Tuesday, 30 August 2011

All the wrong reasons

One of the most widely read bicycle blogs is Copenhagenize run by Mikhail Colville-Anderson. He's become a bit of a legend and has one of the coolest jobs around. He gets invited around the world to talk about bicycles.

Recently he was in Barcelona and he had plenty of positive things to say about it and what it was doing to encourage what he calls "citizen cyclists".

Today, it was South Australia's turn to get a mention. It coincided with the news that Adelaide is in the top ten most livable cities in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's latest survey. That survey measures "livability" by reference to a set of defined criteria. There is naturally a certain amount of subjectivity in choosing those things that are said to make a city livable. Low population density and crime rates seem to be things on which a city can score highly.

As we all know, if ease of getting places by bicycle were a criterion, Adelaide would alas not rate quite as highly as it does.

The mention on Copenhagenize was all about the new campaign from the Motor Accident Commission. It seems to be doing its best to make riding a bicycle have the image of something only losers do. Their latest "safety" campaign is called "Lose your licence and your screwed". The purpose seems to be to scare young drivers into obeying the rules because, as they say, without a licence you're screwed. It is literally impossible to live without a driver's licence and a car.

They have a series of banners, one of which has a picture of a couple on a bike:

Predictably, they have stupid looking helmets on that are obviously designed to make them look even more like dweebs. In any other country, you can see images of young people riding around giving their friends a lift. Scroll through the Amsterdamize website or his Flickr stream and you'll find dozens:

(One of thousands of great pictures on Amsterdamize)

There you go. Your tax dollars being spent on a campaign that effectively says you are a loser. Brilliant.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A great public service

It is that time of the year again. On my route home from work last year, I was swooped a couple of times by a killer magpie. It was horrible. No matter how much waving and shouting you do, they keep coming back. It started with just swooping (which is bad enough) but over time, it started pecking.

I took a large detour to avoid it.

Just the other day it was back which means a few months of avoiding that corner.

Gus at Adelaide Cyclists has put together a map of killer magpies as a public service. He already has getting on for 2000 members compared to the 4 people who occasionally chance upon this blog by accident so lots of people know about it already. Nevertheless, if you do not, I would encourage you to check the map before you take a trip and add to it if you are attacked. Other people will be grateful.

View 2011 Magpie attack map in a larger map

As you can see, they're everywhere.

One suggested solution is to lose the helmet for that stretch of road:

"Build more roads"

Who would have thought? According to a recent article, little detectors buried at every intersection in metropolitan Adelaide have been counting cars since 2003. They have apparently generated more than 42 billion records which will be used to study changes in traffic flows over time to help with planning.

This then led to a whole bunch of comments calling for more roads to be built because that will reduce congestion of course.

Those commenters who suggested more roads are necessary went the whole hog and asked for freeways. For example, comment 2 said simply "Build a decent freeway system" though what constitutes a "decent" system remains to be seen. Comment 6 asked for an "elevated highway from Greenhill Rd intersection with Anzac Highway through the parklands immediately west of the cemetery and Adelaide High through the outer west sector of the North Adelaide Golf No.2 with clover exits and entries East and West". Comment 49 was similar and asked for an elevated "South Road on stilts above current restricted south road. Make 3 lanes each way".

I think it is safe to assume that none of these people will live near these elevated freeways.

A few commenters bemoaned the MATS plan that was (thankfully) cancelled in the 1970s. Part of that plan was the proposed Modbury freeway which became the very successful north east busway. Parts of the plan have in fact been built, such as the Port River Expressway.

Two major parts of the plan led to its downfall I think. One was the Hills Freeway which would have connected the CBD with the start of the South Eastern Freeway. It would have cut through a number of eastern suburbs. The second was the Hindmarsh interchange. It consisted of a number of flyovers above each and in turn above the suburb of Hindmarsh. It would have been revolting.

A city does not need elevated highways to be economically viable. It may be nice for those people speeding along them to get home but the wider benefits are more questionable. I imagine people living underneath them would not be quite so enthusiastic. A comparison of Glasgow and Edinburgh reveals the difference as anyone who has visited the two cities will have seen. Edinburgh does not have any freeways running through it and it is doing just fine. Glasgow on the other hand is still suffering. There is a good post (with good pictures) on the War on the Motorist blog.

