Friday, 27 May 2011

Proper infrastructure - the pros and "cons"

It's difficult to know what the official Australian position is about decent cycling infrastructure. With a few exceptions such as Clover Moore in Sydney, you get the impression the prevailing view is that bikes are vehicles and should therefore be treated and behave the same as all other vehicles. There are some painted lanes dotted about the place for them but in the main, people on bikes are expected to share the road with motor vehicles.

The Australian Cycling Strategy 2011-16 outlines an intention to double the number of people riding bikes over the next five years. The strategy does highlight the need for decent infrastructure and facilities but does not give much detail about what exactly that means. It only discusses "cycle route" and "end of trip facilities". Both important of course, particularly the routes, but what sort of routes is important.

There are two schools of thought about cycling facilities. First is the view that if you want to encourage normal people to choose the bike to go about their business you have to make that the easiest and most convenient form of transport. You also have to make it safe and to feel safe. Telling people that they are statistically safer on a bike than in a car while their wobbling across a bridge with four lanes of fast-moving traffic and a side wind does not work. The second is the vehicular cycling view as described above - bikes have every right to be on the road and the best thing to do it teach people how to use the roads safely.

The vehicular cycling view prevails in the UK. If you ask me, it explains why so few people get around by bike even though it is now one of the densest countries in Europe and why those who do in the main dress in battle gear.

The UK's "National Cyclists' Organisation" (the CTC) outlines its view about dedicated cycling infrastructure on its website. It recommends the heirarchy of provision method. The starting point of that is that the preferred option should be to make the road itself safe and attractive for cycling. Off-carriageway provision, it says, should be the last resort in most cases. The problem with the suggestion though is that it is circular. How do you make a road safe and attractive for cycling when it is clogged with multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic. The answer is you can't.

The CTC goes on to answer the rhetorical question "what's wrong with off'carriageway provision?" They then give 8 reasons.

Now everyone is entitled to their opinion of course. My own humble opinion is that the 8 reasons are - in a word - poo. Here they are:

Moving cyclists off the road takes them out of drivers’ field of attention, increasing the chance of a driver failing to see or notice them at a junction.
Then design the road system in such a way that drivers do notice them at a junction or design the junction to avoid conflict in the first place.

Unless they have priority over turning traffic, pavement cycle tracks also force cyclists to stop and look behind them, as well as to the front and the side (i.e. scanning through 270 degrees), before crossing side-road junctions and driveways.  This is awkward for children and less experienced cyclists, i.e. the very people who are most at risk in such situations. By contrast, on-carriageway cyclists can position themselves in the traffic stream to avoid being overtaken from behind where this might be dangerous (e.g. at the approach to a junction), thus reducing the range they have to scan to just 90 degrees (i.e. to the front and side only).

The answer is obvious. Give them priority over turning traffic. At the moment, pedestrians already have priority over traffic turning on to the road they are crossing by operation of Rule 72 of the Australian Road Rules. It is true that "on-carriageway cyclists can position themselves in the traffic stream" but not everybody is overly keen to do that. Would you expect an 8 year old to? Also, you can find any number of helmet-cam videos on YouTube showing drivers turning left and cutting across those same "on-carriageway cyclists".

Off-carriageway cycle tracks often cause problems where the track merges back into the road. Again, this is particularly problematic for children and less experienced cyclists, who are often not alert to the dangers of re-entering the carriageway after being on an off-road track immediately beforehand.
Well, that depends on the type of road. If you have a separate bike lane next to a busy road, ending it abruptly and forcing cyclists back on to the road is just bad design. Don't do it. The only roads that those cyclists should be merging on to are quiet roads.

Pavement cycle tracks are generally unpopular with pedestrians and people whose vision is impaired, especially in urban areas.

True. But this is simply using an example of crap cycling infrastructure as an argument against it. Simply painting a bike stencil on a pavement is not an investment in cycling infrastructure.

