Worse-than-Third-World cycling conditions. Yes, a New South Wales tale.

I had a whole day to kill yesterday. The solution was, of course, a bike ride.

It didn't matter where, but it was going to be long. In the end, I made it up as I went along, setting off on a loop from the lovely, leafy North Shore out to Parramatta, then Liverpool, Campbelltown and into the southern highlands via the freeway and, after Picton, the old Hume Hwy. Where then would depend on how I felt.

Not everything went as well as it might. For which I blame the government. Not necessarily the current government. Not necessarily even one level of government. All the governments which have failed so spectacularly over the last six decades or more.

Now, dear reader, I know you know what I mean here. Their worst failure, you'll agree, is in provision for cyclists. But, from my observation over a 200+ km route, I was left thinking that, beyond token projects, governments have not even tried to provide for cyclists and in many, many cases have neither thought about them nor, in many, many places, even recognised their existence. I believe this is largely why, on my route between Liverpool and Albion Park, that I saw only one, yes one, other cyclist. And by "cyclist", I mean anyone on a bicycle. (Xmas Day attracts a throng by comparison!)

The whole hideous road system around Sydney has developed since WWII solely to benefit people in cars (and, judging by motorists' constant whingeing, doesn't do that very well) with only minuscule space allocation to any other transport mode.

Not news, I hear you say, but before you tune out, let me mention just two examples of government cycle-blindness which I noted on my random randonnee.

First, signposting. What signposting??

Directional advice in the form of signs is a pretty basic requirement for a transport network. But beyond a few short corridors it is pretty much non-existent for cross-regional bicycle trippers in NSW.

I tried to follow the bus Transit-Way, parallelled by a cycleway, from Parramatta to Liverpool but lost it by Wentworthville, just about the next suburb. Random stretches of "cycle path", actually glorified footpaths but at least generally traffic-free (including the intended traffic), occasionally appeared but, without any indication of where they went, soon had me at a dead-end. I tried following the shared footpath of the Cumberland Highway, surely a top-10 contender in the list of the world's ugliest roads, using the motorists' signage, but the "facility" I was riding on simply ended at an intersection in the middle of nowhere with no information supplied as to where cyclists should go. "To Hell" seemed appropriate. Since there was no footpath ahead on the road's western side, I swapped to the east side, crossing about 10 traffic lanes via pedestrian lights to do so. There was not even a footpath, let alone a shared one, on that side either but I followed a parallel service road adjacent to some houses for a few hundred metres before it veered away to who-knew-where. I gritted my teeth and took to the kerb lane of Cumberland Hwy, pedalling madly downhill in the traffic until a footpath reappeared. Not particularly enjoyable for an experienced cyclist, absolutely unthinkable for a novice.

Second, road shoulders.

Given that there are SAA Standards for near-everything, one might expect roads to have to conform to some consistent standard. Especially roads where speed limits are 70 km/h or higher and on which cyclists are likely to need to ride. This category includes all country roads. To conform to my imaginary Standard, road shoulders would be smoothly sealed and at least a metre wide for a 70 km/h road and wider as the limit rises. They would be regularly swept of debris. There would be no lip, which could bring down a rider, between the shoulder and the travel lane.

What I noted was that shoulders vary from non-existent, or with huge potholes or jagged edges, to wide and rough-sealed, with lips up to 10 cm high where the travel lane has been resurfaced multiple times while the shoulder has not. Shoulders came and went randomly as did little bicycle logos on them. Speed limits stayed at 110 km/h on the freeway, and at a ridiculous 100 on busy, narrow, winding, hilly connectors like the Wollongong-Picton Rd.

Of course, my imaginary Standard, would require funding to implement. Impossible while there are single-occupant cars to encourage and there are no cyclists out there to benefit, are there? No, since the near total lack of thought to their needs by all three levels of government over six decades has virtually eliminated transport cycling. (Build it and they will come, I say.)

The resultant total car dependency could explain why Picton appears to be a finalist in the Fattest Town in NSW Contest. Or perhaps I only think that because I spent too much time there yesterday. That's 45 minutes of my life I will never get back. Oh, the horror.

Views: 1210

Comment by Ma Dame Vélo on January 4, 2013 at 11:39am

Well full credit to you Neil for even trying to venture in that direction.  You probably heard me say on Saturday (to those people from BN in the cafe at North Turramurra) that when I start leading BN rides again they will all be North and East of Epping - i.e. the gorges, Akuna Bay, that sort of thing.

I made the decision over twelve months ago that I would never ride south and west of Epping again because it just makes me fed up with the crap "non-infrastructure".  Sure, there's no infrastructure where I do ride, but they are non-urban roads (on the most part) and I can just ride and enjoy it.

My one exception to the above commitment is that I do ride to work in North Sydney, mainly on the Epping cycle path which is also fairly crap due to the multitude of driveways that we have to cross but it is better than nothing.

I think the NSW government should create a Department of Cycling?  OK pipe dreaming.

As for me, Monday I rode two gorges, Wednesday three gorges and today Bobbin Head to Kalkari and return.  Hope this program is going to be enough to get me through the 130km Alpine Classic option in three weeks time!