The fact is, building more roads does not solve congestion. There is not a single city in the world that has solved congestion by building more roads. There are some really well written studies that shows the effects of building more roads. Two particularly good ones are "Before and after opening of the M4 Motorway from Mays Hill to Prospect" and "Before and After the Motorway" by Michelle Zeibots.

Building yet more roads merely makes cars even more necessary because the alternatives slowly become impossible. Not being able to get around without a car then becomes a wider problem because people end up paying such a large portion of their income on running their car (or two).

We know it doesn't work. I would really like to us try something different.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Saturday afternoon

So there I was. I'd been to school soccer. There was the lawn to mow, shopping to do, meals to plan, plenty of stuff to fix and shelves to put up. So I did what any reasonable person would do in that situation - made a cup of coffee and put the telly on.

On the ABC was a show called E2 Transport. It's a series made by PBS in the US and is about alternative transport forms to the car. One episode is about the London congestion charge.

This show was all about the Paris Velib bike hire. It was brilliant. Granted it was done slightly through rose-coloured spectacles but even so, the authorities over there have made some great achievements.

In planning the system, the authorities studied a number of systems around the world, some of which had been successful and some abject failures. Whether they looked at Melbourne was not made clear. When they were puttin gthe system together, they looked at the population in various areas of Paris including what businesses were in the area. They divided the city into 400 square meter blocks. Each has its own Velib docking station. The number of bikes is determined by the projected demand.

It has been a roaring success. Not only are the Velib bikes weel used but the authorities have found that cycling generally has increased and local bike shops can barely keep up with demand.

Servicingf so many bikes would be difficult but the company that runs the systems uses a big barge that sails back and forth along the Seine picking up broken bikes from cages. There are people that go around inspecting and servcing bikes. If they cannot fix something there and then, they take the bike to one of the cages on the bank of the river.

The right number of bikes and making them easy to use are key. Melbourne and Brisbane (and indeed Adelaide if it is planning this) could learn a thing or to. You would think the relevant authorities would already have looked at Paris and seen what works and what doesn't. Three particular words shout out at me as an obstacle to success. They are "mandatory", "helmet" and "laws". But hey, that's just me. Apparently, the Melbourne and Brisbane authorities are fairly certain that that has nothing to do with it.

You make up your own mind. Whatever you might think, the people of Paris seem to be doing ok. One drawback so far seems to be vandalism.

You can see a trailer of the show here and the entire series is on iTunes.

Borrowed from here.

An added bonus, if you're into that sort of thing, is that it is narrated by Brad Pitt.

Friday, 26 August 2011

I learned a new word

Well, it's two words really - "desire lines". I knew there was a phrase for them. If you visit a park, it might have footpaths all around it. Sometimes though, you can see a well worn part of the grass that has been walkled on repeatedly. It's like that because that is the way people want to walk. I've seen it too in the Ikea car park. There are little bushes around the edges (perhaps to offset carbon emissions). There are little holes through them where people walk through rather than walking backwards to the designated walk-through and then coming back.

There are pedestrian desire lines all over the city but regrettably they are littered with obstacles. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic between the central market and North Terrace where the railway station is.

A popular one is outside the markets on Gouger Street:

Closer to North Terrace, there is one on Flinders Street:

That one leads along a walkway, past the Adelaide City Council to Pirie Street:

At all of them, pedestrians have to wait. Drivers are generally pretty good in that if there is a traffic jam, they will keep the area clear so that people can get across. However, if traffic is moving, they do not stop.

It would be easy to require cars to stop when someone is waiting to cross. The roads are generally not fast moving and even if they were, drivers would only be delayed a few seconds and they would not get to the next red light quite as quickly.

On my walks around the city, I have only ever seen one crossing that actually requires cars to stop. It only really affects the line of taxis sitting outside the Disrict Court building. This is it:

It seems to connect the central market and Hilton Hotel with a bus stop. It is strange that it is there bacause I do not see it used much. If there is one there, it makes you wonder why there can't be more.

They would make a very small but significant difference.

Friday, 19 August 2011

The cost of parking yet again

The price of a parking ticket has made the news again. Adelaide Now has an article about parking fees in the CBD rising.

With no evidence at all, the article begins by saying "Rising city parking costs sting retailers". Although I have looked hard, I have not been able to find a study that has actually measured theh effect on retail spending of car parking fees.

