Motorcycles blocking footpath, William Street

At last! City of Melbourne tonight will debate changes to motorcycle parking in the CBD.

What’s the law?

Motorcyclists can park virtually anywhere off-road – unless specifically signed otherwise.

There are guidelines which aren’t communicated well, and are widely ignored.

The relevant rule provides exclusions to the usual parking limitations if the driver’s vehicle is a motor cycle and the driver stops in a place where the motor cycle does not inconvenience, obstruct, hinder or prevent the free passage of any pedestrian or other vehicle.

The point about free passage can theoretically prevent disruptive parking, but in practice is virtually unenforceable.

This is all unique to Victoria, and has been like this since the 1980s. No other state allows motorcyclists to park on footpaths.

What’s the result of motorcyclists on footpaths?

It’s messy, particularly in Melbourne’s CBD, which is getting more and more busy.

City of Melbourne data indicates about 1200 motorcyclists ride and park in the CBD.

With virtually no guidelines or enforcement these are often parked in such a way that reduces footpath capacity in the places it’s needed most, affecting hundreds of thousands of people – including public transport users.

It causes crowding, it prompts people to walk along the roadway (yes, motor vehicles on the footpath, pedestrians on the road – talk about backwards – and causes serious issues for those with mobility aids and prams.

(The total daily population of the City of Melbourne is around 1 million on a weekday. Note that’s the total council area, not just the CBD/Hoddle Grid.)

Motorcycle parked on Little Bourke Street

Isn’t this all caused by delivery riders?

They’ve arguably made it worse. But this has been a problem brewing for many years.

In these blog posts from 2008 and 2013, before the delivery rider craze took off, I pointed out the issues with motorcyclists parking all over footpaths.

Aren’t bicycles just as bad?

Not really. They’re less bulky, and usually need to be secured to a fixed object, which limits where they can be parked.

If they’re not secured, just left somewhere (as the oBikes often were, and some delivery bikes are) then they can be physically moved.

What about street furniture?

Rubbish bins, signage, trees, advertising, al fresco dining can all be an issue for footpath capacity.

But in contrast to motorcycle parking, all of these are regulated and controlled by council.

Motorcycles parked on footpath in Bourke Street

Are motorcycles better than cars?

Yes and no.

If they’re parked on the street or in car parks, then yes they’re obviously more space efficient than cars.

But if they’re parked on footpaths and encroach on pedestrian space, then they’re worse than cars, because they’re taking away space that cars don’t normally take.

It’s worth noting that Monash University research found that most motorcyclists said if they couldn’t park for free, most of them would use public transport instead – rather than driving.

The noise

Another problem with some motorcycles is the extraordinary amount of noise some of them make.

It’s totally inappropriate for a dense, built-up area. The noise is such that often you can’t have a conversation when one is driving past. And forget about making a phone call.

It must take an extra special sense of entitlement to roar through city streets like that.

There seems to be no current plan to deal with this.

So what’s the council doing?

The proposal is for City of Melbourne to convert 36 car spaces in the Hoddle Grid into 151 motorcycle spaces, which will be provided free of charge.

They will also ban motorcycles on footpaths in a number of blocks around Southern Cross, Flinders Street, Flagstaff and Melbourne Central stations.

I’m not sure why Parliament wasn’t included, but this is a great start – it covers many of the worst streets for pedestrian congestion.

More details on the council web site – see section 6.4

Footpaths proposed to be cleared of motorcycles, February 2020

What’s the reaction from riders been?

Many seem to have accepted that providing unlimited free footpath space to motorcyclists isn’t actually a priority.

“Melbourne City Council has done its homework and counted how many bikes will be affected… At the moment it seems a straight swap of footpath places for on-road places. As long as riders aren’t disadvantaged, as they don’t seem to be, we are quite ok with it.”

Professor Richard Huggins, immediate past chair of the Victorian Motorcycle Council in The Age

This seems like a pretty fair appraisal, as it appears the number of street spaces will be roughly right for the number of motorcycles currently parked on footpaths in the affected blocks.

And it’s not like motorcycle riders can’t find another street to park in and walk a few metres to their destination.

