Residents draw to council’s attention ongoing safety concerns for pedestrians crossing Wellington Road, East Brisbane in the vicinity of Mowbray Terrace, Baines St and Toohey St.
Large numbers of pedestrians cross Wellington Road each day to access local shops and restaurants, Raymond Park, nearby public transport services and St Joseph’s Primary School in Kangaroo Point. Detouring via existing traffic lights at Vulture Street or Lytton Rd can add upwards of 10 minutes to a pedestrian journey.
A recent apartment development approval at the corner of Toohey St and Wellington Rd will generate more vehicle and pedestrian traffic at this intersection.
We call on council to install traffic lights on Wellington Rd at or near the Mowbray Terrace intersection, and to lower the speed limit to 40km/h (in keeping with the existing 40km/h school zone to the south of Vulture St).
The recent use of die-ins and other temporary blockades to raise concerns about pedestrian and cycling safety has raised legitimate questions about whether this is a constructive and useful tactic.
There’s no denying that temporary blockades frustrate motorists and potentially polarise the community. But their value must be understood in the context of a broader, multi-faceted campaign for change. Blockades are one important tool in a big diverse toolkit, and they can be valuable and effective alongside other forms of advocacy.
Right now in Brisbane, we have an abundance of community groups and non-profit organisations pushing hard to make our city more walkable and less car-centric. We’ve had dozens of petitions, letter-writing campaigns and submissions, with little to no impact. Advocates have also organised all kinds of community-building activities to legitimise and normalise cycling, and demonstrate that a bike-friendly city is possible and worthwhile. Various groups have hosted a range of workshops and policy forums where we create the space for nuanced, evidence-based conversations (usually, very few people come).
While these various tactics have all played a useful role in shifting mindsets and achieving small wins, the pace of change has been far too slow. The proportion of funding and resources dedicated to pedestrian safety and bike lanes remains tiny compared to the amount of money that is wasted on widening roads. Maintaining a seat at the table through diplomacy and compromise sounds nice, but you might actually be sitting at the kids’ table, arguing over crumbs while the rest of the cake is sliced up elsewhere.
In Amsterdam in the 1970s, residents upended vehicles and permanently blockaded major roads to call for safer streets
When you consider the growing problem of traffic congestion, the health system costs of so many accidents, the billions of dollars which are wasted each year on ineffective road projects, and the desperate urgency to reduce fossil fuel emissions in order to minimise the negative impacts of climate change, it’s clear that we need some radical changes. Not only has tangible change been too slow, but on some indicators we’re actually moving backwards. Active and public transport rates have stagnated in Brisbane, and for some demographics, they’ve decreased significantly.
Over the last ten years, the multi-pronged push for pedestrian and bike safety improvements in Brisbane has been characterised by an absence of civil disobedience. It has also been characterised by a lack of significant and tangible positive outcomes. Brisbane City Council and the Queensland Government have grudgingly funded a few valuable projects, but much of the city remains hostile and unsafe for both pedestrians and bikes.
People are dying on our roads. Thousands more are being hospitalised. If preventable accidents were occurring at this rate in a private workplace, the business would be shut down. But the high rate of casualties on our roads has been accepted and normalised due to the lack of political pressure for change.
I hear a lot of road safety advocates talk about the wonderful infrastructure and pedestrian-friendly road culture in cities like Amsterdam, which are designed to prioritise pedestrians and bikes. Too often, those advocates forget or are unaware of the widespread and controversial civil disobedience actions that Dutch citizens organised throughout the 1970s in order to help make this happen. Civil disobedience wasn’t the only part of the campaign, but it was an essential and crucial element. To challenge the growing car-centric mindset in the Netherlands, residents blockaded roads, held up traffic and pissed off a lot of people. Without this activism, the pressure from car manufacturers, motorist lobby groups, oil companies, road construction companies, mega-mall developers etc would have led to Amsterdam becoming just like every other car-centric capital city. But the Dutch fought back, and it worked.