They also send out confusing mixed messages about what is acceptable behaviour for cyclists. In some locations they are positively encouraged to ride on the pavement, whereas elsewhere this is an offence – and one which can provoke a good deal of anti-cyclist sentiment and even physical aggression.

The same answer applies. If you are designing things properly, the expected behaviour of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists should be clear. If motorists are expected to stop and give way, make that clear. They will do so. People generally do not speed through red traffic lights. They are expected to stop and generally do so. The same applies to give way signs.

Some paths are not only poorly maintained but also badly designed: too narrow, obstructed by lampposts, telephone boxes, bus stops etc.

Some paths are not only well maintained but also well designed: sufficiently wide, unobstructed, no telephone boxes, bus stops, mattresses, etc.

The average cyclist travels at 12 mph, with commuter cyclists travelling far faster. However most off-carriageway facilities are not designed for such speeds and there is rarely enough room to cater for all the intended users.

The average cyclist travels at 12 mph, with "communter cyclists" travelling far faster. Properly designed off-carriageway facilities are designed to allow for such speeds. Properly designed off-carriageway facilities are sufficiently wide to cater for all the intended users.

What's more, separating cyclists from drivers reinforces the idea that roads are primarily for cars and that cycling is not a serious mode of road transport.

What's more, separating cyclists from drivers reinforces the idea that governments and local authorities take people's safety seriously. Giving priority to cyclists and pedestrians and ensuring that they can enjoy direct routes while motorised traffic is diverted away from residential and built-up areas reinforces the idea that walking and cycling are legitimate modes of transport that are taken seriously.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

1, 2, 3

I was having a chat with two colleagues the other day doing my best to brainwash them about the benefits of increasing cycling's modal share and making it safe enough for children to get around. One of them suggested that Adelaide had been built so obviously for the car that it was simply too late to make a change. A bit like when Darth Vader told Luke "it's too late for me, my son" in the Return of the Jedi.

Well we all know that Darth, or should I say Anakin, was wrong. There was still good in him and, in the same way, there is still plenty of cycling potential in Adelaide.

For one thing, we have these wide streets all over the place. Setting aside a lane on wide streets like Frome Road, North Terrace and the Parade in Norwood would be easy. On parts of North Terrace, it is 8 lanes wide if you include parking lanes. Other streets might require a tiny bit of imagination. Often it's as easy as taking away some of that free on-road car parking.

The mayor of Portand clearly agrees with me. His office has produced a video explaining the city's new "cycle tracks". On those roads where there is a bike path here, you have to ride in the door zone of parked cars. Instead of that the cycle track is put on the other side of parked cars with a buffer allowing space for opening doors. In other words, what you see in Copenhagen all of the time.

The beauty of this video is that it shows just how cheap and easy that first step would be.

The second step would have to follow very quickly after the first and would be to install proper junction treatments including, if necessary, separate traffic lights for bikes that help avoid conflicts.

The third step is then to raise the cycle tracks above the level of the road so that you limit the danger of having them driven or parked in.

Here's the video:

On the Right Track from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

The only odd thing is right at the end at 3 mins 23 secs. A young woman runs past the presenter in sports clothes that look suspiciously like she is wearing a huge pair of red underpants above her shorts.

I might need glasses.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Silly journeys

If you wish to increase the number of trips taken by bike rather than car, you need to make cycling the easiest, most convenient and most pleasant method of transport for those trips. A carrot and stick approach in other words. Simply making it difficult and costly to drive doesn't help. Neither does preaching about how great it is to ride a bike. It's even less helpful if you do your preaching while wearing lycra pants and a yellow flourescent top. It is very distracting.

Having said that, there are some car journeys that require a mention. I pass a shopping centre on my way home each day. There are similar ones right across metropolitan Adelaide. This one is on North East Road at Collinswood. It has two parts to it. The first includes the IGA supermarket, a hairdresser, a pharmacist and a cool film buff shop among others:

You then cross this road:

and reach the other side with the pizza shop, butcher, chicken shop and Asian takeaway:

You can't see the bike racks in these photos - because they're aren't any.

