A new militancy?

Melbourne cyclists will rally on the steps of Parliament House tomorrow morning to protest the state government’s decision to scrap its key bike infrastructure budget. We flagged the hypocrisy of this decision last month.

There’s more of course. Last year the Minister for Roads and Public Transport Terry Mulder lambasted the former government over an Auditor-General’s report that found Labor ’s Victorian Cycling Strategy fell short of what was needed to mainstream cycling. Well, we knew that but at least they had a strategy.

The Minister continued, “It is important that the Victorian Government, the transport department, VicRoads and other agencies constantly look for ways to improve cycling as a safe and appealing mode of transport.”

He then claimed that the state government recognised cycling as a sustainable and affordable transport mode that needed support. “That is why we have invested in a number of key projects to boost and support cycling in our first budget.”

Nine months later his government has slashed the entire bike infrastructure budget, while allowing some minor commitments to trickle through. These are now the spin of MPs’ defence to constituent complaints.

Riders will make up their own minds as to whether the minister (or his department?) failed to make the case for cycling while supporting billions of dollars for new freeways, or whether he was rolled in Cabinet. Either way, it cements the image of a conservative government trapped in a car-centric world lamenting congestion, obesity, absenteeism, land shortages and pollution. 

The decision to kill the bike budget has however kick-started a new militancy from riders and peak lobby group Bicycle Network Victoria. BNV quietly built relationships with the former Labor government over the years, achieving welcome gains. But it also copped flak from enthusiasts for its moderate ambit claims and the occasional policy hiccup like backing government moves to ban bikes from trains. The outcry forced a reversal of that decision.

On the bike budget issue, the whole cycling sector seems united. Academic Jan Garrard makes a succinct case for the economics of bike infrastructure funding – enormous benefits in health, pollution, congestion, road trauma and so on – while contrasting the net costs of massive road projects and the inevitability of the catch-up game we’ll have to play as more residents try to get around. Internationally, others are backing bikes. Even Ford US has recognised there’s precious little space left for new cars.

BNV has organised tomorrow’s rally obviously judging that there’s nowhere to go but up. And it has garnered support from Melbourne’s colourful cycling tribes – the enthusiasts, the commuters, the Frocks on Bikes ladies, BUGs, safety groups and more. It’s like the Melburn-Roobaix of advocacy, and that’s A Good Thing.

Let’s hope there’s a great turn-out, in spite of the weather forecast. But let’s hope also that BNV seizes the opportunity to rebuild unity and undo the fragmentation of effort that dilutes the voice of cycling. It hung in the air at a safety workshop last November, to be inhaled by VicRoads.

Groups are riding to the start from Footscray, Coburg, North Melbourne, Richmond, East Brunswick, Carlton, Northcote and Brighton (see BNV’s website or the rally Facebook page for details). Tag along or roll solo, but see you there:

Thursday 21 June, 7:30-8:30 am, Victorian Parliament steps, Spring Street, Melbourne

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