One of the problems with the article is that it is confusing two things. It says:
Flinders St UPark users are among the worst hit, with hourly rates almost doubling since last year. A five-hour weekday park will cost commuters $25, compared with $13 previously. Weekend street parks also jumped from 30c to $1 when the Council reviewed its fees last month.

The $25 weekday cost for commuters is irrelevant to city retailers. That is the cost for people parking their car and going to work. The question is what casual visitors have to pay. That is shown in the next sentence. Most shopping is done at the weekend and we are told that on street parking fees have jumped (a massive) 30c to $1. How does that break the bank and damage retailers' business?

The council spokesperson who is quoted is dead right. Adelaide's parking costs are some of the cheapest in the country. Not only that, we have a huge number of inner city car parks compared say to Perth. When I was there recently, I did not see any evidence that it had damaged business. I am not sure parking could actually get much cheaper in Adelaide.

The article goes on to say:
Rundle Mall Management Authority chair Theo Maras said it was up to Adelaide City Council to provide affordable parking for people who were visiting or working in the city.
Well, no it isn't. It is up to Adelaide City Council to provide the an environment for the best transport options for everybody, taking into account individual benefits and the wider cost that is born by everybody. Providng "affordable" parking amounts to a subsidy. There's plenty of that already for motorists. We do not need more.

A space the size of the largest room in your house to store your car for only $
Borrowed from here

Sunday, 14 August 2011

While we're talking about parking

When I have work to do, I very much enjoy procrastinating and finding interesting ways of putting it off. One of the best tools of this is Google Streetview. You can go on to the street in any city that has had a Google mobile drive through it. All of Australia is covered along with all of North America and a large chunk of Europe, Singapore, Japan and a whole bunch of other places.

I was checking out the design of some new suburbs in Denmark the other day and after crossing a bridge, came across a large shopping centre called Fisketorvet. This is the view from across the bridge:

Borrowed from here

And this is its entrance:

Borrowed from here

As you would expect for a shopping centre of its size, it offers 2000 car parks. The first three hours are free. If you go to the cinema inside the complex, they will give you a free parking permit at the ticket office.

What is great is that bikes are not forgotten. The entrance is a u-shaped driveway that allows cars to come in and drop people off or pick them up. A wide bike path goes the who way around and then leads to separate, raised lanes over the bridge.

The bike path leads to a bike park with space for 600 bikes. It is difficult to find a picture so here is the Google Streetview image:

This is what choice looks like. How hard would it be to make this mandatory for new shopping centres and large shops? It would add nothing to the cost and its benefit is that it recognises the number of people who do arrive at these places using a transport method other than the car - or who would if they actually had a choice.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Hospital parking

While English yoof are fire bombing cars and looting shops for sneakers and iPads, protests in Adelaide are a little more sedate. Recently, a group of people quietly protested the introduction of car parking fees at public hospitals. It was reported on the Adelaide Now website and in the Messenger Press.

I have my own views about free parking. It does not exist. Somebody pays for it, even if it is society generally because they lose out on a piece of land that could be used for something else. For example, some of the really big car parks we see around big Bunnings stores could be child care centres or schools.

Part of the problem is that, other things being equal, the lower the cost of something, the greater the demand (where cost is not just money but time and inconvenience). I would recommend the paper on free parking and minimum parking requirements that Donal Shoup wrote. The low price leads inevitably to unlimited demand so that it does not matter how much parking you provide, it is never enough.

Occasionally a suggestion is made to charge for parking in suburban shopping centres such as Westfield at Marion. It inevitably leads to howls of indignation. I have been to Marion a few times and depending on the time of day you can spend a very long time driving around trying to find a car park. Charging for them is one way of rationing a limited resource. Often at those car parks, the best positions are taken up by shop owners. I had my hair cut recently and the hairdresser was pleased to be able to point out his new car parked on the street right in front of his shop. That kind of defeats the argument that car parking spaces in front of a business are necessary for business.

Nevertheless, you can understand people's dismay. A lot of people using the car parks are staff, many of whom work at night, and people visiting patients. The cost as I understand it will be about $13 a day. I do not know what the proposed hourly rate is.

