Monday, 8 April 2019

Are we ready for protected cycle lanes?


One of our inner-city local governments, the City of Vincent, is currently modifying the northern section of Oxford Street in Mount Hawthorn.

Google Streetview 2018
This 300 metre "town centre" section has looked unloved compared to the southern section of Oxford Street and the Scarborough Beach Road town centres. It has no street trees and probably had no significant improvement since the 1960s. The City's publicity states the planned works will include:
  • 38 street trees for enhanced shade and beautification
  • A red asphalt shared-space to denote the town centre area
  • A central median for pedestrian refuge and improved walkability
  • 2 new motorcycle bay areas to accommodate 4 bikes
  • 12 bike racks with locations to be determined in consultation with businesses
  • Low profile speed-humps to accommodate a potential 30 km/h zone which will improve safety and town centre amenity
As usual, with local government street upgrades, the aim is to "improve visitor, pedestrian and cyclist amenity". I have no doubt adding 38 trees will improve the beauty of the street and the experience for pedestrians, but will these changes be better for people cycling?

City of Vincent's "before" and "after" images

People cycling can enjoy the additional shade and more natural environment as much as pedestrians, but adding trees to the centre of the street can make riding more hazardous because they prevent drivers passing safely. As detailed in a previous blog post, raised medians with trees are becoming common in Perth but local governments seem unaware of the negative consequences for cycling. Rather than improving conditions, the central obstructions usually force people cycling to take to the footpaths in order to feel safe. Only the bravest or thick-skinned will ride in a narrow 50 km/h lane in front of motor vehicles.

The photograph below shows concrete medians have been installed ahead of the tree planting. As of today, fourteen central trees have been planted and more trees will be planted between car parking bays very soon.

Oxford Street March 2019


The City of Vincent is calling this a shared-space and will be adding large cycle symbols to the centre of the travel lane. If this was a genuine attempt at shared-space, the City of Vincent would be removing road markings, signs and kerbs. In this situation, the use of the term shared-space seems to be an attempt to make everyone feel better about the poor provision for cycling.

There are some elements of the shared-space concept that are useful when mixing pedestrians and cycling (e.g. Amsterdam Centraal Station), but I am yet to see an example of a shared-space design that works well when the dominate mode of travel is motor vehicles. 

Even London's relatively famous shared-space Exhibition Road is to be remodelled after the council finally conceded it presented safety problems for vulnerable road users.

Oxford Street will not be a shared-space. It will simply have cycle symbols in the travel lane and some green paint. 

Oxford Street March 2019


The City of Vincent are hoping to convince Main Roads WA, who control all speed regulation, to reduced the posted speed limit on this section of street from 50 km/h to 30 km/h. Even if that happens, most people will still not feel safe to cycle on the street. Although a 30 km/h speed limit is considered appropriate when mixing cars with cycling, the volume of each mode must also be considered.

The traffic volume on the southern section of Oxford Street is around 12,000 vehicles per day and this section is probably similar. That's far too many for a successful "bicycle street", or what the Dutch call a Fietsstraat. (CROW guidelines recommend less than 2500 vehicles per day and 1000+ cycles).

Another important design aspect of a successful Fietsstraat is that the street must have sufficient width to allow drivers to pass people cycling.

Oxford Street March 2019

Our Austroads guides also warn against creating travel lanes with widths that create safety problems for cyclists.
"Practice should be that lane widths are either designed to be wide enough in all instances to allow the safe passage of a cyclist and a vehicle side by side (3.7 m or more) or narrow enough to permit the passage of a vehicle or bicycle only (3.0 m or less). Widths in between these two extremes create squeeze points and result in conflicts.” 

Guide to Traffic Management Part 8: Local Area Traffic Management (2016 Edition, p126)
The width of the motor vehicle lanes in the proposal are 3.2 metres with a 1.8m central median, and 2.2m parking bays. However, when measured this week, it seems the concrete median has been narrowed to 1.5m, the travel lanes are 3.5m and the parking bays about 2.1m. Either way, both the 3.2m and 3.5m width are in the specific range that Austroads warn against

Unless the person cycling boldly takes the centre of the lane, car drivers will be tempted to squeeze past. Passing will be possible but life threatening.


