Perth: cycling infrastructure innovation and upgrades

Under the Safe Active Streets program some streets in Perth and its neighbouring municipalities are truly changing. The Government of Western Australia is investing AU$3 million (€2.02/£1.77) in this program. A large part of the money goes to demonstration bicycle boulevards. In my recent trip to Australia I visited three projects in this program. Two bicycle boulevards with other delegates from the Safe Active Streets workshop and one cycleway update with local resident and blogger Tim Burns. With all the attention Velo-City 2017 demanded you didn’t get to read this post about Perth up to now, but I managed to finally write it!

This side street is the cause of the interruption of the cycleway alongside a main road. It is brand-new, but it seems to be very hard to design cycleways in a continuous way.
The PSPs of Perth follow main roads, rail roads and waterways. These Principal Shared Paths form a really good network for cycling in the city. They are very similar to Dutch cycleways, although the Dutch prefer to keep such cycleways further away from main roads.

In March 2015 two road design specialists from the Netherlands visited Perth for a workshop. Concrete ideas were put to paper for the demonstration projects. When I visited in March 2017 the projects were well underway and large parts were already finished. It was clear a lot of money and effort went into the projects. The bicycle boulevards, the equivalent of a Dutch cycle street or Fietsstraat, reminded me of cycle streets I know in Nijmegen (even though I saw many differences too). That was not surprising when I found out one of the Dutch experts was from the Nijmegen region. The Western Australian Department of Transport wants to make cycling possible for people who would not cycle without these provisions. “Bike Boulevard users are not fast cyclists; they are mums, dads, children, senior citizens and others making short trips on bikes to schools, the train station or shops.” I was told that most of the residents on the streets were pleased with the design. Children were seen playing in locations where you would not have seen them previously. An impressive amount of work had gone into the project and I was pleased with a lot of what I saw on the street, but not all. First of all the streets felt wider than they should. I was not too sure about the design of the pinch-points either. Since people cycling also need to use the road narrowing it can be unpleasant at best, dangerous at worst. I was also a bit surprised about how one of the cycle streets was connected to a cycle track in the side street. That connection from Railway Parade to May Street in Bayswater seems unnecessarily complicated. On top of that the materials that were used (such as plastic bollards) don’t seem to be durable enough. It is good that this is a demonstration project. Mistakes are a learning opportunity. When the Dutch had such demonstration projects in Tilburg and The Hague in the late 1970s most was learned from the things that didn’t go right at first. I did not see all Dutch recommendations back on the street. That the speed is down to 30km/h is very good, but “slow motorised traffic down with bike friendly traffic calming”, “restrict motorised traffic movements at key intersections to reduce traffic volumes” and that the design “may require some mid-block cul-de-sacs to reduce motorised traffic” were some of the recommendations I didn’t see in the designs yet.

This type of Cycle Street (Fietsstraat) in Nijmegen served as an example for the Active Travel Streets in Perth. Although the dimensions are very similar this Dutch example feels narrower. The gray strip at both edges is what causes this optical illusion, that is meant to give motorists the signal they are in “cycle space”. (Picture Mark Treasure)


Shakespeare Street in Mount Hawthorn is almost a carbon copy of a Dutch cycle street. The dimensions are virtually identical, but this street looks a lot wider and that will increase speeds by motorists. The strips between the parked cars and the road way were omitted and that causes this difference. Motorists may not get a strong enough signal that they are in a special kind of street now, when only the colour looks different. Cycling infrastructure is all about getting details right.

The local press wrote very enthusiasticly about one of the new bicycle boulevards in Mount Hawthorn: “Shakespeare Street may be the envy of cyclists the world over.” That is quite something to say. Local blogger Tim Burns was a bit more careful in his post. His main points of concern are similar to mine: the pinch-points are not bicycle friendly and there don’t seem to be any traffic calming measures. But he was pleased to see that the learning progression is indeed taking place: “I have already noticed some of the design problems in Shakespeare Street have been adjusted at the second bike boulevard project which is currently under construction in Bayswater. The Western Australian Department of Transport are taking an open-minded approach to the improvements to our street network for bike riders and have been encouraging feedback.”

To a European eye it is quite confusing that the image for a home zone (woonerf) looks very similar to this image used in a cycle street. The two types of street are very different and confusion is the last thing you want in road design. Probably not a big problem for the locals who will not know that European image, but in a globalising world introducing this kind of ambiguity may not be advisable.
The only cyclist using the infrastructure during the visit of the delegates on the cycleway on Railway Parade (background). This cycleway is only separated from the main carriageway by a line of paint. The connection to the bicycle boulevard in May Street (left) is overly complicated in my opinion.

Not everybody is pleased about the Active Travel Streets. On June 23rd, a local “driver and walker” wrote a comment on the Facebook page of the City of Bayswater: “This is a complete disaster and waste of money. I’m a regular driver and walker on May Street and it makes no sense at all what they’ve done. In some parts it’s even dangerous and I’ve seen several near misses already. Complete madness and another example of bureaucratic numpties having no idea and a big budget.”

Some adjustments of the pinch-point design and further education of the locals seems in order.

The straight east-west Robertson Road Cycleway south of Kingsley Park is a very direct cycle route leading to the back-end of many cul-de-sacs. This makes it a safe and meaningful route for many people. (Map Western Australian Department of Transport)
A before and after comparison to inform the public about the then upcoming upgrade of the Robertson Road Cycleway. (Pictures Western Australian Department of Transport)

As part of a private tour of Perth and surroundings I was shown a third project of the Active Streets Program; the upgrade of the 2.5 kilometre Robertson Road Cycleway in the city of Joondalup.

