Monday, 31 May 2010

Zebras and Pelicans

Not long ago, I saw a man lying in the middle of Regency Road in Broadview. The motorist who had hit him had stopped and was offering what assistance he could. In the distance could be seen the flashing lights of an ambulance fast approaching.

Without knowing anything about how the man had been hit, it was quite easy to infer. It was dusk and he had crossed away from lights or a pedestrian crossing. This is often the sort of "jaywalking" that generally gets people fired up enough to write a comment about it on AdelaideNow.

In fact, the poor man's behaviour was hardly surprising. There is a place for pedestrians to cross at the intersection of Hampstead Road. Travelling east, there is another intersection with pedestrian lights at the Main North Road intersection. That is about a kilometer and a half away. There is a proper pedestrian crossing somewhere between the two but it is about a kilometer from the Hampstead Road intersection. In other words, if we want to cross Regency Road "safely" you have to walk on average half a kilometer.

It is no wonder then that the poor man crossed where he did. It was not far from the Home Hardware shop. He may have been walking home from there a short distance away. If he were to use the proper crossing, it would turn a fairly short walk into one of about 20 minutes.

This is fairly typical of all main roads in Adelaide. It is of course because the right of way of the almighty motorist can never be impeded. It is also one of the reasons why suburbs are cut in half and why children, in so many cases, cannot even walk to a friend's house in the same suburb.

In Adelaide, if a safe place for pedestrians is to be installed, it is usually part of a traffic light. They are all over the place and they are what make motorists have to stop for no apparent reason in the middle of the night. They are also where pedestrians are required to wait on empty roads until a robot inside the light tells them it is safe to cross. They are clearly too stupid to know themselves.

In the UK, there is a clever invention called a zebra crossing, so named because the stripes on the road are the colour of a zebra

Picture from here.

The flashing orange lights make them clearly visible to motorists. When a pedestrians stands on the edge of one, as if by magic, cars stop to let them cross. Sometimes, motorists break the rules and travel through. Not to worry though, if that happens, the pedestrian has not started to cross so usually no lasting damage is caused. Once traffic on both sides has stopped, the pedestrian crosses the road and politely waves to the motorists to thank them for stopping.

The great thing about them is that if no pedestrians are waiting, traffic is not held up for no reason.

They used to be all over the place until the authorities started installing "pelican crossings":

Picture from here.

They are like the Australian ones where pedestrians have to press a button and apply to cross the road. When you press the button, the first thing you see is a stern "WAIT" light up. You then wait on the side of a busy road while cars speed past, ignoring you. Then, after a while, the light changes to red and, hopefully, the cars stop. Sometimes the pedestrian might be old and frail and take a little longer. Before they have crossed the road the light may begin flashing orange and, heaven forbid, change to green. This causes the motorists to get frustrated because they cannot proceed through "their" green light. They are not half as good as the zebra crossings for that reason. Instead of people working together, they are split into two opposing camps.

When I was in Vancouver I noticed crossings similar to zebra crossings. If nobody is waiting on the side of the road, you sail through. If someone is though, the cars stop for them and receive a friendly wave.

A brilliant system and one that could be used here very effectively.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Coming soon to a painted bike lane near you

At the moment, if you (as a motorist) are caught speeding, driving in a bike lane, failing to obey a give way sign, straddling a lane or any other of the myriad Australian Road Rules you are expected to know, you can generally reckon with an on the spot fine of about $200. It is $190 for speeding (at less than 15 km/h over the limit and $292 for most failing to give way breaches).

It is different if you commit an offence specific to bicycles. Not wearing your helmet attracts a $63 fine, not having a bell gets you a $26 fine.

The fines, as far as they can, seem to reflect the respective consequences of the two types of breaches. The consequences of a car disobeying a give way sign are clearly more serious than if a bike were to do it especially, as is the generally the case, one travelling at walking speed.

Not for long though. Victoria has just increased the fines for "bike crime" to match the fines imposed on motorists. Not wearing your helmet now attracts a fine of $146. For going through a red light, as many of us do to avoid otherwise lethal junctions, gives you a fine of $292.

The Age has the article. I found the link on the utterly brilliant Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest. If you read the article, don't bother with the comments. They contain the usual anti-cyclist dribble written by people who really have absolutely no idea; "Cyclists are a menace", "Cyclists are my biggest pet hate on the roads. They demand the same respect as cars, then bend the road rules to suit them", etc, etc, ad nauseum.

The reason for the change is clear. Bikes, as we know, are "vehicles" and all the same rules apply to them as they do for other vehicles. That is why cars never cut you off and when you reach the end of the off road cycle lane on Frome Road all those cars turning left respect your right of way. And of course, cyclists should be fined $250 for riding on an empty footpath. They do it because they are a menace, not because they are rational and automatically take the safest and most convenient route available to them, which sometimes involves going through a red light to mount a pavement so that they can safely cross a busy street.

It's yet more of the same rubbish. I bet you a puncture repair kit we'll see the same here soon.