“In spite of a serious lack of rider education on and enforcement of riding-on-footpath and pedestrian obstruction rules, the system has worked very well for 40 years”

Motorcycle Riders’ Association spokesman Damien Codognotto in the Herald Sun

The lack of rider education is a very fair point.

It actually makes me wonder if motorcycle groups made any effort to help educate riders. They must have known the current unregulated mess wasn’t sustainable.

But as for working very well for 40 years – no. Not at all. If it had, there wouldn’t be any need for change.

Motorcycle blocking footpath

Giving footpaths back to pedestrians is a good thing

Walking needs to be encouraged. The health benefits are numerous, and it’s the most space efficient travel mode – bar none. But often, pedestrian issues are ignored. The one place walkers should absolutely be prioritised is on footpaths.

Some motorcyclists are grumpy about these changes, because they’ve become used to parking wherever they want, for free.

We all want stuff for free. We can’t all have it. There’s no automatic right to be able to park outside your building. Space in the city centre is scarce, and motorcycle riders are not more important than everyone else.

More spaces for motorcyclists on the street, so footpaths can be freed up for increasing numbers of pedestrians is definitely a good thing.

Update 9pm: The City of Melbourne motion passed unanimously.

11 thoughts on “Finally: action on footpath motorcycle parking

  1. You missed the point. Footpaths are for commercialisation opportunities!
    The number of pedestrian choke points caused by council sanctioned street stalls and outdoor cafe extensions is amazing. Particularly around railway entrances and tram stops. Just look at the pedestrian choke point at the corner of Finders and Collins street as an example.

    On the motorcycle parking.. I’m not sure Brisbane is the perfect city but I see huge council sanctioned motorcycle parking strips located on the outskirts of the city centre… the only problem is there is nowhere near enough parking provided for growing demand.
    Remember the bike protests in Elizabeth street when last time they tried to outlaw footpath parking of motorbikes in the CBD.

  2. Electric motorcycles (not just mopeds and e-bikes) are a reality, and the noise problem could be solved by the City of Melbourne outiright banning internal combustion engine bikes in the central city. A quick search reveals a Californian manufacturer claiming 180km range on the open road and 350km in the city.

    Delivery riders tend to use smaller bikes or mopeds, and for them electric mopeds would be ideal anyway. Those are not anywhere near as bad on the footpath as big bikes.

    Those ranges are not suitable for long-distance touring in Australia. Maybe limited use permits could be issued for CBD residents who keep a bike for that; or maybe people will simply accept that it’s like running a sailboat and if that’s your thing you should live somewhere with better siorage and maintenance facilites for such hobbies,

    As for the loud-exhaust Harley subculture, it’s not really their fault that they’ve ended up in an unsuitable location at the top of Elizabeth St. They were there decades ago when it was still a light industrial area. Removing their on-footpath parking might be the impetus for them to move somewhere better.

  3. @Daniel.. Apologies, I meant cnr Spencer and Collins.. where the cafe extensions still make it difficult for pedestrians. Oops.
    I have avoided that corner for a long time preferring to enter the Southern Cross thing (dysfunctional monstrosity that some refer to as a station) from the Little Collins Street intersection.
    But now you mention it.. the street kiosk news stand at that location has indeed gone.
    Credit where credit is due.. well done MCC for accommodating the pedestrian.

    On the motorcycle parking.. where do you think the city edge mass parking for motorcycles could be located? I don’t see too many natural locations. They could do something around the Vic Market complex, Something around the Spring Street government precinct, something at each end of Docklands, another around the new Arden St Stn (I refuse to refer to that as a new ‘North Melbourne Stn.), then the Carlton medical/uni precinct and something across toward Alexander Ave. Maybe turn over the whole Fed Sq car park at the end of Russel St to motorcycle parking. Or even mandate a whole level of any inner city car park be allocated to motorcycles (it would need to be at a very nominal fee).
    The only problem is all these motorcyclists parking at the city fringe will be looking for a tram ride to their final destination. So they’ll further crowd the already overcrowded inner city trams. If you also remove the Free Tram zone then costs may quickly outweigh the benefits of motorcycles.
    Any plan will have unexpected consequences.
    Lets have more motorcycle and motor-scooter parking middle to outer at railway stations. At the moment I notice there is hardly any.
    It’s a complex challenge.. but let’s fix it. The city is more and more crowded by people responding to policy settings, so lets get together and come up with a multi faceted solution.

