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The State's Strategic Cycling Corridors for Ballarat (via DoT)
The Victorian Department of Transport has recently updated its Strategic Cycling Corridors - a statewide framework of cycling "arterial" routes that are designed to provide a network of safe, direct paths for people of all ages and abilities to get from A to B by bike. There's obviously a lot of key priorities in Melbourne, but there are also routes in regional cities like Ballarat - so let's take a close look at these, and how they compare to the local council's plans.
The first thing to note is that the network here is a lot less comprehensive than City of Ballarat's proposed network, but that's not surprising. The DoT make it very clear that these are just what they consider the highest priority routes - a subset of the cycling network, not the whole thing. Nonetheless it's probably going to be influential in how the State government provides funding, so it's important that their priorities are right.
Starting off directly north of Ballarat Station, the State has a route going straight down Doveton Street from Invermay Park, while City of Ballarat starts on Doveton but then cuts over and uses Ligar Street south of Norman Street. Doveton has significantly more destinations on or near it, which is good for connectivity - but it's also a much faster and more heavily-trafficked road than Ligar Street. Essentially, the State has identified what is probably the best route, which will require fairly significant investment to be made safe; while the City has picked the route that is safer now with little or no investment. Ultimately, this part of town needs a proper grid of several routes, so I hope we can get both of them.
The path to Brown Hill along Scott Parade, Water Street and Daylesford Road partially lines up with the City's Route 7 and Route 5A, but a. it's more sensible since it uses the existing path the whole way along Scott Parade, and b. the City's network ends at the Freeway, but the State's goes on another 1.7km to Elm Street. Having ridden along here a few weeks ago for a barbecue at Kirks Reservoir, I can tell you they are in sore need of direct, safe cycling infrastructure along here, so this is really good - my only gripe is, it should go about 700m further so it actually does connect with the Kirks Reservoir park (and the Gong Gong park).
I'd certainly agree that the State's route along Canadian Creek to Buninyong is a high priority, and it pretty closely matches City of Ballarat's Route 2, with a few minor exceptions. To my mind, the City's version is better, but they're mostly inconsequential tweaks so let's move on.
The State has a route that essentially follows the Yarrowee River from Bridge Mall to Eclipse Ford in Sebas, then crosses over Albert Street at Sayle and Hertford; those continuing south would turn onto Spencer Street, which they could follow all the way till it ends at Queen Street, where there's another strategic route that curves around the perimeter of the city. By contrast, the City's Route 10 follows the Yarrowee all the way down to Whitehorse Road (and also gets to Hertford Street a bit differently); while its Route 4 does use Spencer Street but terminates more than a kilometre short of the State's route.
Having ridden on the Yarrowee River trail this summer, it's a really mixed bag. From the CBD to Hill Street (basically, the part where the river itself is in a concrete channel) the path is really very flat and tame and pleasant, and has a lot of potential as a commuter route. Between Hill Street and Prest Street, though, the River becomes more natural and the path becomes a lot more hilly - to the point where I'd say it's not suitable as a commuter route. (My rule of thumb is, if an averagely-fit person can't ride to work, wearing their normal work clothes, without being a sweaty mess by the time they get there, it's not a suitable commuter route). It's flatter between Prest Street and the Redan wetlands (which was as far as I went) but still quite squiggly and indirect - which also works against it from a commuter perspective.
The thing is, it's a beautiful natural space, and I'm sure many people who cycle for leisure actually like the hills and other varied terrain, so I don't particularly want to see them doing earthworks which would change any of this...I just don't think they should be designating it as a strategic cycling corridor. They should be picking a more direct path, even if that means using a road corridor and spending some money to make it safe.
