When an apple isn’t an apple – Brisbane City Council’s dirty little Bicycle Infrastructure Secret.

There is so much mis-information about bicycle riding out there. Whether it’s TMR’s questionable use of language, local radio stations asking people if they are going to obey a new law, or “journalists” writing clickbait – it’s out there… buckets and buckets of it. We bicycle riders have a mantra we try and stick to – “Don’t read the comments.” Why? I find it scary what some people think. It’s all about perception, really.

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains - safe? Hell no

Some of our infrastructure (main North-South route on the Southside) goes through storm drains – safe? Hell no

Some motorists perceive bicycle riders to be law breakers or pushers of an elitist agenda. Some bicycle riders perceive motorists as being selfish and unaware of the impact their driving has on others and the health of a city.

What doesn’t help is the perception, helped along by the Brisbane City Council’s frequent pronouncements, that there is a network of 1,100km of bikeways in Brisbane.

Language is so important. Calling Brisbane’s mishmash of infrastructure a “bikeway network” is a perfect example of misrepresenting the truth that does a lot more harm than good.

How many times have you seen a motorist interviewed say something like “why don’t they ride in the bike lane?” or “we spent all that money on bikeways for the cyclists, so why do they ride on the road?” And you know what? When you know that there are around 6,000km of roads and 1,100km of bikeways, it’s a damned valid question.

The only problem is, is that this data is wrong (or at least counted very creatively).

A road is that bit of bitumen going outside my house, down the shops, past the school and to my office – and there’s 6,000km of it.

A bikeway, according to how the Brisbane City Council counts it, is some sort of bicycle related infrastructure (more on that later) that goes outside my house, down to the shops, past the school and to my office AND BACK AGAIN! That’s right. The Council counts BOTH SIDES of the road.

One of the 186kms of unridable bike lanes. This one is in New Farm.

One of the 186kms of unridable bike lanes. This one is in New Farm.

So there’s 550km of bikeway then, right?

Yeah, well, no.

No? I hear you ask.


You see some infrastructure on the road is counted more than both directions.

Take Victoria Bridge into the CBD from South Bank for example. For motorists, it is counted once. For bicycle riders, it’s counted three times. Yes, three times. There are two bike lanes that are narrower than TMR guidelines (inbound and outbound) plus there is a shared path on the upstream side of the bridge. Three times.

So when someone says “why aren’t they riding on all that infrastructure we built for them?” the answer is, “It isn’t there.” As to what is there – well that’s a whole other problem.

The majority of people who ride these days are sports cyclists. Not all, but most. These fit, brave and oft times lycra wearing bicycle riders aren’t the ones that are being targeted to start riding. Older people, women, mothers – all are being strongly targeted to ride. Money is being spent on programs and communications to encourage them to do so. However all the research here and abroad says unless you feel safe, you won’t be a utility rider (ie just riding for short trips, taking the kids to school, nipping down to the shops, slowly riding into work etc). Saying that we have 1,100km of “dedicated” bike paths (on and off road) sounds like there’s safe infrastructure out there…. but the low numbers of women riding says that this is not so.

Aberleigh Road BAZ. You can just make our the yellow bicycle through all the repairs.

Aberleigh Road BAZ. You can just make our the yellow bicycle through all the repairs.

The Council’s own data shows that less than half of these 1,100km (419km) is off road (including informal paths). That means that most is on the road, and of that, 50% are BAZ.

What’s a BAZ? It’s a Bicycle Awareness Zone. Essentially it’s just a normal road with some orange bicycle stencils on it. That’s not infrastructure – that’s crossing your fingers.

30% are bicycle lanes (186km). Don’t get excited. There’s a reason why bicycle riders don’t ride in bicycle lanes too (and we don’t legally have to). Most are in the “door zone.” Just like a motorist would drive out from a parked car incase a door is opened, so must bicycle riders. “The width of the door and a little bit more” and that means, riding on the edge of the main lane versus in the “safety” of the bicycle lane. Further more, it’s often safer for the rider to “claim the lane” vs trying to ride on the edge of the lane.

I do believe that the Council wants to do the right thing. It makes huge financial sense to have more people (of all ages) on bicycles, where and when they can.

As it stands now though, what the Council touts as infrastructure, in almost all cases, really can’t be classed as such, when compared to the rest of the world.

We have those “dedicated bikeways” in heavy and fast moving traffic offering no protection and aggravation to motorists, we have paths that are impassable after heavy rain as much of the off road paths are on flood plains and some even traverse storm drains, paths that are so dark at night that people are afraid to ride on them, and we have planners and councillors that are car focused, even removing funded bikeways.

