Death of Cyclist Shocks Melbourne, Prompts Bus Ban

swanston_street_crash.jpgAs I wrote in a post last week, the City of Melbourne, Australia, is working hard to make cycling easier and safer — but not quickly enough to save the life of one cyclist. The day after my post a 33-year-old Melbourne woman was killed when her wheels slipped on tram tracks on Melbourne’s main thoroughfare, Swanston Street, and she fell into the path of an oncoming Gray Line tour bus.

Swanston Street has been partially pedestrianized, with trams, taxis and tour buses the only vehicles currently permitted during the day. According to news reports, the city was aware of the danger posed by buses on the street and planned to ban them sometime next year. Ironically, the street also has Melbourne’s first Copenhagen-style protected bike lane, but the lane extends only one kilometer and ends well north of where the woman was killed.

Melbourne’s reaction to the death of a cyclist on one of its streets may be instructive for New York City residents. The death was major news in The Age, one of the city’s two main daily papers. The 1,200-word article quotes a city council member, a former mayor, the head of the bus line, and a representative of the transportation department. About 200 Melbourne cyclists rallied near the corner where the crash occurred. Even more remarkable, the next day The Age reported that "stung by criticism he failed to protect cyclists from the thousands of tour buses that choke one of the city’s main thoroughfares, an emotional Lord Mayor John So last night banned buses from Swanston Street."

Contrast this with the remarks of our own mayor after two cyclists were struck and killed by vehicles in separate incidents on the Hudson River bike path, a car-free space. As reported by Streetsblog, Bloomberg expressed his sympathy, but said bikers also have to watch out for themselves in interactions with cars. "Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights," the mayor said of cyclists. "Every year, too many people are hit by cars – and bikes have to pay attention."

Photo of crash scene on Swanston Street: The Age

  • Melbourne definitely has the right approach – US officials forget that they’re paid to represent people rather than corporations; sadly in the US the politicians are owned by big business and the only thing bug business care about is making sure they can get everywhere quickly in their Mercedes…
    Motorists should appreciate that every cyclist represents one less car on the road therefore improves their driving experience – they should be grateful and not see them as the enemy.
    Until cars are banned from major parts of our cities innocent lives will continue to be lost.

  • So, if a bicycle is hit by a car, cars will be banned? Bicycles should not be integrated into motorized traffic, painted lines on the street will not protect you. We need to remove the private auto from urban life and have physically protected bike lanes. Start by making public transit free.

  • ben

    Lots of things could be done.

    Simply ban the bad driver for a period of time.

    Have everyone insert there DL into the car if it is not valid it don’t start. Not thier car it don’t start. Have EDRs in cars why wait till 2012?

    Allow people to use the video feed from the cameras ontop of the lights.

    Speed cameras and stop light cameras.

    Here is my point Technology is not being used we would rather kill.

  • This is ridiculous. The bus wasn’t the problem. The problem is the wet tram tracks… Cyclists should never be asked to share road space with trams. Take a look at the 4th picture: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/09/17/melbournes-complete-streets/

    There’s no way I’d feel safe riding there.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Andy – The quote right above the picture you noted- ” I saw one woman snare her front wheel in a track and fall, and I witnessed other cyclists blithely crossing tracks at angles I considered perilous.”

    Here’s my take, bikes are a net benefit for society in terms of health benefits and efficient use of resources. Everything should be done to build the safest biking infrastructure possible to encourage use, at the expense of cars if necessary.

  • Absolutely, Max. Get rid of the cars and there’d be plenty of room to keep the bikes and trams well away from each other.

  • -K

    Some local perspective for you all out there. Swanston Walk is generally cut off from traffic. In theory traffic is banned from the street. Commercial deliveries, trade vehicles, taxis, tourist horse carriages (handsome cabs) and the tour line buses are all allowed.

    There are wide sidewalks, a single lane for traffic and the tram tracks in each direction. I think you can see some footage of it in the streetfilms.org video on Melbourne.

    The buses in question are sightseeing tours that operate from the centre of the city, usually to country surroundings around Melbourne. There are dedicated bus stations for travel coaches elsewhere.

    It is the main pedestrian artery in Melbourne and the most highly used cycling route in Australia. When the buses park they effectively take up the entire lane. The space between parked buses and the trams (approximately ten different tram routes using that stretch of street) is less than a metre.

    I am fairly surprised by the public outcry over the death. People really took it to heart. I guess cycling fatalities are fairly rare and often happen away from public eyes out on less travelled roads. It seems to have affected the city fairly strongly happening in front of so many people.

    A good opinion piece was offered afterwards about what to do about Swanston St.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/what-a-mess-its-time-to-get-streetwise-swanstonwise-20080921-4kye.html

    Walking through there at lunch I can see what a problem it is. In one block I counted two carriages, four vans, a truck and a number of taxis parked. It’s one lane with no parking verge so cyclists are forced out onto the tram tracks. Roughly 4000 a day. It really is a failure of design. They buses will go because of the this tragic death, but the problem really still remains.

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