Happily, they have done this with the next route - which starts where Spencer Street ends, heads up Clarkson and Talbot Streets to Sebastopol Street (cf City Route 4 which heads up Verdon & Ripon, one block west), heads across a few blocks, then up Raglan St into the city. This Clarkson/Talbot stretch effectively acts as the straight north-south commuter route that bypasses the hilly and squiggly bit of the Yarrowee path, so I'm pleased with this. However, they link Sebastopol Street to the Yarrowee via Hill Street, which curves back to the southeast (making it indirect); the City continues to follow Sebastopol Street till it meets the Yarrowee, which is more direct and to my mind the superior choice. These things combined would make for a route that's 7% shorter than the Yarrowee path.
While we're in this area, I should note that the City's plan zigzags from Ripon Street to Pleasant Street, and heads up to Sturt Street, the Lake, and ultimately Wendouree; the State's map has nothing at all in this area. Even though this isn't meant to be a comprehensive map of all routes, just the priorities, that seems like an oversight to me - this leaves a big hole in their map in a crucial part of town. Pleasant Street is a crucial link, and it definitely needs investment to make it safe - so it's exactly the kind of thing the State should be prioritising, and helping the City with.
Before we move on, there's a short infill route along Armstrong and Grant Streets which isn't on the City's plans. This follows the principle that the grid of safe cycling routes should be densest where there's the most activity (ie the centre of town where all the shops and jobs are) so it's very welcome.
The State then follows the City's Route 11 along the Glenelg Highway to Delacombe Town Centre, but unlike the City's plans, the State continues beyond DTC into the new growth areas. Similarly, the State shadows Route 8b along Wiltshire Ln but continues south from DTC along Cherry Flat Rd - both good moves, given the growth anticipated in these areas in the near future. It also continues Route 8b north of Whitelaw Ave, which addresses a big hole in the City's network, and creates new impetus to make the revamp of the Wiltshire and La Trobe intersection more bike-friendly.
The State uses La Trobe St as its major east-west route in this area, which conflicts with the City's plan to go along Winter Street, mostly using off-road paths in Vic Park. I think the City's made the right call in the short term (especially to link with the path along the old Cattleyards railway corridor) but in the longer term, as the Cattleyards are redeveloped and as there's more growth along Ballarat-Carngham Rd, there will need to be safe cycling infrastructure where the State's indicated too. There's nothing for cyclists there at the moment, so it's good that the State's on board with building something safe when the time comes.
North of Winter Street it's much the same. The City uses off-road paths in Vic Park and the old Cattleyards railway corridor; both cheap and easy. The State uses Learmonth St, which would be more expensive - but in this case I don't think the extra expense would give much better outcomes. Both of them have an offroad link along Prince of Wales Park and through the Lake Gardens estate.
In the Alfredton/Lucas area, the two plans are quite different but frankly I want all of it. It's a growth area and sorely needs the direct routes the State's proposing, but the City's plans would provide valuable infill for the larger grid.
In Wendouree, the City's Route 1 goes very much the long way from Wendouree Station to Stockland, while the State goes directly up Gillies Street. This will require investment to make safe, but frankly Norman St would too, so there isn't much money saved by going the long way - I much prefer the State's approach here. I also much prefer that they've connected the north-south route to the east-west route at Dowling Street rather than going via Burnbank as the City did - though it is inexplicable to me why none of the State's routes connect with Lake Wendouree.
As I mentioned previously, the first draft of the City's plan had a big north-south hole through the western part of the CBD, but the final version had Route 2a travelling down Lyons St. The State has moved this one block over, to Raglan St and Loch Ave - it's much of a muchness but I think probably the right move, in light of the subsequent decision to make the Lyons/Sturt intersection a double-u-turn but give Raglan conventional traffic lights.
Overall I'm fairly happy with the State's priorities here. While the City has clearly tried to provide as dense a network as possible while mostly skirting around high-cost solutions, the State has basically gone for a less dense but generally more direct system, and not been so worried about the costs. This reflects their very different financial positions, and the two approaches complement each other well - it allows us to have a loose grid of proper arterials that meet best practice, supplemented by a bunch of quieter backstreets and off-road trails that provide more coverage.
I'm looking forward to seeing some actual designs for these priority corridors, and some funds committed to build them.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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