Friday, 30 April 2010

A million dollars

Adelaide City Council has done a bit of work on its paths in the parklands near the Aquatic Centre. Here's a view along one of them. You could almost be in another country:

It soon comes to an end though and you suddenly turn into a pedestrian:

What is interesting is that the council has spent a bit of cash on what appear to be lane markings. You can see them in the picture above. There is a picture of a bike and a person indicating that this is a shared path. And just in case anyone using them is too stupid to realise that you generally pass on the left, there is a big white line painted down the middle to let them know.

Here is another view:

This is actually a footpath that goes along the back of the Aquatic Centre next to the customer car park. It is used almost exclusively by people arriving by car. But the council has cleverly turned it into a shared path by painting lines on it. To put it in perspective, each side of the path is about as wide as your handlebars. There has been no other change at all other than the painted lines. Here is a picture of the other end:

Just around the corner in the distance is the footpath leading to the entrance. It is not a cycle facility despite the little lines and pictures painted on the ground.

I point this out because it is fairly indicative of the cycling infrastructure here. In the main, it consists of painted lines on what is already there. Other than about two exceptions I can think of, there is never any substantial change to the road layout, for example to move cars to one side or back a bit to make way for people on bikes or give them more room. At most, a bike lane will be painted on the road but if the road narrows or there is a junction or some other thing in the way, the lane will disappear. In other words, you'll get some "infrastructure" as long as nothing else has to change.

Some time ago, the Federal member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, announced that the Federal Government was investing nearly $1m on expanding cycling infrastructure in the parklands. If this is what you get for a million bucks, there must be a consultant chuckling to himself on a tropical island somewhere.

When a bicycle lane should stop

Like many cities, Adelaide has bicycle lanes. Although I use that term in its broadest possible sense. Bicycle lanes in Adelaide are white lines painted close to the gutter and from time to time will have a bicycle painted in them. I know of only two proper bicycle lanes that deserve the title though. One is on Sturt Street and the other runs alongside part of Frome Road next to the School of Medicine.

What all Adelaide bike lanes have in common is where and how they end. That is, abruptly and the one place where they should not end.

Here is an example. It could be anywhere:

Note how the painted line just finished and bike riders are left to fend for themselves in the intersection. This is of course silly. At intersections is where traffic comes into conflict. It is where there is the most risk. A bike rider or pedestrian potentially comes into conflict with a semi-trailer. Pedestrians at least have separate pathways, although the adequacy of those can be debated. People on bikes are thrown into a sea of fast moving traffic.

Here's another. It's close to the ABC building in Collinswood. This one is good. The lane ends and the bike rider is directed straight into a lump of concrete. Nice work:

It is very different from how it is done in other countries. The video below shows how the Dutch do it. Bike lanes deserve the title. People on bikes are kept separate from traffic travelling at 60km/h or more and at junctions or roundabouts they are kept separate and who has right of way is clear. The lanes only end when you reach a residential area where there are no fast moving through streets and speeds are limited to 30km/h; a speed which has proven to reduce the risk of fatal injury.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

A 60-year old woman with two bags of groceries

I love this quote:

In general, if you design your infrastructure for a 60-year old woman with two bags of groceries, you can make cycling attractive to a huge range of the population.

I have referred to Jarrett Walker's website, Human Transit, already. His latest blog entry is just brilliant and is something everyone who works for a suburban railway or tramway system should read.

In a city like Adelaide, that is spread out, an argument against spending on public transport is that it is impossible for it to serve a catchment area wide enough for the transport to be viable. One reason for the success of the o-bahn is said to be the fact that it can serve a large catchment area. Buses can come from various places and meet at Tea Tree Plaza or Paradise before joining the o-bahn track into the city. Trains do not have the same ability.

An obvious way to increase the catchment area is to encourage people to cycle. I have read that a bicycle can increase a person's own catchment area by 10 or 15 times. It certainly sounds plausible to me. You make it easier and more people will use the facility. Hence the quote.

Here is the article. It is well worth a read.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Same old

One reason to put together a blog is that your friends and family are sick to death of you going on and on about whatever it is you have feelings strong enough to post regular blog entries with no guarantee that anyone will ever read them. One victim of my constant moaning is my mother in law. She agrees with some of what I have to say but has clearly heard enough.

In a recent conversation, she told me about the last time she went on a bike. She thought it would be a good idea to use a bike to go on local errands. It would be cheap and easy she thought. She had images of the wind through her hair but that was impossible because of the helmet.

Anyway, she rode the bike down the road a bit and hit one of Adelaide's many main roads with two lanes of traffic travelling at 60 km/h (assuming everyone is keeping to the speed limit, which as we know cannot be assumed). It was awful. The traffic was noisy and stressful. My mother in law did not feel in the slightest bit safe and has not got on a bike since then and nor does she intend to.

If she could ride safely and separated from the traffic, she said she probably would.

Every time I read a bicycle policy, whether it is the Commonwealth Government's bicycle plan or my local council's, they say the same things: put your helmet on, wear hi-vis clothes, watch out, etc. Now that might all be very sensible but it reinforces the commonly held view that riding a bike is dangerous. It isn't of course but riding a bike while sharing the road with fast moving traffic, especially at large intersections, is dangerous.

A few days ago we heard the harrowing story of a man who was killed while riding his bicycle at an intersection on Anzac Highway. A brother, father, husband, son and friend has been lost. Being hit by a truck at speed is usually fatal but we still expose cyclists to that risk every day. Nothing is done to separate the bikes from cars and trucks.

Very strict obligations are placed on companies not to expose their employees to risk. If they fail to take all reasonable precautions, they face hefty fines. On the roads though, exposure to potentially fatal risk is commonplace. It seems almost impossible to slow traffic down. On residential streets, a 30km/h speed limit would make such a difference to safety but a negligible difference to travel times. Yet look at the carry on when 50km/h limits were introduced.

Until serious and obvious measures are taken, you will not get people out of their cars using alternative forms of transport and those people that do choose the bicycle to get around will continue to be exposed to unnecessary and very unfair risks.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

New ideas

Aaron Renn is an urban analyst. His blog is called the Urbanophile. He wrote an article recently that applies potentially to Adelaide.

Renn discusses the importance of outsiders to a city's development. The problem (for want of a better word) with a lack of inward migration is that the bulk of the population, because they have lived in the city all their lives, find it very difficult to imagine things being different. Even if the way some things are done could be much better, it becomes very difficult to convince them. If you have not known anything different, why would you question it? There is no need.

Renn puts it this way:

Outsiders are aware of what is different. Hopefully they see some things they like and appreciate the way things work. But also they see, are aware of, and can question things that just don’t make any sense. Someone who is on the inside will rarely do that.

It is commonly said about Adelaide that change is almost impossible to implement. It also has very low levels of immigration compared say to Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Many people move to those two places each year but only very few come in the opposite direction.

I would like to see more effort in trying to get people from other States to move to Adelaide and bring with them fresh ideas.

A good source of new ideas that could benefit Adelaide is the Thinkers in Residence program. Some of them have turned into great policies I think. Recently, Fred Hansen, the General Manager of Tri-Met in Portland, came to give advice on public transport and talk about his experience in increasing public transit's modal share in Portland. He had some really clever ideas.

Professor Jan Gehl came some time ago to Adelaide and produced a great report called Public Spaces Public Life about pedestrian movement in Adelaide and provided some recommendations about making the sorts of places that make people want to stop. The Adelaide CBD does not have very many places like that. Next time you go for a walk, see how long it takes to find somewhere. There is a small shaded area with seating next to the Black Stump building on the walkway between Grenfell and Pirie Streets and the students from Eynesbury College seem to enjoy congregating on the north-eastern corner of Victoria Square but there are very few pleasant places suitable for sitting and talking. Professor Gehl's report deals with that sort of thing. I read recently that he is due to come back to Adelaide this year. Fingers crossed.

The point is, it is fairly clear to me that we need more people like Professor Gehl and Fred Hansen to bring in new ideas and make us question the way we do things here and have been for decades. It is the way to make our city develop and improve and to recognise that more people use it that just the 50% of the population who have ready access to a motor vehicle.

