Thursday, 3 June 2010

The guy off the radio

I heard Matt Abraham on the radio for the first time the other day. I happened to be in a car during the morning rush hour - something that never happens usually. He's quite good on the radio but I totally disagree with what he wrote on his blog on the Messenger Press website.

It was a dig at the Sturt Street bike lane and people trying generally to change Adelaide. Fingers are pointed, among others, at Don Dunstan and Jan Gehl. The premise is based on a trip to a tool shop on Whitmore Square, one of the businesses so badly hurt apparently by a few months of bike lane. Matt sings the praises of inner city businesses and, as I understand him, seems almost to be suggesting that you won't find that anywhere else. He finishes his article by saying:

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen is a top city for bicycles and Tasmanian princesses, but a lousy place to buy a set of sockets.

You what? This bloke has clearly never been to Copenhagen. You can't buy sockets there? Why? Because it is a friendly place to walk and cycle? Get real Matt.

Like many people who view the world from behind a windscreen, Matt loves Adelaide's streets mainly because, it seems, he is allowed to drive through them at will and park wherever he wants at next to no cost. The thing is though, there is always a cost. Anyone who has studied Economics will know about opportunity cost - the cost of losing out on the next best thing. So the opportunity cost of land set aside for a massive car park outside Bunnings is what else you could have used the land for. Like a primary school for example.

Matt has a bit of a dig at Jan Gehl saying:

The Copenhagen Experiment stems in part from the work of a visiting Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl, who abhors inner city traffic and is keen on closing the north-south traffic corridor through Victoria Square, a move that would threaten many of Adelaide’s traditional inner-city businesses in the market precinct.

Nonsense of course. If anything, it is cheap and free parking outside of the city that damages inner city businesses. Matt talks about the specialty pump and irrigation shop. I'll bet Matt a Van Moof that a bike lane would not damage that business one iota. On the other hand, name a proper hardware shop in the CBD. Harris Scarfe used to have a small collection but nowadays they are all out of town megastores. Fine if you want to support only Woolworths and Coles but they are hardly local businesses. That happens the world over. Far from damaging businesses, there is plenty of research to show that making places pedestrian friendly increases businesses. How else do you explain Rundle Mall? When that was proposed, the same old arguments were heard about hurting businesses. Now look at it.

Matt clearly has not read Jan Gehl's publication about Adelaide called Public Spaces Public Life. If he were to take time to read it, he would see what Professor Gehl meant about Adelaide not fulfilling its potential. It is well worth a read. It is also very surprising how few people have even heard of it. It is one of the only proper studies about pedestrian movement in the CBD. There is plenty of attention devoted to allowing cars to speed through the middle at speed but very little attention paid to the many pedestrian squashed on to the pavements.

If you want to get what Jan Gehl is about (he's supposed to be coming back to Adelaide in the not too distant future, watch "Contested Streets". This is a trailer for it:

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