Comment by Rob Berry on January 4, 2013 at 11:53am

The variety in road shoulders really is bewildering. On my ride up to Lithgow from Penrith last week there are parts where I had a 2m wide shoulder that had clearly been resurfaced recently, parts where it is clear that resurfacing at some point in the last few years had occured on the road but never touched the shoulder, cascading down in quality to some points on an 80km/h road where the shoulder abruptly disappeared altogether as the line to the left hand side of the left lane was painted directly on the edge of anything even resembling a road surface. I stayed off the highway as much as possible, but you have no choice but to use it in some stretches.

Comment by Dabba on January 4, 2013 at 4:34pm

My touring companion and I firmly believe that Dubbo holds the mantle of being the Fat City of NSW.

Nice ride in places btw, apart from lack of infrastructure!

Comment by Neil Alexander on January 4, 2013 at 6:27pm

Sorry, but I just don't fit in.

I am not a pub person, AK...

...and the place was thronged with noisy motorcyclists amongst whom I would have felt uncomfortable alone, shaven-legged and in lycra.

Comment by Bob Moore on January 4, 2013 at 7:16pm
Re the bit between Parramatta and Prospect Canal cycleway, the Amy Gillett ride a couple of years ago went that way and was a bit of a disaster, one reason for not doing it again I believe. Once you pick up the path just south of the Prospect Canal cycleway it is pretty good to the end. Better to go Parramatta to Guilford via Merrylands maybe.
Comment by Neil Alexander on January 4, 2013 at 8:08pm

I simply rode down Campbelltown Rd from the Crossroads (don't ask me to explain how I arrived there because I was thoroughly lost, though this Garmin trace may give a clue) onto the shoulder of the South Western Freeway and rode past Campbelltown to the Picton exit. Constant truck and car traffic but no hassles from it.

And don't get me wrong, AK, it was a good ride overall.

The descent of Macquarie Pass was a blast, even though for half of it I was stuck behind a turkey-driven ute   descending at about 30 km/h. If I had missed my train at Albion Park I would have blamed him, not the government.

One thing I will give the government a rap for is that the trains functioned admirably, last night. I arrived at Albion Park station a couple of minutes before the 8.29 train, changed to the Bondi Junction train at Wollongong after a two minute wait and changed again at Town Hall to a North Shore line train which arrived before I could even lean my bike against the wall at the end of the platform. For my $8.20, I was delivered home on the dot of 11 pm, roughly 13 hours after I started my odyssey.

Comment by Jon on January 4, 2013 at 9:01pm

The problem is not that this is a bike related problem. What you described is a problem for all forms of transport, including cars.

There is a reason highways should have shoulders, and it isn't for bicycles, pedestrians or the odd horse, despite what some parts of government state.

In fact, I'd challenge the notion it is even legal for a bicycle to ride on the shoulder, and should in fact take a whole lane, just like any other vehicle would be expected to do, regardless of it's speed or size. Although, that doesn't make it safe.

The broad issue that no level of government in Australia is actually accountable to any one or anything. At least in the EU, there is a higher level that can and will fine and sue entire countries for breach of certain targets or conditions.

Voting won't fix it. There is no real alternative.


Comment by Ma Dame Vélo on January 5, 2013 at 7:09am

Jon, have you ridden (or driven) much in country Victoria?  In my experience, the roads in country Vic are much better than in NSW with good shoulders and good driving/riding surfaces on the whole (also there are numerous rail trails but that's another matter).  Admittedly there are much fewer kms of road anyway but when you say there is "no level of government in Australia accountable", I agree, but I reckon it is more to do with the massive size of Australia that is to blame for our substandard infrastructure.  Victoria can do it because it is more of a European country size IMO.

As I said above I agree with Neil about the third world infrastructure in Sydney and I think that could definitely be improved by a co-ordinated approach from the state government to work with local governments to link cycle paths from one LGA to the next etc and to mandate such improvements.  However, we must keep reminding ourselves that the whole of the country of Denmark could fit into the Sydney Basin so our money is necessarily spread more thinly.

Comment by Neil Alexander on January 5, 2013 at 7:20am

Ooh, a kind word from MB. And she agrees with me. I am honoured!

I would suggest, however, that with so much population in one smallish area, there is less need to spread money thinly if we were to allocate it to linking up a bicycle network in the Sydney Basin.

And, in reference to Aaron's fine link which includes the words: "Another man there was, made the trains run on time", if I was NSW Dictator I would make sure that not only would the trains continue to run on time (and all carry multiple, unboxed bicycles) but that bicycles had room on the roads and destination signposting as well!

Comment by dr bean on January 5, 2013 at 3:06pm

Early last year, a colleague's sister was pulled over in a 'breakdown' lane near Mittagong (because her car was, you know, broken down): the lane was way too narrow and she - and the towtruck driver who went to assist her - were killed while trying to secure the car to tow it. Props to her family for using this tragedy to try and make breakdown lanes a safe width and to force drivers to slow down when passing vehicles in them:



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