Saturday, 7 June 2014

What I learned at Velo-City 2014

At first glance, Adelaide may seem an odd place for hosting the Velo-City conference. When you think of the names of cities around the world that might be described as cycling friendly, Adelaide is not at the top of the list. We have wide roads dedicated solely to motorised traffic and it is rare to see traffic calming on even the quietest residential streets. Nevertheless, thanks to the work (among many other people) of an energetic and forward-thinking mayor, Adelaide did get to host not only the conference but cycling and infrastructure experts from around the world - along with a whole bunch of cool other people.

It was a rare but expensive opportunity and one we will not have again for a long time. That was the reason I forked out the not insignificant sum to get in.

One of the best parts of the conference was meeting with people I had been following on the Net for a while and feeling as if I had known them for a long time; members of Freestyle Cyclists, Dr Behooving, Perth Biker and the fabulous Free-Dame Cyclist, Sue Abbott.

It was not until the very end of the conference that it really made the news, which was a pity because many of the messages really need to be reported - for example, Dr Larry Frank's amazing talk on the links between walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods and general public health (watch out for that one when the presentations come online). Having said that, by the end, both the ABC and InDaily had published good reports.

There have already been a number of blog posts about the conference (the ECF reported on days 1, 2, 3 and 4 separately) so I just want to point out one small presentation that I thought was particularly relevant to Adelaide.

After the opening, including Mikhail (oops) Mikael Colville-Andersen's timely and effective "what the fuck" speech, we had our morning break. I took the opportunity, like the tragic groupie I am, to go and say hello and thank him for coming all this way. After a short chat about Adelaide, he introduced me to Blanka Bracic from Calgary. With all of the stats at his fingertips, he explained how Calgary (a city of 1 million like Adelaide) planned and approved its city wide bicycle network and recommended I go and watch Blanka's talk. Funnily enough I had already circled it as one I definitely wanted to see.

Calgary City Council had up to $22m to spend in a bicycle capital budget. They could have built a car park that would serve 435 people per day or, they worked out, a bicycle track network that would serve 2470 people per day. So they decided on the network. Most cities start with one route (eg: Frome Street) but they decided to do the whole thing in one go and to do it as a trial.

Doing one street at a time becomes complicated. Each has to be justified and subsequent ones are determined by reference to the performance of earlier ones. According to Blanka, they were already on a bit of a roll. Their 7th Street route had doubled bicycle trips and pavement cycling had reduced from 25% to 1%. Something seemed to be working.

The benefits of the pilot proposal were that it was easier to "sell" to reluctant councillors and to a public unfamiliar with cycling networks and the benefits of a complete network would be experienced first hand.

Just as happened when our tramway was extended through the city, there were plenty of information sessions and public displays. It was also well advertised. The message was transport choice with safe space for cycling and predictable space for each mode of transport.

When choosing the network, a minimum number of streets was chosen to ensure minimum disruption (or perceived disruption). Three north-south streets were chosen and two east-west. Once that was done, there were three post-installation options available: (1) leave as a pilot, (2) convert to permanent for $5m or (3) remove everything at a cost of $2m.

When the decision was made, the debate went on for 13 hours and 37 different presenters were heard from. After all that, it got the go ahead. A few councillors were still fence-sitters but it seems the pilot nature of the project is something that tipped the scales in its favour.

Time will ultimately tell what happens but I am quietly confident that once complete, this will become a permanent fixture and, hopefully, something that is expanded.

There are a couple of lessons. The first is that if Calgary can do it so can we. There is very little to distinguish our two cities that would constitute a barrier to this. A complete city-wide network makes so much more sense than part of a street here and there. And a "pilot" is so much easier to sell.

The second is that Blanka and her team faced the same obstacles as we do. Frome Street has attracted a fair number of negative editorials and Calgary was no different. Also, read some of the comments on the newspaper articles I have linked to. You only need to read for about 30 seconds to realise they are exactly the same as we get here.

This went ahead despite them. So could we. The answer I think is to ignore the comments but do what Blanka's team did (and the tramway team did) by advertising and informing well. That way you do not need to respond directly to the negative carping. While I was reading up on Blanka's work after I had heard her presentation, there was a highly relevant tweet from Captain Crom that popped up on my timeline:

You will not get anywhere by engaging with nonsense on comments pages so don't waste energy trying.