Unlike with going to the shops, generally people do not choose to go to hospital. Either they are sick themselves or they are visiting someone they know who is sick. Charging for the privilege does seem a little questionable. I am all for measures to change behaviour and encourage alternatives to the car but you would have thought somewhere other than a hospital would be the place to start. Shopping centre car parks would be far more effective.

Free parking at all hospitals may not be the answer but you would think something fair could be organised. As usual, David Hembrow has written a great blog post on this subject. A good suggestion is in one of the comments below the post. In the writer's city (a Dutch city), at the hospital, anyone can drive in and use the car park. To get out you need a token. Depending on the purpose of your visit, you are either given a token or you pay for one. Patients and their family members are obvious candidates as are doctors and nurses working a night shift.

In addition to a system like that, of course a decent public transport system (with priority for buses and a regular service every day) and a proper segregated bicycle network that leads to places like hospitals would also help so that visitors and staff have a genuine alternative.

Charging people without any alternative really does defeat the object.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

I couldn't have said it better myself

Many blogs you visit have links to the blogs of other like-minded people. It is interesting to visit those when you have a spare minute. Often they become another favourite blog. That's certainly what has happened to me over time.

The problem with it though is that you come across people who write so much better than you do and articulate your thoughts more eruditely than you could hope to.

Rather than paraphrasing what they say, it is better I think simply to quote them directly.

There are two recent blog posts that are I think required reading for anyone interested in making their city less hostile to people getting around on foot and by bike.

The first is written by David Hembrow (his top ten status shows that many, many people are familiar with his blog). It summarises the history of cycling in the Netherlands and the UK and what made them diverge so far to the point that the UK's modal share for cyclists is as low as the woeful share in Australia. The paragraphs about children using bikes and the provision of parking at supermarkets and railway stations are particularly eye-opening.

The second is on the Vole O'Speed blog. To me, it hits the nail on the head. In short, very few people use bikes for every day transport in places like Australia because it is dangerous. It is true that statistically, and using travel per hour as a measure, it is really not much more dangerous than driving. However, as the author says:

the cyclists on our roads now are an unrepresentative, self-selected group. Measuring their casualty rate per mile does not measure the true danger of cycling, it measures the risks to a group who are peculiarly able to mitigate the risks of cycling in fast motorised traffic  though their speed, athleticism, confidence and assertiveness.

That groups consists in the main of men riding sport bikes.

The best quote is this:

It is, simply, objectively dangerous to have metal boxes weighing up to several tons moving at speeds from 20 to 70 mph in the same space as unenclosed human beings.

The logic of that statement is unassailable. If we want to reduce the number of trips made by car (and there are, as we know, many reasons why that is a worthwhile goal), it is first necessary to reduce the danger to which anyone on a bike is exposed. It is not done by helmet laws, educating motorists, pleading with cyclists to obey the road rules to earn respoect, nor any of the many other things that have been tried and failed.

It is done by separating the person from the source of the danger.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

An excuse to talk about trains again

A couple of recent articles on the ABC News website and on Adelaide Now refer to a study about building a high-speed railway line linking Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

It's a great idea (any new railway line is) but I confess I am confused by the figures.

It is estimated to cost between $61 and $108 billion. That is a very large wad of cash. After that, it gets interesting. Adelaide Now says:
A one-way trip from Melbourne to Sydney could be as cheap as $99, while the fare from Brisbane to Sydney could be as low as $75.

Brisbane to Sydney is about 900 km. Give or take 10 or 20 kms, that's about the distance from Hamburg to Zurich. You can catch a German ICE that distance and it will take you 8 hours exactly. You can catch one at 10.01am from Hamburg HBF and it will drop you off in Zurich at exactly 6pm. According to the DB website, it will cost you 152,40 EUR (that's $204.25 is today's money). So not quite as low as $75.

If the train runs, the question is where it will serve in between. You can imagine it stopping at Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and the Gold Coast. By way of comparison, the German equivalent serves large cities like Hannover, Frankfurt, Mannheim, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Basel in between. That I think would tend to make the service a bit more viable. True it is that Sydney has a larger population than most European cities but not all of them are travelling to Brisbane on any given day.