There are two types of customer to the shopping centre. There are those who stop off on their way home from work while travelling along North East Road and then there are locals who jump in the car on a Sunday morning in their ugg boots and pyjamas to drive round the corner to buy some milk and the Sunday paper. It is very convenient to do so because as you see in the pictures, there is a great big free car park out the front. It is a quick journey because none of the roads to the shops are blocked. Not long ago the local council suggested blocking a few of the roads to limit drivers using them as thoroughfares but that was swiftly stopped because it apparently would have harmed local businesses. I'm not sure how but there you are. Instead, the council made some additions to about two of the roads. One had speed bumps added and another had these chicane things added:

They slow cars down a bit but do not really encourage cycling. You have to stop and wait for cars coming the opposite way or trust that they have seen you. You can avoid them completely by riding to the side but you have to dodge the bollards and the big hole in the ground.

Back to the shopping centre. When I went the other day, I saw two people use their cars to drive from one side to the other. They were ablo-bodied people too. One of them was parked in front of the pharmacy and drove to the chicken shop - a distance of about 15m. Understandable because you just drive from one big free car park to another.

In Malmö in Sweden a while ago, there was a campaign called "No More Ridiculous Car Journeys". People were invited to write down a description of their short car trip and go in a draw to win a new bike. They must be doing something right. They have a modal share of 30%. It is of course not just because of that single campaign. Malmö has the necessary facilities too. Easy when you know how.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Bike stencils in weird places

There are lots of things we can learn from other places: car building from the Japanese, cycling infrastructure from the Dutch; health systems from the Scandinavians and so on. Tragically, so often it is the crap ideas that are adopted instead.

I was in Queensland not long ago visiting the Gold Coast. Driving along the highway, I noticed that some cycling infrastructure had been added. When I say "cycling infrastructure", I use the phrase in its broadest possible sense. On the hard shoulder after each junction a picture of a bike was painted to turn the hard shoulder into a bike lane. When you reach an exit lane, a sign tells the cyclist to stop and wait for a break in the traffic before crossing the lane and joining the hard shoulder again. Once they have done that, a painted bike on the ground confirms for them that they are in the right place - just in case.

You can imagine a family driving along the highway and seeing that:

Mother: Look everyone, what
was previously just a hard shoulder has been miraculously transformed into world class cycling infrastructure.

Father: Well what are we doing wasting our time and money driving the Ford Territory along here? We'll be on our bikes next week.

Children: Hooray!

Why a local authority would require a cyclist or anyone to cross a sliplane like that on a busy highway with a speed limit of 110 km/h will never cease to puzzle me. Unsurprisingly, I did not see a single person using the "bike lane" in a 45 km stretch. I cannot see anybody in their right mind doing it.

That stupid idea has alas been imported here. I was driving along Port Wakefield Road just the other day and saw precisely the same thing. It was where the speed limit was 90 km/h. No change to the road layout whatsoever, just a bicycle stencil painted in the gutter.

Anyone riding a bike along Port Wakefield Road or the Pacific Highway in Queensland does not need a painted bike stencil to tell them where to ride. Anyone in that position is well and truly what is known as a "vehicular cyclist" (plus a bit bonkers if you ask me).

Nobody is going to drive past that sort of thing, slap themselves on the forehead and have a sudden epiphany. More than likely it will be completely ignored and never used, which judging by the fact that you never see a single person riding a bicycle along there, is exactly what is happening.

It is a pity because whoever made the decision to paint the signs was probably quite genuine. They just don't realise that it was a total waste of time and money. Just stop a cyclist in the street and ask them where they think some bike lanes could be installed. They will all have a constructive answer for you.

Port Wakefield Road

Tuesday, 3 May 2011


A while ago, I came home late in the evening after a meeting. I hadn't eaten and couldn't really be bothered making something and so did what any reasonable person would do - went home via Maccas.