Controversial tactics like blockades create the space for conversation. They draw a huge amount of attention to an issue, both from the general public, and from key decision-makers. But their true value lies not in the immediate media coverage, but in the subsequent discussions they provoke. Some of these discussions are hostile and antagonistic, but many are constructive and valuable.
Civil disobedience also creates the negotiating space for other ‘moderate’ groups to articulate stronger demands. When politicians are confronted by disruptive, controversial protests, they will publicly dismiss the protestors as vocal fringe extremists, but will then simultaneously seek to appease and build stronger relationships with the very community groups whose petitions they previously ignored.
The fact that residents are so frustrated that they’ve taken to protesting about pedestrian crossings and bike lanes is not a good look for a city council. After the immediate news story is forgotten, the lasting memory in the collective subconscious is that people are unhappy with the council’s approach to road safety and transport planning. The desire to counteract that negative perception helps shift policy priorities and accelerates change.
A few people have suggested to me that rather than blockades, we should instead focus on actions that disrupt meetings in City Hall or Parliament House. While I think protests of that kind do have positive value, they generally get less media coverage and do not make as big an impact on the collective consciousness as protests that actively disrupt roads or commercial precincts. From what I've seen during my time as a city councillor, it's actually pretty easy for politicians to ignore a bunch of protestors who disrupt their meetings. It's much harder for politicians to ignore the broader sense of public discontent that civil disobedience actions on roads or in shopping malls can create.
While other cities around the world are actively embracing walkable neighbourhoods and safe bike infrastructure, Brisbane has fallen behind. The problem is not that our city is uniquely car-dependent, or that the influence of the motorist lobby is particularly strong. It’s that without the pointy-end, antagonistic protests, there’s not enough political pressure for anything more than minor incremental gains. And we can’t afford to wait another twenty or thirty years for the political establishment’s current bias towards cars to die out.
There probably won’t be a direct and immediate political response to the kinds of actions we’re organising. But a year or so from now, when political parties are deciding their policy platform and funding priorities for the next Brisbane City Council election campaign, the memory of these protest actions will subtly but significantly influence those big decisions.
If blockades were the only tactic used in advocating for change, I would agree that the division and hostility they cause might not justify the positive impacts. But as part of a multi-faceted strategy, they are effective and necessary.
The risk-averse advocacy groups who condemn and distance themselves from these kinds of controversial actions would do well to remember that the cities they point to – particularly in Europe and South America – as examples of good urban transport planning have had decades of controversial direct action in order to get to where they are today.
Divisive tactics will inevitably put off some people. But Brisbane cycling and pedestrian safety advocates have spent the last decade asking politely and carefully avoiding any action that might annoy or aggravate motorists, even as more and more of our friends end up in hospital. It hasn’t worked. We need to shake things up. Our lives depend on it.
Council has released further info about what it's referring to as the 'Kangaroo Point Bikeway Project'. I think the title is a bit misleading, because the project actually falls within the suburb of South Brisbane, and focuses on Lower River Terrace, Dock St and Little Dock St, which is the link between the Veloway bikeway (which runs along the Pacific Motorway) and the Goodwill Bridge. I tend to refer to it as the 'Dock St Bike Link'.
You can find the basic details and give feedback via the council website.
I'm pleased to see this project going ahead and have been pushing for it for some time. We were particularly concerned about conflicts between bikes and cars, and also bikes and pedestrians. A lot of people would probably agree that in particular, the current design of the pathways leading up to the Goodwill Bridge is suboptimal.
I'm very supportive of most aspects of the draft concept design. In particular, I'm quite excited about the 'shared street' proposal for Little Dock St, which will clearly signal to cars that they need to share the road and be more conscious of pedestrians and bikes.
However, I think there are two key missed opportunities in this preliminary design that need to be reconsidered.
