What is the Neerim East trail bike safety project?

The Victorian Government has provided $109,000 for VicRoads and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) to explore options that will improve safety for trail bike riders.

The final plan will be recommended to the Victorian Government and has the potential to become a pilot project. If successful, this pilot could be applied in other areas of the state where trail bike safety is a concern.

What would a pilot project aim to achieve?

- Improved safety for trail riders

- Maintaining the physical challenge trail riders seek

- Protecting the environment for other users and for the future

What is the problem this project will address?

Trail bike riding in Victoria’s parks is a growing recreational activity that has become a significant road safety concern. The number of crashes on forest roads in Gippsland has increased by 50% between 2010 and 2014. There are concerns that crashes on forest roads are under and unreliably reported.

Why has Neerim East been chosen as the site for this project?

Gippsland experiences one of the highest rates of trail bike trauma in the state with 25% of all motorcyclist deaths and serious injuries occurring on forest roads. The most popular destination for trail riding in the region is Neerim East State Forest. There have been 33 serious injury crashes in the forest in the five years to 2015.

What are the safety concerns at Neerim East?

The forest features a 30km formal track network shared by a range of users including trail riders, four-wheel-drivers, horse riders and bush walkers. Four-wheel-drives can cause significant damage to track surfaces, the most common being deep ruts on the track surface after periods of rainfall. This presents a considerable safety risk to trail riders. 

The formal track network does not meet the needs of trail riders. In search of further challenge, riders have created hundreds of kilometres of informal tracks from trails once used for land management, fire access and forestry. Informal tracks are not monitored, maintained, signposted or mapped. They pose a safety risk to riders and make it difficult for emergency services to locate injured riders and accurately report the location of crashes.

What are the causes of trail bike crashes in Neerim East State Forest?

According to police reports, most trail bike crashes in Neerim East State Forest are single vehicle run-off-road crashes caused by track condition (accounting for 42%). This suggests a scenario in which trail riders may run off the road as a result of hitting or attempting to avoid hazards such as fallen branches, tree roots, rocks and holes. 

Fatigue, inadequate skill level and riding at inappropriate speeds for the conditions may also contribute to crashes.

What are the options to improve safety at Neerim East State Forest?

A range of options to improve safety for trail bike riders have been investigated by VicRoads and DELWP in consultation with motorcycle groups and Victoria Police. Three options were identified:

1.  Repair:
Repair the formal track network and remove hazards. Rehabilitate and revegetate the informal track network and close it to trail riders and other users. 

2.  Redesign:
Redesign current formal tracks according to safety and the needs of trail riders. This may include new loops connecting existing tracks, designed to improve safety and cater to varying skill levels. Install signposts or markers to provide easier and faster access for emergency services. A second unloading area may be considered. Rehabilitate and revegetate the informal track network and close it to trail bike riders and other users. 

3.  Build:
Create a new dedicated track network for trail riders designed for varying levels of difficulty. This would include varying speeds, surfaces and multiple loops. Tracks would possibly be in a one-way direction to avoid collisions with other riders, and single lane to keep four-wheel-drives out. Emergency access and rest areas created close to the tracks, and signposts or markers installed to provide easier and faster access for emergency services. A second unloading area may be considered. 

The project could be a combination of options. Community feedback will help VicRoads and DELWP identify the most effective and feasible combination.

Is there a possibility of closing the forest to trail riders?

The closure of current tracks and facilities has been considered and rejected, recognising that the forest offers a unique road environment for an enjoyable and popular activity. Instead, agencies have sought a solution that would improve safety for trail riders while maintaining the challenge and enjoyment of the natural environment.

Why is VicRoads involved in forest tracks?

Crashes on forest roads are counted on the state’s road toll and eligible for claims through the Transport Accident Commission. 

Trail bike safety spans several jurisdictions and is not the responsibility of one single State Government agency. VicRoads is traditionally responsible for the management of arterial roads, however as the lead road safety agency in Victoria our objective is to reduce road trauma regardless of where it occurs. 

This was highlighted in two reports – the Auditor-General's Motorcycle and Scooter Safety Programs report in 2012 and the Parliamentary Road Safety Committee’s Inquiry into Motorcycle Safety in 2012.

Where is Neerim East State Forest?

Neerim East State Forest is located along Latrobe River Road, 9km east of the town of Neerim South. The forest is situated within Baw Baw Shire and is a one hour drive from the south-east suburbs of Melbourne. The forest covers an area of 20km x 15km.

Will this project disadvantage other forest users?

Unlike other forest users, trail bike riders are experiencing increasing trauma on forest tracks resulting in serious injuries.

Although every attempt will be made to minimise conflict with other forest users, the objective of the project is to reduce trail bike trauma and a small amount of inconvenience to other forest users may be inevitable.

Will this project negatively impact on the environment?

No. Any tracks established under the project will not expand the current footprint and will not impact on Special Protection Zones, biodiversity sites or watercourses in the forest. 

The project will also protect the environment by discouraging riding on informal tracks, which presents many environmental concerns. The expanding footprint of the informal track network encroaches on the natural environment, damages native vegetation and causes soil erosion. Informal tracks also divide the forest into sections that act as barriers to small native creatures, affecting the diversity and ecosystems of the forest. 

In contrast, riding on designated tracks has a low environmental impact. These roads are monitored, managed and can be maintained. 

Will this project impact negatively on the community?

This project is being designed to ensure there is no net increase in negative social or community impacts. 

The increasing number of trail bikes entering the forest can cause concern for neighbouring landholders and other forest users. The formal track network includes a 1km buffer zone between the network and neighbouring properties to reduce noise pollution. In addition, a formal unloading area on Latrobe River Road was established in 2009 to discourage riders from parking along nearby municipal and arterial roads shared with neighbouring properties to unload their bikes. This reduced noise and congestion. 

One of the goals of this project is to reinforce the buffer zone to keep trail bikes out and noise pollution to a minimum. 

VicRoads and DELWP will also ensure there are no impacts on Aboriginal or European cultural heritage sites and other recreation facilities. 

Did the community have the opportunity to comment on the pilot project during the planning phase?

Yes. VicRoads and DELWP have sought community feedback through surveys, information bulletins, on-site visits, online engagement, social media, mail outs and focus groups. 

How will my feedback be used?

Feedback will help us understand the community’s ideas and preferences for upgrades to forest tracks. It will also give us an understanding of the issues, concerns and experiences of trail bike riders and other forest users. This information will be taken into consideration when finalising planning for the project.

When will the community be informed of the outcome of the consultation?

VicRoads will report back to the community on the outcome of the consultation through engageVicRoads, emails and mail outs. To stay updated complete the survey, select the option to receive updates and fill in your contact details. You can also send your details to easternengagement@roads.vic.gov.au.

What are the next steps?

VicRoads and DELWP are currently investigating options to improve safety in the forest and consulting the community. 

A project proposal will be submitted to the State Government by the end of the financial year seeking funding to implement a pilot project.