Wednesday, 31 March 2010

What we knew already

This was in today's Advertiser:

Apparently, new research by the University of Sydney suggests that:

children who walk each day [to school] are less likely to be obese, compared with children who are driven to school.

I thought we knew that already but it is good to have research to back it up.

Strange then that other than the one token Ride or Walk to School Day each year, we do not do a great deal to encourage are and make it easy for our children to choose more active modes of transport.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Respect for children

Here is another of David Hembrow's excellent videos. It shows the route his children take to get themselves to school each day in all weather.

This to me is a proper example of a country showing respect for its children. Over here we seem to prefer to imprison children in backyards and in the back seats of cars and then wonder why, when they finally are let loose with a driver's licence at 17, in many cases they go crazy.

The original post is here.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Cycling safety

This picture is doing the email rounds at the moment. It was apparently taken by Transport SA last month at the corner of Trimmer Parade and Frederick Road in Seaton.

The wood was about 2 metres out of the left hand side and about three out of the right. The beams in the front window went across the driver's chest and he could only get one hand on the wheel.

The cyclist coming in the opposite direction should be thankful he is on a four rather than two-lane road.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Australian Road Rules

Rule 246—Carrying people on a bicycle

(1) The rider of a bicycle must not carry more persons on the bicycle than the bicycle is designed to carry.

Offence provision.

(2) A passenger on a bicycle that is moving, or is stationary but not parked, must sit in the seat designed for the passenger.

Offence provision.

Rule 256—Bicycle helmets

(1) The rider of a bicycle must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the rider's head, unless the rider is exempt from wearing a bicycle helmet under another law of this jurisdiction.

Offence provision.

(2) A passenger on a bicycle that is moving, or is stationary but not parked, must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on the passenger’s head, unless the passenger is:

(a) a paying passenger on a three or four-wheeled bicycle; or

(b) exempt from wearing a bicycle helmet under another law of this jurisdiction.

Offence provision.

(3) The rider of a bicycle must not ride with a passenger on the bicycle unless the passenger complies with subrule (2).

Offence provision.

All pictures pinched from Amsterdamize.

A voice of reason

Martin Porter QC calls himself the Cycling Silk. He wrote an absolutely brilliant blog post that, in a shortened version, was published in the New Law Journal.

In it, he discusses how motoring appears to be exempt from the regulation that applies to other areas of life. For an example, look at the very high fines inflicted on business that are found not to have complied with occupational health and safety laws.

The article is long but well worth reading.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Great advert

This is a great advert for cycling. It's another great film made by Streetfilms. Michael Musto is the entertainment columnist for Village Voice magazine. He has been riding his bike around New York City for 25 years. Here's why:

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Bring it on

This was in today's Advertiser:

Motorists, it seems, support the idea of separated cycling infrastructure but say cyclists should pay for it through registration fees. The inference is that motorists "pay" for "their" roads through car registration and petrol tax while cyclists get to use it all free of charge.

The fact is that most people who bike to work or the shops also own and pay for a car. It's just that while they are riding a bike, they are not using the car. But their registration is still paying for it. In fact then, they are subsidising other motorists not only by paying car registration on a car not being driven but by not taking up the space of yet another car on the road. You can fit about 12 bikes into the space taken by one car.

The Victorian Public Transport Users Association published an excellent article on this question using proper figures. They conclude that the smallest credible estimate for the total cost of the road system in Australia is $47 billion a year, of which $31 billion a year is collected in taxes and charges on motorists, leaving a 'road deficit' of at least $16 billion a year. That is funded from general revenue.

If motorists were charged the full cost of paying for roads, which they are not, I would have no problem with paying cyclists paying a registration fee. The question is how much?

The Cycling Promotion Fund suggests that cyclists in our capital cities save the Government $9.2 million in greenhouse gas emissions, $63.9 million in reduced congestion costs, and another $71.2 million in health costs. Rather than pay a registration fee, you would think good policy would require people receiving a tax break for riding a bike.

It should be remembered car registration includes third party insurance. That is not compulsory for cyclists. Nor should it be. Unlike cars, bicycles are not potentially lethal pieces of machinery. Also, if the argument is that cyclists should "pay their way", any registration fee should properly reflect the cost they impose on roads. Even if we ignore the benefits of cycling (as we ignore the costs of motoring like congestion, obesity, death, injury, etc), I am certain that even $10 a year will be overcharging.

