Sydney Rd is a tricky one because not only is it mostly narrow it has a diversity of needs and users. Probably there is not one ideal solution, and in any case, it is not just Sydney Rd but many other high use corridors that require dooring prevention strategies – St Kilda Rd and Chapel St come to mind, apart from which dooring can occur at any other place as well.
So there are several approaches necessary. The law, the infrastructure, and attitudes and behaviours. In the long term Victoria, and the other States should be looking at laws similar to the Netherlands and other European countries of Presumed Liability that protect the more vulnerable road users.
The laws surrounding dooring are inadequate. Penalties should be higher, and enforcement from both the police, and the judiciary needs to be more consistent. That said, most doorings are a crime of neglect rather than a deliberate action.
One can only assume the woman involved in this most recent is devastated already by her action. Should she be jailed for manslaughter? A knee-jerk reaction here is not helpful. Judges have the option of suspended sentences in these situations, which may be appropriate. Driving history should be a factor. Someone with very few minor offences is a different case to someone with many offences and crashes on their record.
However loss of driving licence for a long period, perhaps up to 5 years should be mandatory. The offender can be provided with a list of reputable bike shops for alternative transport, thus fitting the punishment to the crime.
Infrastructure on Sydney Rd can be improved considerably to make it safer for all users.
Once again a number of options should be considered rather than a knee-jerk reaction. A whole street approach should be taken – making Sydney Rd a pedestrian/cyclist/ human space rather than a traffic thoroughfare, as done in High St Northcote (and many other such strips around the world). This should extend from Bell St Coburg to Park St Brunswick.
I believe that the most crowded and heavily used sections should have on-street parking removed, especially where there a large carparks available close by such as at Barkly Square. I don’t think this will be feasible along the whole length of Sydney Rd in question. It may be necessary to provide for non-peak time only delivery hours for trucks.
Footpath intrusions especially at the major intersections, parklets, and building on-street bike parking corrals in place of car parking all would contribute as a physical reminder to car-drivers that they are in a human space with many vulnerable users in the area, and improve safety.
Possibly a specific designed “Shared Space” solution may be available, such as this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0
Glenferrie Rd in Hawthorn has a Green Lane for Bikes that is outside the door zone, just to the left of the tram line. This indicates to cyclists where it is safe to ride and to car-drivers that cyclists have the right to take the lane for safety. This may work on Sydney Rd.
The Upfield Bike path provides an alternative route to Sydney Rd. Firstly though, it does not service Sydney Rd very well. If you are shopping or travelling East of Sydney Rd then it is no solution at all, and in any case the principle that bicycles have the right to use the public streets over-rides this as a real solution.
However the Upfield Path could be used to reduce bicycle traffic on Sydney Rd to some extent. Currently it is in very poor repair. It is narrow – much too narrow for a safe shared bike/pedestrian route which should be at least 2 metres wide consistently.
It has very poor sight lines and I have almost had a head-on with another bike there myself. It is rough and the surface varies considerably. It is used by very slow local riders and is unsuitable for faster commuting traffic, also because of being shared with pedestrians and rail users. The Upfield path also has many road crossings with no system of priority in place, and this would need to be addressed as well.
Critics of reduction in traffic flow and speeds will protest limits in Sydney Rd Brunswick. The only other North/South route readily available is Melville rd. Lygon St. Nicholson St and St Georges Rds are all heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists as well. Separation is not a viable option. However nor is increasing car traffic a solution to congestion or movement.
The Upfield and Sth Morang railway lines service a rapidly increasing population, both locally with the development of high-density housing and to the North with the expansion of housing estates out past Whittlesea and similar areas past Craigieburn. This trend will not decrease, and inner infrastructure will bear the brunt of it.
There will be a need to improve the lines and services, and to supply park and ride facilities right along these routes, for trains and for tramways.
Attitudes and behaviours.
Probably the single most important point I could make here is this: many drivers believe that bicycles have no right to be on the roads because they do not pay registration. It comes up ALL THE TIME in the comments sections of the online newspapers and is a common subject in the verbal and physical abuse of cyclists on the roads.
The various authorities need to make a massive effort to dispel this myth. It has to come from the Premier, the various Ministers responsible for Transport, Planning, roads etc. A definitive response must come from VICROADS and the Police, and it must be hammered home in the driving tests and in TAC advertisements.
The most common crashes for cyclists and cars is to be hit from behind whilst riding straight on a straight road. Dooring and cars turning left across cyclists come in close second. Various researches in the U.K and Australia show that 75 – 80% of car/bike crashes are the fault of the car driver.
Education campaigns should reflect these figures, rather than the victim-blaming of that appears to be the current approach.
Cycle rights, awareness and the particular road rules that apply to cyclists should feature more prominently in our driver training and licence testing. Ideally driving licence applicants should be required to take a set period of supervised hours on a bike as part of their training. Can’t really see that happening, but it’s a good idea.
Schools already have a crowded curriculum. But the Danish model of formal bike training at years 3 and 9 is a good one. We should look at something similar here. Even if a child never rides, they still have that training when they drive.
It is Policy at all Local and State levels to increase the number of people cycling locally, recreationally and for commuting. Implementation of those policies has been haphazard at best. Nonetheless cycling numbers have been increasing steadily.
It is now time to get serious about it, and invest some real money into cycling. There are plenty of best practice models from around the world to follow. We do not need to re-invent the wheel, just apply those best practices to Melbourne.