I enjoyed all of the presentations at Velo-City but especially enjoyed the round-table sessions where we could share ideas. It was there that I met people from the Department of Transport, Adelaide City Council, other Adelaide Councils and from interstate. What impressed me was the enthusiasm and knowledge they all shared. They taught me a thing or two.

One of my very favourite parts of the conference was Niels Hoe's talk (he runs HOE360 Consulting in Denmark and was interviewed on ABC News before the conference began).

He said during his talk, "if I didn't have all that cycling around me, I wouldn't be as happy" and had one of the best images of the conference:

It simply says, "On her own".


Update: 14.6.14
Blanka kindly emailed me to point out a couple of factual errors I had made. They have now been corrected. And, dammit, I spelt Mikael's name wrong. My apologies.

Update 27.6.14
The talk by Larry Frank I mentioned above has been posted to YouTube. It is a must-see. 

Disappointingly, family commitments got in the way of me attending what by the sounds of it was the highlight of the entire conference - a free evening at Bike Kitchen in Bowden with speakers including Mikael Colville-Andersen, Stephen Fleming and Sue Abbott. I had to follow it jealously via Twitter. Still, what can you do? It doesn't matter. They were here, they inspired and Adelaide is the better for it. It's up to us to keep the momentum.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Frome Street Part 2

In an excellent speech a short while ago, David Burton, the Convenor of the Adelaide 2050 group, pointed out that Adelaide's CBD has one tram line, one railway station and, as from a few weeks ago, one segregated bike lane.

And oh my goodness, has that segregated bike lane caused some frothing at the mouth.

They are still talking about it on the radio and the congestion it is apparently going to cause. Forget that traffic movements on that part of the street are 10,000 a day - the same as Rundle and Hindley Streets, both of them only one lane each way.

Forget that Frome Street does not even take traffic across the whole CBD. Until a few decades ago, it was a couple of tiny lanes. They were widened and a whole bunch of historic buildings flattened to make way for what was to be a wide north-south arterial right through the CBD - a bit like most of the other roads except that was potentially even wider. As things turned out, it never went anywhere.

Forget also that this was the subject of extensive consultation which resulted in overwhelming majority support. The bleaters and moaners were asleep at the wheel (literally!) when that happened.

Stage 2 of the consultation will begin soon to begin the next phase of what will become a (hopefully the first and not the only) dedicated north-south bike route through the city. The next phase is Pirie Street to North Terrace:

This part of Frome Street is much busier than than the length with the completed bike lane. Traffic volume (motorised that is) is about 15,000 vehicles a day. Accordingly, it will be very difficult to argue successfully for the removal of a lane of traffic. It is apparently needed. Close to North Terrace, the right hand lane is needed so that it can be blocked by buses that are held up trying to turn right. The left lane is then used by traffic speeding down the hill towards the bottleneck near the zoo where two lanes become one again. It all makes a lot of sense.

Bearing in mind that we are more than likely going to be stuck with two lanes of traffic each side of the road, the obvious answer is to remove the lane of parking. During busy periods, keep the left traffic lane as a clearway but at other times allow parking. Traffic is lessened at those times so the one remaining lane each side will be quite adequate. It's what happens on a number of roads - Unley Road is an example that springs to mind.

This is a rare opportunity to get the design just right so people can see it works and that traffic is largely unaffected. Getting it right means that it will be much easier to extend the concept to other streets and build the complete network that we so desperately need.

Not only is there a lot of motorised traffic on that section of the street, there are a lot of people on bikes too. A wide lane with plenty of space of overtaking is required. To assist with that, the kerbs on the side of the lane should be forgiving - low and at a 45° angle:

Borrowed from the excellent and well known A View from the Cycle Path. The post it is on explains with the help of a short video why sloping kerbs are a good idea.

My only criticism of the current Frome Street bike lane concerns its kerbs. On both sides, they are the normal height for roads and almost vertical. When riding along you need to be careful not to go too close to either just in case you hit your pedals on them. That narrows the effective width of the lane.

For the next stage, we could do a lot worse than adopt the famous Danish design using the half dropped kerb with a lane as wide as the current parking lane:

From Streetsblog

Oor better still, one with a built-in buffer to deal with doors on parked cars.

