Sunday, 27 May 2012

Bizarro world

I read a news article recently that I really hope is not true. It's about a school in Saratoga Springs, New York, that has banned children from riding to school. The school has a written no-bicycle policy. While I was hoping it wasn't true, I came across an article about another school that has done the same thing. This one is in Gilbert, Arizona.

What's weird is that this is happening in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Except there certainly doesn't appear to be much freedom about how parents choose to get their children to school. The isssue has nothing to do with being brave of course. It's just bizarre.

You would hope that we would never get to that state of affairs but sometimes I think we're not far off. Outside our local school, cars have free rein and children have to stand back and wait for them. I even notice it at the crossing that is controlled by students under the direction of a teacher. The last time I crossed there I wanted to get across the road so I could jump on my bike and ride to work. The teacher stood there saying "hang on girls" and letting every single car past. I quietly muttered (wishing I was brave enough to say it loudly), "tell them to hold their signs up". He waited for every single car to pass and then finally told the girls to hold up their signs so that the group of us that had been waiting for ages were finally guided across an empty road.

The student holding the signs have to wear fluoro vests and are not trusted to be able to do even a simple task like that holding up a sign on a road with a 25 km/h speed limit. Thankfully, unlike in Saratoga Springs, children can still ride bikes and scooters to school. Scooters seem to be more popular because everyone is stuck on the pavement. There's not a great deal of parking for them though.

I get quietly annoyed that our children are so hemmed in because of conscious decisions that have been made that result in them not being prioritised. I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies and that I am not dictated to about how I get my children to school.

Marc van Woudenberg (publisher of the Amsterdamize blog, a prolific Tweeter and impressive photographer and filmmaker) just published a new set of photos called Cross-Sectional Study. It includes photos of children getting around independently. This one in particular.

Students in Saratogo Springs can only dream of that sort of independence. It still seems to be unattainable for ours. All it needs is a couple of wrong decisions and we'll follow our American friends. Please no.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Fixing the problem at its source

I see that fines for "jaywalking" are set to be doubled. Brilliant. All of those terrible lethal pedestrians putting the occupants of cars at risk. It's about time something was done about it. We know that increasing penalties lowers crime. Look at all of those US States with the death penalty - tiny crime and murder rates in all of them. Doubling the fine will definitely fix the problem.

The word jaywalking does not actually appear in the Australian Road Rules but there are various little rules dictating how you walk around town. Subject to certain exceptions, you're allowed to cross the road wherever you like. You just have to do it by the shortest safe route without staying on the road longer than necessary.

It changes once you're within 20 metres of a pedestrian crossing with lights. In that case you have to use it. If the robot inside the light tells you not to by displaying a red light, you cannot cross. It doesn't matter that the road is empty. It doesn't matter that it is the middle of the night and there are no cars around at all. You must stand there in the rain and obey. It's for your safety you know.

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that people just walk into a busy road without checking - unless they're very drunk. In certain streets, you can expect there to be a lot of people on each side - usually because there are clubs and bars. You might think that it would be expected that someone might try to cross the road and it would not be unreasonable for a motorist to slow down a bit and be ready for that. BUt hey, that's just me.

A lot of the problem here in Adelaide is a lack of safe places to cross where they are needed. Signalised pedestrian crossings in the city are almost all at traffic crossings. They are in the perfect place for motorists but not necessarily on pedestrian routes. A perfect example is outside the entrance to the Central Market on Gouger Street and further up at Moonta Street. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic crossing there but no proper crossing. It leads very often to groups of pedestrians huddled in the middle of the road (in the laughably title "safety zone") waiting for cars to pass at 50 km/h. This is despite a specific rule that requires driver not to drive past at a speed that puts pedestrians at risk.

You'll never see a police officer there but you will at the signalised crossings ready to catch someone who crosses safely but against the red light and give them a double-sized fine.

There was a great article not long ago in Slate Magazine about this with six ways to deal with the "problem" - a great read.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

I love the Internet

It wasn't that long ago when there was no such thing as Facebook, blogs, email and all of the other distractions that we can use to avoid doing productive things. Like most of the population, I cannot leave the house without my iPhone. In fact, it's with me pretty much every waking hour - that's the reason why pyjamas with pockets were invented.

The internet is a great place for reading stuff that like-minded people have written and for you to blow of steam and try and articulate your thoughts for others to read if they choose to.

Among the million and one cool uses of the internet, one of my favourites is websites like Pozible and Kickstarter that can be used to raise money for clever new inventions and projects. I've seen three particularly good ones lately.

