As Melbourne’s cycling ambassador, Cr Tom Melican is organising councils across town to look at ways to make cycling a more realistic alternative for more people.
The shock arrival of COVID-19 and the enduring restrictions on social distancing are set to profoundly change the way Melbourne moves.
Already many Melbournians have taken to cycling during the restrictions. They have marvelled at their city with fewer cars on the road and revelled in the opportunity to be more active in a safer, less polluted world. Strange and uncertain times indeed, but could this be a real chance to recognise the lasting role that cycling can play in a healthy city?
While nobody is sure what the future holds, we can be confident that safe social distancing will severely limit the capacity of public transport while greater reliance on private cars will only lead to hellish gridlock. It’s a predicament that’s not likely to go away quickly.
Local governments have already adjusted activities to meet the COVID situation. Now most councils are looking at the serious implications for mobility within their municipalities and city-wide.
What will be the impact of social distancing on public transport capacity and usage? What are the implications of more people working from home more often? How can we encourage active transport for everyday mobility needs? How will footpaths cope with more outside dining, walking and riding? Can already congested roads cope with even more cars?
Overseas, and indeed in the Melbourne CBD, local authorities are acting swiftly to provide alternatives to unsafely crowded public transport. There is a growing lobby calling for wide-spread and immediate pop-up cycling infrastructure in response to reduced capacity of public transport. In local government, Melbourne City Council is leading the charge with funding to replace some car parking with footpaths and 12 kilometres of pop-up cycling lanes to allow people to socially distance in the CBD.
A plethora of other organisations are also backing moves to more active transport. Obvious lobbies like the Bicycle Network are keen, so too are Infrastructure Victoria, Infrastructure Australia, mental health organisations and also the RACV.
Councils across Melbourne are now assessing ideas to keep people moving for work, education and day-to-day activities. They will be looking at pop-up cycle lanes, wider footpaths and quick ways to make active transport more attractive. Some of these ideas will be temporary, others more enduring.
Asking a rhetorical question might help guide this shift. What could be the legacy of COVID for Melbourne’s mobility? Could it be a sustained lift in active transport?
As cycling ambassador, I am hoping that these difficult times will be remembered for the actions we took to reinstate cycling and walking as safe, fun and healthy transport alternatives for more Melbournians.
Cr Melican is a Banyule councillor and the Metropolitan Transport Forum’s cycling ambassador.