Thursday, 27 September 2012

Why is it so?

Look at this smooth shared path near Christies Beach police station:

Although it is not that wide, there is enough space for two cyclists to pass each other with ease or for a cyclist to pass a person walking. So why does hardly anyone use it? This is probably why:

At one end, you are dumped into a busy intersection. The path does not continue the other side. There is not even a painted bike lane.

There are examples like this all over the place. Not that long ago, the tram was extended along Port Road to the Entertainment Centre. Part of the project included a shared path along the western side of that section of Port Road. It's called the Livestrong Pathway:

Like the one in Christies Beach, it seems that it is not used that much and you still see cyclists using that part of Port Road despite the fact that it has four lanes of traffic each side speeding along at 60 km/h:

Why is that? I cannot say I know the answer but one of the great things about blogging is that you can be self-indulgent and just write what you think the reason is.

There are two obvious reasons I think - one minor and one major. The minor one is that as you can see there is a painted line on that stretch of road as well as the shared path. It is what the two cyclists are using. That painted line connects (in the broadest possible sense of the word) to the painted line further north-west on Port Road. It also connects to the painted line on Park Terrace just around the corner.

By contrast (and this is the major reason), the shared path begins as an unmarked pavement at a (solely) pedestrian crossing on the corner of Port Road and Park Terrace:

If you passed it on your bike or in your car, you would never guess that it is the beginning of a shared path. Its location is the problem. If you want to ride a bike and feel safe, what would possess you to ride on the roads that lead you there? Port Road and Park Terrace at that location are both part of the designated city ring route. That is why both roads are wide, fast and dangerous. If you ever find yourself on that corner by a strange twist of fate, I would recommend you take a left at the beginning of the shared path and join the much wider and quieter path through the parklands. It will take you past the Festival Centre, Adelaide University and the Zoo without having to worry about a single busy road:

This is the entrance off Park Terrace

 and this is the entrance around the corner off Port Road

In fact, that path lets you cross Port Road next to the railway line. It continues a little way along the side of the railway line towards just past Bowden Station:

Now if only that route could be upgraded and extended.

It is I think pretty obvious that there is a need for a decent bicycle network. There is widespread support for better cycling infrastructure and there are slow and steady movements towards achieving that.

When designing new cycling infrastructure, there are two things that you cannot forget. The first is for the network to be joined up. A random shared path here and there is a start but if you want people to use it in decent numbers, they have to be able to complete their entire journey safely. Dropping people off at busy intersections like the one shown above is unhelpful. At the very least, it should be clear to the user where the network continues. In the photo above, it doesn't continue. That's really the problem. Any network is really only as good as its weakest link. A short burst of high-quality path looks good but is not that helpful.

The second is quality. Some new infrastructure consists of shared paths like the one above near Christies Beach police station and the one along Port Road. In both cases, they are just about wide enough for two cyclists to pass. Two people riding next to each other could not pass another person withough getting behind each other. Once you add pedestrians (especially if they're in groups, walking a dog, pushing a pram, etc), the problems start. Here is an example. At the beginning of the Livestrong Pathway, it crosses a bridge:

It is too narrow for two bikes to pass let alone people on foot as well. You really need at least 3½ or better still 4 metres for a proper two-way path. You then need additional width to cater for pedestrians. And ideally, they should be given their own separate area. Assuming all users are just ambling along at the same speed is a mistake. A good example of such a path is here. In other words, the paths must be easy and safe to use otherwise people will not bother. Narrow shared paths are the worst of both worlds. They create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians and in most cases, are simply too slow for people riding bikes.

And if you're building on road paths on a main road, two words - wide and raised:

 Borrowed from here (IbikeCPH's Facebook page)

In short, if cycling infrastructure is inadequate, people won't use it. Putting a shared use sign on a footpath is not enough. If your network is broken and disjointed, people won't use it. A network that is interrupted by a large and unsafe intersection is not a network at all. A great recent example of part of a joined-up network can be seen here.

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