Cycling in Sydney

Last updated 12:16 24/11/2011

It’s time to write about something I had heard much of and thus had hopes for greatness for in Sydney: The cycle lanes.

I had visions of utopian bike lanes, separated from the road and from hoi polloi on the footpath, a veritable lifeline, flowing through the city where cyclists could roam, the only contest for space coming from each other, undisturbed by either motorist or pedestrian.Oxford Street bike/bus lane

Yes well, it’s nice to dream and they’re free. At present, my bike resides under the stairs in my house. It has airings in the park and will be useful on the morning when weather allows my flatmate and me to take up our planned outside swimming regime.

As for cycling the 10km to work –  well, I’m still buying a weekly bus ticket.

And just a note before I go any further - can we try to leave out the cyclist/motorist slagging and talk about this topic like adults?

In 2009, the Sydney Morning Herald had this to say about cycling in the city:

"Sydney's cycleways are not so much an organised network as a fragmented collection of winding paths and half-finished ideas. Most were built or designed when cycling was viewed as a pleasant pastime rather than a practical form of travel and are now poorly suited to commuting.

"Many are riven with potholes and located perilously close to parked cars or - like the Harbour Bridge cycleway - they end suddenly at a steep flight of stairs or a telegraph pole."

According to Wikipedia, that same year, about "4000 cyclists rode to or from Sydney CBD on an average weekday, via the Harbour Bridge, Anzac Bridge and Anzac Parade cycleways alone."

I have no idea if things have improved since 2009 but I rather suspect not. Around Surry Hills there's a separated network that looks pretty but from a safety point of view rather dubious, given the number of intersections that punctuate it.

Motorists can have trouble seeing cyclists anyway, so this design was not greeted with enthusiasm by Sydney’s cyclists, who have a  curious aversion to getting up close and personal with the road.

My boss cycles to work regularly and so do a couple of my colleagues. They arrive in one piece, which I should find heartening as I love the idea of commuting by bike.

But I lack nerves of steel. One look at the Oxford Street bus lane, where cyclists fight for space with rush hour buses – including the enormous bendy ones - and I shudder. It’s a fun cat and mouse game- bus overtakes cyclist. Cyclist takes life in hands to overtake bus at stop. Rinse and repeat.

As well as buses, I am unconvinced about the style of driving in Sydney. I’ve seen some interesting displays with no cyclists are involved, so I don’t think I want to test it from the vantage point of my bike seat.

So I’m wondering if I’m alone here. How many people would consider cycling to work at least some of the time if they felt safer on the roads, or there was a better cycle network where they live? 

And who's quite happy cycling to work?

(Please note - I’m not apportioning blame as to why cyclists may not feel safe on the roads, so again, not an invitation to have a go at anyone.)

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McP   #1   12:45 pm Nov 24 2011

Kinda hard to relate to these posts about Sydney considering the majority of readers don't live there.

Regan   #2   12:52 pm Nov 24 2011

Jesus Ann, MAN UP!!!

Just kiddin'. I've lived here a long long time and, even tho Clover is doing her best to put dedicated bike lanes in place all over the city (some of the improvements are 1000% better than how it used to be), you've got to remember, the anti-Clover lobby here is strong. If there's one thing about Sydney government (in fact Australian politics at every level) is that the vested interests aren't afraid of acting like rabid dogs in exercising whatever power they have, and they hate her and her council with a passion. Duncan Gay, Liberal transport minister (who actually has initiated a few good things since they came to power last year) has even spoken of ripping them out if he gets the chance. That's why it took so long to emulate the small boutique bars you get in Melbourne, Wellington & almost everywhere else, the big booze barn lobby fought as hard as they could against lowering the costs of development approvals, even going so far as to state that the majority of Sydneysiders didn't want them!?!

It's improving. Slowly. It will still be a long long time before I'll ever consider cycling to work tho, and I honestly would like to. Personally, I think anyone who cycles or motorcycles on Sydney roads, especially downtown, is nuts; and I used to own a motorbike.

stacy   #3   12:58 pm Nov 24 2011

I would definitley cycle to work if the cycleways were somehow separate from the road. I saw in finland last year, all their cycleways were either on the footpath (whichwas extremely wide)or a completely separate track/road. At the moment, where I live, the cycle lanes are very similar to Sydneys' and there are far to many giant trucks on the arterial routes to be safe.