1. The lack of pedestrian and bicycle priority at the Lower River Terrace crossing coming off the Veloway.
2. The loss of public green space at the intersection of Dock St and Vulture St.
Pedestrians and bikes should take priority over cars
As shown on the right-hand side of the second page of the prelim design (pictured above), the proposed crossing from the Veloway 1 Bikeway over Lower River Terrace still gives priority to cars ahead of bikes. I understand this decision was made because council didn't believe it was possible to design a safe crossing point that gives priority to bikes, but I simply don't buy that. If the concern is that cars turning onto Lower River Terrace wouldn't stop or slow down in time to give way to bikes, it should be possible to narrow the road corridor with chicanes or install additional speed bumps to slow down motor vehicles.
We already have examples in Brisbane where bikes are given priority over cars along key cycling routes. One such example is the crossing at Albion near the intersection of Somerset St and McDonald Rd (see below). Although not 100% perfect in its design, this intersection gives priority to bikes and pedestrians on a 50km/h road in an area where heavy vehicles are common. If a car fails to give way to a pedestrian or bike at this kind of intersection, the driver would be responsible for the accident in the same way as if they had run a red light or hit someone at a zebra crossing.
The Dock St bike link in South Brisbane is one of the most popular commuter cycling routes in the country. Many more bikes pass through this spot than cars, and given that we are trying to encourage more people to ride rather than drive, it makes a lot of sense to give bikes (and pedestrians) priority over cars when crossing Lower River Terrace. As part of this project, council could also look at lowering the speed limit on Lower River Terrace to 20 or 30km/h, with further garden bed build-outs/chicanes. Lower River Terrace is not a key connector road - if we need to slow down motorists in order to make pedestrians and cyclists safer, so be it.
It's important to recognise that based on council's current draft plans, even if motorists technically continue to have right of way at this intersection, many cyclists will not necessarily realise this and will tend to ride as though they do in fact have priority. By designing a crossing with a raised platform that slows cars down and gives cyclists a flat run, but still technically assigning priority to cars, the council may inadvertently be making the crossing more confusing and thus more dangerous.
We should sacrifice road space rather than green space
The intersection of Dock St, Vulture St and Stanley St is a problematic spot for pedestrians and bikes and will be undergoing a major redesign as part of the neighbouring Woolloongabba bikeway project. The northern side of this intersection (Dock St and Vulture) clearly needs an expanded pedestrian island (shown in yellow in the below image) to accommodate the volume of pedestrians and bikes travelling between the Goodwill Bridge and the Mater precinct.
Unfortunately, to create space for this pedestrian island, BCC is proposing to substantially reduce the size of the small park on the corner. Although it doesn't look especially impressive, this little park is used by local workers (particularly from Griffith film school across the road) as a shady spot to eat lunch. The park is also a welcome patch of green at an intersection that otherwise feels very built-up and dominated by concrete and bitumen. This plan would essentially bring the roadway closer to the established trees in the park and reduce the size of this green space.
A better alternative would be for council to remove one of the general traffic lanes heading straight out of Dock St, so that Dock only has 1 left-turn slip lane and 1 lane for vehicles turning right or going straight ahead. Rather than reducing public parkland to make room for pedestrians, council should be reducing the amount of space we allocate to cars. Many of the vehicles travelling straight out of Dock St are commuters rat-running via Lower River Terrace and Ellis St to get to Somerville House or the hospitals. This also increases the time it takes for local residents of Dock St to get through the intersection and out of this precinct. This is not a shortcut that council should be encouraging. Reducing Dock St down to one lane would also reduce the amount of time pedestrians require to cross here, which should also help improve the overall efficiency of the intersection.
In a neighbourhood with such high volumes of pedestrians and cyclists, and which is well-serviced by a range of public transport options, it simply does not make sense to rank the needs of a minority of motorists ahead of the majority of active transport and public transport commuters.
I'm broadly supportive of the Dock St bike link. The shared street approach on Little Dock St is a great step forward, and one of the first of its kind in Brisbane, and the designers should be applauded for thinking outside the box. But the two issues I've outlined here are quite concerning, and need to be reconsidered in the final designs.
