Rule to allow cyclists on Sydney and Melbourne footpaths 'inevitable'

There are renewed calls to allow cyclists to ride among pedestrians in Australia's two most populous states.

Cycling advocates say it is "nuts" riders aren't allowed to share footpaths with pedestrians in Australia's two biggest cities and say scrapping the rule is "inevitable".

NSW and Victoria are the only two states that don't allow adults who are not accompanying children to cycle on footpaths, meaning millions in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as those across regional towns and cities, only have the option of cycling on the road.

"It has to happen because of the lack of support for separated bike lanes," Edward Hore, President of the Australian Cycling Alliance, told Yahoo News Australia, saying many cyclists are "terrified" at the prospect of using busy roads.

The discussion has been thrust back into the spotlight after Wollongong City Council officially proposed such a change this week – a move supported by Bicycle NSW which is lobbying for a statewide ruling.

Currently, in NSW anyone 16 or older must ride on the road or run the risk of a $116 fine. In Victoria, the age is lower at 14 and any breach can trigger a $182 fine.

Cycling advocates say many new riders are scared to be on Australian roads. Source: Getty
Cycling advocates say many new riders are scared to be on Australian roads. Source: Getty

Mr Hore said the areas of main concern is the vast suburban sprawl outside of the Sydney and Melbourne CBDs where there are minimal shared paths or designated bike lanes.

"In places like Blacktown in Sydney there are lots of areas which have high-speed cars and trucks sharing the road with cyclists and they're not allowed to ride on the footpath," Mr Hore said.

"That's just nuts because that's where the crashes happen."

Cycling touted as way to ease cost-of-living pressures

Mr Hore said not being allowed to use footpaths for cycling was deterring potential cyclists who are "too scared to use the road". He said the rule was even more infuriating in the current climate, with cycling a far cheaper form of transport for many households during the cost-of-living crisis.

He said NSW and Victoria are so concerned with "what might happen" if cyclists were allowed on footpaths. "That's got to stop," he said, pointing to the rate of pedestrian-cyclist collisions in other states that allow footpath cycling.

"There's no major incidents, there's no major crashes and there's no deaths," he argued. "We need to get people in their 30s back on their bikes and the best way to do that is to allow them to ride on the footpath without the fear of being told they're breaking the law."

Bicycle NSW chief executive Peter McLean also pointed to the successful co-existence of pedestrians and cyclists on footpaths in other states and abroad, stressing that pedestrians always have the right of way.

Mr Hore dismissed concerns cyclists would cycle too fast on the footpath, saying riders are constantly maintaining a safe speed due to the amount of hazards such as cars exiting driveways. He argued cyclists would be going 20km/h at most, which is a "perfectly safe" speed.

WalkSydney spokeswoman Lena Huda has argued footpaths are already too congested, however, Mr Hore said the busiest footpaths are in the CBD where cyclists only use them once they've reached their destination.

Concerns over boom in e-bikes and food delivery industry

Amid fears the increasing popularity of e-bikes poses a greater risk to pedestrians, which has seen several Sydney councils call for a widespread safety campaign about them, Mr Hore stressed it was important to differentiate between the electric bikes used by Australians and those used by the food delivery industry, bikes which he says do not adhere to strict regulations.

He said the industry's boom had led to a lot of "very dangerous" cycling and called for it to be far more regulated in terms of safety. Mr Hore says low wages and a pay packet based on how many deliveries are performed led to delivery riders "taking more risks" on bikes which are not legal due to their speed capabilities and cannot be classified as e-bikes as they do not require the rider to pedal.

Mr Hore claimed the vast majority of Australians who own an e-bike, or use bike share schemes, do so responsibly.

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