Direct action comes to Neighbours.

Watched by millions, Oz cyclists paint their own bike lanes

“Normally I would not condone guerrilla action,” said Dr. Karl Kennedy, “but the cyclists of Erinsborough – both old and young – deserve to be safe.”

This stirring message was broadcast live on social media, with Dr. Kennedy shown with a paint brush in hand as he and an accomplice striped a road in the Melbourne suburb of Erinsborough in protest at a lack of action on cycle safety from the local mayor.

That is, if Erinsborough existed. It doesn’t; it’s the fictional location for the Australian soap opera Neighbours. One of the current storylines is that Dr. Kennedy is campaigning for the creation of safe cycling infrastructure in Erinsborough following a hit-and-run incident on a child cyclist. Dr. Kennedy is played by Alan Fletcher, one of the programme’s longest-serving actors – he has had a fair amount of chamois-time in the show over the years but, to date, he has never been shown to be proactive on safety for people on bikes.

Naturally, the good doctor is not shown cycling to work in civvies but always in Lycra, some of it day-glo.

After a “Bike lanes save lives” poster campaign failed to shift the stance of Mayor Sonya Rebecchi (played by Eve Morey, and who first appeared in the show in 2009, introduced by unstrapping a helmet and getting off a bicycle) Dr. Kennedy felt he had to take the same sort of direct action that real-world cycle campaigners used in places such as Amsterdam and Montreal in the 1970s. (An Erinsborough die-in can’t be far behind.)

In what the programme maker calls a “nasty community dispute” Dr. Kennedy accused the previously supportive Mayor of being greedy for power but Mayor Rebecchi explained that bike lanes aren’t as popular as the local hospital doctor thinks.

“I spoke with other councillors,” said the Mayor, “and we can’t get the support we need.”

To this Dr. Kennedy countered that the bike lane issue was universally supported and was a “very important issue for the whole community.”

Mayor Rebecchi rebutted that: “Installing bike lanes would be too expensive, the implementation process would be too disruptive, and they are unpopular with the major of drivers. I can’t lose the goodwill of the people.”

Ironically, the "guerrilla bike lanes" shown in the programme are too narrow to be terribly effective and the programme makers have used just paint rather than planters or other "tactical urbanism" methods for laying out bike lanes.

Neighbours is set in Ramsay Street, a residential cul-de-sac, and has been popular in Australia and the UK since it started in 1985. The daily soap launched the career of Kylie Minogue, and bit-parts have been played by Australian actors such as the pre-Hollywood Russell Crowe. Neighbours is broadcast almost simultaneously in both Australia and the UK, and is aired in over 60 countries around the world.

The bike-lane storyline is being carried over a number of episodes, with one of the latest shows featuring a row of bicycles being run over by an aggrieved motorist. It later transpires that this motorist had lost his family to a traffic incident caused by a cyclist. (The show is renowned for its often fantastical storylines.)

In real life, Melbourne, Victoria, is one of a number of Australian cities suffering from a “bikelash”, a portmanteau word mixing “bike” and “backlash”. Melbourne lord mayor Robert Doyle said he was promoting "safety and common sense" by making certain key down-town roads in his city no-go areas for people on bikes, with no plans for making those roads safe for cyclists. And in Sydney there was uproar when a $5m protected cycleway in the central business district was ripped out. Duncan Gay, the then New South Wales minister for transport, has described himself as “the biggest bike lane sceptic in the government”. 

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