Promenade works finally underway, but concerns remain about cyclists
Much needed upgrade works on Southbank Promenade have begun more than two years after originally flagged.
And while local resident groups welcomed the improvements — which will include new bluestone footpaths, lighting, seating and trees — they remain concerned about the ongoing issue of how pedestrians and cyclists can co-exist on the busy thoroughfare.
Works on the promenade, which has not had a major upgrade in more than 25 years, were originally planned to commence in early 2020 but were pushed back on numerous occasions.
The revamp of the 300-metre stretch of promenade is set to be delivered in two stages, with (already underway) stage one at the eastern end, near Princes Bridge and in front of Hamer Hall.
Black timber hoarding has been erected in front of a number of restaurants below Hamer Hall, and is expected to remain there until late July.
Stage two will take place in front of the Southgate shopping and dining precinct, to the east of Evan Walker Bridge.
Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the works “should be completed by the end of the year.”
Residents’ groups welcomed the upgrades, which they said were overdue and could help welcome new visitors.
However, they expressed concerns about the ongoing issue of how those on foot intersect with those on two wheels on a shared path that can welcome 40,000 people (pre-COVID figure) per day.
Conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on the promenade have been ongoing for many years, with a number of accidents and near-misses reported.
A 2021 police operation saw more than 100 cyclists and scooter riders fined in a safety crackdown for travelling faster than 10 km/h.
Southbank Residents’ Association president Tony Penna said the upgrades had to keep this key issue in mind.
“It’s a welcome upgrade and we’ve been waiting for it for some time,” he said.
“I know one of the key issues with this upgrade from a residents’ perspective is how this will mitigate the speed of cyclists.”
Pedestrian and cycling access will be maintained throughout the works, although the council has requested cyclists dismount when passing the narrower construction areas as a result of the hoarding.
Southbank3006 vice-president Jannine Pattison questioned whether the upgrades would alleviate some of the conflict.
“I applaud the widening of the promenade to make it more useable and inviting including the planting of more of native trees, as that area is Cibecoming a corridor for native birds,” she said. “However, I am not sure that the upgrades are addressing the issue of cyclists along the promenade. Cyclists will be encouraged to cycle away from the water and instead use Linlithgow and Southbank Boulevard as an alternative route — I do not see this as being a viable solution. There should be more thought into how we can integrate pedestrian and cycle traffic to operate safely together.”
A floating pontoon for cyclists, like those seen upstream along the Yarra River at Burnley, has previously been suggested as a way to improve pedestrian safety on the promenade.
However, investigations found this could impact access for Southbank tour boat operators.
The council has said the promenade will remain a shared space, and instead hoped cyclists would use new routes on Southbank Boulevard.
However, Ms Pattison was not convinced.
“The big draw card for cyclists and pedestrian is the beautiful Yarra River, and it would be better to find a solution where both could co-exist side-by-side, rather than send the cyclists off on an alternative route, which I highly doubt they will use.”
Southbank Promenade was built in the early 1990s, and the City of Melbourne has previously said aspects of the thoroughfare were “approaching the end of their service life”.
The project will replace “worn” pavements, furniture and “unwell” trees, and widen footpaths, a point Cr Reece has said would “go a long way to alleviating some of those congestion issues”.
The council said that construction hours will be 7am to 6pm Monday to Friday, while occasional work may be required on Saturdays between 8am and 6pm.
The $3.8 million project is being funded with $3 million from the Melbourne City Recovery Fund – a partnership between the City of Melbourne the Victorian Government. The City of Melbourne is delivering the project and providing an additional $800,000 in funding.
Minister for Industry Support and Recovery Martin Pakula said the government was backing the project because “it will create jobs now and deliver a lasting legacy for the many businesses along the Southbank waterfront.”
“Southbank Promenade is a great asset and that’s why we are partnering with the City of Melbourne to deliver this upgrade that will encourage even more people to discover the best our city has to offer,” he said.