This upgrade, finished last December, improves access to the Greenwood Train station and some local schools. This part of the city is a 1980s residential area with a lot of cul-de-sacs. However, a lot of those connect to a straight and very direct cycleway. This cycleway was widened and got a new coat of smooth red asphalt. At most locations a new separate footpath was also built. The landscaping was altered here and there to increase social safety and LED lighting was installed for that same reason. To enhance comfort drinking fountains, seating furniture and other amenities were placed. Greenwood Station has spaces available to park 132 bicycles and this station apparently has the highest amount of people arriving by bike of all the train stations in Perth. It has now become even more convenient for residents to take the bike to the station and to continue their journey to Perth by train.

Many people in and around Perth choose not to adhere to the obligation to wear a helmet. Many of those riders would exchange nods of understanding.
For I too chose to ride as I have ridden for almost 50 years: with nothing on my head. The PSPs in Perth and this upright Dutch bicycle made that perfectly sensible. (Photo Tim Burns)

I was very pleased with how the cycleway upgrade looked. It is good that Perth doesn’t only look at “bicycle boulevards”. The vast network of PSPs, as they are locally known (Principal Shared Paths) should also not be forgotten. These paths for walking and cycling run next to motorways, railways and sometimes waterways. They lead people to meaningful destinations in a direct route. Giving attention to missing links in that network and upgrading existing routes that need maintenance may not be as sexy as working on innovative Active Travel Streets, but it is equally important in my opinion. I found cycling in Perth very easy, also compared to other places in Australia. Some busy streets are better avoided, but all in all the cycling climate (including a seemingly more relaxed attitude to the many people who choose not to obey Australia’s mandatory helmet laws) is really very nice. Improvements are always necessary and welcome and it is good to see that they are taking place.

My video portrait of Perth.


11 thoughts on “Perth: cycling infrastructure innovation and upgrades

  1. You are a great blogger, post that you publish on concrete footpaths perth  in awesome and contain a huge knowledge about it. Concrete for footpaths is of different kind and it is in different range of price, if we use it for our home then we need that it is of good quality and its validity is also good. Your blog describe all these very clear. Thanks for publish this post.

  2. Thanks for this outsider’s review.
    You raise this the issue of compulsory helmet laws. All the evidence shows that they have been a disaster for cycling participation (see my paper to VeloCity 2014, Adelaide, South Australia –, especially for short-distance utility trips, which is a long-term problem as this is where many people learn to ride a bike.
    There has been sustained increase in cycling to and around the centre of Perth, where most of the investment in cycle infrastructure has taken place, but elsewhere cycling participation has collapsed.
    Ian Ker (Team Leader, Perth Bikeplan 1985 and Bike Ahead/Perth Bicycle Network Plan, 1996)

  3. Thanks Mark for your comments – enlightening as usual.

    I was interested to read that you found the “pinch points” uncomfortable; I understand that they are an attempt to slow car traffic down without using speed bumps or other vertical displacement. What would the typical Dutch approach be? (I understand that you also recommend using grey strips to make the road look narrower).

    Similarly, with the ‘over-engineered’ transition from Railway Parade to May Street, do you have any examples of how a similar connection would be made in the Netherlands?

    1. Regarding the pinch point: Marc is not criticizing pinch points per se, but the layout of these particular pinch points. A more ‘correct’ implementation is what can be seen around 2:37 – cyclists can use the narrow tracks aside the pinch points, so they will not be pinched together with the cars. A small piece of protected cycle track at the place where it is needed.

      At the over-engineered crossing,I would just expect a normal crossing, with give way markings if needed, but no necessary change in the geometry of either street.

  4. Mark ze beginnen het te begrijpen! Bedankt voor deze mooie video. Toen ik in Perth was zag je geen fietsers (2009 en ervoor)

  5. Thanks for this Mark. Do you think the shared paths will be OK in the longer term. My understanding of the Dutch approach was that for each type of ‘space’ it needed to be clear who had priority – that is the most vulnerable – si on a ‘shared’ path it is pedestrians who would have priority. Is my understanding correct?

    1. It is not automatically so that the most vulnerable road user in a shared space has priority. There is always an obligation to be careful with the more vulnerable but that is different. Pedestrians may use cycleways too in the Netherlands, especially in rural areas when there are no sidewalks. But when the paths are designated cycleways pedestrians should stay as far to the side as possible, just like on a road without a sidewalk. They are the guest. It can be different when it is allowed to cycle in a pedestrian zone. In that case the person cycling is the guest and then the pedestrians do have priority. The design of the space should also make that clear, not only signs.

      1. Thanks Mark, that makes the Dutch approach clear.
        Did you get a sense of who, on the Perth shared paths,is the ‘guest’ – the bicyclist or the pedestrian. Also, if there is a way of this being communicated without a traffic sign, that is without a sign that shows a pedestrian symbol over a bike symbol or vice versa or perhaps by communicating a speed limit, say 8? km/h for pedestrian priority and 30? km/h for bike priority paths.
        The shared paths in Melbourne do not work very well as they are usually too narrow and with a lack of understanding amongst users about priority and in the absence of a code of behaviour (like your suggested pedestrians keep left on bike priority paths).

        1. Most of the time it worked fine with the sharing. As you can also see in the video: when there are just two pedestrians they stay really to the side. But when there are dozens at the time, then there is almost no place anymore for cycling. We just put up a sign that it is a cycleway and then pedestrians can automatically use it as a guest.

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