A solution to the safety problem is obvious to anyone who seen what progressive cities are doing around the world. Protected cycle lanes. To achieve this, the on-street car parking could be removed and cycle lanes put beside the kerb on each side of the street. The City of Vincent know about protected cycle lanes, just around the corner from Oxford Street, a section of Scarborough Beach Road has protected lanes that were installed a couple of years ago. The City should be congratulated for this work, it was a good achievement.

Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn

The Scarborough Beach Road lanes were done in an area with low levels of on-street parking, Oxford Street will be more difficult. Removing parking bays in front of commercial businesses is a tough job. The City of Vincent obviously does not want to take it on, at least, not this time. The publicity on their website has a lot of detail to reassure people that car parking will be prioritised.
"The upgrade requires the loss of 3 car parking bays north of Wilberforce Street and 2 car bays south of Wilberforce Street. To mitigate this loss, the City will negotiate the use of redundant No Stopping Zones to accommodate additional car bays. The City will also review the use of the Oxford Street Car Park and on-street parking along Wilberforce Street to ensure parking efficiencies are maximised and parking availability for town centre visitors is prioritised."
If a city chooses to prioritise car parking it will often be at the expense of safe cycling infrastructure. That's what is happening here.

One strategy for Oxford Street would be to acquire vacant property nearby and provide off-street car parking in exchange for the loss of on-street bays. If the old taxi depot was utilised, the walk from car to shop would be 40 - 180 metres. That's similar to many successful suburban shopping centres.

Former taxi depot, Oxford Street
Karrinyup Shopping Centre

It would be great if local councils got tougher about car parking and more concerned about safety. Imagine. When discussing potential street upgrades with businesses they could offer more trees but explain the car parking needs to move further away. 
 "You can have a beautiful street, which will improve your business, but it also needs to be a safe street. We're a local government, we can't do anything that's not safe. If you want trees, we have to do protected cycle lanes at the same time."
Imagine if creating a street that was unsafe for people cycling was illegal. 


The design of the Oxford Street upgrade is nothing new. It's basically a repeat of the Mount Hawthorn town-centre section of Scarborough Beach Road nearby. The lane width is the same and it has a slower 40 km/h speed limit.  It looks great, the businesses seem successful, it's quite good for walking, but cycling is shit. How do we know this? It's simple, just go there and watch what people do.

Scarborough Beach Road, Mount Hawthorn

Even on a quiet Sunday afternoon, 90% of people riding are doing it on the footpaths. Even though it's legal for a person to slowly ride a bike in front of a car driver. People want to feel safe and they don't want conflict.

By painting cycle symbols on the street, the City of Vincent are encouraging people to cycle in front of motor vehicles and hoping to convince drivers to slow down from 40 km/h to 15 km/h. 

They're dreaming. Footpath cycling is legal in Western Australia. We have a low percentage of people cycling and where footpaths are not crowded it makes sense to ride on the footpath. That's what people are doing.

People are cycling to the Mount Hawthorn town centre, but it's not because there are yellow symbols on the road or heart-shaped bike racks, it because the street has destinations they want to reach.

Footpath riding is a great way to increase cycling participation in developing cycling cities. If the cycling mode share is 1% it will help to add a few percent. It's been great for Perth and should be legal throughout Australia.

Footpath riding is also a barrier to increased participation beyond low percentages. It's often slow and awkward to dodge around cafe tables and street furniture. Crossing side streets can be difficult. Once a town centre becomes a popular destination and pedestrian traffic increases, people cycling have to dismount to avoid conflict. If the City of Vincent (and Australia) is genuinely wanting an increase in cycling we can't rely on footpath riding.

Very soon, we will need protected cycle lanes to grow the number of people cycling. Conversely, unless we have a lot of people cycling, businesses and the general community will not understand why we need to move car parking to build the protected cycle lanes. Changing how cycling is perceived will be a challenge, but it is possible.


Protected cycle lanes are not going to happen on Oxford Street now, but hopefully it can be done in the future. Eventually other factors might help, car parking might not be such an issue and cycling can increase. We should be planning for it. Maybe it will take ten years, maybe longer. 

What's more difficult than moving car parking to build a cycle lane? Moving car parking and also cutting down trees to build a cycle lane!

One thing we can be sure about. If trees get planted this week on the sides of Oxford Street between the car parking bays, we can say goodbye to the protected cycle lanes for another fifty years. 

Oxford Street, March 2019