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Regional Op Ed - Holistic, long-term approach to road safety is needed

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These school holidays have been a great opportunity to take a winter break.

Many Victorian families, especially with the broader public health restrictions in place, have chosen to pack up the car to visit family, friends or our rural and regional areas and will be on their way home this weekend.

When we get in the car or on our bikes, even if it is only for a day trip, we expect to get to our destination and home again safely.

Sadly, that's not always the case. Last year, we lost 211 lives on Victorian roads and unfortunately, rural and regional communities continue to be over-represented in the number of fatalities.

In 2020, 126 people died on regional Victorian roads, compared with 85 fatalities in metropolitan areas.

This is an absolute tragedy. Nobody should have to go through the pain of losing a loved one or friend from road trauma. Many more were seriously injured, some with lifelong injuries.

Victorian councils continue to support the road safety message and this year, backed a nationwide campaign as part of Road Safety Week in May.

We highlighted the importance of supporting road safety for all road users including drivers, walkers, riders or those using a mobility device.

Since last March, many more Victorians have embraced the great outdoors and as a result, local roads and paths have become shared and sometimes crowded spaces.

The COVID-19 pandemic made us stop to look at the way we live our lives and helped us rediscover our streets and our neighborhoods.

Some of us rediscovered the joy of walking and riding, and among them were those for whom it was the first time since childhood that they have got on two wheels, and others were new to cycling altogether.

There have been media reports that bike sales have boomed, particularly children's bikes, since the onset of public health restrictions.

In a recent Heart Foundation survey, released in November 2020, eight in 10 people responded that they "want safer footpaths and facilities such as local shops or parks to be accessible by foot or bicycle".

The Municipal Association of Victoria last year also partnered with VicHealth to address barriers and encourage behavioural change to get people moving in a safe and healthy way, given the resurgence in interest in walking and cycling is expected to continue.

In a survey of councils as part of this project, 90 per cent of respondents told us they expect to improve walking infrastructure, 83 per cent are looking to improve bike riding infrastructure and another 36 per cent are considering speed limit reductions in high pedestrian areas in the next 12 months.

With this in mind, the Municipal Association of Victoria and local government are calling for consistent, long-term funding to support infrastructure planning and road safety.

Short-term stimulus funding has been welcomed, but future funding should support a more holistic approach to safety and connectedness - covering planning and design, maintenance, education and speed management.

Ahead of the most recent state budget, we called for $230 million over four years for local walking and riding infrastructure.

Funding of this magnitude would have made a significant impact in the delivery of priority walking and cycling projects in all 79 Victorian councils.

Additionally, it would have resulted in targeted funds for strategic bicycle links in inner and middle suburbs of Melbourne.

We are keen to build on state government's commitment for 100 kilometres of new and improved bike routes across key inner-Melbourne suburbs, which was announced last October.

In short, we can and want to do much more.

Ahead of the upcoming state and federal elections, the Municipal Association of Victoria will continue its advocacy and call for commitments to support national and Victorian road safety strategies.

These strategies call for further investment in roads and roadsides, reducing travel speeds, new vehicle technology and actions that protect vulnerable road users.

These policies will help us create healthier communities, socially connected public spaces and safer ways of travelling.

It will make a difference to our communities and making our roads in suburbs and towns safer for locals and visitors alike.

Warm regards,
Cr David Clark
MAV President

Cr David Clark is president of the Municipal Association of Victoria.

This opinion editorial was published on 9 July 2021 and appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard.