Of all the Victorian budget cuts the slashing of bicycle infrastructure is perhaps the most puzzling. The Baillieu government has reduced funding for key bicycle programs to zero. This has been met with immediate condemnation from both Labor and the Greens, with the Shadow Minister for Roads and Road Safety Luke Donnellan naming it ‘a horror budget for Victorian bicycle riders’.
This slashing is a sharp divergence from the previous financial year where nearly $15 million was allocated to bicycle infrastructure, an amount comparable to the Brumby government’s 2010/11 budget. And it comes after more than two decades of support and gradual funding increases from both sides of politics. Considering the $41 billion dollars allocated to public sector projects, including $15 million solely for writing a business case for the East-West Link road project, cutting funding for cycling seems rather absurd.
It is certainly a curious decision when demand for cycling has steadily risen in recent years, not to mention the ongoing focus on health and obesity. Bicycle infrastructure is not only of concern to Melbourne’s cycling community and inner-suburban population, as cycling promises to play a central role in Melbourne’s battle to reduce traffic congestion. Bikes take up considerably less space on the road than and statistics show bikes to be 9% of vehicles used in the CBD between 7am and 10am in 2008, an increase from 4% in 2006. Commuter cycling increased by an incredible 43% between 2007 and 2008.
Bicycle Network Victoria suggests that money invested in bikes actually reduces the burden on taxpayers and the budget, and there is scope for research in the area. Certainly there are clear environmental benefits from encouraging cycling, yet this decision is indicative of the Baillieu government’s regressive approach to the environment. Since its election in 2010 this government has displayed amazing disregard for the environment ranging from the alpine grazing fiasco, to scrapping Victoria’s target of 20% emissions reduction by 2020, to recently abandoning its election pledge to replace street lights with energy efficient fluorescent lighting. The slashing of bike infrastructure does not seem out context.
The effects will surely be felt by students from the University of Melbourne, many of whom ride to university for a multitude of reasons including scarcity of parking, public transport costs, or simply exercise and enjoyment. The University has recently installed secure bike parking hubs for staff and students and hosts a Melbourne Bike Share station on its Parkville campus. The 2012/13 budget is an unprecedented slap in the face to all those supporting and using bicycle infrastructure. It is certainly out of touch with Victoria’s transport future.