Friday, 30 November 2012

Same old same old

If you come to work in the mornings along Prospect Road, your life was recently made a little less difficult. Until a few years ago, Prospect Road had two lanes of fast-moving traffic each side. The speed limit was 60 km/h and the whole street was almost a ghost town. It was not the best place to ride a bike, nor walk, nor stop, nor shop.

Since then, the council has slowed down traffic to 40km/h in the village centre, narrowed the road to a lane each side, added street furniture and painted bike lanes. There are still places where it can get a bit hairy but it is a significant improvement. An added bonus is that it has done wonders for business. The street is unrecognisable from 15 or 20 years ago.

Once you get to the parklands, you can use the British style crap "shared path" that is there. It comes to an end once O'Connell Street starts and it is there that you are once again unprotected on a busy road.

Adelaide City Council and the State Government have identified O'Connell Street as a possible "cycling corridor". Predictably, the usual feedback has already started:

None of the comments are a surprise: "People want to be able to pop in to shops on the way home. If there's no parking, they may shop elsewhere" - "It would definitely affect trade" - "If there're even less [parking], people will be likely to just drive off".

What are the assumptions behind some of these comments?

1. Almost all of my business is conducted by people who arrive by car;

2. They park close to me. If they cannot, I will not get their business;

3. My customers are short-term buyers on their way home. They stop, pop in, buy what they intend to buy and go;

4. The number of customers I have is directly proportional to the number of free, short term parking spaces close to my business;

5. Trade is directly affected by parking in close proximity.

With the first, shopkeepers have been shown routinely to overestimate the number of their customers who come by car and under-estimate the number who come on foot, by bicycle or by public transport. It is a very easy assumption to make but it is a mistaken one and one that could potentially be quite damaging to your business. It has been shown time and time again. Bicycles and pedestrians are good for business.

With the second, this seems to be nothing more than a presumption. There is no evidence for it at all. Again, it is shopkeepers underestimating the value of other customers. The bulk of the parking around O'Connell Street is on side streets the whole way along and in the various public car parks. The largest is at North Adelaide Village. It is free for the first two hours. Once your car is parked there, you can explore the shopping centre at North Adelaide Village, carry on down the street, eat somewhere and then watch a movie if you want. You will more than likely pass one of the business owners objecting to the removal of a few car parks. If you do, chat with them.

I should add - the car park is always busy. That is where people park. It is cheap and it is easy. It's also mostly underground which means you avoid coming back to a stinking hot car during the height of summer.

The third is an extension of the first and second. If your business relies on the few people who (a) can actually get a park close to your business and (b) do so on their way home, I'd think seriously about changing location or improving your marketing plan. As the shopkeepers rightly point out, the few drivers who shop that way are very fickle. If the car park is not free, they will more than likely sail past. Forget them. Attract the people who will stop for longer and spend decent money.

The comments are also a bit of wishful thinking. The shopkeepers are hoping that the on-street car parks near their business will be used to support their business but why should that be? Who's to say the person who parked there is not going to watch the new James Bond movie and stopping on the way at the bottle-o so they can smuggle in a beer?

Each of the statements totally ignores the increase in bicycle traffic that (properly designed) bike paths will bring. Bikes are easy to stop and encourage spur of the moment shopping. 

I often travel along O'Connell Street. It is not that nice to do it on foot. The traffic is very noisy. The businesses along there, especially the restaurants, do pretty well but imagine how much better they would do with all of that additional bicycle traffic. O'Connell Street is the main route into the city for a number of roads from the northern suburbs. With properly designed infrastructure, there is no reason why it could not be as busy as some of the best in other countries:

Picture from here

BTW: talk of "cycling corridors" is unhelpful. What happens before and after the corridor? If it's the same tired old crap, you're really wasting your time. It is the network we want to be focussing on. A grid-style network that people can reach easily and safely and takes them where they want to go - everywhere. A bit like the road system for cars. Just put them next to each other.

Update 2/12/2012: That clever artist and film-maker, Mike Rubbo, has just posted a film about this very thing - shopping by bike. Only 12 minutes. Definitely worth a watch.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Internet democracy

Every few years or so, we get to cast our vote to choose our representatives at each level of government. It has been pointed out (with some truth I think) that elections are won or lost in the few marginal seats there are and by the thinnest of margins.

With the exception of the ACT and Tasmania, or lower Houses of Parliament across Australia contain members only of the two major parties (with a very few exceptions that you could probably count on one hand). If you don't vote for either of the two major parties, you would be forgiven that your vote is generally wasted. Even so, we do at least have a say - and in secret. That is more than a lot of our friends overseas get.