Rather than locking up my bike and going inside, I just rode through the drive-through and ordered my quarter pounder with cheese there. I'm not the only one. Bizarrely, there are people who have posted videos of themselves riding bicycles through a drive-through on YouTube.

I have been through a few times on my bike in the past (and at KFC). Now it's impossible though. Next time you go through the Maccas drive-through in your car, have a look for the sticker on the serving window that says bicycles are not allowed because it is now (like so many other previously harmless activities) a "health and safety hazard" - a thing that seems to be peculiar to English speaking countries.

If you ask me, it's yet more discrimination against cyclists. Whenever I read a letter in the Advertiser from someone whining about the cost of motoring, I have to laugh. They have masses of subsidised space set aside for them, teams of traffic engineers are employed whose job it is to achieve "traffic flow" and, to top it all off, they get to use Maccas drive-throughs while pedestrians and cyclists don't.

Included in my vision of a proper joined up network of separated bike paths is the Maccas cycle through. In car-free areas, Maccas would do very well because of all the people passing but they would also serve people on bikes with the cycle-through. Like a drive through but narrower and with foot rests for when you stop to order and pay.

It will happen. I'm convinced I'm ahead of my time.

Monday, 2 May 2011

End of trip facilities

I had to go to the Women's and Children's Hospital the other day. It was late afternoon - a busy visiting time - and so I felt quite lucky to find a spare lamp-post to lock my bike against. It was at the Brougham Place entrance.

There used to be a large bike locker there. It was in the middle of the drive-through space you can see in the picture below:

It was obviously only for staff because it had a sturdy padlock on it so visitors could not get their bike inside. Visitors have to make do with lamp-posts or the pedestrian barrier at the Kermode Street entrance:

These days, staff members have a purpose built locked bike park but it is around the corner at the tradesmen's entrance. You can just about see it in the distance from this picture which was taken from the emergency department:

To get to it, staff members use the same sloped entrance as ambulances:

The locked bike park is an "end of trip facility" along with things like lockers, changing rooms and showers which are meant to encourage more people to cycle. Sure enough, when I visited the hospital, I saw a couple of nurses ride out on mountain bikes after finishing their shift, dressed in lycra shorts and sporting a helmet, gloves and goggles as if they were preparing for a spot of mig-welding.

I must confess I have never been entirely convinced by the argument that it is end of trip facilities that will suddenly change cycling's modal share. I certainly do not agree that showers and changing rooms are needed. Unless people are actually training, cycling should really not be any more strenuous than walking and I have never heard it suggested that showers and changing rooms are needed to encourage people to walk to work. In the same way, I think calling for showers and changing rooms merely reinforces the (wrong) view that riding a bike is some sort of extreme sport requiring special equipment. The only special equipment it does need is safe routes.

I could of course be wrong. Generally there is a good number of bikes parked in the lock up. However given the number of doctors, nurses and other staff members that work at the Women's and Children's at any one time, it may not actually be that many at all.

Bike racks by themselves do not encourage cycling and neither, if you ask me, do end-of-trip facilities like showers and changing rooms. If you really want to encourage your employees to ride a bike to work, I think you need three things:

1. Easily accessible undercover bike parking and plenty of it;

2. An uninterrupted network of decent separated bike paths leading to it (something obviously the responsibility of local authorities rather than employers);

3. A little bit of information telling people about the network once its complete.

The bike park at the Women's and Children's is obviously meant for staff members and rightly so. Decent bike parking for visitors would be useful but a hospital is really not the place for making it difficult for people to arrive by car and charging them through the nose for the privilege of parking. If cycling were made pleasant so people had a genuine choice, you would not need to do anything that discouraged car use. I'm fairly sure people would just make the most rational choice depending on their needs at the time.

By the way, when I talk of decent bike paths, I do not mean this sort of garbage:

Taken in George Street, Norwood. That Holden is legally parked whatever the time of day.