18 March 2024

Renewed push for separated cycle lane on 'black spot' Northbourne Avenue

| Ian Bushnell
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Jo Pybus, in red vest, and Dr Simon Copland at the Pedal Power call for a separated cycleway on Northbourne Avenue. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

The government’s failure to install a separated cycle lane on Northbourne Avenue could leave them exposed to legal action, according to a Canberra woman whose husband is still recovering from being hit by a car on the busy corridor in September 2022.

Jo Pybus joined Pedal Power ACT executive director Simon Copland and supporters today outside Transport Canberra and City Services offices in Dickson to call on the government to reactivate plans for separated cycleways.

She said her husband, Paul O’Dwyer, suffered spinal injuries, had a seizure and had to be put into an induced coma at the side of the road.

“That could have meant any number of things, and we had a long wait to see what the outcome might be,” Ms. said.

“I’m so grateful that last December, after 14 months, we got good news [about his recovery], but it was really difficult.

“The thought that it happened four years after the government knew in their own documents that Northbourne Avenue needed a protected cycleway is mind-boggling.”

READ ALSO Slogans on cars, blocking speed cameras: Police union members vote on protected action options

Ms Pybus was referring to the 2018 City and Gateways Urban Design Framework, which promised a separate cycleway on Northbourne Avenue, but it had apparently been shelved, and the initiative had disappeared from the latest Active Travel Plan.

She said the government had a duty of care to the cyclists who used Northbourne Avenue, particularly when its policies encouraged people to ride their bikes instead of taking the car.

“In the last couple of years, Canberra had a lot of rain and a lot of potholes, and the government was found liable in some circumstances for paying people for the danger to their cars from potholes,” she said.

“I want to know what happens to a government that knows this road is a black spot for cyclists, that knows statistically people are getting injured on this road, when the next cyclist is injured or even killed on Northbourne Avenue.

“What culpability is the government going to have? I suggest you go and see your lawyer if it’s you who gets knocked off your bike.”

man with a neck brace sitting net to a woman on a lounge

Paul O’Dwyer and Jo Pybus: the government has a duty of care to cyclists using Northbourne Avenue. Photo: Pedal Power ACT/Facebook.

Dr Copland said Northbourne Avenue was an accident waiting to happen and was rated the most dangerous road in Canberra for cyclists.

He said Pedal Power was putting the issue on the 2024 election agenda.

“We think it should be a priority. You’ve got to look where the most danger is,” Dr Copland said.

He said Northbourne Avenue could afford to reduce a lane to accommodate a separated cycleway with a barrier, but the design was up to government engineers.

“That trade-off is really worth it because it will encourage more people to be on bikes, which is fewer people in cars, which means less congestion on our roads,” Dr Copland said.

He said that if the road was made safer, many of the thousands of new residents along the corridor would be encouraged to ride bikes.

Dr Copland believed motorists would welcome being separated from cyclists and for those potentially dangerous interactions, where one mistake could be life-changing, to be removed.

Ms Pybus said the woman driver who swerved into her husband was evading another car whose driver didn’t check their blind spot before changing lanes.

“A wider cycling lane with a protected barrier would have meant, at worst, that that driver would be off to the panel beaters and my husband would have arrived home safely,” she said.

“I have spoken to the driver who hit my husband. She was clearly traumatised.”

Dr Copland said the cost of building separated lanes was much cheaper than the hundreds of millions of dollars of road construction going on around Canberra.

“We think it’s reasonable to say that we can invest some money in cycling infrastructure,” he said.

However, the sticking point seems to be the disruption such a project would bring to the corridor, which is also impacted by the apartment construction.

seperated cycleway in Sydney

A separated cycleway in the Sydney CBD. Pedal Power said something like this would save lives on Northbourne Avenue. Photo: Pedal Power ACT.

Dr Copland said that wasn’t good enough, adding Northbourne Avenue was a dangerous road with a number of known accidents that had caused serious injuries to cyclists.

“If we we had another black spot on our road network that was causing crashes, the government would be quick to invest to stop that from happening, yet when it comes to crashes involving cyclists, they’re more concerned about disruption for cars,” he said.

“We think that the safety of cyclists should be put first.”

Dr Copland rejected the government’s view that cyclists could take other, safer routes in the inner north, saying they took longer while Northbourne Avenue was the most direct and convenient route.

“That’s why people use it,” he said. “It’s unfair to expect that cyclists should have to take a longer route to be able to get to work in the morning.”

Dr Copland said there were separated cycle lanes on roads like Northbourne Avenue all around the world and any problems were solvable.

A government spokesperson said Northbourne Avenue is scheduled for upgrades as part of future network expansions and may be considered for a future quick-build trial.

However, this would not include removing a traffic lane from one of Canberra’s main arterial roads.

“Given the complexity of the Northbourne Avenue corridor, with multiple intersections and speed zones, light rail, and National Capital Authority approval oversight, it is essential that lessons from these trials and other feasibility and design initiatives are considered,” the spokesperson said.

