Recently at Urban Melbourne the transport focus has been on the big ticket modes: rail and bus. Whilst their mode share has increased steadily over the last decade, the underlying trend towards inner city living has seen a dramatic uptake for the humble bicycle. Fueled by rising petrol costs, an increasing interest in exercise, and a population explosion of hipsters in the inner north, Melburnians have been blessed with a plethora of new cycle paths, and not so blessed with the popularity of faux vintage fixie bikes (Ok, Ok, I'll try to reframe from any further hipster bashing!).
Whilst we have seen rapid improvement in off road places to ride, Amsterdam we are not quite yet. Admittedly, they have about a 50 year head start on us, and a smaller, denser area to work with. We have come a long way in a short time though; as a kid it was basically run the gauntlet on the road, or risk bowling over a few grannies on the footpath. These days there are a variety of cycle paths and cycle 'highways' dedicated to the commute of the lycra army. Just go to Melbourne on Google Maps and select the 'Bicycling' overlay; the amount of corresponding light and dark green lines is quite mind boggling.
Cycling is no longer a Sunday morning sojourn with the wife/husband and kids. Its now a serious weekday commuter option for many. Subsequently we now have a network of paths to lead to the CBD: the Gardiners Creek Trail, The Merri Creek Trail, The Upfield Path, The Maribyrnong Trail and the Capital City Trail just to name a few. However in the Western Suburbs it's a bit more problematic. Aside from the Coastal Trail which provides a good link from Altona/Williamstown via Footscray Road, further out residents are limited despite the presence of what should be the cycling jewel in its crown: the Federation Trail.
The Federation Trail opened in 2006, costing a purported $12.5 million. Starting in Werribee, it mainly follows the old sewer outfall, passing through parts of Hopper Crossing, Truganina, Williams Landing and Laverton North, before coming to an abrupt halt in Brooklyn at Millers Road, not unlike the Eastern Freeway at Hoddle Street. From here options to the CBD gets a bit tricky: Millers Road, Geelong Road and Francis Street all have major traffic volumes, and are truck routes to boot, restricting it as an option to everyone bar those with a death wish. The Westgate is of course off limits, especially now that the emergency lanes have been removed from the bridge.
The answer is the 'missing link'. Starting at Millers Road, it would wend its way next to the Westgate Freeway to Williamstown Road, before following Stony Creek to Hyde Street and connecting to the Coastal Trail. From here cyclists can go left and into the CBD, or right and onto the Westgate Punt, a ferry service to Fisherman's Bend. Its an important link; currently only the inner west is really served well. Building it means not only would the large suburbs or Werribee and Hopper Crossing be connected, but the major growth areas of Truganina, Point Cook and Williams Landing would have a much more direct path into the CBD than the much longer and more tourist orientated option of the Coastal Trail.
The best part is its relatively straight forward to construct: no houses need to be compulsorily acquired, no parks need to be savaged, and it wouldn't cost $9 billion to build! The cost to complete it has been estimated at less than $1 million; a drop in the ocean as a proportion of today's total infrastructure budget. And the west would finally have the (close to) complete commuter cycling network it deserves. Given that it would run through the trendy suburb of Yarraville, maybe, just maybe, some cafes will open up along the route, giving the hipsters somewhere to park their fixies and have a well deserved organic cider and gluten free salted caramel muffin…*
* no hipsters were hurt in the writing of this article.