Since the coronavirus outbreak, the government has placed a range of restrictions on non-essential gatherings and travel. Many Australians are working from home and reducing their trips to shops and services. As a consequence, fewer trips are being made by motorised vehicles, and many people are for the first time experiencing an urban landscape relatively free of cars.
In a press release reported by The Canberra Times, lobby group Pedal Power said that local authorities needed to make changes to guarantee the safety of the growing number of cyclists taking advantage of the quiet streets to exercise during the lockdown.
On Tuesday, The Financial Times reported that for some retailers, sales of bicycles, parts and maintenance services had grown by around 210 per cent, with bike shops across the country experiencing higher than usual demand. One Sydney based retailer acknowledged that they were having difficulty keeping bikes in stock.
“It has been wonderful to see so many more people out taking the opportunity to exercise during the COVID-19 crisis by going out on walks and rides,” a statement made by Pedal Power read.
The Canberra based lobby group noted however, that the requirement to social distance has created complications for pedestrians and cyclists trying to navigate existing infrastructure.
“Some Canberra residential streets have no footpaths, and many of our suburban paths are quite narrow. This can make it difficult for families and individuals to pass each other safely”.
They have called on the ACT government to reduce and slow traffic on certain streets, to create “safe exercise streets” for those who wish to stay active during the lockdown.
Globally, similar efforts are being trialled in cities such as Berlin and London to expand existing cycling infrastructure during the coronavirus pandemic. Transport for London is looking into options such as restricting traffic and expanding sidewalks to free up space for more vulnerable road users. In Berlin cycling lanes have been widened to ensure that riders can maintain 1.5m distance between them.
Melbourne based lobby group Bicycle Network has called for similar measures to be implemented in Australian cities. Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said that with record numbers of cyclists using Melbourne’s bikeways, now was the time to start re-thinking the car dependent design of our cities.
“Coronavirus restrictions have shown that we need to start thinking differently about daily life. Instead of driving to the gym or taking the kids to basketball, suddenly thousands of people have pulled the bikes out of the shed and are exercising near home,” he said.
Bicycle Network is calling for some streets in Melbourne to be completely closed to traffic to allow cyclists and pedestrians to safely exercise. They further suggest that popular bike routes could be kept in place even after coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
“Australia should follow the lead of other countries and quickly create more space to ride separated from vehicles.”
The need for safer bikeways has been emphasised in the past two weeks. Despite the reduced traffic on roads, cyclists continue to face significant risks to their safety.
Mirage News reported this week that a pair of cyclists had been hit by a car north of Coffs Harbour. The driver of a utility was turning into a driveway when he struck and seriously injured two men aged in their 40s.
On Thursday, The Adelaide Advertiser reported that a 22-year-old female cyclist had been hit by a truck in Adelaide’s inner-west. The woman was dragged 40 metres by the truck, and emergency services had to cut the bike into pieces to remove it from under the wheels. She was taken to Royal Adelaide Hospital with serious leg injuries.
A cyclist has died in what has been described as a “horror crash” on the Gold Coast. Police are yet to release details of the incident to the public. The Brisbane Times reported on Friday that a male cyclist in his 50s was killed after a collision involving a four-wheel-drive in the early hours of the morning near Upper Coomera. Emergency services attended, however the man died at the scene.
The death comes only a day after Queensland Police issued a $400 fine to a 24-year-old Norman Park man who was caught on camera passing “exceptionally close” to a cyclist near Logan, north of the Gold Coast. Police have released stills of the driver coming within centimetres of the cyclist during an unsafe overtaking manoeuvre.