Election day is only one small part of a functioning democracy. Communicating with local Members of Parliament and lobbying in different ways also count. As does taking part in consultations run by governments and local councils.

Often consultations ask for feedback about a specific project. The decision has been made but feedback is sought about how it will be implemented. For example, a decision might be made by a local council to introduce traffic calming. Depending on who bothers to provide feedback and how they do it, the final version may consist of a couple of speedbumps or perhaps (by some miracle) quiet streets completely closed off to motorised through traffic and built to discourage speed.

Occasionally though, a consultation is done where people are just asked for their views. A recent one is Adelaide City Council's 5000 Plus project. According to the website:

5000+ is a design-led project for the redesign, renewal and reactivation of inner Adelaide. Since June 2011, we have been collecting and enabling ideas and propositions from design professionals, businesses, not for profit organisations, government agencies and academia. We are now investigating how these ideas might work, developing guiding principles and a place shaping framework.

The best bit though is under the heading 'Your Ideas'. There are so far 36 pages of different ideas about how Adelaide could be improved. Some of them are just brilliant. For example, an themed adventure playground, Science Festival, an outside saltwater pool and the world's longest flying fox.

Some are obvious, such as a clear pedestrian route from the markets to the station, bike lanes that do not end, a tram loop around the CBD and finally getting rid of the dreaded "door zone".

Here's another person's crazy idea - Parkour in the city:

There are some great ideas. Register and have your say. You can agree and disagree with ideas just by clicking the thumbs-up or thumbs-down.

It's your city.

PS: I should say, I have absolutely nothing to do with Adelaide City Council. I just think this is great - a very rare opportunity to have a real say in the future of our city.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Another commute video

Wide roads, cars travelling freely, big houses, sun shining.

It could so easily be Adelaide.

A big difference though.

This is how it is done.

And how easy it could be.

(A word of warning - the video appears to have been filmed with a handheld mobile phone so it's all a bit Blair Witch Project. Don't watch it if you think you might get queasy).

Note the detour beginning at 5.34. Nobody is dumped into traffic without warning. The route continues without interruption.

And note the bridge beginning at 7.32. It could so easily be the King William Street bridge over the River Torrens. No excuses any more.

Saturday, 3 November 2012


I was in Melbourne just the other day for a whirlwind trip with my lovely wife. We went to see the Australian Ballet's 50th birthday gala - absolutely spectacular!

But back to matters more mundane, one thing struck me and it was to do with marketing. If you read bicycle blogs regularly, as I do, a conversation with cycling will go something like this:



Despite all of that, it is surprising how much (or little) 'normal' people know. I mistakenly assume that everyone watches Anna Pihl and Lulu the Bankrobber's Wife on SBS and not only see footage of raised, Danish-style bike lanes on TV but notice them too. Obviously my dear wife is not one of them.

We were walking along Swanston Street near what I later found out were new tram 'superstops'. There's some information about them on Daniel Bowen's blog and on the Bicycle Network Victoria website (where you'll find both the pictures below). The stops are raised and longer than your normal tram stop. When walked past them, we noticed the extra stripey bit that nobody seemed to be standing on:

You work out very quickly what it's all about when the next wave of bicycles pass through - and while we were there, it really was a wave. My wife said that the raised lane would ensure that motorists do not drive on it. She thought it was a brilliant idea. I must say I was quite disappointed that after all of my lecturing she still didn't realise that is what they do in Denmark.

In addition to the sort of infrastructure that has been shown to encourage a change of transport for some journeys, using a bicycle could do with a bit of decent marketing in this country. Regrettably, the Dutch masters have been way too modest for way too long. They have finally started the Dutch Cycling Embassy that has some useful information. But, just as an example, the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic has been around for a while now but hardly anyone knows about it.

Our Danish friends are pretty good at marketing as the video below shows. In addition to building their famous raised bike lanes, they have adopted a number of measures to make the life of people who get around by bicycle a bit more pleasant. They include footrests, special cargobike parking, the ubiquitous raised lanes, new greenways, new bridges, the famous 'green wave and even handing out chocolates by the karma police.

The video goes for just under an hour but it is well worth a watch from an Australian perspective. Perhaps watch it while you're folding washing to help pass the time.


 By the way, this is a cross-section of the tram stops with the bike lane showing:

A final point, given the large numbers of people using the stops on Swanston Street and what is now (by Australian standards) a relatively large number of people using the bike lanes, you would think a preferable design would have had the bike lanes running behind the tram stops to avoid all that conflict. That will eventually come I am sure.