Time to hand Yarra Boulevard over to cyclists

I think it’s time Yarra Boulevard was declared a ‘Bicycle Road’ where cyclists have priority over cars. This would increase safety and send a powerful message to residents and tourists alike that Melbourne is a bicycle friendly city.

Yarra Boulevard is already an iconic recreational and commuter cycling route due to its river and bush outlook, undulating alignment and direct connection to the Yarra Trail. It also operates as an alternative route for part of the Yarra Trail.

Yarra Boulevard is the two red parallel lines running from the entrance to the Royal Talbot Centre in the North (at the top) to Walmer Rd in the South (at the bottom)

Although it is not a major traffic artery, there is the ever-present potential for conflicts between cyclists and drivers. There is something about this road – possibly the limited number of access points and the absence of parked cars – that seems to encourage drivers and motor cyclists to speed.

Yet it is ideal for a Bicycle Road. Apart from its scenic aspect and moderate traffic load, it has two great advantages. First, there are only a handful of houses along its entire length that require car access directly from the Boulevard itself. Second, very few cars use it for parking – in fact large sections of the road currently have no space provided for parking and no evident demand.

One approach would be to make large sections of Yarra Boulevard car-free. This would be technically feasible, however I think it would be better politics to permit cars to continue using it, but with constraints. Some drivers currently use it at peak hour to rat-run to Studley Park Road – they could be potent opposition to any change.

Another approach would be to give bicycles right of way over cars and limit the maximum vehicle speed to 40 km/h or less. While this has merit, there is always the 85/15 problem – around 15% of drivers will always ignore the rules and speed or drive carelessly. Traffic management works like speed humps wouldn’t be suitable because they would impact on cyclist’s enjoyment of the road.

A third and better approach would be to reserve the side of the road nearest to the river for the exclusive use of bicycles. Two standard width road lanes could be set aside for cyclists, one in each direction. That would leave enough room for cars to travel one-way on a single road lane on the landward side. There would be no provision for on-road car parking.

Bicycles and cars should be separated by a low traffic island similar to the one separating the existing section of dedicated bicycle lane from the car lanes (see picture below). In fact if cars were transferred to that bicycle lane and cyclists to the adjacent road it would look pretty much like what I have in mind (it’s just that the existing cycle lane is on the river side whereas I think it makes better sense to locate cars on the landward side).

The northern end of the Bicycle Road could commence just past the main entrance to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre about 300 metres up the hill from Chandler Hwy. This would enable most of the existing on-road parking related to the Royal Talbot to be retained. The other end should be located at the T junction with Walmer Rd.

There are four points where drivers would need to cross the Bicycle Road in order to access roads on the river side of Yarra Boulevard. These are Studley Park Rd, Boathouse Rd, a service road leading to the recreation area opposite the Willsmere apartments, and Molesworth St (there is also a single crossover adjacent to Molesworth St that gives access to some properties on the river side of Yarra Boulevard).

Special traffic management treatments would be required at these points to minimise conflict between cyclists and cars, although the guiding principle should be that cars must give way to bicycles. Limited off-street parking could be provided at the playground adjacent to the footbridge across the Yarra to Gipps St, Collingwood.

I expect local residents would feel better off if cars were slower and quieter. Rat runners would feel worse off by the move to one-way travel. Some cyclists might also feel disadvantaged – those that train seriously on Yarra Boulevard might feel impeded if the changes increase the number of recreational cyclists, although providing a full width traffic lane in each direction should nullify this complaint. Politically, I think it could be helpful to redesignate Yarra Boulevard formally as part of the Yarra Trail.

This is just a sketch – I don’t imagine I’ve covered all bases. Nevertheless, I’m confident a more detailed examination would result in a workable plan.

Making Yarra Boulevard a Bicycle Road would be good for Melbourne cyclists. It would also have an iconic role in creating a sense of Melbourne as a bicycle friendly city for both residents and tourists. There are downsides but they’re don’t appear to be fatal. Bicycle Victoria and the State Government should get working.

Existing bicycle lane (left) and two car lanes. Just put cars in the single lane and bicycles in the two lanes!

15 Comments on “Time to hand Yarra Boulevard over to cyclists”

  1. Michael says:

    Interesting idea. I would prefer that the problem of getting to the Yarra Boulevard was solved. If you are coming from the North side along Chandler Highway there is no bicycle lane across the bridge. I don’t think much of substance can or will be done in redneck Melbourne until rising petrol prices start to put serious pressure on driving. I don’t see much political power on the side of bicycles and the planning for token bicycle initiatives is haphazard, disconnected and displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of cyclists.

    • Alan Davies says:

      Yes, that old railway bridge is a shocker. The connection of the Darebin Ck Trail with the Yarra Trail will provide an alternative route (don’t know the timetable but AIUI VCAT gave it the green light).

      I think an important dimension to the Yarra Boulevard proposal is symbolic – taking road space away from cars and giving it to cyclists. It’s what might be called “the Canning St effect”.

      • Michael says:

        I didn’t mean it as a criticism of your idea – It’s a great idea and I support it. As a symbol it would be powerful, but I’m a commuter cyclist so I guess I’m coming from a different angle. The big problem in solving particular high profile routes like Swanston st is that you have to get there first before you can enjoy the dedicated lane. At a council level I don’t think there is much awareness that cyclists might be making longer journeys. Cyclists have to put in a lot of physical energy into stopping and starting unlike a car where the engine and power assisted brakes do all the work. Getting off and on paths can be dangerous as we have to stream in and out of traffic and the entrances are often small and partially obstructed by bollards making turning difficult. See this example – http://www.inc3.info/index.php/edinburgh-gardens-path-changes
        Commuter cyclists are also usually trying to find a reasonably direct route and cycling a few km’s to use a bicycle path isn’t a problem for recreational cyclists it is for time pressed commuters. What is needed is a separate agencies like vicroads that just deals with the bicycle routes in a serious way, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Billions of dollars will instead be thrown away in a useless attempt at increasing the capacity of Hoddle st. Sorry for ranting.

      • Michael says:

        I have read more of your older posts (I’m new to this site) and I like your idea of “cycle streets”. It seems like you have a lot of stats about Melbourne at your disposal and maybe you can answer this question – is the correlation between public transport and housing prices strong and what does this indicate about assumptions about the future cost of driving? When I was in the market for a house in Melbourne I looked for locations in public transport zone 1 and ended up on the fringe of zone 1 on the North East. The most we could afford was a post war weatherboard that was a “renovators dream” in an area dominated by welfare housing and it was 2.5kms away from a railway station which is beyond easy walking distance but still walkable. Any closer to a station and the price went up substantially. Maybe public transport just happens to be around other infrastructure and services, but there seems to be a correlation in car dominated Melbourne.

  2. ajh says:

    Wonderful idea, where do I sign?

  3. Alan Davies says:

    Michael, you might be interested in this paper, Making public transport work in Victoria, in particular Table 4. The authors argue in relation to outer suburbs (although curiously they include Gt Dandenong) that their research:

    “shows that the distance of workers’ homes from a station makes little difference to their propensity to use the train to travel to work. Those living within a kilometre of the station make little more use of the train than do those living at a distance of one to two or two to three kilometres from the station. The implication is that the reason outer suburban residents live close to a station has to do with factors other than their interest in using public transport to get to work. For example, they may have located in the LGA in its early years of settlement or wish to be close to shopping or civic facilities, which are also in the vicinity of the nearest station”.

    You live much closer in (Heidelberg station is 10.5 km from Melbourne Town Hall as the crow flies) so there’d be a higher proportion of residents working in the CBD in your neck of the woods. Around 20% of work trips by middle suburban residents are made by public transport (compared to 10% in the outer suburbs). This should predict higher prices nearer to stations. But there are also some ritzy areas nearer to the station like Eaglemont, Ivanhoe and the elevated parts of Heidelberg. The Austin Hospital complex is near the station and that would also be likely to raise house prices nearby. Impossible to know the relative effects without an in-depth study.

    • Michael says:

      Thanks for your reply and the linked paper. I’m fascinated with all this stuff, but I guess the reality is always more complicated and nuanced than the simple “common knowledge” explanations.

  4. Chris says:

    I think this is a great idea and have thought for a while now that Melbourne does need a dedicated cyclists road to help pull serious cyclists (not commuters) off other less suitable routes like Beach Road. Giving them a safer place to ride could also change the politics, because the conflict between serious cyclists ( with their large groups which can’t stop) and drivers really has given the anti-cycle lobby a lot of ammunition over the years.

    • Marcus says:

      Surely you’re not suggesting Beach Rd is not a suitable road for training cyclists? It has (fixable) problems but removing cyclists is not one of the answers. It is still one of the best training roads in the world. There are limits to how many cyclists roads like Yarra Blvd can handle. Its only 6k long.

  5. Sam says:

    I have also wondered what interest cyclists would have in making a gold coin donation every time they train on Yarra Boulevard if it meant the surface would be upgraded, connections to the north and south improved and the road swept regularly. I know it could be the thin end of the wedge for charging cyclists to use roads, but if it meant getting something in return, I would be more than happy to pay.

  6. Marcus says:

    The solution to rat runners is to close the access to Studley Park Rd. and ban rh turns onto Chandler Hwy.
    Also remove the ridiculous and dangerous copenhagen lane. This has got to be Melbournes most poorly considered piece of cycling infrastructure.

  7. […] suggested making Yarra Boulevard a ‘Bicycle Road’ before but way back then I had something more elaborate in mind. This approach is simpler and […]

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