I'll be providing these comments to the council. You can also give your feedback by emailing the project team on email@example.com.
Why Brisbane residents should maintain a healthy scepticism towards Urban Renewal Strategies and Neighbourhood Plans
Neighbourhood plans and urban renewal strategies are major catalysts for change. Usually, such documents include a lot of positive elements that the vast majority of residents and local businesses support, such as more trees and garden beds, better pedestrian connectivity, and sometimes much larger infrastructure projects. The trade-off is that new neighbourhood plans almost always permit higher density development within parts of the plan area.
I don’t have a general objection to development and densification. But it’s crucial that population growth is accompanied by timely infrastructure investment and social services. Unfortunately, Brisbane’s current neighbourhood planning framework doesn’t guarantee the delivery of public infrastructure, so you end up with higher density development, but no other major improvements (Some of the main reasons for insufficient local infrastructure are explained at www.jonathansri.com/infrastructure-shortfalls/).
What’s in Scope?
The practical scope of BCC’s neighbourhood plans is quite narrow. A neighbourhood plan can change built form rules (e.g. height limits, boundary setbacks) and zoning for different uses (residential, industrial, mixed use etc), however other elements that require funding from council, such as ‘completing a riverside footpath’ or ‘building a new pedestrian bridge’ are usually only aspirational or advisory. A new neighbourhood plan is not accompanied by strict deadlines and a specific budget allocation for local infrastructure.
Many crucial urban renewal ingredients are also out of scope of a neighbourhood plan, even though the cost to council is quite low. For example, lowering speed limits can increase pedestrian safety and encourage local commerce. However speed limits are controlled by a different section of council, and even where a neighbourhood plan might state that a particular precinct will become a ‘pedestrian-friendly area’ or an ‘activated street’ there’s no guarantee that lower speeds will actually be introduced.
In partnership with the State Government, BCC could introduce rules specifying that a certain proportion of new commercial floorspace can only be leased out to Brisbane-based small businesses and non-profit organisations. You could also include requirements that a certain percentage of new apartments are social housing or affordable community housing, to be rented out to people on lower incomes.
But all this is out of scope for the BCC’s neighbourhood planning process.
The proof is in the outcomes
The South Brisbane Riverside Neighbourhood Plan (the ‘SBRNP’) shows how the practical outcomes of an urban renewal process don’t always live up to the positive propaganda.
Introduced in 2011 (several months after the January floods), the SBRNP rezoned much of the West End floodplain for higher density development. This applied not only to old industrial sites, but to existing medium-density residential properties. The trade-off was that council would improve public parks and intersections, and install a new CityCat terminal near Victoria St in West End to service the growing population.
Seven years later, West End’s density has increased substantially, with many apartment developments approved that are even taller than the height limits set out in the new SBRNP. But there’s still no new ferry terminal or public transport infrastructure for the Montague Road side of the peninsula, and the neighbourhood has seen no significant improvement to pedestrian safety or public green space. (I’ve written more about the broken promise ferry terminal at www.jonathansri.com/victoriastferry)
Pushing for Up-front Investment
When a new neighbourhood plan is being drafted, residents must insist that infrastructure should be funded and delivered up front before any sites are rezoned for higher density development.
It’s also important to recognise that increasing height limits to encourage private development does not necessarily improve affordability for lower-income families. Affordability is improved by increasing the supply of public housing and affordable community housing, not privately owned apartments.
When council tells a community that a neighbourhood planning process will deliver new infrastructure and a better public realm, residents should point to suburbs like West End and ask where and when the money for new public transport, public parks, pedestrian upgrades and communities will be spent.
The hard truth is that if council isn’t willing to spend the money on public infrastructure, the many potential benefits of densification and ‘urban renewal’ will largely go unrealised.
Right now in Brisbane, investment in local infrastructure and services like pedestrian crossings, parks, flood mitigation and public transport isn’t keeping pace with population growth. There are a number of interrelated reasons for this that would take a long time to unpack, but the top three are:
1. Developers aren’t contributing enough money to cover the cost of infrastructure in the inner-city.
2. There is no requirement for money which is collected from development in a certain neighbourhood to be spent in that local area – instead it goes into general revenue.
