Griffith University and the new Gold Coast University hospital are promoting cycling for transportation in order to promote health and to save the environment. Maria Mjaelgaard investigates whether the Gold Coast is on the way to becoming a “great bike city” of the world.
Drew McDonald is more than 20 minutes late. The bike ride took way over the expected duration. Now when he has finally reached the campus area, his frustration makes him throw the bicycle into the bike rack. The words on Griffith’s homepage are still repeating in his mind: “Cycling is a great way to get to University”. After this experience, “great” would definitely not be the best description after almost being hit by an opening car door and pushed against the sidewalk by a bus.
Griffith University and the new Gold Coast University Hospital are promoting cycling for transportation in order to promote being healthy and to save the environment. Griffith University’s website tells of the great possibilities to enter the campus area which are all displayed on the so called “bike map”. Although the dotted lines on this map seem to offer many routes, a closer look will tell another story.
The truth is that these bike-routes should rather be seen as suggested roads, where you are merely allowed to bring your bike.
The maps give no indication of either the speed or number of cars running on these roads. Therefore, unless you live within walking distance, there is no chance of making a safe way to either Griffith University or the new University Hospital. Even though there is one proper bike path leading to Griffith University, it only works for people living in the neighbourhood. Coming from anywhere else on the Coast such as Biggera Waters, Labrador or Surfers Paradise you still have to travel on busy roads to connect with this path.
Drew McDonald, a Canadian and now a student at Griffith, has used bicycle for transportation for more than 30 years, no matter what country he has been resident. When starting cycling in the Gold Coast area he found the bicycle facilities “insufficient”. Apparently he is not the only one complaining as he constantly hears people expressing both a desire to and fear of bicycling on the Gold Coast. “It is too dangerous,” he says.
So what makes the bicycle paths leading to Griffith so dangerous? The problem comes down to the fact that bicycles and drivers have to share the road, and no account is taken about either speed or traffic density. The actual bike facilities on these roads emerge in different levels where the cyclist either has the opportunity to:
1. Ride on a separate bike lane but still next to running vehicles.
2. Share a bike lane with parked cars, which means they have to widen their circle out onto the road as soon as a parked car appears ahead.
3. Cycle on a so called “advisory” at the very edge of the road, which is not legally called a bicycle lane as it is only marked with the cycle symbol.
4: Battle with pedestrians on the footpaths to the frustration of both cyclist and pedestrian.
In some cases, some of these options do not even exist, which clarifies the deficiency of safe bicycle paths leading to the university.
Mai Britt Aagaard Kristensen, from the Danish Bicycle Embassy, which is located in one of the most famous “bike-cities” in the world, says: “If there is not a safe and secure bike lane between a logical A and B, it does not make much difference to cyclists’ motivation to commute.”
Copenhagen’s carefully planned bicycle network, consisting of mainly bike paths separated from busy traffic, could be seen as the main factor of the city’s success in becoming one of the world’s heralded bike-cities. While low speed limits (around 30 km/h) would make a normal bike lane reasonably safe, the Danish Bicycling Embassy’s philosophy is that on high-speed roads, protected bike lanes are needed to create safe conditions for cyclists.
In the Gold Coast Operational Plan Project the Gold Coast City Council’s aim is to make a “bike city” of the Gold Coast, inspired by European cities, which aims to make cycling safe and attractive to all age groups and skill levels. However, in the current situation on the Gold Coast, the safety level of on road bike lanes is a huge concern as separate bike lanes are uncommon.
Ben Wilson, from Bicycle Queensland, says that separated paths or separation of bike lanes are preferable as all surveys prove that people are reluctant to ride a bike with heavy traffic. As cyclists are unprotected when running next to vehicles it is obvious that one simple mistake by a cyclist or a car driver, could lead to a serious injury or even death.
Christoph Rupprecht, PhD student at Griffith’s Environmental Urban Planning Department believes that “All ‘on road lanes’ are unsafe.”
In contrast to this, the person responsible for bicycle road planning on the Gold Coast, Ian Cumming from the Council, argues that there is not a particular risk posed by on road bike lanes as long as the cyclist is “focused”. Instead, he claims that accidents in off road bike paths are more likely to occur in for example intersections as cyclists and pedestrians are hit by right or left turning cars when not paying enough attention.
Even though the Council is not against off road bike paths, it says the concern is reducing car parking lanes to increase cycle lanes. “It’s a very expensive exercise,” he says. In the Council’s view, while cost is an excuse for not building separate bike paths, cyclists’ behaviour and awareness are seen as a greater risk.
Ian Cumming blames cyclists “using mobile phones” which make the cyclists distracted. “Even if you’re just flicking through to see what the songs there are on the playlist it’s an illegal business holding it in your hand,” he says.
So according to the people in the Council who make the decisions about bike paths, the on road bike lanes are not the problem, but cyclists not paying attention.
Safe Cycling Australia disagrees. They say that cost usually is the prohibiting factor when authorities are planning bike facilities. Nevertheless, they say separated and protected bike lanes definitely contribute to safer cycling and at least all new roads built must cater for this, with “no exceptions”, they say.
A particular problem Gold Coast cyclists meet on roads are in sections where cyclists share their lane with parked cars. Not infrequently we are told about accidents where the car driver throws their open door at the very moment a cyclist is passing by. Even though cyclist Drew McDonald has not yet been hit by any doors, he has already dodged many of them.
The Council suggests cyclists like Drew overcome the problem by using a reverse mirror. As Ian Cumming himself is a bicycle rider he says it helps him in judging whether he is able to cycle wider on the roadway or not when a parked car is ahead.
Removing cars parked in cycle lanes could be a simple solution to this problem. Although Ian Cumming himself would endorse this, the council is afraid of public complaints about the lack of car parks. Obviously people on the Gold Coast take the parking in front of their house for granted, as their own garage is occupied with stuff, rather than cars.
So, with the current bikeways being so dangerous, cyclists want to know whether there are any plans for improvement. When it comes to road planning on the Gold Coast, not only the Council, but also the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (DTMR), are responsible.
Paul Noonan, the Regional Director from DTMR does not consider two different controlling authorities as an issue but Ian Cummings thinks it certainly is. The Council tries at least to push DMTR in planning on bike lanes when constructing a road, but it is not a foregone conclusion, not even when a reseal is planned. “I’d rather have the complete control and do it all by myself,” Ian Cumming says.
The improvement the Council is planning for 2014 is an off road pathway from Musgrave Park along Biggera Creek to Brisbane Road, making it easier to go to GriffithUniversity when coming from the north. Other paths on Musgrave Street and through the Parklands Showground are also being planned but as the Commonwealth Games are coming up in 2018, access to the university will be restricted and we will have to wait another several years.
Regarding the highly dangerous Olsen Avenue and Smith Street, which are controlled by DTMR, there are no planned bike facilities improvements until funding will allow, Paul Noonan (DMTR) says.
What Ian Cumming would suggest DTMR to do about Smith Street, is to stop calling it a motorway, seal it up properly and then install on road bike lanes. “Proper cycling on high speed roads is actually quite ok,” he says and refers to research from in Sydney.
However, what Drew McDonald recognized about Smith Street was the fact that it was “absolutely life threatening”. It is clear that the actual bike facilities are the main issue preventing Gold Coast from becoming a bike city.
In 2014, when Griffith University and the New University Hospital are promoting cycling for other reasons than the cost benefit such as the environmental and also the health issue, these have to be highlighted to change the existing prejudices among the public. Many things must be done before Gold Coast has the capability to become a bike city. In addition to the many “great” ways there are to go to university, proof needs to be shown before promoting these bicycle routes.