Bicycle trip – North Balwyn to South Melbourne loop via Kew and Ashburton

After a slightly shorter trip on Tuesday, I embarked on another cycling trip around Melbourne. This time I wanted to venture a bit further afield and try some areas that I had never cycled through. I also remembered to take my phone with me this time so I actually have a proper GPS track of my trip.

Map of bicycle route

North Balwyn – Port Melbourne

Although I usually ride along the Koonung Creek Trail to get into the city, this time I tried Kilby Road. Even though I avoid on-road cycling as much as I can, this wasn’t a bad experience at all. The low traffic volumes, low(ish) speed limit and wide bike lanes make it a good alternative to High Street if nothing else. The westbound roundabout treatment at the intersection with Asquith Street is also quite well done with physical separation and clear green paint well before the conflict points. Unfortunately, the bike lane on the other side of Asquith Street often has cars parked illegally and there is no treatment through the actual intersection.

Bicycle treatment at Kilby Road roundabout

After a short journey along the end of the Anniversary Trail, I came to the Chandler Highway bridge over the Eastern Freeway. This is a very hostile environment to anybody not in a car, with five separate sets of traffic lights to be negotiated if you are on the path. I neglected to time the lights but it took quite a while to travel all of 200 metres across to Yarra Boulevard. One car even ran the red light as I was crossing the westbound slip lane.

Slip lane traffic lights at Chandler Highway

Despite this being so close to the proposed new Chandler Highway Bridge and cycling/pedestrian link across the Yarra River, VicRoads have refused to improve this connection to the Anniversary Trail due to it being ‘outside the scope’ of their project boundaries. If this does not change, I seriously doubt that many people will be using the new bridge given the poor quality of both this connection to the south and the frankly terrifying connections to the north (try cycling down Heidelberg Road or Grange Road).

Chandler Highway bridge at Eastern Freeway

The climb up Yarra Boulevard after negotiating this traffic disaster is well worth the trouble. The view from the lookout at the top is always something to look forward to, especially on a sunny day like Wednesday.

View of Melbourne from Main Yarra Trail, Clifton Hill

It is quite amazing to think that this is the only safe and reasonably direct bicycle connection from the entire north-eastern suburbs into the city. Despite the thousands of cyclists who use the path every day, there are a lot of inexplicably bad pieces of infrastructure that cannot cope with these numbers. This becomes especially apparent when you come to Pipemakers Bridge across the Yarra River. While this is a very useful path, it is barely wide enough to accommodate two people walking past each other, let alone two bicycles. I had to stop three times in the process of crossing from east to west to let people pass in the opposite direction and this was at about 10:30am on a weekday. Think of what it must be like during peak times.

Pipemakers Bridge, Yarra Bend Park

Due to a lack of signage after the bridge, I had to spend a good few minutes consulting my map, again proving the importance of wayfinding. Nevertheless, I continued up to Merri Creek where I found a small lookout buried behind the extensive shrubbery.

Merri Creek, Clifton Hill

This marked the start of the City of Yarra, where the improvements for cyclists were immediately apparent. Yarra have done a lot of work in promoting cycling through quiet side streets. These measures have included making streets one-way for vehicles that aren’t bicycles, lower speed limits and plenty of well-connected bike lanes.

Clifford Place, Clifton Hill

The new Copenhagen-style lanes on Wellington Street are very well done and all credit should go to the council for their implementation. This was also the only on-road section of my trip where I encountered other bike riders.

Wellington Street bike lanes 2

This took me across to the MCG and William Barak Bridge. This has very nice views of the city to the north, west and south.

Melbourne CBD

A bit of shade on the bridge would have been nice though. I don’t know why we build bridges without any sort of covering – even the brand-new bridge across to Melbourne and Olympic Park has no shade at all.

William Barak Bridge

After continuing along the Yarra River and crossing at Princes Bridge, I came to what is probably one of the least-liked parts of Melbourne’s cycling network – Southbank Boulevard. As with Pipemakers Bridge, it is astounding that this is the major east-west route that cyclists are expected to use in the city. The large volume of pedestrians and lack of any feasible alternative means that cyclists have to ride ridiculously slowly (at or below 10 km/h) and try to share the space with unpredictable pedestrian movement. Pedestrians have to contend with bicycles trying to negotiate hundreds of people trying to have a pleasant walk.

