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.


  1. see this for a similar Copenhagen dilemma

  2. Thanks for the link. When are we going to see some posts on your blog - CyclAdelaide? :)

  3. Good to know that bike lanes are developed nowadays. Thank you for this positive feedback. :)