Cyclists call for bike path, not ring road, on former Austar/South Maitland Railways rail corridor

VISION: Cessnock Bicycle Company owner Steve Whitby and local cyclist Glen Irwin near The Pinch on Wollombi Road, Pelton. Picture: Krystal Sellars
VISION: Cessnock Bicycle Company owner Steve Whitby and local cyclist Glen Irwin near The Pinch on Wollombi Road, Pelton. Picture: Krystal Sellars

The closure of the Austar coal mine at Paxton presents a unique opportunity for Cessnock's future transport needs.

As reported last week, Cessnock City Council will investigate the possibility of securing the mine's railway corridor as part of its plan to build a ring road to bypass the Cessnock CBD.

The council report said the railway corridor has the potential to accommodate "multi-modal transport options in a single corridor", such as rail, motor vehicles, walking and cycling facilities.

A local bike shop owner is urging council to focus on getting cars off the road by using the rail line as a "green transport corridor" that could run from Millfield to Maitland.

"We need some vision from council that encompasses new transport solutions other than cars," Cessnock Bicycle Company owner Steve Whitby said.

"I'm disappointed that the solution is more roads.

"The rail corridor could be the answer to our prayers - not just a once-in-a-generation opportunity, but once in a century."

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Mr Whitby said a cycle path would have many benefits for the community, including health, environmental and tourism opportunities, and the option for people who live beyond The Pinch and work in Cessnock to commute by bike.

"It's good for health and cheap to build," he said.

"A lot of residents want to use their bicycles but they don't think it's safe.

"If we put in a safe path that's illuminated, a percentage of those people will choose to ride into town.

"A line painted on the side of Wollombi Road does not mean it's safe to ride there.

"With a 20-30km pathway we will change the number of people that use cycling as a fitness option at the very least, and for commuting at best.

"People might say I only want this because I want to sell more bikes - and I am a businessman - but I just want to create cyclists because cyclists improve the world.

"Let's get outside, this is a great place to do it."

A Millfield resident, Mr Whitby agreed that something needs to be done to address congestion issues on Wollombi Road, but said a ring road was not the only solution.

"I have a slightly different perspective because I left Sydney a couple of years ago, and I'm used to going 20km in an hour," he said.

"Wollombi Road has bad traffic for half an hour, twice a day.

"We need to upgrade Wollombi Road, it needs a fix, it's not a great road - but we can solve congestion issues by improving the way cars move through it.

"Surely there are other alternatives to a $95 million road.

"Don't tell me that cars are the only solution."

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