Tuesday, 22 February 2011

De Professor

Adelaide's current Thinker in Residence, Professor Fred Wegman, gave his second big public lecture a couple of weeks back on 15 February. He gave his first last May and outlined the concept of designing systems that minimise the chances of road accidents. His thesis, as I understood it, was that rather than asking "whose fault is this" we should be asking "how could this happen?"

For almost any journey, whether it is by car or bike or bus, part of the journey is on foot and we are pedestrians. That and cycling were of course what I was interested in most of all.

There were a couple of main points that the Professor made that stuck in my mind.

The first was his comment about the size of some intersections. He had pictures of three intersections. One was immediately recognisable as the football field sized crossing at Gepps Cross where Main North Road and Grand Junction Road meet. Both of those roads are of course wide arterial roads and have a corresponding amount of traffic. However there are plenty of other examples where you can barely see the other side because, as Jim Kunstler described it, of the curvature of the earth. They are unpleasant and dangerous. This is the Gepps Cross intersection:

View Larger Map

This is of course how it should be done:

View Larger Map

The next was the use to which we put Adelaide streets. He showed on his presentation part of an Adelaide street directory. He had highlighted some of the main roads that go around the CBD. He said that he had driven around a few of our streets during his visit but noticed that he could go wherever he wanted. Whatever street he chose, whether residential or arterial, he was never blocked. His recommendation was that we give some thought to the purpose of different streets; whether we want them to be thoroughfares or whether they should be for access only. As it is, he described it as a poor network design. If bigger roads are properly classified as distributors, they can be treated in the proper way. For example, on street parking can be removed.

This for me is a simple way of making things safer but also of improving the public realm. It's a no-brainer. If certain residential streets are built for access only, the volume of traffic can only decrease. They are logically safer and more pleasant.

The last was cyclists. He began this short segment by asking "why do you expose cyclists to fast-moving traffic?" He discussed that in more detail in a recent interview with the Chair of the Bicycle Institute of SA, Jeremy Miller. He said that it did not take him long to realise that he had to ride in a very defensive way, including constantly looking over his shoulder while passing parked cars and riding in the centre of the lane. Anyone who has ridden a bike in Adelaide would agree that that sort of riding style is necessary. It is quite stressful though and it is one of the reasons so few people use bikes instead of cars for so many trips. It feels stressful and unsafe. That point is nothing new.

His suggestion, unsurprisingly, was to separate cyclists from that fast-moving traffic. There are a number of examples of this with the best being the Professor's home country. He used Vancouver as his example. He sees Vancouver and Adelaide as similar, which you can agree with, and thinks that what Vancouver has done could easily be applied here. They are described here with a couple of pictures (that I have pinched) - one of them here:

and one here:

The city has its own website about them too. He described at as developing a second generation bike network. It would need to provide direct access to public transport and serve local shopping.

Overall, the talk was nothing revolutionary, which is what you would expect. The suggestions I have noted are nothing new and have a proven record of success - separated bike infrastructure, residential streets used for that purpose and safe intersections. Watch out for his report when it is published. It should have more detail.

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