There are a couple of benefits:
  • It is relatively cheap and easy to build on to existing streets and roads (including dealing with drains);
  • Although inferior to the best Dutch designs it is sufficient for CBD streets because it provides enough separation for the relatively slow traffic speeds in the city;
  • It can fit well with simple intersection treatments using simultaneous green;
  • It is tried and tested. A standard design should become familiar to even the dumbest motorist.
Although as I say it is inferior to the best Dutch designs, its ease and cheapness is I think vital to its success. We know that transport choice and street layout have very little to do with "culture" and more to do with deliberate political choices. Nevertheless, Adelaide's stubborn resistance to change has to be experienced to be believed. The ridiculous carry-on over one single bike lane shows that it is alive and well.

People listen to those muppets on the radio but if things are done right, we can drag them, kicking and screaming, into the future.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Vox Populi

Thanks to staying up late and checking Twitter, I was led (from at least three different sources) to this brilliant video made by Paul Van Bellen:

What is particularly nice is to see and hear the sensible and rational responses from 8 Australians picked at random outside a supermarket. It makes a heart-warming change from some of the shit we have to read in the comments section of some news websites.

8 out of 8 people agreed that we would benefit from this sort of thing. Not only by providing a choice that is available to non-motorists (like Cameron with his scooter and David with his wheelchair) but judging by the average prices, we would save some serious coin as well.

I'm not sure we can afford any longer not to do this.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

And so it begins

You could almost have set your watch by it. The extensive and widely-publicised consultation about the Frome Street Bikeway seems to have been largely ignored but now that construction has begun, the howls of protest begin accompanied by, dare I say it, perhaps a little hyperbole?

You honestly would not believe some of the things that have been said and written: cyclists are privileged and there needs to be some balance.

No really.

We are told that short stretch of protected bike lane is going to cause traffic chaos don't you know. Columnists have added their negative two-cents worth and one journalist has gone so far as to make a short film about it. He is one of the presenters of the Matt and Dave Breakfast radio show on ABC 891. I think you pronounce it Matt'n'Dave (like salt 'n' vinegar chips).

Here he goes:

What Matt says requires some comment.

The first point is bike lanes on the other side of parked cars are not just common in most other countries, they are best practice. Instead of cyclists being used to protect parked cars, it is the other way around. The weird thing is though, parked cars don't really need much protection from passing traffic. Motorists as a rule drive in a straight line and do not sideswipe parked cars. If it does happen, it is rare. Having said that, as we all know from bitter experience, travelling by bike between parked cars and fast-moving traffic is just unpleasant and dangerous. Each door is a potential danger and cause of stress. If you are forced to brake suddenly or swerve, you can only cross your fingers that the motorist behind you has given you sufficient space.

It is a terrible system and it is about time we stopped purposely putting people in danger in that way. This bikeway is a start.

Matt's first objection is that cars wanting to park have to stop and reverse. At 0:50, he says the consequnce will be that "traffic's banking up". Frankly, this objection is laughable. The pre-bikeway Frome Road had parallel parking. I don't recall traffic being banked up then. And what about on nearby Carrington Street? That is a two-lane road with parallel parking. Where is all of the banked up traffic on that street? What about Wright Street, Halifax Street, Gouger Street, Rundle Street, Waymouth Street, Pirie Street to name a few? They are all two lane roads with parking each side - in most cases parallel parking. Why is this road suddenly so different?

At 1:05, Matt's second objection is that when cars are parked, the driver's door has to be opened into oncoming traffic? Again, I list the same streets. Why no objection to them? The requirement to check for oncoming traffic applies wherever you are parked - particularly because if you do not check, you risk knocking a cyclist over and potentially under a passing truck. It happened very recently in Melbourne.

At 1:47, Matt expresses his concern for pedestrians. It can't be the width of road they have to cross. That remains unchanged.

He begins at 1:57 at the designated crossing point - something I note was not there before. Previously, pedestrians would have to cross between closely parked cars and risk four lanes of traffic or detour to the end of road and cross at the lights (they would of course have to press a button to apply to cross there).

