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Velo-City: Perth » Bike paths of Perth

Bike paths of Perth

January 2011: Perth has more than 700 kms of cycling routes and if you are a recreational cyclist who wants to enjoy the river or coastline, you will find joy in the abundant scenic options. If you live in the outer suburbs and need to head to the CBD you will probably be pleased with the good quality feeder routes (with a few notable exceptions) that follow freeways, highways and railways to provide cyclists with safe passage towards the city. If you are trying to actually enter or traverse the CBD, however, you enter a whole world of pain as our fabulous paths lure us towards the metropolis only to dump us unceremoniously at the city’s edge. In the words of Randy VanWarmer,  “(you left me) just when I needed you most”.

Connectivity, or lack of it, is the major gripe of Perth’s cyclists (closely followed by motorist hostility, but that’s another story). The lack of safe passage for cyclists through the city has been a festering sore for years, however the City of Perth is developing a Cycle Plan which will hopefully provide more than a Band-aid solution. The Cycle Plan is still in the stage of research and consultation, however the City council believes it will enhance the bikeability of Perth by providing decent cycle routes across all four quadrants of the CBD.

WA has under-invested in cycling infrastructure for more than a decade, and lags behind other capital cities. For example Brisbane, in 2008, spent about $19 per capita on cycling infrastructure whereas WA’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure spent about $1 per head. However a number of local councils, such as Stirling and Fremantle, are actively working towards doubling the number of cyclists in their precincts over the next five years with more generous per capita expenditure planned.

At the core of most cycle plans is the extensive, albeit patchy, Perth Bicycle Network.

Perth Bicycle Network

The Perth Bicycle Network (PBN) was developed in the mid-1990s to create a comprehensive network of cycling routes for the Perth metropolitan region. Although still a work in progress, the PBN has been crucial to the growth of cycling in WA and consists of a number of cycling routes which are made up of Local Bicycle Routes, Principal Shared Paths; and Recreational Shared Paths, all of which vary widely in quality.

Local Bicycle Routes sound good – and many are – but they are formed by linking a series of quiet residential streets that are already relatively safe for cycling, so you get the feeling that the powers-that-be sometimes just slap down a few bicycle stencils on the road and claim they have created another ten kilometres, or whatever, in the PBN, rather than seriously considering the need for providing separated lanes or paths. The Routes connect major “trip attractors”, such as schools, shopping centres and community facilities and are supposed to be suitable for cyclists of all ages and experience.

The Local Bicycle Routes are signposted so that in theory cyclists can navigate without the need for maps. All routes are numbered and have a NW, NE, SW or SE prefix, depending on where it is positioned in relation to the Perth CBD. In the past, signage was stuck on poles, so that you often didn’t notice it, unless you were riding along looking skywards, but the trend now is to have directional signage marked on road and path pavements.

Principal shared paths (PSPs)
PSPs run along the railway, freeway and major highway corridors of metropolitan Perth and are designed to provide good access for commuter cyclists. In the early days of cycle planning in Perth there was talk that many of the PSPs would become dedicated veloways, but this hasn’t eventuated and the “shared” element has provided sources of conflict between different groups of path users in places. None the less, the distinctive red asphalt and relatively few intersections mean that the PSPs give you a great ride. PSPs are generally the responsibility of the state government, whereas the Recreational Shared Paths fall under local jurisdiction.

Recreational Shared Paths (RSPs)

RSPs tend to follow the coastline, rivers and areas of public open space and are intended, as the name suggests, to provide for recreational cycling and walking. Their standard can vary widely – from the smooth red asphalt to a bit of concrete path with a line drawn down it – depending on the commitment of the local council. Much of our coastal and river foreshore is publicly owned which means it is accessible to the community and provides cyclists with plenty of scenic, traffic free paths.

On or off road?

As with other states, there is debate in WA about whether it is better to have bicycles travelling on bike paths or to have them on-road but separated from traffic in bike lanes.

Brad Pettitt, Mayor of Fremantle, the port city 12 kms south of Perth, is an advocate of on-road lanes for commuter traffic.

“Cycle paths are great for recreational cyclists, or for routes with few intersections, but if cycling is going to become mainstream we need safe lanes on the road,” he said. Fremantle has a strong cycling culture, and Dr Pettitt’s council is planning to spend more than $1.3 million over the next four years on cycling infrastructure.

The City of Stirling’s draft Bike Plan proposes categorising cyclists into three broad groups, based on their skills, need for safety and desire for speed, and then evaluating the performance of various examples of cycling infrastructure in relation to each of these groups; so an on-road lane on a 50kph road might score well for the experienced “commuter cyclist” but not well for the “kids and seniors” group. Stirling’s plan is being watched with interest by the general cycling community and could provide other councils with a blueprint for bringing cycling into the transportation mainstream.

This article first appeared in Australian Cyclist March-April 2011.

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