A strip of paint, does not safe infrastructure make. This is LaTrobe St in Paddington

A strip of paint, does not safe infrastructure make. This is LaTrobe St in Paddington

The Council needs to step up, show some political will, some foresight and make Brisbane the “New World City” it is selling itself to be. Until then, Brisbane’s “1,100km network of bikeways” receives One Panda. onepanda

Source material can be found via the CBDBUG’s site here.

DISCLOSURE: The author of HowManyPandas is a member of the CBDBUG Leadership team and is also the author of the tumblr blog surlesfleurs mentioned in the open letter to the Lord Mayor and images used here.

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9 Responses to “When an apple isn’t an apple – Brisbane City Council’s dirty little Bicycle Infrastructure Secret.”

  1. Nikki Says:

    You already know my reasons for not riding in Brisbane, and they’re 75% safety concerns due to failing infrastructure. Thanks for writing this blog, and I hope the council changes things soon.

  2. James Gently Says:

    Removal of on-street car parking must occur to free up the road space needed to install protected bike ways on the bike network streets.

  3. Steve@Cycle Says:

    Further to your comments, we have motorists who have no idea of the difference between a Bike lane, a BAZ and the road shoulder and government at all levels who believe that they are somehow going to be the first government in the history of the world to solve road congestion with more roads.

    At the same time we have roads such as Hamilton, Rode etc on the Northside of town that are 5m wide per lane with not even a BAZ marking on them. Why do we need 5m wide single direction car lanes?

    Brisbane, a “New World City”?
    That is as laughable as the term “Professional Driver”.

    You are being kind to suggest that we have more than a few hundred metres specific cycling infrastructure in Brisbane. We have lots of shared pathways, that we share with walkers, skaters, segways etc etc etc.

    You are also being kind to offer up 1 Panda.


  4. Anna Says:

    This post is awesome! Thank you so much for digging this out and describing it so well. I get honked at once a day because some drivers feel I should be riding somewhere else. I just always wonder where?

  5. @Kanga_Rue Says:

    Well put. Thank you. I’m a utility rider, with a 2-year old. While not in Brisbane, I’m in a regional area where the mentality is as bad, if not worse. Your points are well put!

    Cheers, @Kanga_Rue

  6. James Says:

    Very similar situation in Melbourne. There’s one short length of bicycle facility I enjoy using, and that is the bit across the bridge on St Kilda Rd near Flinders St – only in the North bound direction. It’s a full car lane wide! The rest is mostly impracticable to use – so I don’t use it. How some of the designs are “standards” compliant is beyond me. Road engineers are not worthy of the title.

  7. Mark Says:

    I usually only run into trouble with car drivers in the vicinity of on-street parking. Drivers tend to abuse the cyclist not the council or the car parker. Separating cyclists and drivers is a win win for both parties. If only frustrated drivers could learn to advocate for bike infrastructure too. Car parkers can walk from nearby side streets, they probably need the exercise anyway.

  8. Silvia Says:

    I live on the Gold Coast and it is even worse. Before I moved here I lived with my family in Berlin, Germany and our means of transport was a bike. Our children virtually grew up on a bike. When we moved here we took our bikes with us. Little did we know that we would never use them. I did not feel safe on the road and they are collecting dust ever since.

    What they call bikeway here is anything but. Just a green painted strip on the road and a stencil does not make it a bikeway. Bikeways have to be visually and physically separated from cars and pedestrians. If you go to ‘google earth’ and look for ‘Kurt Schumacher Platz, Berlin’ or ‘Scharnweber Str, Berlin’ and look from the street view you get a fair idea of what a good bikeway can look like. They are not all that great but they are all safe to use. Bike riders also have a separate traffic light so that they do not collide with cars or pedestrians.

    We not only need better bikeways but also a different attitude towards bike riding people.

    And another thing, wearing a helmet in Europe is highly recommended but not compulsory. They treat their citizens as mature people who can make their own decisions.

  9. Merle Skilton Says:

    Well said. I am not a cyclist but a driver. I cannot comprehend how drivers ensconced in their cars can have a confrontational attitude to bike riders. No matter what the inconvenience to the driver (held up behind a cyclist for a few minutes, mostly) can aggressive driving with the possibility of causing a death or horrific injuries to cyclists be worth it? Let it go drivers, let it go.
    Brisbane City Council – your policies towards bikeway infrastructure is a disgrace!

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