If they do, these days they take the plane. Over that distance, the train would have to be very fast to compete. It has the benefit of picking people up and dropping them off in the centre of the city but that only really benefits people who either live there or have their hotel/conference/meeting there. It takes people time to get to the airport to catch a plane but it would equally take time to get to the centre of a city to catch the train. If you like in Blacktown, you can safely add an hour to your journey to reach central station before getting on the train for Brisbane.

Not only that, the planes travelling between Australia's capital cities are not exactly overflowing. Until recently, whenever I have travelled interstat by plane, it is on a Boeing 767 or similar that has three seats each side of a central aisle. More recently, I have been on slightly larger planes with a 2-3-2 configuration. If a railway line were built, I can see airlines making its life very difficult. We have seen price wars in the past. In fact, even without a price war I reckon in real terms it's cheaper to fly places than it has every been.

If the Commonwealth can find between $61 and $108 billion, rather than spend it on a single railway line connecting only some capital cities, I cannot helping thinking that the money would be better spent on some desparately overdue projects inside our cities. Sydney is finally getting its Epping rail link that has been talked about for decades. Its metro was canned before it was begun (a stupid and short-sighted decision). Compare that with Copenhagen - a city with a fraction of the population. Not only does it already have a metro (on which the Sydney one would have been based) in addition to its S-Tog, a circular extension is already being built.

Commonwealth money would extend our railway line north east to the new suburbs around Gawler and further south than Seaford where it is needed. It could also extend it further east to Mount Barker and beyond where, judging by today's newspaper, it is so desparately needed. We also still do not have a tram or railway line to the airport. That would be a far better use of all of that money.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Urban images

I picked up a coffee from Cibo's the other day. They like to emphasise their Italian heritage. I could see it in the picture of two ridiculously good-looking people riding on a vespa without helmets that was up on the wall.

There was also an interesting picture above the counter. I tried to take a picture of it but because it was so glossy, all you could see was the reflection of what was behind the picture so I have to describe it.

It was a cartoon picture of a Cibo cafe. It was not like a usual Cibo cafe which is either on the ground floor of a modern office building or in a concrete shopping centre surrounded by car park (to be fair, there are some exceptions like the one on Prospect Road). Instead it was on the ground floor of a funky looking two storey old building. Outside the Cibo in the picture is a little table with an umbrella. At the table sit two groovy looking and smiling people. At the counter is a man in his Cibo shorts and t-shirt and his cycling cap - no helmet of course - standing next to his bike while ordering from the smiling Barista (Bean Bar does the same thing. The store on Gouger Street has a picture of a happy pair of teenagers riding their tandem bike across some sand-dunes). It's all very happy and fashionable although quite distant from real life.

I find it's a bit like children's books. A good example is the Magic Hat by Mem Fox. Here's a page:

Have a look at the street. There are no cars, children are walking around with their families, the playground is close by and facing the houses. People rarely have to wait for traffic and if they do, it's usually a single brightly coloured convertible driven by a friendly bunny rabbit. It's very different from real life. In real life, this street would have plenty of on-street car parking and driveways every few metres. It is doubtful whether the playground would be there at all. The business on the corner would have a big sign saying "Free Parking" with an arrow pointing to the rear of the property.

In my experience, this is the case with many children's books. Towns and villages are happy and safe places, lots of people are on the street and cars are few and far between. Sesame Street is like it too.

One exception that I have come across is a book called the Tiger Who Came to Tea. In summary, a hungry tiger knocks at the door of a house where a girl and her mother are. It is hungry and so they give it some food. It stays hungry and ends up eating all of their food. Dad comes home to an empty pantry and so they go out for tea. The moral of the story is to ensure you have tiger food in your pantry. Anyway, as the family is walking to the cafe, they walk aong a road that looks a bit like England in the 1970s, which it probably is (regrettably, I can no longer find the book so cannot scan a picture of it). Nevertheless, parking is limited to what is on the street, the pavements are wide and there are interesting shop fronts to see. Also, judging by the book, the High Street is close enough for a family to walk to safely even though they are hungry because a tiger ate all their food.

Alas, real life is not always like that. It can be if you live in the right suburb but we don't seem to build suburbs good enough for children's books any more. It would be a great test. Instead of council rules and urban planning manuals, I think we should just have a read of a book like the Magic Hat before we build a suburb. Build that and you will be well on your way to a very friendly place.

Except for the giant scary man who appears at the end.

Update: 16 May 2015

I found the picture from the tiger book: