Thursday, 17 March 2011

Congestion and the Clipsal 500

Each year, when the Clipsal 500 race is on, quite a few roads around the eastern parklands are closed and all of those motorists coming from the eastern suburbs and beyond have to find an alternative route. It is not a bad time to cycle to work. Not that you want to be all smug while traffic is at a standstill but because it is travelling so slowly, cycling feels much safer and more pleasant than usual. This was the view behind me this morning on Frome Street. All that traffic was hardly moving.

Who says there's no room for proper bike paths? The lane behind me that is usually blocked by about 8 parked cars could be raised a little and become a great double width lane with room for people to overtake each other if needed. It would also be wide enough for cargo bikes like Mr Gruntworks rides. There's also room on the other side of the road.

Predictably, the week and a half of slightly slower traffic than usual leads to some brainwaves about how to relieve the congestion. On AdelaideNow this morning was an article suggesting turning the city streets into one-way systems. That would mean either two or four lanes of speeding traffic in one direction depending on the road.

You only need to look at London and some of the posts on Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest to see the effect of wide one-way streets. They certainly do not relieve congestion and neither does building more or wider roads. There is not a single city in the world that has solved its traffic problems by building more roads. I drove through parts of Los Angeles once. It has a lot of freeways and it is not difficult to find footage of some of them, 5 or more lanes each side, at a standstill. The same thing happened in London when the M25 orbital motorway was widened to 5 lanes each side. Rather than widening roads to that many lanes, if you are in that position, I would have thought it would be time to recognise that you are doing something wrong. If you think you need 5 lanes of traffic in one direction, you have a serious transport problem.

There was a great post on War on the Motorist recently. Its thesis was that the way in which we invest in roads and other infrastructure to support car use amounts to State intervention in lifestyle. It is true that nobody is actually forced to drive a car everywhere but you have to admit that people generally do the most rational and comfortable thing. If driving is by far the most convenient (or perhaps it's better to say "least inconvenient") way of getting around, that is what they will do. That is of course what nearly all of us do here.

Not that there's anything wrong with that but if your goal is to reduce car use to avoid streets slowly becoming so clogged that they stop working, you have to invest in alternatives.

Just treating relieving congestion as a worthy end in itself is a mistake if you ask me. You need to ask where all those cars in the picture on Frome Street are going and where they have come from. How long is the journey? What is its purpose? Is there an alternative? If not, why not? If there is, how effective is it? Simply saying we need to keep traffic moving is lazy thinking. Traffic is not a single large blob. It is a whole bunch of individual people taking individual journeys. Those journeys should be the focus and the alternatives that are available.

Turning city streets into one-way gyratories wil not relieve congestion. By widening the already wide city streets even more, you will just invite yet more motorised traffic and with it more congestion. The State Government and Adelaide City Council could equally leave the street circuit in place and keep those roads blocked. After a few months, the traffic would sort itself out and you would not notice the difference.


  1. Nice lateral thinking especially at the end:

    "leave the street circuit in place and keep those roads blocked. After a few months, the traffic would sort itself out and you would not notice the difference"

    Definately knodding my head in agreement at that.

  2. Nice entry Edward!

    Some of my greatest memories of commuting by bike in Adelaide were when events were on, and changed the flow of traffic enough for me to get a short run without any cars on the road.

    As a kid, my friends and I used to head to the racetrack just before they completely closed it off to pedestrians and do a lap.

    As an adult, just getting to work, it was always satisfying pedalling past the traffic jams and cutting through the Zoo/Botanical Gardens car parking loop.

    Good times!

  3. I've always thought Frome St would have been better candidate for a seperated bike lane than Sturt St. If done well, would provide an attractive alternative to Pultney St, which I see many cyclists using in the mornings, and have almost no impact on traffic flow and local businesses.