Friday, 2 April 2010

It should be normal and everyday

This a great film to watch.

The Pedal Project: Three Cycling Cities – From Dublin to London to Amsterdam from DCTV on Vimeo.

Ciaran Fallon is the Cycling Officer for Dublin City Council. He took a trip to London and Amsterdam to see what those two cities' authorities do to encourage cycling. It is well worth watching to see the sorts of things that work and what doesn't work.

Watch especially the interview with Marc Woudenberg who runs the Amsterdamize website.

The final message at the end is unsurprising and is one we have heard time and time again: It's the infrastructure. Marc makes the point that you cannot increase the cycling modal share by simply saying "it's green". He also says emphasising safety gear is also not an effective way of encouraging people to choose a different way of getting around. All that does is tell people that it is dangerous and discourages them.

Look at the different types of people cycling in Amsterdam (and indeed London) and compare that with what you see in Adelaide. Our levels of cycling are clearly slowly increasing but in the main, we are mostly blokes, many of whom are in lycra or plastic flourescent jackets. I am beginning to see more young women on normal bikes (like those at the Classic Bicycle Shop) dressed in normal clothes but they are a tiny trickle. You still seldom see school children getting themselves to school, or riding with their parents, you seldom see parents carrying children on bikes to childcare and you rarely see pensioners cycling to the shops with their basket on their bike.

To encourage genuinely decent numbers, you have to install the infrastructure. That means making the difficult political decision of reclaiming some of the massive amounts of road space back from cars (look at the width of some city streets all devoted to motor vehicles).

Cycling should be as normal as driving is at the moment. It is not a specialist activity requiring special gear. People jump in their cars in their normal clothes to go shopping, visit friends, go to uni and so on. It should be exactly the same on a bike if that is what people choose, and given how much more pleasant our city would be, we should be doing all we can to encourage it.

Thursday, 1 April 2010


A recent article in the Advertiser suggests that over half of South Australian drivers routinely disobeyed the 50 km/h default speed limit. The findings come from a report published by the University of Adelaide Centre for Automotive Safety Research.

What interested me were most of the responses. 219 people took the trouble to respond. I did not have the time to read every single one but of those I did, the vast majority say that the rate of disobedience is merely proof that speed limits are too low. The evidence is overwhelming of course that lowering the speed limit saves lives. See for example the recent study in the British Medical Journal.

I think it comes from people's perceptions. If you travel everywhere by car, as many people in Adelaide do, your view of the world is generally behind a windscreen. Your views on traffic congestion come from the line of cars you see from behind the steering wheel.

If you travel by bike, bus or on foot, you get a very different picture. A road on which everyone is travelling at 60 km/h or more is very different indeed from one on which people are travelling at 40 km/h or less. For one thing, the second one is a lot less stressful.

One misconception that comes out in the comments is the assertion that lower speed limits slow down traffic and cause congestion. Both are wrong. If you watch a line of cars move off from a red light, it is a bit like watching an old freight train. As the locomotive moves away, the couplings tighten and the first truck moves. The second follows until slowly but surely the whole train is moving but it is longer because of the stretched couplings. It is the same with traffic except instead of couplings you have gaps between cars. The size of the gaps depends on the speed of the traffic. The faster a car travels, the more space it takes up because of the required braking distance.

Slowing cars a little reduces the required braking distance and increases the number of cars that can pass a particular point in a given time because each car is taking up less space. In other words, it actually can increase the carrying capacity of the road.

It is funny though that an article like that leads to so many people commenting that way. It is an example of what has been described as car head.

If you have an article about cyclists breaking the law by riding on the pavement, the reactions are generally different. Then you see phrases such as "lycra louts" and "law unto themselves". What must be recognised is that cycling on the pavement or through red lights is a symptom of unpleasant cycling conditions and poor cycling infrastructure. In a city like ours that is built around motoring and full of reckless, risk-taking drivers (over half of which routinely break the speed limit if the Advertiser is to be believed), cyclists understandably do all they can to stay safe. That includes riding on the pavement.

If some serious money was spent on proper, safe, separated cycling infrastructure that made it easy to get around by bike instead of the constant obstacles they face, the story might be different.