But I would be more than happy to pay that if it meant that money was spent on proper infrastructure of the kind you find overseas.

I would happily pay $50 a year.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Is it really about safety?

The argument I often hear for mandatory helmet laws is that they apparently "save lives". I am still yet to see any evidence of this. The evidence in my mind clearly shows that the greatest effect they had was to discourage cycling. The consequences are plain to see in the form of bulging stomachs and great swathes of public space given over without question to the storage and passage of motor vehicles.

Mandatory helmet laws are not a good example of evidence based policy.

One proven way of reducing road fatalities is to slow down traffic. This is of course disputed as the many letters to newspaper editors (no doubt from people caught speeding) show as they complain about revenue raising.

The British Medical Journal recently published the results of a study analysing traffic data from 1986 to 2006. It shows fairly clearly that reducing the speed limit on suburban roads to 20 mp/h (or 30 km/h) reduces fatalities. A pedestrian struck by a car travelling at 30 km/h has a very good chance of survival. Increase the speed to 50 km/h and that is reduced significantly. Increase it again to 60 km/h and the chances of a fatality start to increase at a greater rate than the speed increase.

You only have to recall the incredible whining and whinging that went on (and still does) after the introduction of 50 km/h default speed limits. Listen also to the incessant whining about 40 km/h zones in residential areas.

If this was really about safety, we would not have mandatory helmet laws but would instead have priority for cyclists and pedestrians and we would have 30 km/h speed limits in residential areas. The fact that we do not shows that these policies have nothing to do with safety but are more about pandering to spoiled motorists.

Totally cool bike

I totally love this bike. It's a modern take on the classic Dutch bike. It's mad by Van Moof. Anything superfluous or that can go wrong has been taken off so you're left with the bare bones very cool looking bike. Lights are built in. They only work in the dark and are solar powered but if it's too cloudy you can recharge it using your phone recharger.

The thick cross bar that contains the lights is not everyone's cup of tea but go and see it in the flesh. It does actually look very good.

And it's available here.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Poor cycling infrastructure part 3

Ask any cyclist what they consider to be the biggest risk to them and the answer will usually be car doors. A close second (or even first) for me is intersections.

Here is the intersection between Walkerville Terrace and Stephen Terrace in Walkerville. Here you are looking west:

That faded white line is the cycling infrastructure. Note how it simply disappears at the intersection. It is faded because of cars driving over it. Not that motorists are to blame. It is very easy to miss it.

Across the intersection, the cycle lane is a little clearer. Walkerville Terrace at this point is quite pleasant. The speed limit is 50 km/h, the road is wide and there is only one lane of traffic each side. Although in this picture there are not many parked cars, on many other streets with this type of bike lane, they are a constant hazard. Doors open all the time without warning:

Behind the silver car on the other side of the road you can see a bus stop. There is also one on this side of the road. When the bus stops there, it generally blocks the bike lane and you have to weave into the lane of traffic to get past it. Again, it is not the end of the world but it is one of those pointless obstacles that stop people using alternative forms of transport.

At the end of the road, cyclists are forgotten about again and squashed to the side:

The lane continues around the corner and you are generally expected to join four lanes of traffic speeding along at 60 km/h. Fortunately, most people are not suicidal and ride onto the pavement and then on to Park Terrace which like Mann Terrace (see earlier post) is closed to through traffic.

Normally you would go overseas for an example of how to deal with bus stops but this time you only need to go to Sturt Street in the city. Here is a view from one end of the new completely separated bike lane:

Motorists have space when turning left to allow bikes past first:

And there is plenty of space for parking:

Where the school crossing is cyclists quite rightly have to wait for children to cross first:

There is also no conflict with buses picking up passengers:

In other words: it is safe and feels safe.

The only drawback is that the lane ends abruptly and you are left to fend for yourself with no protection other than a white line:

Still, it's early days yet. Hopefully this is the sign of things to come.

Another great video

The web is full of great videos showing great pedestrian and cycling facilities. This is another of my favourites showing how the masters - the Dutch - do it:

Things are looking up

This was in today's Advertiser. It is a brilliant tricycle that turns into a pram. Made in the Netherlands (of course) by Taga. If we had a proper Dutch style cycling network here, parents could use them all over the place, taking toddlers to child care at speed, doing shopping, etc.

The best thing about the picture is that the woman and her children were not asked to wear expanded polystyrene hats for the photograph even though it resembles a bicycle. Things are looking up.

Thursday, 4 March 2010


On 1 July 1990, Victoria became the first Australian State to introduce mandatory helmet laws for cyclists. Within a few years, all Australian States and Territories also introduced the law. Australia and New Zealand are the only countries on the planet with national mandatory bicycle helmet laws.

Once the laws were introduced, cyclist numbers reduced by up to 40%. The reduction came mainly from those cyclists who prior to the law never wore helmets. The numbers have not recovered since. While numbers of cyclists have increased in recent years, they have been almost exclusively male and what might be described as "sports" cyclists.

Once the laws were introduced, in Victoria numbers of cyclists admitted to hospital with and without head injuries fell marginally. Importantly though, head injuries did not fall any more than non-head injuries.

In New Zealand, adult helmet wearing increased from 43% to 92%. There was no reduction in hospital admissions.

In all Australian States, there has been a steady decline in hospital admissions of all road users since the late 1980s. With cyclists, the introduction of mandatory helmet laws made no difference to that general trend.

We are the fattest nation in the world.

Obesity costs us $36b a year.

Read more here.

My humble opinion is that studies to date are inconclusive. Some studies tend to point to helmets reducing injuries but as the studies themselves note, differences in exposure are very difficult to measure. I have not seem any conclusive evidence either way. If people wish to wear helmets, good on them. But the choice of others not to wear them should also be respected.

One thing that is abundantly clear to me is that the present way of marketing cycling in Australia (tights, space goggles, leaning over the handlebars, day-glo tops, helmets, funny shoes that make you walk like a duck) does not appeal to most normal people. It gives the impression of a specialist activity instead of normal everyday transport. It also gives the impression that it is somehow dangerous and requires special safety clothing and goggles. Cycling itself is not at all dangerous.

The figures speak for themselves. The introduction of mandatory helmet laws discouraged cycling and we have been paying for it ever since.

From time to time, State cycling bodies organise a special ride pitched just at women. They are often advertised in the State's newspaper. Invariably they are advertised with a picture of some women in the specialist gear smiling under their helmets. Go to any of the women in your workplace who you know do not use a bicycle as every day transport and ask them whether the picture encourages them to get on a bike. Then show them some pictures from Copenhagen Cycle Chic. Ask them whether they would consider a bike for short trips if it looked like the ones in the picture and they could wear normal clothes like in the picture and they had safe, separated cycle lanes going exactly where they want to go. There is a small chance the answer might be different.

Another great example

David Hembrow posted this on his website as another perfect example of how to design pedestrian and cycleways around major junctions:

The actual link is here.

Note how the cycles lanes are comfortably wide and a good distance away from fast moving traffic. Note also how riders and pedestrians are not required to stop in the middle of the road and apply a second time to cross the road by pressing a button.

Travel along South Road, Grand Junction Road or any major thoroughfare and see if you can see anything even approaching this. You won't. One day though I am sure we will. The need and the desire are there.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Poor cycling infrastructure part 2

In a previous post, I showed some pictures of part of my route to work. In fact, it is the best part of my route to work. The rest contains some stretches of trouble free riding on residential roads but they are all interrupted by major intersections where there is absolutely no provision for bikes and you are expected to act as if you are in a car because for the purposes of the Australian Road Rules, you are a "vehicle".

At the crossing at the end of Mann Terrace, there is a little bit of bike "infrastructure". The designer assumes that cyclists will ride north along Mann Road towards Melbourne Street, next to two lanes of traffic travelling at 60 km/h, even though as this picture shows, there is not even a painted bike lane until the turning lane into Melbourne Street begins.

Cyclists are required to cross the intersection and then travel diagonally next to the pedestrian crossing, wait for traffic to clear and then join the painted lane to the left of four lanes of traffic:

I have never used it. Again, the only people who I ever see use it are male and in tights. I have nothing against that of course but it does show that the infrastructure that is there does not encourage other sections of the population.