Greens MLA Jo Clay, who attended today’s rally, said the Greens would take an active travel program to the election, including infrastructure such as separated cycleways.

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Pedal Power is always whingeing, complaining and demanding more. Instead of spending yet more money on cycle lanes, it’s time to fix the footpaths and put in a few decent pedestrian crossings so all Canberrans can be safe, not just those on bikes.

There’s still no pedestrian crossing on Canberra Avenue between Fyshwick and Manuka despite there being 2 schools on one side with masses of high density housing and Kingston shops on the other. Watch the kids play chicken with the traffic and don’t worry about the oldies or mobility challenged who cannot run so quickly across the road.

If there is a duty of care to anyone it is to these pedestrians who have no other route to get to their destination aside from walking all the way into Manuka to cross or to Fyshwick and back again which would take another 1/2 hour at least. The cyclists have many options but they want more. Others just want to be able to walk safely.

The excuse to do nothing is not to slow the cars, yet each car has only one person in most cases, so why do they have more rights than a person on foot? Pedestrian overpasses would solve many problems but that’s not a government spending priority, so yet again pedestrians are ignored. That’s why footpaths are so bad throughout the ACT, where they exist.

I have the misfortune to live right next to Northbourne, and to think of removing one of the three lanes, is simply ludacris, it would turn it into a “parking lot” at peak times.

What I’d like to know is, how does an organisation of around 1,000 members, wield so much power, so for so many decades in Canberra? Even the Feds “bent over backwards” for them in the 70’s, building the bike path network, & since then, many millions more have been spent, satisfying whatever their latest demands have been.

I don’t have anything against cyclists, I was one when I was young but, I do have a problem with one group, constantly getting what they want, at the expense of others.

I agree it’s odd that cyclists seem to avoid the paths that are Canberra’s separate cycle network in favour of more dangerous main roads. As a motorist I feel very nervous driving next to cyclists and would prefer them to be in separated lanes if they have to use the main roads.

Humphrey B Bear11:29 am 19 Mar 24

Need to abolish the tram, turn tram line into a nice cycle path, abolish stage 2 tram, buy some more buses, and build a stadium in the city! This government is running its own agenda, the Capital is heading for disaster and ruin! We are the laughing stock of the rest of the country!

Dreko Fumbleton12:17 pm 19 Mar 24

What is this, 5th Century Rome? Will we just have a stadium and everyone gets there via oxen pulling carts?
I’d like to see our city and infrastructure advance. One good way we could help fund

And where will the hordes of buses replacing the tram go? Yeah right, just clog up/takeover an existing traffic lane.

@Roger S
Here’s a novel idea. The buses could use the existing (tram) lanes provided down the centre of Northbourne Avenue – without the tracks and overhead wires.

Humphrey B Bear7:03 pm 19 Mar 24

What are great idea! An oldy but a goody! Common sense, it may have saved the state of the territory back then!

There is already a bike path that runs from Dickson to the City. Why would we need to waste taxpayer funds to build another one?

There are many ways you can get from Dickson to Civic by road, but I’m glad you think one is enough. We’ll just rip up the others.

Isn.t thats why we have a tram get rid of the bike path

Instead of the ridiculous suggestion to lose an entire road lane so the small amount of cyclists can travel along the roadway, the obvious solution is to upgrade the existing cycle paths along Sullivan’s Creek.

There is no good reason to need on road cycle paths in this area.

Totally agree. As a frequent cyclist in this part of town, I wouldn’t dream of riding to the city along Northbourne Avenue when I have the pleasant (and recently upgraded) bike path along Sullivan’s Creek. It takes about the same time to get to the city, and I don’t have to suck in exhausts and (like this fella) risk my life.

I ride a bike into Civic from the inner north. It is so easy to ride on alternatives parallel to Northbourne. Why risk injury or worse duking it out there?

I never cycle down Northbourne to get to the city. Why would I when there is a far safer and more pleasant route through Lyneham, O’Connor and Turner. It doesn’t involve risking my life, or sucking in car exhaust, and once you factor in traffic lights and dodging cars, gets me there at the same time. I don’t understand anybody’s interest in riding along this busy highway.

Totally agree Alex T there are plenty of safer routes as a bike rider that you can take to get all over Canberra that don’t involve riding on the road next to cars.

Honestly, Northbourne Ave is in desperate need of this type of upgrade. The footpaths along Northbourne are terrible, and unsafe, so it’s not like you can use those instead of the road safely. It’s a very busy road for cars and bikes, with enormous growth in population along it, yet it seems to be stuck in the 1970s. If you don’t want to build separated bike lanes, at least upgrade the footpaths to be 2m wide minimum the entire length.

Capital Retro5:10 pm 18 Mar 24

No different to footpaths and shared ways in Tuggeranong.

There is a longstanding road safety maxim which says “drive according to road conditions”.

Try it, because the government is broke and you will have to learn to cope with that.

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