  4. @Francis E, interestingly Damien Codognotto at the council meeting cited electric motorbikes as a reason why motorcycling is a green mode. I’m not sure that follows – it might make them *potentially* a green mode, but it’s unclear to me how many electric motorcycles there actually are being used at present. (And that leaves aside the issue of how the power for them is generated).

    I can probably forgive the culture of noisy motorbikes dominating around Elizabeth St/LaTrobe St given the precinct has long included a number of motorcycle shops… it’s the noisy motorbikes elsewhere which are really jarring. Every day at about 4pm someone near my office warms up their motorbike before roaring off down the street. I can hear it clearly from 3 floors up.

    @Wall Fly, yes definitely Spencer/Collins is a troublespot, which wasn’t helped by the removal of the pedestrian subway that used to lead out of the station under Spencer St.

    I actually think we need to be careful not to get carried away in trying to cater for a minority travel mode which isn’t an exemplar for safety or space-efficiency (thus actually encouraging it too much leads to doubtful outcomes).

    From a quick skim of the The City of Melbourne transport plan, it indicates motorcycle mode share into the municipality is just 0.7%. Walking, cycling and public transport is about 64%, so about 900 times greater — almost certainly higher within the Hoddle Grid.

    To my mind, clusters of motorcycle parking, along the lines of the street parking already being created, is a better outcome (for riders and others) than a large scale motorcycle parking on the CBD edge.

    Transport Plan: https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/transport-strategy-2030-city-of-melbourne.pdf (15 Mb PDF)

  5. When I was in Shanghai late last year, there were huge numbers of motor bikes being used by commuters. They were almost all completely silent, and I assume, electric. So electric motor bikes are a thing – we just need the government to nudge the market in the right direction so that people buy the quieter, more environmentally friendly ones instead of the noisy fossil-fuel powered ones…

  6. I don’t think it really matters whether the motorbikes are electric or otherwise. I think it more to do with how one muffles the sound coming from motorbikes as well as the regulations behind it. The last time I visited family in Tokyo, the motorbikes there were much quieter than the motorbikes in Sydney (and I assume Melbourne).

  7. Why not make enough Street parking available for the 1200 bikes. Convert 300-400 car parks over. Motorbikes should be encouraged over big cars. They omit a fraction of the CO2 that cars do. Even better if they’re electric.

  8. I agree regarding the noise – it is insane the levels of noise these bikes emit. Particularly down Punt Road between High Street and Union Street —- if the temperature exceeds 30 degrees, the activity of choice seems to be motoring a bike as loud as possible to wake up all the neighbours at all hours of the night — can only imagine how powerful this noise must be in the even more densely populated CBD. We have automated speed and red light enforcement, how about noise? That would stop them in their tracks.

  9. As a lifelong motorcycle rider, I think most people commenting on here fail to see that motorcycles are part of the traffic solution rather than the problem.

    Don’t get me wrong, I very much dislike loud motorcycles and never understand why the police don’t police this, especially I brand that seems to be 90% of the issue. Stop and fine every time. My work takes me all over Melbourne CBD and outer suburbs (think Universities) and I would not get much done using PT.

    I definitely see some pretty poor riding done by delivery riders but in my option, the usually park with some diligence and respect. Again, if there were clearer guidelines and they were unforced, this would solve much if the problem.

    Thise old enough to remember the protests some 10 or 15 years ago when motorcyclists paid and parked in road car spaces saw in real life the effect of banning motorcycle parking in what is mostly unused spaces.

    I totally support planning, reducing or banning motorcycle footpath parking in places where the pedestrian traffic is insanely dense (mostly near the CBD train stations) as Melbourne Council seem to be doing. Punishing all for a few loud bikes or bad parkers seems wrong minded and counterproductive.

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