Well, don’t mind me if I gush for a moment about the new dedicated bike lanes of Sydney. Whoa. Have you seen these things? They still have that new bike lane smell.
Painted green and separated from traffic by a kerb, the lanes flow in two directions on many main streets in the City Central, including a long run down Kent Street which removed 68 of 225 parking spaces. The bike lanes that comprise Sydney’s new cycle network also boast new, bike-friendly stormwater grates, clearly visible signage, and integrated traffic lights for bikes and pedestrians. In all, the network now offers 200 kilometers of bike lanes, including 55 kilometers of separated cycle paths. According to the City of Sydney website, the city allocated $76 million toward the project over four years in order to reduce road congestion and improve public health.
And to make sure the new design of the roads is understood by its drivers and pedestrians, the city seems to be doing a pretty impressive job of publicizing the care that should be taken around the cycleways. It’s possible that I’m particularly attuned to all things “bike” but over four days in the city, I started to feel like the public education campaign was ubiquitous. There were signs on the backs of buses, banners in the park and billboards near the harbour– some reminding drivers to look for bikes before opening doors and others instructing drivers that the road is to be shared.
Of course, just because signs are posted doesn’t mean that people pay attention to them. My heart hurdled to my throat as I watched a rider barely avoid the opening door of a taxi. And when the rider peeked in the window of the cab to say “watch out,” the driver sped off, with the passenger who’d attempted to get out, either in an effort to spare the passenger from a public shaming or the rider’s ire.
And one person’s nirvana may be another’s not-good-enough. I chuckled over some grunts and groans I heard from a few riders who thought that the cycle network didn’t go far enough. Ah, imagine the sweet irony of complaining about bike lanes from the safe green paint of a dedicated bike lane.
Granted, my stay was short and I’m just a big-eyed tourist. But sometimes it’s the outsider who sees it clearly. And what I saw, on the whole, inspired a heaping lump of hope. I spied impressive, deferential conduct on the streets. I saw a couple buses yield to cyclists exiting bike lanes, remaining safely behind the bikes instead of splitting the lane to pass. I saw pedestrians and cyclists crisscrossing intersections together while cars idled at redlights. I saw some cool pedi-cabs, one of which boasted that it could go from 1-18 in about 35 seconds; I like that kind of honest advertising. And best of all, I saw a lot of bikes– chic, functional, cheap, and flash.
So, ride on and spread the word. We’ll get there.