Once I have crossed the pedestrian crossing (riding of course and breaking the law), I continue along Mann Terrace:

Again, because it is blocked to motorised through traffic, it is quiet and safe. Before it turns right into Mackinnon Parade, there is an off road pedestrian and cycle path leading towards Hackney Road and the Linear Park cycleway:

With a couple of signs and a proper crossing when it reaches Bundys Road, it could be an excellent piece of infrastructure.

At the end of Mackinnon Parade, there is a strange little bike track. It's about 15 metres long. It starts at a right angle to the road like this:

And then continues for its 15 metres complete with bikeway signs:

Before it hits a road and turns into another pedestrian crossing:

Cross the road and you are on another great off road path:

This one is shared with joggers and takes you to the intersection of Frome Road and War Memorial Drive close to the zoo.

The fact that there are signs on this route shows that someone has given it thought. With very little change, it could be part of a city wide network. Get rid of the obstacles at road crossings and signpost it as a dedicated route into the city. Then build more. Signpost them and advertise them. Advertise them using pictures of people in normal clothes on normal bikes so it looks like a normal activity - which it is.

And get rid of one of the biggest disincentives to cycling - mandatory helmet laws. If people choose to wear them, let them. But don't force people. If you really want to make cycling safe, invest money and make it safe. Don't pretend that an expanded polystyrene hat is going to make all the difference.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The cost of cars

Look around most suburbs of Australia, particularly the new ones, and you see a number of things in common. You will find the shopping centre in the middle with the obligatory car parks. These days, there will be a couple of token bike rails near the entrance but people still somehow have to negotiate the car park to get to them and they do not enjoy the sort of attention to detail you find in bike friendly places to help them get there, least of all a separate bike route.

Even now, new suburbs are spread out quite far and, with some notable exceptions, do not tend to encourage walking to friends' houses, to the shops, etc. Suburbs are still built for them to be traversed in cars as easily as possible. The consequence is what we see every day: huge proportions of children being transported sometimes quite short distances to school in the backs of cars, people driving a few blocks to get to their local shops to buy the Sunday paper and some milk, etc.

It is no surprise that we are one of, if not the, fattest nation on the planet. The cost? According to, a cool $56 billion a year.

Economic rationalism

The idea that decisions should be analysed by reference to economics is often criticised. In many cases, I think the criticism is justified. I think though that economic rationalism has never properly been tried out. The mistake is only to look at money rather than the true cost of a particular decision. For example, nobody seems to bat an eyelid when a huge block of land is turned into a warehouse store surrounded by a car park. See for example the new Dan Murphy liquor store on Payneham Road right in the middle of St Peters. It seems assumed that it will create jobs locally and that because people can drive in and park for nothing, it will benefit the local economy. The thing is though you must consider the opportunity cost of that decision. That is, the cost of missing out on the next best thing. What if that land were instead used as a school or childcare centre. Bearing in mind that is what you have missed out on, is the Dan Murphy's really a good decision. Also, by surrounding it with car parks and, as is always the case, making no provision for bikes or pedestrians, is it really good for business?

If you properly consider all of the costs and benefits, both short and long term, the argument for investing in cycling and walking infrastructure becomes compelling and the suggestion that we should spend more money on roads becomes quite silly.

Portlandize put it much better than I ever could. The reasons for investing are as follows:
  1. Lower maintenance costs
  2. Cyclists and pedestrians are better for business
  3. Health
  4. Less time and money wasted sitting in traffic

Power to the people

I went to see Group F performing a pyrotechnics display as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts on Saturday. It was just brilliant - stylish and very French.

A great thing happened straight afterwards. The show was held in Queen Victoria Park near the race course. Thousands of people turned up because the concert was free. Afterwards they all just took over Greenhill Road. Traffic was at a total standstill while pedestrian just reclaimed the road. It was fabulous to see. There also a lot of families leaving on bikes. One image that sticks in my mind was of one poor young woman surrounded by a sea of people and just unable to move, stuck there with her big car. Why she didn't just turn off the engine and wait fr the crowds to die down I do not understand but I suppose it's her petrol and she's paying for it. Seeing her stuck there unable to get away really brought home to me the futility of making ourselves so car dependent. They do not offer any freedom anymore. They are just a drain on our wallets.