Two riders killed on Australian roads; Advocates call on Commonwealth to fund safer cycling infrastructure

A woman has been killed while cycling near Beaumaris in Melbourne after being struck by a driver on Beach Road. The Bayside News reported that the victim’s name was Debbie Locco, a 60-year-old former principal of South Oakleigh College. According to the ABC, she was hit from behind by the driver who then fled the scene, abandoning the car in Cheltenham along with his three passengers including a one-year-old child.

Locco died at the scene. A 35-year-old man has been charged with her death, including culpable driving, failure to stop and failure to render assistance.

Nine News reported that her death had affected many in the South Oakleigh College community who remembered Locco as a much loved and respected mathematics teacher, who continued her work as a public servant for the education department after leaving the school.

Locco reportedly had her lights on, was wearing reflective clothing and was riding in a bike lane when she was hit and killed.

In North Queensland another cyclist has been killed this week after being hit by the driver of a truck at a busy intersection in the Townsville suburb of Garbutt. The 45-year-old man from Mount Louisa is believed by police to have been crossing the road when he was hit by the trailer of the truck.

As Nine News reported, the driver told police he didn’t realise he had hit anyone and continued driving for around half-an-hour before pulling over to contact authorities.

In the twelve months to April this year 45 cyclists have died on Australian roads.

Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash

In infrastructure news, cycling lobbyists in Queensland are pressuring the Brisbane City Council to introduce “pop-up” bike lanes in the Brisbane CBD. This follows successful moves in Sydney and other cities to introduce temporary bike lanes to encourage commuters to choose bikes over cars while returning to work after the COVID-19 lockdown.

As The Brisbane Times reported, Bicycle Queensland has presented to the council a possible development strategy that would remove some parking to create separated bikeways on George and Mary streets.

Bicycle Queensland CEO Rebecca Randazzo expressed concern that commuters would turn to private vehicles over fears that crowded public transport could spark a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

“People who work in the CBD need incentives to leave the car at home, and get to work by bicycle and walking […] Improving safety and convenience in the CBD itself takes away one more major barrier for people who want to return to their workplaces, but don’t want to be stuck in traffic for hours” she told The Times.

Councillor Ryan Murphy indicated that the plan was being looked at with some seriousness as it was “important that we look at opportunities to expand active transport around our city, whether that’s walking, cycling or e-scooters.”

On social media the proposal gained a good degree of approval from commenters, with some motorists accepting that moving cyclists onto separated bikeways would benefit them as well.

Nationally, Bicycle Network is lobbying for a six-month plan that would see over $900 million invested in infrastructure and incentives, including a paid ride-to-work scheme, tax rebates and spending on education programs to encourage less experienced riders to take up cycling.  

As Guardian Australia reported on Tuesday, the lobby group is calling for a national response to follow the COVID-19 pandemic that would take the opportunity to bring state and federal governments together in planning Australia’s future cycling infrastructure.

Their proposal goes so far as to argue the federal government should pay a $5 a day cash incentive to commuters who ride to work instead of taking a private vehicle.

While Bicycle Network’s strategy would involve a significant investment, they argue the plan would easily pay for itself by stimulating the economy and reducing long term taxpayer spending on roads and public health.

“Every time a person commutes by car it costs society $10, and every time they commute by bike society saves $10, when you add up all the costs of infrastructure, maintenance, fuel, environmental impacts, and the financial impacts of congestion” Bicycle Network chief executive Craig Richards told Guardian Australia.

However, there are no signals yet that the federal government would take such a proposal seriously, particularly given its stated position that funding for cycling infrastructure is primarily a matter for state, territory and local governments.

If there were ever a time for the Commonwealth to start taking an interest in funding active transport, it would be now.

As of Friday, the government announced it was scrapping the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in favour or a National Cabinet that would allow federal, state and territory leadership to meet monthly, rather than on a half-yearly basis. The new format will allegedly streamline the process of inter-government cooperation by removing paperwork and formality.

In announcing the decision, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters the National Cabinet had a “singular agenda, and that is to create jobs.”

The challenge for state leaders will likely be in convincing the Commonwealth that job creation is not just about investment in new businesses opportunities, but also about getting people from home to work once those jobs actually exist. Reducing congestion and car dependency is critical if we want Australian workers to live healthier, sustainable and more productive lives.

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