As part of the Melbourne Metro Rail tunnel project, Moray Street in South Melbourne is being partially upgraded for bicyclists in compensation for closures on St Kilda Road, which runs parallel, due to the construction of the new Anzac Station.

The bicycle upgrades to Moray Street include physically separated bicycle lanes, wider painted bicycle lanes, and the installation of pedestrian and bicyclist priority features to the existing roundabouts at Coventry Street and Dorcas Street.

Moray Street and Dorcas Street

The new roundabouts include ‘wombat’ crossings (raised zebra crossings) that are fairly common on roundabouts in busy pedestrian areas. The difference with these wombat crossings is the bicycle lanes added on the roundabout side.

This positioning of the bicycle lanes is inspired by design from the Netherlands (video below), however, it is likely that simply adding a bike lane to the wombat crossings, rather than providing greater pedestrian and bicyclist separation, is due to a perceived need to provide infrastructure that motorists would find familiar.

What I like

Road User Hierarchy

The first feature to like of the new roundabouts is that they enforce the vulnerable road user hierarchy. That is, pedestrians are given priority over bicyclists and motorists, bicyclists are given priority over motorists. All road design, at least in city, suburban, and town areas, should attempt to enforce priority in this way.

Secondly, this general design is the only way that roundabouts can be incorporated into bicycle friendly corridors. One of the major reasons people do not ride a bicycle on the road is due to the lack of safe infrastructure. A new bicyclist is unlikely to willingly choose a route that forces them to merge with busy motor traffic, such as at roundabouts.

Thirdly, and personally, I like that I can just ride through these roundabouts rather than needing to constantly gauge traffic, merge, and stop in front of motorists who like to inch their cars forward, closer and closer. Of course, an individual should not sail blindly through these new roundabouts, but the pressure is greatly reduced.

What can be improved

These are the first attempt at bicycle priority roundabouts in Melbourne (and maybe Australia), so there is going to be room for improvement and the first suggestion I would make in that regard is greater pedestrian and bicyclist separation.

No pedestrian and bicyclist separation

These bicycle lanes have been placed on the footway on the corners of the intersection. You will see from the Netherlands video above that the bicycle lanes have been physically separated from pedestrians by raised traffic islands and kerbs. On Moray Street, possibly due to space constraints and the need for the bicycle lanes to be at the same height as the footpath to access the wombat crossings, the design easily allows for a pedestrian to wander onto the green paint.

Pedestrians cannot be blamed for wandering into the bicycle lanes, though, as this is a new design and there is literally nothing to stop them. With future roundabouts, a barrier between the bicycle lane and the footway should be included. This barrier could be planter boxes, seating, or other dual-purpose feature.

Harsh kerb ramp

The second improvement I would suggest is gentler kerb ramps on the bicycle lane. Harsh kerbs are, unfortunately, a continuing feature of bicycle infrastructure. It is unclear why gentler designs are not the first consideration. Harsh bumps are a bane to new bicyclists who are likely to have a sore bottom and, in this case, the kerbs may even cause confusion as the painted bicycle lanes leading towards the roundabout do not force a bicyclist onto the green strip.

This brings me to my third area for improvement. A new user approaching these roundabouts from a bicycle lane that is not physically separated from motor traffic may merge with traffic through the roundabouts as they are unaccustomed to being guided to the left. The kerb ramps add to this confusion as they may appear to be intended for accessible access to the footway, especially when joining Moray Street as pictured below. Protected lanes that physically guide bicyclists onto the bicycle lane around the roundabouts should be included in future projects.

Bicyclists are not clearly directed to onto the green strip

Further thoughts

Design that allows a person to choose to ride a bicycle rather than drive a car is design that is good for bicycling and motoring. It frees space in the motor lane as a person who does not need their car is given the choice to leave it at home. It also improves individual health and happiness, aides the economy, and encourages new bicycling which drives authorities to provide greater infrastructure.

With those points it is disappointing to see certain media already fuelling division by stoking community misunderstanding of the benefits of initiatives that allow a person to choose not to drive.

It is also disappointing that we have a supposedly progressive Government that is determined to run the state as though it is the 1980s. All around us Daniel Andrews is pushing ahead projects that will entrench car dependency and, in doing so, make traffic congestion worse. He scrapped bicycle improvements to St Kilda Road, ceased PTV’s incremental improvements to train timetables almost immediately upon taking office, is pressing ahead with construction of the most destructive road Melbourne will have ever seen, has shown that he is not against destroying suburban centres with enormous trenches, and has thrown out consideration of restricting vehicle use in Melbourne’s CBD despite the extreme inefficiencies the city currently suffers by the free use of motor vehicles on its congested streets.

But I have wandered off topic. These new roundabouts are a good start and I look forward to seeing them rolled out at other suitable locations.