The City of Melbourne Council is once again showing its apathy for cycling with their new route setting along the Yarra River, suggesting cyclists take the northern Bank from Queensbridge onwards via the excitingly named Banana Alley instead of the shorter and obvious route over the Sandridge Bridge.
A destination in its own right the Sandridge Bridge attracts organised tours and tourists alike to stop and admire the views and installations along it, as similarly the alternate route along Southbank Promenade is bustling with shops, bars, and eateries opening out onto the shared path which attracts users to gather in groups stationary on the path. So it would seem a sensible alternative to guide bicycle traffic along the northern path (Flinders Walk) around these hubs of activity even if the distance is slightly longer, unless of course you actually ride your bicycle along the route and discover its serious problems.
This video compares the experience of cycling along the two routes at the same time of day on both occasions and in similar levels of pedestrian traffic, waiting politely for other path users the new route lacking in pedestrian congestion is seconds faster.
It begins with the very official looking route marker requiring a slow turn off the bicycle crossing into the shared path, between the light pole and the bollards a useable width of less than 3m (10 feet) necessitates a dangerously tight turn into oncoming pedestrians, particularly ridiculous considering the Australian Guides require a minimum curve radius of 10m (33 feet) for bicycles. The path across Queensbridge is now marked as a shared path but without pedestrians being required to walk to the left its a free for all scramble through the street furniture scattered along the path before reaching the Alley proper.
This reverse view of Banana Alley taken just after dawn shows a cyclist zig zagging across cobbles against the illegally parked cars filling the space. Sitting on a private block the Alley is operated as a car park by a commercial operator who has placed an overwhelming quantity of these clearly marked signs along all parts of the Alley.
Amazingly I cannot find a single area within the Alley that is designated for parking, they appear to have built a parking lot without any parking spaces. Why you might ask? To issue parking fines of course, which now litter the street.
But the signs and fines are proving ineffective and vehicles are parked along the length of the Alley at all hours of the day, even double parked or across the pathways entering the space. Still even without any parked vehicles the full width of the Alley is paved with cobblestones, not the tightly packed and carefully laid surfaces of quaint villages but giant blocks of polished stone poorly grouted together.
With heavy vehicles using this route for deliveries and access to the train station the surface is cracked and decaying leaving the gaps between the paving bricks open. The credit card sized “myki” transport fare card showing the scale of these wheel swallowing hazards both from above and the depth.
Again we can compare these slots of 35mm wide and 30mm deep to the Australian guidance which requires slots no more than 12mm wide or steps 10mm deep. Two options are taken by cyclists, either riding at angles to the slots as above or concentrating on the patterns (which are randomly offset from one section to the next) and trying to ride along the tops of the stones without falling into the slots, neither are practical when trying to ride amongst other cyclists or oncoming users. Once past the Alley and back onto shared paths the route passes under the Sandridge Bridge and continues along the riverfront.
Passing under the bridge is an experience all of its own with only 2100mm (6 feet 11 inches) of overhead clearance ignoring the defined bicycle envelope of 2200mm let alone the mandatory additional 300mm of clearance which would require a minimum overhead clearance of 2500mm total (8 feet 2 inches). But the bigger danger is in the width.
Necking down along this segment to just 2650mm (8 feet 8 inches) between the kerb and the retaining wall that width might fit the minimum width for a local access path terminating into a quiet area, but directing bicycle traffic to distant locations eliminates the ability to claim this is anything other than a through route with its minimum width requirement of 3000mm (10 feet). These minimum widths apply where the path is situated in a flat area with space to run off either side, not where one side is a hard stone wall and the other a substantial sheer drop into a river. This clearly requires a fence to protect cyclists from falling into the river and both the retaining wall and this hypothetical fence each require an additional 500mm (20 inches) of clearance from the path to be considered safe in the Australian guides. So the path is 2650mm (8 feet 8 inches) wide ignoring the light poles intruding into the space or required kerb clearance, when the guides require a clear width of at least 4000mm (13 feet) to meet the minimum safety requirements, but the council will happily push all cyclists along here.
These signs will be more erroneous evidence to the pedestrians who believe the shared paths are footpaths for pedestrians only, appearing to them as more indications that cyclists should not be proceeding straight ahead. The signs location is almost impossible to read for a passing cyclist unless they stop before it, which would put them on the crossing in the roadway. But its just the cherry on the cake for this dense collection of safety hazards.