Friday, 30 March 2012

Ride to School Day

It was Ride to School Day again recently. I had no idea until my children came home with a certificate from the police certifying that they had walked at least some of the 400 metres to school that morning.

Ride to School Day happens every year but I don't really know why. All the school children know about it so there is not really any more awareness to raise.

On the morning of Ride to School Day you'll see children at the gate with clipboard (and probably fluoro jackets) checking children as they arrive to ensure that they walked or rode at least some of the way to school.

The next day, we're all back in our cars blocking the roads and little ramps where children cross the road on the way to school.

There is a video that has been doing the bike blog rounds lately. It shows that if you're going to do Ride to School or Ride to Work Day, then do it properly. The text at the end says, "If this is what riding a bike is like, why do we sit in traffic jams?"

Now that's more like it.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Democracy is a wonderful thing

Whether it is because of the upcoming Olympics or because the message is finally getting through, London appears to be taking concrete steps to protect people who get around by bicycle. There are some horrendous junctions in London such as Elephant and Castle and Blackfriars Bridge that have been the subject of justified criticism lately.

The London Cycling Campaign has a design for Parliament Square that involves raised "Danish" style bicycle lanes leading to advanced stop lines at junctions (not everybody, including me, is a fan of advanced stop lines). The response to the plans has been cautiously positive but it has nevertheless attracted some criticism. One particular constructive bit of criticism (especially as it also provides a better alternative) was written by Paul James. His plan adds proper provision for people on bicycles across the junctions:

That in turn led to some interesting discussion including by the person who designed the original scheme. One comment that struck me was this one:

LCC is a broad church, and there are a lot of objectors to Go Dutch. My intention is to ensure that schemes like this demonstrably allow everyone to have the choice of using dedicated infrastructure or the carriageway,  by visually reinforcing the right to use the carriageway.

The LCC has a campaign called "Go Dutch". Hence the reference. It seems that not everyone likes it so to be democratic the LCC tries to accommodate both supporters and detractors.

Democracy is a wonderful thing. Theoretically, everyone's voice is heard. If for example, out House of Representatives in Canberra was indeed representative, each policitical party would be represented as a propotion of their national vote. The ALP might win 40%, the Libs 45% and the Greens 15%. They would be allotted the number of seats in proportion to their vote. We do not have that type of voting system but have a system of preferences. In the main most people are heard even if it is their third choice.

Local councils are slightly different because we do not have compulsory voting and there is a low voter turnout. What many progressive councils do is hear the voice of the people by having a "consultation". The problem with that of course is that only the voices of those who speak are heard and so often it is the loudest.

That was illustrated to me recently when our local council consulted on a traffic management plan. It was brilliant. In one part of the council area bordered by four main roads, the plan was to introduce traffic calming in the form of blocked roads and road narrowing. It would have gone a long way to stop people from different areas from using residential streets as thoroughfares. I of course supported it and said so.

But oh my goodness you should have heard the complaining. In the end, it was the complaining that won out and the scheme was all but abandoned except for a couple of speed bumps and a do not turn right sign. The argument, in so far as I could understand it, was that the traffic calming would harm local businesses. Not being able to drive in a direct line to the shops meant that people would be marooned in their houses and the businesses would die. There was a petition to that effect on the counter at the local booze shop. When I say "local" I mean only that it was close by. It was (and is) in fact a BWS outlet - part of the nationwide Woolworths chain (one of two supermarkets that pretty much run the grocery market). I couldn't help noticing that a lot of the people who signed the petition didn't even live in the affected area. Funny that.

The plan was shelved.

In the end, the loudest were heard which I suppose is fine but it was on the basis of what was an untested assertion. Why would the BWS fail just because people were asked to drive around the block instead of in a straight line? Show me where that has happened before? Once upon a time, our local streets used to have independent delis, butchers and corner shops. With the advent of big supermarkets surrounded by even bigger car parks, they slowly died. What was bad for business again?

Nobody seemed to balance the complaining with the benefits of the plan. Nobody asked whether it might lead to somewhere safe for the local children to ride their longboards. Nobody seemed to accept that it might be a good thing for the incessant burnouts and loud exhausts to end. Nobody seemed to think that lower traffic levels might mean a safer walk for our children to school instead of the obstacle course they currently enjoy. Nobody asked the obvious question - will it really destroy those businesses?

No. The need to drive in a direct line to the booze shop trumped everything else and a big middle digit was aimed at peace, quiet and children's safety.

It happened well over a year ago and it still bothers me. I really should learn to lighten up.