While progress may seem slow, both the Kalaru-Tathra and Lake Street Merimbula shared paths are moving ahead, says Daniel Djikic, Manager of Project Development Assets and Operations for Bega Valley Shire Council.
Soon we’ll all be whizzing along both paths on our bikes, but for now, we must be content with the satisfaction of seeing small sections of path take shape, starting with the Kalaru-Tathra path which is currently under construction.
“Look, ideally we would do the whole thing at once,” Mr Djikic says, “but we can’t so we’ll do it in stages. Despite some hold-ups with land acquisition, the project is progressing in a positive direction and it’s great to see parts of the path in construction.”
Doug Reckord, local cycling enthusiast and founder of the Bega-Tathra Safe Ride movement, says he is pleased that work has begun.
“Obviously, you want these things done yesterday but having a major natural disaster in the middle of it all hasn’t helped. We know there is so much for the council to do.”
The next stage is to find a contractor to install the two bridges at the eastern end of Kalaru, which Mr Djikic expects will happen by the end of May.
There are three sections of privately owned land in question between Kalaru-Tathra; one between Thompsons Estate and Tathra, one near White Rock and one on the flat before Evans Hill.
Land acquisition may sound forceful but in the case of the shared path, effectively means widening the roadway to include the width of the path.
There has been no active resistance by landowners, Mr Djikic reports, the process simply takes time.
Still in the planning stages, the much-anticipated Merimbula Lake Street shared path, which links popular recreation spots Spencer Park and Bar Beach, was initially proposed to take up one lane of two-way Lake Street, already a windy and narrow street.
Council has now confirmed that the path will be constructed as a boardwalk on the coast side of Lake Street, which will remain a two-way street.
The plan, as Mr Djikic explains, comes with some engineering challenges and associated budget implications and for those reasons, an accurate timeline for construction to begin is unknown at this point.
“Construction of the raised walkway will be with concrete supports and a permeable plastic mesh, with some timber used for the handrails,” he says.
The mesh will have some small visible holes but will be ‘heel-proof,’ Mr Djikic assures us, with no high-heel wearer left behind.
Both Mr Reckord and Mr Djikic emphasize the economic and health benefits of shared paths in our community:
“The paths are a fantastic asset for the community,” Mr Djikic says. “Although the paths are designed with bikes in mind, these pathways are for all forms of active transport – walking, running, jogging as well as mobility scooters and prams.”
The paths, in an admittedly car-centric world, are of particular benefit to the more vulnerable bike riders, such as beginners, young children and people with disabilities, Mr Djikic explains.
“Active pathways are designed to get people moving – in a safe way.”
Whilst excitedly watching construction go ahead on the Kalaru-Tathra path, Mr Reckord and his team are looking ahead to source funding for the Kalaru-Bega section.
“While Bega-Tathra Safe Ride is not politically aligned, we are taking a keen interest in what various parties are saying about active transport funding. The ALP have announced $260 million in active transport funding and while we have reached out to others, we haven’t heard anything yet.”
Mr Reckord says that while some may say a two million dollar bike path is a lot of money to spend, the economic returns on bike infrastructure are huge.
“For every dollar spent on bike infrastructure, $3-4 goes straight back into the community in health savings and tourism dollars.”
The future is clear according to Mr Reckord, “This morning, on my way to work, I saw a little girl on her bike on an already established section of path in Tathra, with dad jogging along beside her and that’s what we’ll be seeing more and more.”