Thursday 20 March 2014

Best cycling routes through Melbourne's CBD

Summary: Most roads in Melbourne's central business district (CBD) are generally unpleasant to ride on due to a lack of separation from moving cars, parked cars and pedestrians. They are also often congested and have too many stops. This post will be kept updated to provide guidance as to the best routes to cycle on and tips on negotiating specific challenges.

Savio Sebastian 
Related Posts:
> See the "routes and maps" category on this blog.
> Melbourne map of key cycling transport routes, infrastructure and destinations

1. A high-level overview of the existing and planned central city cycling network
Plan Melbourne is the Victorian Government’s vision for the city to 2050. It's chapter on transport provides details on the future cycling network proposed for Melbourne's CBD:

"Strategic cycling corridors will provide separated priority routes into and around the Central City that support high volumes of cyclists of all abilities. With a corridor approach to implementation, the early focus will be on delivering safe, high-quality cycle routes to and across the Hoddle Grid from the west, east and north-east, as well as connecting new communities in docklands, northbank and the early stages of Fishermans Bend."

"As the Central City develops further north, south and west, cycling corridors will provide a viable alternative to public transport and private vehicle use by encouraging cycling in the new urban renewal precincts, such as E-Gate, Arden-Macaulay, City north and Fishermans Bend. Gaps in existing cycling corridors will be completed to connect northern, eastern and southern neighbourhoods." Plan Melbourne - A More Connected Melbourne

- What are considered to be good-enough "existing key bicycle links" are highlighted in dark green below. The proposed enhancements to be delivered are highlighted in dark pink. As you can see, the only existing, key bicycle routes in the CBD considered by the City of Melbourne to be of sufficient quality are: Swanston St and La Trobe St. The only proposed additions in the CBD are: Collins St, William St, the bottom end of Spencer St and a connection from La Trobe St toward Albert St.

Plan Melbourne - A More Connected Melbourne (pdf)

2. Google Maps - Bike Trails, Dedicated lanes and Bicycle-friendly roads
- Google Maps with the "Bicycling layer" turned on is generally a useful reference of cycling infrastructure (off road Trails, Separated/Dedicated Bike Lanes, Bicycle-friendly roads). However, remember that its principal source is government-provided data. From the below map, there are a few things worth commenting on:

(a) It correctly highlights La Trobe St as a high-quality East-West route that is fully connected.
(b) It correctly implies that despite the City of Melbourne's assertions that Swanston St is an existing, good-enough bicycle route it actually is patchy and not efficient.
(c) It incorrectly indicates that William St is already a high-quality bicycle route from Peel St to Flinders St. This is based on City of Melbourne data but decent, dedicated bike lanes do not span the entire route.
(d) It indicates Bourke St has decent dedicated lanes west and east of its central pedestrian mall. However, this isn't a good through-city route as cyclists aren't allowed to cycle in the busy pedestrian mall.
(e) It correctly indicates that Spring St has decent, dedicated lanes.
(f) It lists Collins St as a "bicycle friendly road" due to partial but very narrow bike lanes and bike "refuge lanes" that are not real bike lanes but allow filtering past cars. Collins St is a desirable bike route but is not at all bike friendly and the chance of dooring is extremely high.

Google Maps: Melbourne CBD with Bicycling layer turned on

3. VicRoads Principal Bicycle Network (PBN) and Bicycle Priority Routes (BPRs)
- "The Principal Bicycle Network (PBN) is a network of proposed and existing cycle routes that help people cycle for transport, and provide access to major destinations in the Melbourne metropolitan area". See: VicRoads: Bicycle network planning

VicRoads: Principal Bicycle Network - Google Map (VicRoads has removed this link)

- It would be brilliant if the network illustrated above for the CBD actually existed. However, it doesn't; the VicRoads PBN Google Map does not distinguish between the routes that exist and the ones that are proposed but only exist on paper. Publishing such a limited map is absurdly useless and misleading.

- I've been unable to find a live PBN map online showing the actual routes that exist. In November 2012, Bicycle Network did illustrate the overall picture of complete vs incomplete routes here: Bicycle Network: VicRoads - The Principal Bicycle Network. As you can see there is a lot of work to be done.
The real question now is "Where is the money?". As the maps show, Melbourne has a great bike network - on paper. But it does not benefit the community until its gets built. We know that building out these lanes and paths will be the most cost-effective transport investment the government will ever make. But while the VicRoads Bicycle Program budget sits at zero dollars, the opportunity is lost.
Bicycle Network: VicRoads - The Principal Bicycle Network
Bicycle Network: VicRoads - The Principal Bicycle Network

Bicycle Priority Routes
- "Bicycle Priority Routes (BPRs) are an elevated subset of the PBN." They are the routes that VicRoads has determined cyclists should be given priority on - either permanently or at certain times of the day (typically weekday peak hour).
PBN and Priority Bicycle Routes Fact Sheet (pdf)

- The prioritisation plans illustrate which transport modes have priority on the road at different times of the day and are published as PDF maps for each local government area. The map for the CBD area of the City of Melbourne is shown below. BPRs are shown as the thin purple lines.

 SmartRoads Map for City of Melbourne (pdf)

Key Notes:
- Many BPRs have not had cycling infrastructure built yet and so these maps reflect the desired (not necessarily existing) routes for cyclists based on directness, connectivity and the potential for them to be made safe enough (e.g. with bike lanes). The BPRs do not reflect the quality of existing cycling infrastructure.
- The east-west BPRs are La Trobe St, Collins St and Flinders St. Note that Bourke St is absent as the pedestrian mall prevents it being a through-route.
- The north-south BPRs are Exhibition St, Swanston St, Elizabeth St, William St, Spencer St and the southern half of Spring St.
- It's curious to note that Melbourne's 2050 vision of a city cycling network (Map 21 in part #1 above) doesn't seem to include the BPRs: Flinders St, Exhibition St, Elizabeth St, Spring St or most of Spencer St.

4. Bicycle Priority Routes do not equal bicycle priority in Melbourne's CBD
- Observe on the VicRoads BPR map that motorists (the grey "traffic route" in the legend) do not have a single priority route in the CBD. Yet even on cyclist PBRs like Collins St, this is what cyclists currently have to put up with: tiny "bike refuge" lanes that are either driven in by cars or have doors opened into them regularly.

Police urged to charge passenger after cyclist car-doored in CBD
Car-dooring reveals confusion over bike lanes
What can be done to stop cyclists getting “doored”?

5. Melbourne CBD: Transport-based bike routes (Bicycle Network)
- Bicycle Network provides updates on bicycle infrastructure for key transport cycling routes it has identified. See: Transport based bike routes in Melbourne. Below are the specific pages (including photos) for listed roads within Melbourne CBD. You may find these updates useful on the current and proposed status of these roads.

Inner: Collins St
Inner: Elizabeth Street
Inner: Exhibition Street
Inner: La Trobe St
Inner: Latrobe to Albert St link
Inner: Royal Parade, Peel and William Streets
Inner: William St
Inner: Swanston St

6. If simply trying to cross the city try to avoid riding in the CBD as much as possible
- Due to the frequent intersections and congestion, Melbourne CBD doesn't offer many efficient routes for passing east-west or north-south near the city centre. So if needing to cross the river or to head east or west near the CBD, you should aim to bypass all except the most efficient, bicycle-friendly CBD routes.

- It may be worthwhile riding a little further in distance to avoid the worst CBD sections. E.g. Using Peel St and Queensberry St. Or it may be best to stick to the safest routes like La Trobe St even if involving a slight detour. E.g. Albert St to La Trobe St via Lonsdale St and Exhibition St.

7. Melbourne CBD recommended bicycle routes
- If you need to cross the CBD east-west or north-south, the below map highlights the key, connected routes I would recommend that balance directness, convenience and bicycle-friendly infrastructure.

My Melbourne Bike Grid map is kept updated with the best transport routes.
See: Melbourne map of key cycling transport routes, infrastructure and destinations

Key Notes:
- If heading diagonally (south-west to north-east), use Queensberry St to bypass travelling through much of the CBD.
- La Trobe St is by far the safest east-west route in the CBD as it has separated lanes but there are hills and many intersections.
- The congestion, taxis and high risk of dooring make Collins St dangerous and unpleasant but it is the most direct east-west connecting route so may be needed.
- The path across Carlton Gardens from Queensberry St to Gertrude St is not legal yet but if this is most direct just watch out for police (often one blitz a year on bikes in Carlton Gardens).
- Despite its inconsistencies, Swanston St is the key, north-south link to St Kilda Rd.
- William St and Spencer St are the key north-south links on the western side of the CBD.
- You can get between East Melbourne and St Kilda Rd via Clarendon St, the MCG and Anderson St on a much more pleasant route that bypasses the CBD.

8. Other Melbourne cyclist's recommended CBD bike routes
Occasionally some Melbourne cyclists or professionals working in sustainable transport provide recommended routes and map insights based on their own personal perspective. I will document the best ones here.

Beck Roy (@okreroy) has provided the below map with excellent insights into both preferred and unsafe Melbourne CBD routes and the reasons why. It was provided in response to the City of Melbourne Lord Major, Robert Doyle, suggesting that cyclists be banned from using Lonsdale St, King St and Flinders St because they are very unsafe for cycling. What interested me most about Beck's map is that if the routes she's marked as "Not great" (except perhaps Russell St which is less critical) were upgraded to make safer for cycling, then Melbourne would finally have a safe, connected and efficient bike grid in the CBD.

I think every thoughtful person who learns the relevant facts about transport is actually in agreement about the desirable outcome: separation ("unravelling") of the different modes and actually making the infrastructure, regulation and incentive changes to achieve prioritisation and mode equity. Robert Doyle, Beck and I all agree that Lonsdale St, King St and Flinders St are very unsafe for cycling and should be avoided. Virtually all cyclists would be delighted to give up those streets as arterial routes once better (safer, connected) bike routes exist.

A good start would be to finish all needed connections to the excellent La Trobe St route and actively educate cyclists (e.g. with signs) to not use Lonsdale St as an arterial route. Collins St and connecting Williams St to the south are the next high priority targets, which would eliminate the use of King St and much use of Flinders St.

Further Info:
- Plan Melbourne
> Plan Melbourne - A More Connected Melbourne (pdf 4.98Mb)

VicRoads Cycling
Bicycle network planning (including the PBN)
Bicycle route maps
> SmartRoads: Connecting Communities (pdf)
SmartRoads Map for City of Melbourne (pdf)
> PBN and Priority Bicycle Routes Fact Sheet (pdf)

Bicycle Network
VicRoads - The Principal Bicycle Network
> Metro Routes
Transport based bike routes in Melbourne (link missing)
Bicycle Network: City of Melbourne (link missing)

- Melbourne Bicycle Users Group (BUG)