Friday, 26 February 2010

Another not so silly decision

Not so fast. Apparently the rumour in Crikey is not true. According to The Advertiser, the O-Bahn extension is to go ahead.

If this is true, and it seems to be, it is great. Bring it on Pat and make it a proper bus route through Grenfell Street like they have in Paris.

Another silly decision

I read this in yesterday's Crikey:
We haven't heard much about the much heralded extension of the Adelaide O-bahn, from its current entry north-east of the city all the way through the city to Light Square, since late 2009. Surprising really, since the extension would greatly speed up the trip from the termination point to the U1 stop on Grenfell Street, which can double the current time taken for the trip from Golden Grove. Be a bit of a vote winner you would think.

Alas, no, because it has already been dumped by the state government, but as there are some very marginal seats north-east of Adelaide no one is admitting it. Turns out the Adelaide City Council weren't too hot on it, so they built pedestrian safety traffic islands up Grenfell Street on the intended route (part of their ongoing development feud with SA government?).

Neither where the influential "save the parklands" groups who were plenty unhappy that the route was going to cut through green areas of the eastern parklands.

The word is that the STP groups have already been told that the state government have dropped the idea

If it is true, it is very stupid. Anyone who has seen Grenfell Street, particularly during the rush hour would agree that it is ridiculous. It is like it is because it is blocked by cars. Next time you are there during the rush hour, have a look at the number of people waiting at bus stops, squashed against Harris Scarfe with other pedestrians trying to get past in the small space available. Then look at the number of cars, each generally with one occupant, blocking up the street. Compare the numbers and see just how much space is set aside for the people in the cars. And it is they who are blocking the buses.

Some of the $160m that the Commonwealth promised to extend the busway into the city was planned to be spent on bus lanes on Grenfell Street. They are the very least that are required. And they should be two lanes wide. Having two bus lanes instead of one on each side of the road can triple capacity.

Better still though would be to close the entire street off to private cars and make Grenfell Street a proper transit mall as some North American cities have done. Once people see buses moving freely and faster than private cars, there is an incentive to catch them. At the moment, it is no surprise that the buses stuck in the traffic caused by all the traffic on Grenfell Street have excess capacity.

The besty option would be dedicated bus lanes in the middle of the street that could ultimately be converted to tram lines. It has been done in Paris with great success:

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Poor cycling infrastructure part 1

In my experience, most articles about cycling promote certain common comments. The comments written by motorists who never cycle are usually quite obvious. They generally complain about the lawlessness of cyclists, flouting rules and so on. There is often a reason though for what appears to be a deliberate disobeying of a particular law.

This photo shows part of my route to work in the morning. I see a number of cyclists using the route in the morning. It seems to be popular with people riding to the city from the inner northern suburbs.

I come down Hawkers Road, Medindie, which is in the top left of the picture. It is not entirely ideal for cyclists because it is right next to a school. Opening car doors are a common hazard. The great thing though is that the traffic is slow moving so you can comfortably sit in the middle of the lane away from the doors.

The alternative is to ride down Northcote Terrace which is the main road to the east of Hawkers Road. To do so though would be suicidal. The traffic is heavy and fast moving and the lanes are narrow. There is no space for bikes. Some people do ride along it though. They all have two things in common: (1) male (2) lycra tights.

As I have said, this is used by a number of cyclists. When you get to the bottom of Hawkers Road, turn left to go towards the intersection. At that point, you are on a safe cul de sac running parallel to Fitroy Terrace. However, this is what you are greeted with:

The road is blocked and the only way through is to the left on to the footpath. The alternative is to turn right from Hawkers Road and go in the wrong direction until you reach the opening on to Fitzroy Terrace. Again, you would have to be suicidal to want to ride on that road because of the amount of fast moving traffic. This is the extent of the infrastructure on it - painted lines:

To join their route into the city, cyclists now have to use two pedestrian crossings, which involves, in true Adelaide style, having to press a button to apply to cross the road. If you don't make the application by pressing the button, the green man won't tell you when it is safe to cross.

This is the first:

You then go across this little island to get to the second push button crossing that you can see in the background:

Once you are safely across that crossing, you turn left onto this little dirt track:

Until you reach Kingston Terrace:

Kingston Terrace is blocked to through motorised traffic so it is a very pleasant and safe cycle route:

But you soon find that your way is blocked once more. This is what happens when you reach Melbourne Street: which happens after about 150m:

Again, the way is blocked and you are forced to use another pedestrian crossing involving yet again having to apply to cross the road. You can see in this picture that it is actually two crossings requiring two separate button pushing applications:

You then manoeuvre through this little passage and around the post to get onto Mann Terrace:

That is only half of it. I plan to post more pictures of the next section.

