parked car and learned very quickly you need to concentrate but did not blame anyone else. 74 and still alive.

so you’re now 74? Times have changed Victor. There is a hell of a lot more ‘rat race’ than there was 50 years ago. 50 years ago we all lived differently. Walked or rode to school, played out with our friends all day and went exploring and as long as we were home by tea time all was good.

There was simply not the traffic back then that there is today. Everybody is in a rush to get from here to there and back again now. Look at old episodes of Australian TV – Skippy or any of the old Crawford shows for example. There was bugger all traffic in and around Melbourne or Sydney. Now it is a clog jam of cars with often only one person in each. Combine the exponentially increased volume of cars, number of drivers and expectations that you can get from A to B at the designated speed limit of 80 kmph or 60 kmph as shown in the ‘freedom’ car commercials, and its baloney. Peak hour traffic in any major city does not reach anywhere near the speed limit. People are now distracted more than ever with mobile phone technology, fiddling with their ipods or similar. Many drivers simply don’t look and often don’t care. Road rage and honking is phenomenal if you simply try to change lanes and someone sees you as ‘pushing in’.

Good cyclists use lights both day and night to look like a christmas tree and wear helmets and reflective gear. Of course you see the ‘less fortunate’ group fanging around town and not giving a hoot about roaring through garema place at warp speed. You cannot put all cyclists into the one basket. If you look at the data, published widely, over 80% of the car/bicycle collisions turn out to be the fault of the driver. Blaming cyclists for drivers hitting them is the wrong answer. And as we have seen, people can kill a well lit cyclist and not even be charged for it – despite their car having only one working headlight.

We have seen time and time again on social media that many drivers don’t even seem to know the current laws relating to cycling on the road. Perhaps if every driver had to redo a written test and practical test every 5 years or so – not just their one test at 17 the standard may improve. As it is, there can be people out there driving for 50 or more years that haven’t read a rule book since 1960….

Good one Ian Bushnell (not) – stirring up the cyclist haters. Such a poor piece of journalism. At least you mentioned education I guess. Clearly lots of people would benefit from it. A lot of cyclists who have experienced near misses (or impacts) think it would be a good idea if anyone getting a licence to drive a car had to stand on the edge of the road while a car was driven fast past them at under 1 metre and see how it feels – and try it at >100kph. Anyone who rides regularly around here has experienced such close calls. Slow down please and a metre matters!

Try standing in the middle of Canberra Avenue Fyshwick where the lights change so quickly that you’re stuck half-way across with cars, buses and trucks going past at huge speeds and you have no protection. Terrifying for many!

A metre matters? What about a red traffic light, or do the road rules only apply to other road users?
I cycle to work 2-3 days a week (and drive the other days), and it’s little wonder many motorists are less than enthusiastic to share the road with me when I’m on my bike, when a notable portion of fellow cyclists think the road rules only apply to everyone else – it takes two to share. Incidentally, I have less ‘scares’ from motorists the road compared to riding on cycleways where many oncoming cyclists are too lazy to wait until it’s safe to overtake a pedestrian, or who can’t afford a set of lights.

ChrisinTurner3:54 pm 05 May 23

The worldwide experience with 30km/hr in residential areas (some streets are 10 km/hr) is that it enables kids to safely ride their their bikes to school. In Canberra parents feel they have to drive them to and from school.

It also enables older or less mobile people to get across the road.

Parents drive their kids to school due to all the nutcases around

Can’t disagree with anything in the article. I have thought cyclists must dismount to use pedestrian crossings – a safety measure for pedestrians. I almost wiped out a cyclist this morning who was crossing Hindmarsh Drive at the lights on Jerrabomberra Ave. I was doing 80kph in the stream heading west with green traffic lights. The cyclist rode across in front of stationary cars waiting to turn right (so I couldn’t see him) then swerved to avoid running into me. Sure it’s wrong to say all cyclists defy death like that but, I do wonder when/if there will be proper training for budding cyclists reminding them of the dangers and risks and how to reduce them (e.g. use the bike paths !).

It used to be, until the ACT Government changed the road rules about 5 years ago to pander to the shrink-wrapped cyclists who can’t downshift, and take forever to “clip back in” while straining at the pedals while trying to start off in the wrong gear (the rest were content to get off and trek the 4m across the sliplane, or otherwise give way to traffic and pedestrians on the crossing, knowing it’s not big deal to start off again once you learn how to use the gears).

Ian Bushnell – cyclists are allowed to use pedestrian crossings. The other activities might be illegal but that one is not.

There are two things the ACT Government is most reluctant to regulate, or see regulation enforced. These are motor vehicle use and smoke from woodburning.

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