The first is the Blink Steady bike light. It turns on and off automatically when you start and stop and you don't need to worry about unclipping it and taking it with you because it is practically theft proof. It is fastened securely to your seat post:
The inventers have already raised way beyond what they needed to get it onto the market.

The second is a cool-looking helmet with built-in lights. If you are forced to wear a helmet, as we are in Australia, you may as well wear something decent. They too have raised enough to get it on to the market:  

The final project is a book by the author of one of my favourite websites, Cycle-Space. Rather than focussing on bike infrastructure by itself, Steven Fleming's (who is a Professor) integrates architecture, design and urban planning around the bicycle - because it is so plainly the transport medium of the future:

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Relatively super

You can stick the word "super" on the front of anything to try and given an impression that it is something new, shiny and, well, super. We've had Super Schools and Super Departments and we're stuck with supermarkets. London has its Cycling Superhighways which alas turned out not to be that super at all. Instead, they consist primarily of gutters that have been painted blue. This expresses the general sentiment quite well:

(The original is here).

Now it is the turn of Copenhagen. A good write up along with a bunch of pictures of the official opening is on the Copenhagenize website.

Not all of the reviews have been positive so far though. Compared to current Danish cycling facilities, it might perhaps be said that the new route is on a par. As with pretty much all Danish infrastructure, compared with the gold standard Dutch stuff, it could be better. Bicycle Dutch is quite right to point out the flaws. Having said that, relatively speaking, it is brilliant. Here's a 5 minute video of the route sped up (it's from a Danish newspaper called Politiken. I hope they allow embedding):

Kør gennem supercykelstien på fem minutter (tr: Drive through the super bike path in five minutes)

How great would it be to have routes like this leading in and out of the city with cross routes linking schools, shopping centres, railway stations and other destinations? You can see from the video that a couple of busy roads have to be crossed but that is easily rectified with a signalled crossing. And how great is it that the cyclist was never dumped on to a busy road? If the route ended, it was in a quiet estate or it was on a separate bike lane.

Linear Park is the closest thing we have to this, as well as the Mike Turtur bikeway to an extent. They suffer in places from being a bit too narrow and, in the case of the Mike Turtur bikeway, stop at some quite busy intersections. Also, at the end of it, you're dumped on to a very busy King William Road with no protection. Nevertheless, more of that type of infrastructure integrated into a decent joined-up on-road network would be, relatively, super.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Good for business

In the news at the moment is Adelaide City Council's Integrated Movement Strategy. If you like the idea of slower, more civilised streets, better public transport, cycling infrastructure and less valuable public land being handed over practically free of charge for the storage of a few cars, you will love it. It can be downloaded from the council's website and you are invited to comment on it.

Some of the reporting has regrettably focused on the proposed plans about on-street car parking. The proposal is to reduce it and to charge a proper fee in busy areas. When you consider how valuable the land is, handing it over for a nominal fee for the storage of only a few cars is a pretty silly use for it.

One person who opposes it is Business SA chief executive Peter Vaughan. Speaking on behalf of businesses, he describes the new strategy as "an ideological jaunt and bad for business. He is wrong of course. This is something we have heard before. Listen to any speech by Jan Gehl and he will tell you that was exactly the response in Copenhagen all those years ago when that city embarked on this path. It did not take long for the measures to have a positive effect and led to other businesses asking for the same pedestrian friendly policies to be applied to their streets. I'm willing to bet a puncture repair kit the same thing will happen here.

At the moment, on street parking in the city is either free (generally for a limited number of hours) or it is paid. There is plenty of it though. Pulteney Street is a busy north south thoroughfare through the city. For most of it, it has two lanes each side and on street parking. For parts of it, there is a small space between the parked cars and traffic where a bicycle stencil is painted.

Between Angas and Wakefield Street, all of that on-street parking doesn't appear to have helped the businesses anyway. I took a couple of photos on the way to work the other day. For that whole stretch, only three businesses are still operating. The rest is empty shop fronts. One of the functioning businesses is a tailor who has been there for a while. The others, ironically, are both bike shops - JT Cycles and the Classic Bike Shop:

It is a wide noisy road and not the sort of place that anyone would want to walk down or stop on. There is a lot of traffic passing through but it is doing just that - passing. If you devote all of that space to cars and concentrate on smoothing traffic flow, that is inevitably what happens.

Incidentally, the Integrated Movement Strategy is brilliant. Have a read of it. If all of the proposals could be realised, it would transform Adelaide. It includes not only measures to improve things for cyclists and pedestrians ubt has plans for tram extensions and underground railways.

And while we're on the subject, the new head of the Urban Renewal Authority is Fred Hansen who is a recent Thinker In Residence and the man credited with transforming public transport in Portland, Oregon.