At 2:00, Matt's problem seems to be the fact that pedestrians now have to cross a designated bike lane. That is itself an odd thing to highlight. Even before the works, people on bicycles used that section of road. Pedestrians who were crossing still needed to watch for them.

Then there is the rather curious comment "there could be bikes banging along here. If you're an elderly person, you'll get cleaned up". Now why would there be bikes "banging along"? What does that mean? Were there not bikes "banging along" before this? And why the sudden additional risk to elderly people? If any person walks in front of traffic they will probably get "cleaned up", so why the comment? Don't we just do what we always do when we cross the road and look?

Note how at 2:12 Matt can magically "walk across the road" as if traffic is not there. No danger to elderly persons. No risk of getting cleaned up. He just strolls across carefree.

At 2:19, again Matt highlights walking "through another row of parked cars" conveniently forgetting of course that it was there before.

Finally, at 2:23 Matt walks "through another high speed cycle lane". Again, why the biased description? Why "high speed"? They will not be going anywhere near as fast as the traffic passing nearby. Why did that get no comment?

Finally at 2:29, the crowning turd in the cowpat - "if you're lucky you'll make it over here in one piece". Please enlighten me - I may be barking up the wrong tree but I would have thought an elderly person would have an easier time crossing two lanes of traffic rather than four. Am I missing something?

Previously, any person crossing the road had to watch for cars and bikes. They also had to walk between parked cars. The only changes are that now there is a designated place to cross and the order has changed. You watch for bikes now before you walk between the parked cars. That is the only change. I think most people can probably cope with that.

There are two lane roads right across the CBD. I have named some of them off the top of my head. Some, like Angas Street, are easily wide enough to accommodate four lanes. For some reason, a decision was made to make them only two. Imagine though if they were four lanes and a decision was made to reduce that. The screams and wails would be identical. But here we are and everything seems to work fine as it is.

Matt did not dwell on the fact that the four lane road has been reduced to two. I think we'll survive. Frome Street starts at a street with only two lanes itself.

Take a chill pill Matt. Give this six months. Traffic will sort itself out. There will be no change to congestion. It will be as bad as it always was. The only change will be that this bikeway will be full of people on bikes.

I look forward to our friends from overseas coming to Velo-City 2014 to experience this sort of nonsense first-hand. It has to be experienced to be believed.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Two new Kickstarter inventions

For Christmas, Santa brought me a clever rubbery handlebar iPhone holder and bottle opener in one. It is a new product funded on Kickstarter and is called the Handleband:

I also, not for Christmas, just got myself a pair of Copenhagen Parts magentic lights. They are just great and do exactly what they claim to do. The magnets are strong and stick to your bike frame without any problem. Bumps and potholes do not worry them. And once you put new batteries in, they are bright.

It is only a little thing but not having to mess around unclipping your bike lights and turning them off (often with multiple button presses) is a small bonus. You just pull them off and they stop flashing.

Plus they look kind of cool in their brushed metal casing:

I tried out the handleband. It opens bottles really well and holds on to your iPhone nice and tight. Problem is the weight of the phone pulls the Handleband down a bit. If you're filming your ride, it only takes a small bump and suddenly you're filming the road passing beneath you. I think for future models, the manufacturer might want to make the inside of it (the part that connects to the handlebars) a bit more grippy.

Not to worry though. Using my superior creativity and imagination, I cleverly fashioned a grippy bit for the handlebars by using a patch from a puncture repair kit.

And so here's the first attempt at filming my commute:

It's not the most direct route but one I have perfected over time to minimise exposure to busy roads. It seems I am not alone in that respect.

There are lots of places throughout the route where you will see scope of improvement and masses of potential for decent cycling infrastructure. I apologise for the bumpy picture. A lot of that is due I am afraid to a combination of smaller than usual wheels and shocking road surfaces. Ironically, once you get to about the 2:45 min mark, probably the worst surface is the separated shared walking and cycling path!

If you're coming to VeloCity 2014 in Adelaide, perhaps take notes and tell our decision makers what needs to be done.

And watch out for the lone schoolgirl riding her bike to school - a rare sight indeed.

See you in May.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Light Bulb Moment

I had a light bulb moment the other day. I was sitting flicking through tweets on Twitter when I came across the following tweet and response:

He's absolutely right of course.