Ideally, bicycles would be separated from pedestrians at this point. This promenade is a space primarily for pedestrians to stroll and enjoy the scenery without having to worry about bicycles weaving in amongst people (and vice versa). It is very unfortunate that the response to this problem was to install anti-bicycle measures, including rumble strips and posted speed limits. There needs to be something done to make this a safe and appropriate space for all users.

On a somewhat related note, these geniuses thought that it would be a good idea to park four utes on the promenade itself.

Apparently parking on Southbank Promenade is ok

After a convoluted and poorly-signed route, I came to Cecil Street and its lovely Copenhagen-style bicycles lanes.

Copenhagen bike lanes - Cecil Street, South Melbourne

I also got to enjoy watching the pedestrian priority roundabouts outside the South Melbourne Market before buying lunch at the South Melbourne Market.

South Melbourne market pedestrian-priority roundabout

Yet another poorly-signed route to get to the sea had me riding aimlessly through the streets of South Melbourne trying to find a place to eat my lunch. After a little while, I found myself on Bay Street and its painted bike lanes in the dooring zone (which also ended and started again at random intersections). At the south-western end of Bay Street, there is also no pedestrian crossing or other way for bicycles or pedestrians to go straight onto the shared path on the other side of the road for some reason.

After a quick crossing of Beach Street, I finally made it to the other side where I found a bench and enjoyed the view.

Station Pier, Port Melbourne

Port Melbourne – Burnley

I took the shared path following the Port Melbourne light rail back towards the city.

Port Melbourne shared path

This featured a number of road crossings. One in particular at Ingles Street struck me as being particularly bad. This crossing included a pointless 15 metre dogleg, anti-pedestrian fences and no traffic lights or zebra crossing.

Poor pedestrian/cyclist crossing at Ingles Street, Port Melbourne

Retracing my steps along the Yarra River through Southbank, I joined the Capital City Trail just after the boatsheds. Construction work forced me over the Morrell Bridge near the Botanical Gardens with another great view of the city.

Melbourne CBD view

I had never ridden along this path before so I wasn’t aware of the area’s quirks. These included the dark and noisy spaces underneath CityLink and the unnecessarily-high speed bumps at the beginning and end of the floating paths.

Capital City Trail under CityLink

This finally brought me to the beginning of the Gardiners Creek Trail and the final leg of my trip.

Intersection between Capital City and Gardiners Creek Trails

Burnley – North Balwyn

While the hanging path underneath CityLink is a pretty neat piece of infrastructure, it seems quite narrow for such an important connection. This is one of the busiest bike routes in Melbourne and the path here is definitely below the three metre minimum required to accommodate thousands of bike riders every day (let alone pedestrians). Perhaps there is a future opportunity to provide two separate and wider paths for both existing and future path users.

Gardiners Creek Trail under CityLink

Something else I noticed is that entry into the City of Boroondara is quite obvious when looking at the quality of path infrastructure. I had already experienced this in northern Boroondara when going into neighbouring municipalities, but the differences were just as stark down here in the south. Almost immediately after crossing the creek, the path’s surface became smoother, solar-powered lights had been installed and another orange bike repair station in H A Smith Reserve was very visible.

Solar powered lights on Gardiners Creek Trail

Further along the path I found large sections of path with in-ground solar-powered lights which seem like a very good idea for these somewhat isolated sections of path.

Solar powered path lights

Shortly afterwards I found the Ferndale Trail, a little-known but convenient shortcut to get from the Gardiners Creek Trail to the Anniversary Trail.

Intersection of Ferndale and Gardiners Creek Trails, Glen Iris

While the signage definitely needs improving (I rode down a dead end trying to get to Hartwell which is visible on my GPS track at the start of this post), it saved me a good 10 minutes or so by avoiding the need to go all the way down to Alamein.

Back Creek Reserve bridge

Another great cycling route that I can highly recommend!

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