3. Too much money is spent on costly and ineffective road-widening projects, leaving very little for other kinds of infrastructure.Read more
After months of unanswered questions, Brisbane City Council finally got back to me with more detail about how they’re proposing to address safety issues at the intersection of Montague Rd and Victoria St near the ALDI crossing. Frankly, their plans are a little bit underwhelming.Read more
To apply political pressure for safe, separated bike lanes, West End residents will defy Brisbane City Council by creating their own temporary pop-up bike lane along part of Hardgrave Rd on Friday morning to coincide with West End State School's 'Bling Your Bike Day'.
Witches hats, traffic markers and a chain of ‘human bollards’ will be used create a barrier-separated bike lane leading down Hardgrave Road towards West End State School.
While pop-up bike lanes have been used in other cities around the world, this will be the first of its kind in Queensland.
Residents are frustrated that the council has failed to invest sufficiently in separated bike lanes throughout West End and South Brisbane, so are taking matters into their own hands.
Co-organiser Mitch Bright of Space for Cycling said “As well as the health and environmental benefits, protected bike lanes have been shown to improve turnover and increase economic activity for local businesses.”
“Streets are safer and less stressful for everyone when there’s clear separation between pedestrians, bikes and cars,” Councillor Sri said. “Getting more people cycling for transport is a great way to reduce traffic congestion, but we need to give them their own space on the road.”
“The slow roll-out of bike lanes in Brisbane is partly because council is reluctant to trial and experiment with temporary solutions, and instead spends millions on gold-plated infrastructure,” Councillor Sri said.
“But rather than spending the big money up front, you can put out temporary barriers for a few months, see what kind of community support there is for the idea, and learn from the trial before making it permanent.”
“A row of witches hats is still a lot safer than nothing at all.”
The pop-up bike lane protest will run from 8am to 9am on Friday, 8 September on Hardgrave Road, West End between Skinner Street and Vulture Street.
Best visuals will be between 8:20 and 8:45am, when we form a human chain to mark out an additional barrier between bikes and cars.
Councillor Jonathan Sri by mobile or on 3403 2165.
Mitch Bright from Space4Cycling on be contacted on 0418 767 709
John Parkinson (local resident who rides to school with his children) on 0426 447 294
Brisbane City Council has released more detailed designs for the Woolloongabba Bikeway Project, which will install separated bike lanes along Stanley Street and Annerley Road.
While bike lanes like this are common in many cities around the world, this is the first big barrier-separated bike lane project of its kind in Brisbane, and a big step forward for a council that has historically been reluctant to fund complex and challenging bike lane projects in inner-city Brisbane. It will be important for the council to receive lots of positive feedback on this project so that it has the confidence to fund other separated bike lanes in different parts of the city.
Too many lives are lost in preventable road accidents. Too many people choose to drive because they don’t feel safe riding or walking. As the population of Brisbane’s inner-south side grows, we need to make our roads safer for all modes of transport, but particularly for pedestrians and cyclists.
Lowering speed limits will reduce the severity and frequency of car crashes, and make it easier and safer for vehicles to pull out of side-streets and driveways. Lower speed limits will encourage more residents to travel via active transport and public transport, thus reducing traffic congestion.
Reducing average vehicle speeds will also reduce noise and air pollution, improving pedestrian comfort and helping to shift suburbs like Woolloongabba and Kangaroo Point into walkable neighbourhoods with a vibrant street culture.
In built-up inner-city suburbs with narrow roads and high volumes of pedestrians, 50 and 60km/h speed limits are not safe or sustainable.
By trialling consistently lower speeds in such a large part of the inner-southside, Brisbane City Council can help reduce motorist confusion that arises when speed limits keep changing from one street to the next.
We call on the Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council to initiate a two-year trial of 40km/hr speed limits in all seven suburbs of the Gabba Ward, on Brisbane’s inner-south side.
We call for a default speed limit of 40km/h unless otherwise signed in the suburbs of West End, Highgate Hill, South Brisbane, Woolloongabba, Dutton Park, Kangaroo Point and East Brisbane, and for speed limits to be lowered on all streets with the exception of key arterial roads.
We urge you to consult with all relevant stakeholders and act decisively in initiating a two-year trial.
Media release: Cyclists Stage Mass Die-in to Protest Reduction in Access over Victoria Bridge and Lack of Bike Lanes Throughout Brisbane
Hundreds of cyclists will stage a temporary die-in on Victoria Bridge tomorrow in response to a Brisbane City Council proposal to reduce cycling access over the Victoria Bridge.
As part of a mass bike ride through the city, residents will temporarily occupy the Victoria Bridge, closing it to general traffic but leaving it open to buses. Residents will hold a 1-minute silence for cyclists killed in car accidents, followed by the mass die-in. A die-in is where cyclists lie down with their bikes and mimic the carnage of a major accident, to symbolise how dangerous riding on roads without separated bike lanes can be.
Residents are concerned that council has failed to invest sufficiently in separated bike lanes throughout Brisbane, and are particularly frustrated that as part of the Brisbane Metro project, BCC is proposing to reduce bike access over the Victoria Bridge rather than increasing it.
“Council proposes to remove the existing on-road bike lanes, but is also removing the pedestrian crossing at the northern end of the shared footpath,” Jonathan Sri, Councillor for the Gabba Ward said. “These changes will force more cyclists onto narrow footpaths, increasing conflict between bikes and pedestrians.”
“Redirecting cyclists via the Kurilpa and Goodwill Bridges will result in more commuter cyclists mixing it with pedestrians along the South Bank riverfront and the footpaths of George Street in the CBD.”
“If we don’t get this bridge redesign right, we’ll end up spending a lot more money to redo it down the track as more Brisbane residents take up cycling,” Councillor Sri said.
“We’ve recommended a number of alternative design solutions to council and we’re keen to work constructively to achieve a better outcome.”
“Considering that council also supports another pedestrian-only bridge being built nearby to connect to the mega-casino, surely we can find more room for bikes on a redesigned Victoria Bridge.”
“Protesting like this is a last resort, but council has consistently ignored detailed submissions and large petitions from residents calling for safer cycling infrastructure in Brissie.”
Residents are also calling for lower speed limits and separated bike lanes on major roads throughout Brisbane.
Space4Cycling spokesperson Belinda Ward said that investing in pedestrian crossings and cycling infrastructure takes cars off the road and reduces traffic congestion.
“Other cities around Australia are striking a better balance between different modes of transport, but Brisbane lags behind and continues to deprioritise walking and cycling,” Ms Ward said.
“We’re not just frustrated about this one bridge. We’re concerned about poor outcomes and lost opportunities across Brisbane.”
Local resident Joanna Horton rides to work across Victoria Bridge via the on-road bike lanes and says it’s the shortest route between West End and her workplace in the Valley.
“Buses are still too expensive, and the alternative cycling routes are a lot longer, so reducing bike access over this bridge means people like me are more likely to drive via the Grey Street bridge.”
Councillor Sri says he hopes the turnout will remind council that there are hundreds of residents who would like to ride into the CBD if only it were safer to do so.
“It’s a mistake for council to focus only on current cyclist numbers. We need to think long-term and recognise that we can take hundreds of cars off the road if we make riding safer and more convenient.”
The protest ride will begin at 10:30am, Saturday, 22 July at the northern end of Russell Street near the South Bank ferris wheel. Cyclists will hold a 1-minute silence on the Victoria Bridge followed by the mass die-in between 10:45 and 11am. They will then ride through the city via Elizabeth, Creek and Adelaide Streets, ending at King George Square for another group photo opportunity.
For interviews, contact:
Jonathan Sri on 3403 2165
Belinda Ward on 0434 906 364