On the same subject, here is a picture I found of some irresponsible helmet crime.

From Amsterdamize (original here).

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Now there's a surprise

Unsurprisingly, the usual tired old arguments have prevailed and Adelaide City Council is going to dismantle the experimental separated bike lane on Sturt Street. It was reported in the Advertiser today and on the ABC website.

Apparently, according to Rachel Sanderson, the new State member for Adelaide, "the lane is dangerous for pedestrians and bad for business." Both statements are bollocks of course. How can an otherwise intelligent MP claim that bicycles are dangerous but at the same time totally ignore the fast moving cars on the road right next to it? At the school crossing, there is a give way sign requiring bikes to stop for pedestrians. These things of course take a little getting used to but you would hope the council would have given it a bit of time before listening to the whining.

As for downturn in business turnover, how do you draw that conclusion. There are a few specialist shops on Sturt Street including the electrical spare parts shop, which seems to be the only one of its kind. The suggestion seems to be that because a motorist couldn't get a park they automatically go somewhere else for that reason. What about all of the pedestrian traffic that businesses lose because of streets that are unfriendly and in many cases just dangerous?

A local business owner says that it should be removed because cyclists weren't using it. Maybe not but shouldn't we give it a bit of time?

The stupidest part of it all was the design. It was on a short road with relatively slow moving traffic that was not particularly dangerous for cyclists. It started nowhere with no other paths leading to it and finished by dumping the riders in the middle of Whitmore Square with nothing but a painted line to protect them. I wonder why nobody used it.

The consequence of course is that whenever anybody suggests spending money on cycling facilities, you will hear the same arguments: "cyclists don't use it anyway, look at Sturt Street".

About 30 years ago in Copenhagen, the local authorities started with measures like this. They began by taking a little bit of space away from cars and opening bike lanes. They were greeted by the same complaints based on unproven assumption. They kept going of course and the rest is history. Look at Copenhagenize and other websites. My only hope is that the council does not give up on this but keeps persevering. It was a great idea but badly executed.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

It's not just Denmark and the Netherlands

In any discussion about cycling infrastructure, Denmark and the Netherlands are inevitably mentioned. Now it would be wonderful to have the sort of infrastructure they both have including the train networks allowing people to take their bikes with them. Of course, that is not immediately possible. Both those countries have been working on their systems for 30 odd years. They also began with very different styles of cities. Most of their major cities were developed long before the age of the car. Cities in Australia and North America are very different for that reason, among many others.

That does not mean it is not possible though. A good example of the sorts of changes that can be made, and which we are beginning to see here, is Boulder Colorado. This is a 13 minute video that explains it:

Boulder Bike Story from Bikes Belong on Vimeo.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Posties in England have for years used s delivery bike made by Pashley. It looks great and to me looks sturdy enough to last for years. It's called the Mailstar. Recently, the Royal Mail made a decision to phase them out. I read about it in the Guardian.

Like many activities that involve actually getting out of bed in the morning, it is apparently an "occupational health and safety issue". Instead, posties will from now on add to Britain's already congested roads by driving a van. Apparently that is safer than riding a bike at walking speed on a pavement.

Thankfully, Australia is still a sensible country. I was walking through North Adelaide this morning. The postie up ahead was not on one of the Honda mopeds they usually use but a bicycle with a big crate on the front. I don't know if this is new or they have been using them for years. Whatever. Go Australia Post!

Sunday, 16 May 2010


Some time ago the State Government announced a $2 billion investment in public transport. It included converting the metropolitan railway network from broad to standard gauge, electrifying it and extending the Glenelg tramline into a coast to coast network. That involved extending it as far as the Entertainment Centre (which is complete) from where it would join the Port Adelaide railway line and travel along that line to branches to West Lakes and Semaphore. Also, using Federal Government money, the Noarlunga line is being extended at long last down to Seaford to serve the thousands of people living there.

Now I support any investment in trams and trains if for no other reason than it gives me a new place to go and watch trains go by.

Having said that, I have never been entirely convinced by the extension to the Entertainment Centre. The tram stop there is about 80m away from Bowden railway station. I would have thought a walkway to an upgraded station would have done the trick. If you want to spend money on new tram ways do it by all means but put them where there is no route already. The new Royal Adelaide Hospital looks like it would definitely be built. Why not have a line going along North Terrace and linking the new hospital with the Adelaide University Medical School? From there, it is not much further to extend it along the Parade to Norwood and ultimately to Magill.

Electrifying the railway line is arguably a good idea. The argument behind it is apparently to increase patronage. Perth is the example. I remain unconvinced that simply electrifying what you already have will attract more passengers.

These are just the random thoughts of a closet train nerd but if you ask me the first step should be to increase as far as possible the catchment area of the network. Two stations illustrate the problem - Dudley Park on the Gawler line and Marion on the Noarlunga line. Dudley Park is just off Churchill Road though you would never know it. There is not a single sign pointing to its existence. Marion is exactly the same. It is a short walk from Marion Road but again you would never know. Both stations just sit in the middle of suburbs. You cannot of course just turn them overnight into Transport Oriented Developments but increasing the catchment area is actually quite easy I think. At Mawson Lakes a new transport interchange was opened recently. The only problem with it of course is that it is on the opposite side of the development from all of the action like the shops and university. This can easily be fixed though - with bicycles. With cycling infrastructure must be set up so that it leads to places like railway stations, shopping centres and so on. Ideally, it would have its own set up signposts. The point is, the infrastructure should make it easy to get to those places by bike.

I lived in northern Germany for a while. The capital of the State is Kiel with a population of a little over a quarter of a million. Other major towns in the State are Lübeck (215,000), Flensburg (88,000) and Neumünster (77,000). Not the best comparison then. Their State capital is a quarter the size of Adelaide population wise but even the smallest of its other major towns is three times the size of Mount Gambier. Nonetheless, it is the most sparsely populated German State.

This map (taken from the LVS website) shows the railway routes and the various operators. Some are quite small. For example, the Nordbahn (the grey one) runs between Neumünster and Bad Oldesloe and covers a distance of 45 kms with 10 stops. In other words, not dissimilar to the Port Adelaide line only longer. They use diesel trains called Coradia Lint made by Alstom

The rail network covers a number of very small towns and villages. A good example to illustrate the point I am trying to make is the village of Harblek on the line between Husum and Bad St.Peter-Ording (the blue branch line to the west of the map). Here is a picture taken from a website with a strange name (shlink) that describes with pictures these various routes. The description of Harlek says there are only two houses next to the station but it serves the nearby village. The station is a request stop. Note in the picture that even on a station this quiet is a covered bike rack.

Some of the larger stations have great facilities. This is from Flintbek. The platform is just in the background:

That is what you need here.

The next thing that would encourage people to take the train, although it is much more expensive, is to have trains running every 15 minutes through the day so that people know they will not have to wait on average for longer than 7½ minutes. What would make it even better would be to have a clock that tells passengers how many minutes there are before the next train. The wait seems much shorter than when you have no idea.

It's a pretty good system and we could perhaps copy some of the ideas. A nice touch is the blog that keeps people informed about construction work, when things aren't working and general news.

Friday, 14 May 2010

The New Thinker

Last night I went to Bonython Hall at the University of Adelaide to hear Adelaide's new Thinker in Residence, Professor Fred Wegman. He is a very well regarded road safety expert. The Thinkers in Residence website says:

Professor Fred Wegman is currently Managing Director, SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research, Netherlands. The Netherlands is one of the best performing countries in terms of road safety.

He has been at the forefront of ‘safe system’ developments around the world, taking into consideration the entire system including road users, vehicles, roads and travel speeds.

Fred advises on road safety to the Dutch Ministry of Transport and Dutch Parliament, the European Commission and many countries internationally.

Professor Wegman’s areas of expertise include developing road safety strategies and implementation programs, evaluation studies on road safety, and developing road safety research programs.

His lecture was very enlightening. He already seemed quite excited about meeting representatives from the various agencies and groups interested in road safety. They were in attendance at the lecture but so were many interested people from the general public.

As I understood him, Professor Wegman's general thesis was that the key to road safety was examining every part of the system. He said that when there is an accident on the road, we often ask who or what caused it when in fact there are multiple causes. He places emphasis on the system itself and suggests we think of ways to make the system encourage people to drive in a way that minimises risks. He referred to what has been described as "nudging". There are various websites and a good book about it. There is also a related (and very good) blog about it.

Professor Wegman said that a flaw in the system is that we rely so heavily in individuals to make the right decision all the time. That is a weakness because human beings are fallible.

It was a great lecture. He will give a further lecture later in the year when he will provide his recommendations for South Australia. In the meantime, we are encouraged to follow the blog at

There were some insightful questions and, what heartened me, spontaneous applause when Professor Wegman said he had noticed the position of cyclists and planned to talk about it. Looking at the blog, already there are some really intelligent comments. I am looking forward to hearing the recommendations.

The other weekend I was in Norwood doing some shopping around the Parade. There are a couple of bike shops there including Trak Cycles. They had some cool bikes made by a company called Viva which I found out is Danish. The particularly cool one was the Velo. I also saw quite a few people, especially young women, on normal bikes in normal clothes going about their business. I also joined, at its founder's suggestion, the Adelaide Cyclists website. Highly recommended.

There is all this stuff happening that I just hadn't noticed before.

Then, on my way back from the lecture, I was crossing a road near the parklands, waiting on the central reservation for a car to pass. The driver slowed down and allowed me to cross. Courteous and awesome.

It is easy to get bogged down with the little things that worry you but it is worthwhile sometimes to take a step back and look at what is good around you. Adelaide really is a great place to live.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Another great video

This has been doing the rounds of various blogs. It is a great poem with great artwork. A good message is thrown in free: