In the current political climate, the Adelaide City Council is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to cycling projects.
Having built, then demolished a $400,000 bikeway on Sturt Street, the council spent $1.6 million constructing a separated bikeway on Frome Street, only to reject expert advice and the results of its own community consultation – but concede political failure – by resolving to demolish that too.
The technically effective but politically disastrous Yarwood-era bikeway is to be replaced with a less aesthetically confronting bike path and a complete overhaul of the streetscape, thanks to an $11 million deal with the State Government, which will also fund a shiny new bikeway, running east-west through Flinders and Franklin streets.
Right now, though, all the council and Lord Mayor Martin Haese have to show for that deal is rubble at one end of the street and a condemned bikeway on the other.
The east-west bikeway has yet to be designed, no consultation has taken place and little is known about it.
This vacuum has created the ideal political moment for some old-fashioned political scaremongering.
Flinders Street café owner Luigi Di Costanzo told The Advertiser on Friday the planned east-west bikeway would kill his business by necessitating the removal of his outdoor dining area (and by reducing car parking on the street).
He later told InDaily that city councillor Alex Antic, who cites opposition to Frome Street bikeway as his original reason to run for council, had warned him of the threat.
The idea that the proposed east-west bikeway will have an impact on outdoor dining is not without foundation. The council staff report which, in September, recommended Flinders and Franklin streets for the bikeway says “there may be some impacts to existing outdoor dining areas”.
It remains unclear which outdoor dining areas might be affected because the bikeway just hasn’t been designed yet – but Di Costanzo is very unlikely to lose his.
Haese was able to assure the café operator, on FIVEaa radio, that his outdoor dining area was safe.
He could be so confident because Di Costanzo’s outdoor dining area is aligned with the kerb at the intersection of Flinders and Pulteney Streets, and because members of council staff had inspected his site relatively recently (the council helped fund his outdoor dining area).
Nonetheless, area councillor Anne Moran – another strident critic of the council’s efforts on Frome Street – had Haese cornered on the morning radio program.
She argued that the council should finish replacing Frome Street bikeway before embarking on the east-west route, because the former had been a disaster for the council.
“We need to see the whole street done … we sensibly wait until we’ve got it right on Frome Street,” she said.
Haese judged that the only way to neutralise this preemptive strike on the east-west bikeway was to assert a consensus that simply doesn’t exist.
He assured listeners that “there will be no works commencing on Flinders-Franklin for some time”.
“I’m totally on the same page here with councillor Moran and councillor Antic … this process isn’t about doing it fast, it’s about doing it right,” he said.
But the position is unsustainable.
Earlier this year, Haese successfuly opposed a motion from Antic to hold off works on the east-west bikeway until Frome Street is complete – for the good reason that there is a looming deadline on all of this.
The funding deed between the council and the State Government requires that both the north-south bikeway on Frome Street and the east-west bikeway on Flinders-Franklin streets be complete by the middle of next year.
Haese failed to point this out on the radio program, and was said he was unaware of it when InDaily asked him about it later in the day.
He was also attacked on FIVEaa over the fact that there hadn’t been any consultation with Flinders and Franklin Street business owners about the east-west bikeway.
In response he claimed that it was because “we are keeping everyone focused on delivering on the north-south (bikeway redevelopment)”.
But the real reason there’s yet to be consultation is that another motion, moved by Antic in late September, delayed it.
The council’s administration was instructed to put off any consultation on the project until it could present a report containing a stack of information on how the consultation will work – including detailed biographies of external consultants, all proposed communications and what questions will be asked.
Antic proposed the motion out of suspicion over a previous Frome Street bikeway consultation, which had returned results contrary to his own opinion.
That report will make its way to the council chamber tomorrow evening.
There may be more delay if the council can be convinced there’s something wrong with the proposed consultation.
The first stage of the new Frome Street bikeway is due to be complete by the end of the year.
Haese hopes this will constitute a real-world example of an attractive, effective bikeway built by his council.
With just over half a year to do the consultation and get both bikeways built, and 12 months before the next council election, he desperately needs the whole process to be a public relations winner.
The clock is ticking.
Bension Siebert is a reporter with InDaily.
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