If you are campaigning for a multi-modal city, one that gives choices for ways of getting around, simply shouting at motorists doesn't work. It just creates more of the 'them and us' attitude that seems to be evident in articles in cheap newspapers but in reality I am not sure exists.

Making things unnecessarily difficult just leads to resentment - especially when there is no alternative. By itself, removing parking or charging more for it will not reduce the amount of driving unless there is something reasonable to switch to.

As we all know, while well intentioned, 800mm wide painted bike lanes on main roads (and even then on only some of them) do not make taking an alternative to the car viable. On top of that, when you get to your destination, even the simple act of unravelling your lock and finding something to lock your bike to is an added inconvenience compared to pushing your bike into a space near the door and just flicking the wheel lock into place.

And despite claims that putting on a helmet and storing it when you get to your destination isn't a hassle,let's be honest - it is.

The answer, as we have seen from those places that work, is to make the alternatives simple and easy. And that means simple and easy relative to the car. If it is more hassle than taking the car, no rational person will bother.

Based on my very limited knowledge and based on what I have read, the unbroken network of cycle routes is a pre-requisite. Another absolute pre-requisite is avoiding conflict between different and incompatible transport modes by unravelling their routes.

From what I can tell, if you want to make that work over here in Australia, it does not mean digging up suburbs and starting again. We have seen how old suburbs can be brought into the modern age.

It is on those roads that because of differences in speed and mass that bikes and cars must be physically separated. To use an analogy from the London Underground, for those who are interested in these things, the Picadilly and District lines meet each other when the Picadilly comes from under the ground at Baron's Court in the west. They then both run paralled to each other as far as Acton Town. The District Line trains stop everywhere but the Picadilly Line trains speed through only stopping at Hammersmith and Turnham Green (but then only during rush hours):

A picture of the station shows that the two are kept separate:

Chiswick Park - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

The Picadilly Line trains speed through on the centre tracks.

Compare that with Aldgate East (in the east) where the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line meet each other:

Trains are the same size and as they travel further east towards Barking, they all stop at the same stations. Consequently, you don't need the separation:

Aldgate East - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

All trains run on the same tracks.

The analogy is a bit of a stretch I know but you get my point. Where people live, there is no reason to have motorised traffic speeding through at 50km/h or whatever the default speed limit might be. It is astounding that we still allow that in the 21st century. It is not any inconvenience to motorists to limit them to through routes that are designated as such. Once cars are slowed down and their numbers are reduced to those who actually have business in the street then like at Aldgate East, cars and bikes can comfortably share.

However once you get to more main through routes, you need to go back and have a look at Chiswick Park and see what you can do to unravel modes in other physical ways.

Motorists still get to go everywhere and store their car when they get there but they use routes that are appropriate for that. If their journey is made longer, it is only marginally and it is done so not to make life difficult for them but as part of a wider, sensible and more balanced transport and urban planning policy.

But we know this already, don't we?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Urban Planning Fails

I was in Port Augusta recently for work. Like many South Australian country towns it is quite small and easily navigable. It is divided in to. Port Augusta itself is about 3km by 3km. Port Augusta west is on the other side of the river and is about half the size. Also like most small country towns, despite the small size, everyone (that is, everyone) gets around by car. That could easily change of course with a dash of design change and a dollop of political will.

Port Augusta has a bit of a poor reputation but it is actually a very attractive town. One of its assets is its waterfront. The centre of town borders the water. On the Port Augusta side is an old wooden quay that still has the old narrow gauge railway lines on it:

Next to that is a shared bike and walking path in between well manicured lawns:

You would think that would be fairly valuable real estate that would be taken advantage of in any planning decisions but what faces it?

The arse-end of Big W and a car park!

You have to walk a bit further and then cross the car park to see the entrance. Even then it doesn't even face the water:

You would hope in time that as those places are redeveloped the buildings and the car park might swap places and windows might be used. Big W and Woolworths (both part of the same retail group) share that area. If the idea was to attract people and try and keep them there, you might think a food court or something with windows facing the water might be a draw card.

Unfortunately, the space has been wasted and we have a beige box, the type of which you could see in any car park across the nation, without any regard to its surroundings. Still, we know now. That space will one day be redeveloped and there will be some connection between it and the water.

Just sayin'