To be honest, it is actually good route. The thing is though, it is not planned even though many cyclists use it. They use it automatically because, despite the obstacles, it is the safest route.

Traffic engineers have simply painted white lines on Mann Road, which is four lanes wide on each side. If a cyclists wishes to turn right, a little box has been installed where they have to wait and look over their shoulder until they consider it safe to cross four lanes of traffic. Here's a picture of one:

Again, the only people who use it are male and in tights. You will seldom see a woman on it. You will never see anyone on a normal bike in normal clothes using it and not in a million years will you see a child using it. It is the sort of "infrastructure" you see all over Adelaide and it is the sort of infrastructure that the designer more than likely will never use. If they did, it would not look like this.

These sorts of pointless obstacles on what would otherwise be a safe and pleasant route on the way to the city and leading to at least two local schools are what make cycling so difficult and why so few people are attracted to it in this town.

For an example of how it should be done, go to Google Maps and pick any town or city in the Netherlands. I picked an intersection at random in Groningen so it is probably not even the best example. I went to that town because I have heard of it.

View Larger Map

Note the separated bike track with its own traffic lights. Note how many cyclists are using it and how normal they look. No tights. No helmets. No expensive racing bikes. No leaning over the handle bars like you are pushing a walking frame.

Follow the road across the intersection and see how the bike track does not stop. It is a safe distance from the traffic and it is not until some time after the intersection that it comes back closer to the road.

The Groningen intersection actually looks quite busy and is similar in size to, for example, the intersection between South Road and Grand Junction Road. Look at the difference though:

View Larger Map

There is just as much space here as in the Groningen intersection but no sign of any bike infrastructure at all. No thought has been given to it. There is no reason for that. It is not difficult. There are good examples all over the place. All it takes is a little will. Ignore people who moan. The demand for this is there, even from motorists who are equally concerned about the stupidity of forcing people on bicycles to share a road with fast moving motorised traffic.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Something to aspire to

A perfect test for determining whether you have safe cycling infrastructure is whether you would allow your children to use it. In Adelaide, the answer to that question is invariably no. That is why so few children cycle to school, to sports practice or to visit their friends. In the Netherlands, the picture is different. There, they seem to treat their children with a little more respect and set up safe cycling routes that allow children to get to school under their own steam, sometimes from outlying villages. This video, which David Hembrow made, illustrates it very well:

David Hembrow's blog is brilliant and he has a number of videos like this one. He also demolishes all of the arguments against proper cycling infrastructure one by one.

The video both amazes me and makes me cranky. Amazing because the people of the Netherlands have achieved this but cranky because it could be done here. It has nothing to do with "culture" or population density or how flat the land is. Adelaide is perfect for this. All it needs is the will.

Describing things properly

One of my favourite blogs is Human Transit put together by Jarrett Walker. If you are at all interested in urban transport, it should be on your list of bookmarks. It is always a great read.

A recent post about Vancouver made a great point. I go around the place whinging to anyone who will listen (and some who won't) about the benefits of a well designed cycle network away from fast moving traffic. To do that in some Adelaide streets, inevitably a lane will need to be taken away from motorised traffic. In streets like King William Street in the city, that is not going to be a problem at all. The street is easily side enough to accommodate the tram track, a bus lane, a single lane for private cars and a wide cycle lane behind the bus stops.

Often when these measures are discussed though, we talk about taking lanes away. However in the post about Vancouver, Jarrett refers to them as "openings" - "Streets have been closed to cars so that they can be open to masses of people."

It sounds so much better. Installing cycling infrastructure is not "taking" space from motorists, it is opening it up to people.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Kate Ellis's helmet

I just found a political pamphlet in my letter box. This one is from the Federal member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis. The front page was most interesting to me. It is, I think, the first time I have heard cycling infrastructure mentioned as a Federal issue. It is actually rare to hear any politician refer to it as an issue at all.

What is described is fairly typical of cycling in this country. We are told the Government is investing in bike paths but read further and you will see that the money is being spent on infrastructure in the Adelaide Parklands.