Richard   #4   01:35 pm Nov 24 2011

Your question is general, not for Sydney I presume?

I regurarly used to commute in Wellington by bicycle (being Dutch, this seemed normal to me), but have given up on this completely. I hate the 'fight' and arriving frustrated at my destination more often than not. So for the cycling aspect of things, I can't wait to use my bicycle again when we move back to Europe, which is way ahead on sustainable transport (less car based).

Ava   #5   01:44 pm Nov 24 2011

Living in Auckland and buying a bike last year, I have gone through phases where I will cycle into work from Mt Wellington, but only doing so using the back streets etc.

I'm quite happy cycling to work early in the morning 6:30 - 7:00 but anytime after that makes me pretty nervous!!!

Visiting Melbourne I saw so many people being able to cycle into the city and it look so relaxed!! Very jealous!

Mike L   #6   01:45 pm Nov 24 2011

To me, combining the bus and cycle lanes just seems like a silly idea. Why would you put cyclists (the most vunerable of road users) into the same lanes as busses. If Sydneys bus drivers are anything like the majority of NZ bus drivers then travelling in the bus lane just seems like an excercise in euthanasia (excuse spelling)

Matt   #7   01:50 pm Nov 24 2011

It is good that Sydney is at least doing something to commit to cycling capability. I praise Hastings, New Plymouth, Palmerston North and Nelson for their commitment to cycling capability and to having policies that encourage cycling. I am saddened that Wellington, Hutt Valley and Upper Hutt are not doing so. Some believe that giving cyclists a green-coated siding on the Hutt Road is a gigantic commitment to cycling; I can tell you, it is not. Cyclists need a protected, capable cycleway, separate from motor traffic in zones over 50 Km/h and an overall commitment by Wellington, Porirua, Hutt City and Upper Hutt councils to be responsible and commit to strategies for cycleways. In doing so, we can reduce traffic congestion and roading costs, prevent accidents and encourage a healthy population.

His Lordship   #8   01:52 pm Nov 24 2011

"I had visions of utopian bike lanes, separated from the road and from hoi polloi on the footpath, a veritable lifeline, flowing through the city where cyclists could roam, the only contest for space coming from each other, undisturbed by either motorist or pedestrian."

Hahaha! I live in Canberra, and I get frightened being in Sydney traffic in a taxi, let alone my car, and there is no way on Earth anybody would get me on my bike in that city.

Canberra, on the other hand, offers me a 17km each-way cycle commute to work, all but 3km on nice, peaceful cycle ways separated from the road.

viff   #9   02:06 pm Nov 24 2011

Ann, you would LURV the Netherlands. Cyclists rule there, and more often than not have right of way over other traffic. There are even parking building dedicated to bicycles. Of course, being as flat as the popular Dutch pancake helps somewhat. There are recreational areas (parks and the like) with cycleways, and most cycleways are wide, flat, and smooth (unlike many of the roads).

I'd imagine that *one day* when we're well past peak oil production and only the very rich or important can use fuel-powered vehicles, the rest of the world will wake up and we'll also enjoy such things.

Sparrow   #10   02:08 pm Nov 24 2011

So glad you wrote this Ann! Yes, by using one of the large, shared cycle lanes in Sydney (they are also bus, amubulance and taxi lanes), you are definitely taking your life into your hands. The bus drivers do not like being behind cyclists at all, and nurmerous times I have seen them literally nudge the cyclist out of the lane and onto the footpath, one time actually damaging the bike and causing the cyclist to connect with pavement.

My partner is buying my a bike for christmas, and I will most certainly be using the footpath in most areas (ie, anywhere outside my quiet surburban streets). I know I will get yelled at by pedestrians, but the way I figure it is, it is my choice how I wish to travel (bike, bus, walk, car etc), but it is my right to feel safe, and I do not feel safe cycling on the road, bike lane or not. I've seen heaps of other cyclists using the footpath which has encouraged me further.

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