I get asked every now and then what the President of LBUG does. As many keen cyclists and activists in other areas will appreciate, its a lifestyle thing really, keeps you busy and involved with a lot of things happening in the community.
I’ve been President of LBUG for about 15 years, since the founder, Andrew Naughton, a young doctor at the Children’s Hospital, moved away from the area. LBUG started in about 1991-92 with a meeting of cyclists in Andrew’s house in Annandale. The original aim of LBUG was to “seek safer cycling” in Leichhardt, to lobby Leichhardt Council for a new Bike Plan and to encourage and promote cycling as an everyday activity. As well, we wanted to get out on our bikes and enjoy cycling for recreation and fitness.
After a couple of years of planning and effort, a new Bike Plan was announced in 1996, with a lot of input from LBUG. It built on the old plan from the early 80’s. Funding for the Bike Plan was always a problem and the Council was not always very interested in the Bike Plan but we kept at it. I attended meetings, sat on the Traffic Committee (many tales to tell of crusty Police Sergeants and RTA reps who didnt like cyclists having a say- things have changed a little since, with some exceptions), and generally tried to increase awareness amongst Council staff and councillors of the needs of cyclists and what could be done around Leichhardt. Often small things can make a big difference.
Larry Hand, the controversial Mayor, was supportive, and Cr Nick Masterman was very interested in alternative transport. For a while the Council had a Transport Planner, David Trebilco, who was pro-bike and anti-car. He eventually left after friction with those who thought he was too avant guard. Trevor Jennings, the traffic engineer was willing to try new ideas and a certain amount of the Bike Plan, including shared parking/bike lanes, signposting some back street bike routes and improvements to bike access, got implemented. Vera Zaccari, the Council’s Road Safety Officer, has been very supportive of the Bike Plan and promoting safer cycling. Lately, the Mayors have supported cycling and all parties have announced bike friendly policies. Local member Verity Firth is a keen cyclist and has been very energetic in promoting cycling and has had several meetings with LBUG.
LBUG and BNSW worked with the RTA on design of the Anzac Bridge cycleway and the City West Link. Lilyfield Rd became the RTA cycle route from the west as part of the CWL project. We attended several “stakeholder” meetings and were involved quite closely with the bridge and CWL design team. Some things that we wanted, such as a bike crossing at Balmain Rd or Catherine St, are still to be done, although at last the path along Balmain Rd is being built. Basically the CWL divided Leichhardt in half, used up a lot of land (witness the intersection at Norton St) and made north-south movement for cyclists more difficult. A small group of LBUGers is now working on the RTA to get needed improvements in the Victoria Road Upgrade Project.
As well as working with and lobbying Council, I started running rides for local cyclists in about 1995. Trevor Briggs, a noted long distance cyclist who tragically died on a round Australia ride in 1999, was also a keen helper at this time. We started off in about 1995 with one or two riders turning up but slowly numbers grew and by about 2000 we were running two or three rides a month and getting between 10 and 20 on some rides. Rides were advertised in Push On and in the local papers and by leaflet. A web site was set up on users.bigpond.com.au/lbug (now moving towards a new site), after I learnt some basic web skills at work. Email is the main form of communication with members and with Councils and authorites, and takes up a fair amount of my time, as well as writing letters to the editors or answering reporters who want a story. I still attend Traffic Committee meetings, and along with several others attend the Bicycle Advisory Committee meetings bimonthly.
I spend a fair amount of time keeping the website up to date, organising rides calendars, updating leaflets and corresponding with the Council, RTA and other authorities. Every year LBUG helps with the Leichhardt Big Bike Day and I usually attend a few Bike Day planning meetings with the Council. I also lead most of the LBUG rides, but have had some good help from some long standing members and there are a few new keen members who are also very helpful. Probably time to hand over more of the rides to younger and fitter ride leaders!
Around 2005 it was obvious that the Bike Plan was nearly dead and that it was time for an update. Another round of lobbying and LBUG meetings succeeded in getting Council to commit to a new plan. This was put together in 2006, and approved in 2007, with the consultants, GTA, adopting most of what LBUG proposed during the process. So one way or another LBUG is responsible for much of what passes for bicycle infrastructure in Leichhardt Municipality. After the 2008 council elections the Council is strongly Green, and funding for the bicycle plan (known as the Bicycle Strategy) is much improved.
There is a lot more LBUG could do to encourage and promote cycling, only limited by the amount of effort and ideas members want to put in. I would encourage anyone interested in joining LBUG or becoming an office bearer (President, Treasurer, Secretary), or a ride leader, to give it a go, as there is no doubt cycling is growing strongly now and it is a good time to get involved.