The NSW government’s is long on distance and very short on detail, but London to a brick it will be mostly a shared path.
Politicians love us to share things: share the road, share the zone, share the path. The government and councils are creating these spaces everywhere. Why? Because they are cheap. Instead of building dedicated and separated footpaths and bike paths, they use existing ageing, unsafe, poorly maintained footpaths, erect a few signs and boast how they are promoting active transport. But cyclists and pedestrians are generally united: we don’t want to share. We want our own safe spaces.
What the government does not tell you is that the speed limit on a shared path is the same as the adjacent road. While pedestrians have absolute right of way on shared paths, the bicycle laws are seldom enforced, the penalties are farcical and the paths rarely comply with the Austroads guidelines. It’s anarchy on steroids and road safety with fingers crossed.
The speed limit on the shared path next to the Bradfield Highway, on the southern approach to the Harbour Bridge, is 70 km/h. Close to 2000 cyclists a day share this path with children as young as five on their way to Fort Street Public School. Desperate pleas by the school’s parents’ and citizens’ association for over a decade have fallen on deaf ears, while the government is looking at spending millions of dollars on a bicycle ramp on the north side.
In 2018, Council on the Ageing, Vision Australia, Victoria Walks and the Pedestrian Council of Australia all called on the National Transport Commission to proclaim a national default speed limit of 10 km/h on all shared paths, unless otherwise sign-posted. The commission has done nothing. Yet, the highest cause of avoidable death after 50 is from a fall, making shared paths hostile and very dangerous for the elderly. Meanwhile, most cyclists are uninsured and usually impossible to identify if they cause a serious injury and leave the scene. Cyclists have commendably succeeded in getting the metre matters law passed, which requires motorists to keep a certain distance when overtaking. We need a similar law on shared paths.
And now there’s a new epidemic: pedelecs (electric bicycles), which by law have a maximum output of 250 watts and are pedal-assisted. The motor must cut out at 25km/h but any bike shop will tell you that for under $300 you can soup up an electric bike so it’s capable of over 50 km/h, without pedalling. They are everywhere, often used by food delivery riders, yet police do not have the technology or the resources to enforce these laws.
With Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes about to commence a trial of e-scooters, it’s time the government called one of its round tables, with the aim of building dedicated and separated footpaths and bike paths and removing shared paths from the Australian road rules. It’s time to put the walking class first and the foot back in footpath.