In other words, cycling is being treated, as it always is, as purely a recreational activity. No thought at all seems to be given to helping people perform everyday tasks, like shopping and visiting friends, on a bike. Anyone who has ridden along Linear Park would agree it is a great facility but you generally only see recreational cyclists looking like Kate does in the picture - tights, sports top and magic polystyrene helmet, although in Kate's case you would have to wonder how effective it will be with her entire forehead exposed.

Once you are off Linear Park though, you are immediately exposed to fast moving traffic and the "infrastructure", if it is there, consists of painted while lines just next to the gutter. Some of them are only in force for an hour and a half a day and they all suddenly disappear just when they are needed most - at intersections.

A favourite video

Blogs and other websites all over the place have linked to this video. The reason is obvious. It shows clearly how cycling infrastructure should be done. It is no accident that Copenhagen and other cities have the levels of cycling that they do. Watch and learn Adelaide:

I should add that Copenhagen is not even the best there is. Some Dutch cities, for instance Groningen and Assen, have a 50% modal share for cycling. Also, as David Hembrow points out, much of Copenhagen's cycle traffic is made up of commuters. Still, compared to where I live in Adelaide, it is cycling heaven.

Now this is more like it

The new tram extension to the Entertainment Centre is nearly complete with trams being tested on it today. There has been a lot of whining about this extension, as there was the with first extension to North Terrace, but if you ask me it is brilliant.

When the City of Portland built its "streetcar", one of the positive benefits was that it attracted investment to some of the more run down areas of town that it serves. There is no reason that should not not happen along Port Road where the tram runs. That was one of the purposes of it being built. Here is a great video about it that Streetfilms put together:

Just think, if the money earmarked for the pointless Southern Expressway duplication were available, you could have four more extensions like this one.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

More of the same

I always wonder how these millions of people find time to write regular blogs on so many subjects. I have had this account open for months waiting to find time to start writing about my favourite subject. The State election I thought is the perfectt opportunity.

It is often said that there is these days very little to distinguish the two major parties. I think there is a certain truth in that. At the very least in this State, they both furiously agree that one of the most important issues for the State is duplicating the Southern Expressway.

We are told it will cost about $450m. That is on top of the $180m already spent on the Gallipoli Underpass and whatever sum was spent on the Bakewell Underpass, as well as the money that apparently has been set aside for a monstrous great eyesore of a freeway above South Road in the north. In other words, major infrastructure projects for the sole benefit of motorists. I do not recall any cost benefit analysis being undertaken nor do I recall any quoted figures about the number of cars using the roads before and after the infrastructure works and, more importantly, where they came from, where they were going and what time of day they were doing it.

If you ask me, the duplication of the Southern Expressway is the most obscene of the lot. We are told that the one way nature of the road makes us a laughing stock interstate. No evidence is presented to support this. Even if it were true, people like Greg Kelton cannot seriously be suggesting that we should spend $450m because our feelings are hurt at people laughing at us.

The only people I hear whinging about the road in its current form are those who missed it by a couple of minutes and, by extension, feel that there should be a three lane highway wherever they want to go but someone else should pay for it.

The Southern Expressway is actually brilliant. It is painfully obvious that the traffic all moves in one direction in the morning peak and in the opposite direction in the afternoon. Granted there are some cars going the other way but they have available an uncongested South Road at their disposal. The journey perhaps takes an additional 15 minutes but is that really worth $450m?

I assume the new part of the Expressway will be three lanes. If not, and it becomes a two lane highway each side, they are actually reducing the capacity of the road in the morning and afternoon peaks.

Recently, Four Corners showed the plight of parents, some of them single parents, who look after children 24 hours a day with limited assistance. It is wrong to describe it as a "plight" because those parents love their children as deeply as any other parent. The point is that that $450m could be spent on helping those people.

If the money has to be spent on transport infrastructure, it could fund a tram extension to the airport (probably with change) or a new extension along North Terrace and the Parade all the way to Magill.

This looks to be yet another election campaign spent pandering to motorists. The sooner it stops the better.

Read the brilliant Copenhagenize website or David Hebrow's fabulous View from the Cycle Path. Any argument you have heard against spending money on cycling facilities he has heard and demolished. I plan to discuss some of them in upcoming entries - to get it off my chest and to show how the arguments relate to Adelaide. It is potentially the perfect cycling city. It is flat with a temperate climate. The roads are very wide and so have plenty of scope fo removing lanes of traffic to make wide separate cycling paths. It already has public transport corridors travelling north to south and the potential for many more. It could be brilliant.