After a few days of pretty horrible weather (for summer anyway), Wednesday looked like the most bike ride-friendly day for the week. One route that I had been meaning to try was up to the Plenty Valley Parklands – a good 45 kilometre round trip (note the privacy buffer in the map below).
North Balwyn – Rosanna
The first section up to Banksia Street was definitely the easiest to ride and navigate. My route took me along part of the Koonung Creek Trail to cross the Yarra River at the well-used but narrow bridge near Burke Road.
For some reason, the sealed section to the north-east of the bridge on the Main Yarra Trail ends just before it goes through the wooden gate and into the fields beyond. I suspect that this might have something to do with the difference in land ownership with one part being Parks Victoria and the other owned by either the council or DELWP. Maybe.
Regardless, the path quality is quite good. Most of the section up to Banyule Flats is wide and relatively unaffected by water flows. There are some hairy sections, especially in Yarra Flats near Burke Road, but nothing too bad.
The main problem with this section is the path underneath Banksia Street. It is narrow, subject to flooding and so steep that you don’t need a sign telling cyclists to dismount. Trying to go up or down this incline with the tight bends and fences would be a recipe for disaster.
After yet another badly designed road crossing, the path becomes sealed again and winds its way up to Banyule Flats.
Here begins a recurring problem throughout most of this trip – very bad wayfinding. At this point, I had planned to turn right and continue along the Main Yarra Trail up to Viewbank. Unfortunately, there is no sign visible to path users travelling north at the confusing intersections of paths throughout the parklands. As a result I ended up cycling north along the strangely-named River Gum Walk Trail, which is a linear park winding its way between rows of low-density houses.
It was only when I reached Lower Plenty Road that I realised I had gone the wrong way. Checking my map, I saw that it might be possible to continue along this route and still end up in my destination. It was a shared path for most of the way, with only a small gap of about two kilometres between the end of the River Gum Walk Trail and the Greensborough Bypass Trail. What could possibly go wrong?
Rosanna – Greensborough
As it turned out, this was definitely one of the more unpleasant segments of a bike ride that I have done. After crossing Lower Plenty Road (with some difficulty), the shared path follows Greensborough Road on the eastern side. This is a 2-3 lane heavily-traffic road with the path sometimes perilously close to oncoming traffic. The smell and noise alone made me pedal as quickly as possible to get out of the area and back into parkland.
Unfortunately, this went from bad to worse. I knew that the shared path ended at Yallambie Road, but I was expecting something there to help navigate my way to the start of the Greensborough Bypass Trail. Alas, there was nothing, The only things there to indicate anything related to bicycles were a directional sign on the other side of the road pointing back in the direction that I had just come and a sign indicating the end of the shared path.
I continued across the road after waiting for another 2-3 minutes to cross the road and was surprised to find that the shared path continued for another 30 metres or so after the traffic lights, after which it turned into a regular footpath. A bit further down, I found the ‘real’ end of the path and final confirmation of the dominance of cars throughout this entire area. While traffic on a well-maintained, 80 km/h three-lane highway roared by next to me, the sealed footpath suddenly ended and turned into an unofficial goat track.
I am quite sure that this ‘path’ was not officially created or maintained. But if it is, then this is quite possibly the worst path that I have ever had the misfortune to ride along. The rocks alone were enough to make me ride in the grass – they definitely looked sharp and big enough to create serious issues for my tyres.
The signs in this area indicate that this is VicRoads-controlled land. A quick check of the planning scheme confirms that this is the case. I think that a good workout of their feedback form is in order…
Bicycle Network say on their website that a study was completed on fixing this path back in June 2012, but clearly nothing has happened. Time for BN to start their advocacy again methinks.
Even this gravel ‘path’ ended at Watsonia Road after a short stretch with paving (passing another depressing bus stop). Here you have to cross the Greensborough Highway twice in order to continue north.
Adding insult to injury, there was not a single directional sign for bicycles or pedestrians at all. I had to half-guess where I was going and rely on semi-accurate information from OpenCycleMap and Google Maps (the former tends to be better). The only other people I saw here were trying to cross Greensborough Highway to get to Watsonia Railway Station, which is ringed by carparks and has no obvious pedestrian entrance from the road.
After some detours down adjacent side streets, I found a footbridge with some nice sweeping views over to the north-east and north-west.
I then stumbled upon the beginning of the Greensborough Bypass Trail (again, no signage whatsoever) at Grimshaw Road, with another amazing intersection to cross.
Greensborough – Bundoora
The trail surface was surprisingly good. I was expecting an unsealed goat track but the path was paved all the way up to its connection with the Metropolitan Ring Road Trail at the Plenty River Bridge. At this point, I realised that there was actually no way for me to get to the Plenty Gorge Parklands without a massive detour to the east. I decided to continue regardless to see how far north-west I could get.
A small section and steep hill on the Ring Road Trail brought me to the edge of Bundoora. Yet again, there was no signage at all to direct me along the path that leads into the heart of this housing estate. If I didn’t have my maps with me I would have been totally lost. Signs are not expensive nor difficult to install, yet I had barely seen a single one during my entire trip post-Rosanna.
20 metres down the path I saw a sign. A directional pole perhaps? An information sign? Something telling me where the nearest amenities were located? Nope. It was a sign telling me to dismount my bike to cross a street for five metres.
Even better than this was the fact that there was no shared path sign on the other side of the road. Technically, this means that I should dismount my bike all the way along the path until I find one. It’s no wonder that I didn’t see a single other person (not in a car) in this subdivision.
After yet more unnecessarily convoluted and unsigned paths, I finally found what I was looking for. A sign!
The sealed path around the north of the Uni Hill subdivision was quite meandering, but it was well-built and a nice recreation trail. Parts of it ran adjacent to streets, giving a glimpse into some of the cul-de-sacs around the area. Indications of car-dominance were also aplenty as is usual in these 1990s/2000s estates.
I finally reached Janefield Wetland a few minutes later and spent a good while looking for a seat that was in the shade to eat lunch.