Promenade cyclists in the gun

By David Schout

Police will be targeting speeding cyclists along Southbank Promenade in March in a bid to improve safety along the busy thoroughfare.

On February 24, Victoria Police launched a three-week operation to target those travelling greater than 10km/h on the contentious stretch of path. 

Those who are clocked at higher than the limit could face a fine of up to $1,652.20.

Southbank Acting Senior Sergeant Brett Sidebottom said “Operation River Run” was about protecting those on foot. 

“Pedestrians are among our most vulnerable road users – if involved in a collision there is very little that protects them from impact,” he said. 

“It is incredibly dangerous for all path users to have riders zooming past pedestrians at a great speed, particularly when we have more people coming back into the city visiting the wonderful food and entertainment precincts along Southbank Promenade.”

The operation was also set to be checking electric bikes and scooters, which have also been a source of contention for some time.

Under state laws, scooters cannot travel on footpaths faster than 10km/h or operate with a power output of more than 200 watts.

“We know more people are choosing options such as electric bikes and scooters to get around the city, and we want to make sure their devices are up to standard and in line with current regulations,” Senior Sergeant Sidebottom said.

But Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards said a $1,652 fine was “extraordinary” and questioned why the operation was taking place now.

“It’s more than three times the amount of some drink driving fines,” he said.

“There are rarely incidents between people riding and people walking at Southbank Promenade. The timing of this blitz is hard to understand as it’s still very quiet there.”

Mr Richards advised those on two wheels to ride at about the pace someone can run in order to remain within the limit. Lord Mayor Sally Capp said while the promenade would remain a shared space, the City of Melbourne would encourage cyclists to utilise soon-to-be-completed alternative routes.

“We are aware of conflicts between pedestrians and people riding bikes on Southbank Promenade and are currently delivering an alternative cycling route,” Cr Capp told Southbank News.

“We have delivered protected bike lanes on Linlithgow Avenue and Southbank Boulevard and will complete works on Alexandra Avenue to link this route to the Main Yarra Trail. Once it has been completed, we will encourage cyclists to use the new route rather than using Southbank Promenade.”

“We’re also planning additional bike lanes along Queensbridge St, Whiteman St and Flinders St in the future to provide alternatives to riding along the promenade.”

In the council’s 2016-2020 Bicycle Plan, a “floating pontoon” (similar to those seen upstream at Burnley) was suggested along the Yarra River to veer cyclists away from Southbank Promenade.

However, investigations found this could impact access for tour boat operators.

In 2019 the council announced a $5.1 million upgrade to Southbank Promenade, which has not had a major upgrade in more than 25 years.

The project — which included new seating, native trees, garden beds and bluestone pavement — was put on hold last year, and its start date is now unknown.

Promenade problems

In a 2020 survey completed by more than 6000 cyclists, Southbank Promenade was rated in the top 10 scariest cycling spots in Melbourne.

The BikeSpot survey allowed cyclists to pinpoint dangerous locations within the city on a map, and the vexed stretch of pavement featured as the seventh-worst.

The survey, run by mapping website CrowdSpot and charity the Amy Gillett Foundation, allowed cyclists to not only mark unsafe spots but provide comment, which many did.

By contrast, the separated southbound cycling lane on St Kilda Rd (next to Queen Victoria Gardens) was rated in the top 10 safest.

“It’s awful all the way along Southbank [Promenade],” one responder said. “At 5.30/6pm there are so many bikes going both ways and pedestrians in big groups going out. It’s dangerous for everyone and very stressful cycling along here. Bikes and people need to be separated urgently.” •

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