Monday, 23 December 2013

10 wishes

Even when we're getting old and grumpy, we all still have things we would secretly love to get from Santa each year. I know of at least one bloke who would never admit it but would love to get an Airfix kit of a Spitfire.

Now that the preparation for Velo-City 2014 is well underway and we have some great keynote speakers organised, there are probably 101 things we could do in preparation and 101 more other new ideas that we will get out of the conference.

As a starting point, this is my wishlist for Christmas:

1. Designate streets

Earlier this year, those clever people at Copenhagenize Design Co produced an easy to follow bicycle infrastructure planning guide. The required road treatment depends on speeds and motor vehicle numbers:

The important point to note is that this should not come after the event. Speeds and vehicle numbers can be decided beforehand by properly designating streets as residential, 'neighbourhood rings', main roads, arterials and so on. Designating streets in that way determines their role and whether, for example, they are through routes. For a better explanation, see one of my favourite blog posts of this year.

Our problem at the moment is that almost every single street or road is a thoroughfare.

2. Divide suburbs into cells/segments

Once you have designated your streets, divide suburbs or parts of suburbs into their own self-contained segments. Organise things in such a way that you have to leave each segment (by car) the same way you came in and use the designated arterial route to get to another segment. Filtered permeability of course means that there will be different rules for people on foot, people on bikes and in public transport.

Journey times by cars will be increased only marginally but it makes all the difference to the quality of living spaces.

3. Introduce a mandatory design guide for arterial roads

I wrote a blog post about this a little while ago after finding out the estimated life span of a road surface. They are renewed generally every 15 years. If we make as part of that timetable, our road network could be transformed in 15 years. Even in 10 it would be unrecognisable.

There is a reason this is so important.

We hear calls for people to share the road, for their to be mutual respect and for things like one metre passing laws. They're all very well but even with the best intentions, human frailties get in the way and can lead to disaster. That is where good design comes in. Decent design can do a lot for safety by sending clear signals about speed, upcoming obstacles and, importantly, who goes where.

4. Change local government road laws so that filtered permeability becomes default

This related to wish number 2 and it is all about priorities.  For a far better explanation than I could ever give, see one of the old favourites.

5. Make all railway stations transit and cycle-oriented development

A network of cycling routes or feeder buses synchronised with train times can increase the catchment area of each station by a significant margin. Cycling routes have the advantage of being so much cheaper.

Imagine being able to hop on your bike, ride 15 minutes without having to worry about traffic and main roads, parking your bike in abundant, secure, under-cover parking and then, after a very short wait, jumping on a train that will speed you to work. I know I would use it.

Here's Mikael explaining how it works (in part 3 of his 10 part series):

Episode 03 - Intermodality - Top 10 Design Elements in Copenhagen's Bicycle Culture from Copenhagenize on Vimeo.

 6. Introduce the 8-80 test

Adelaide City Council has not been idle in the last few years. The Sturt Street lane was attempted and learned from. There are new ones on their way on Frome Street. The Victoria Square redevelopment is underway, as is Rundle Mall and there are other bigger projects thanks to the State Government. Our "bicycle network" also continues to grow with bike boxes and new stencils on roads like Pulteney Street. The question is whether it is the right kind of treatment.

All new changes I think should have an overall fitness test applied once they're complete - the easy to apply 8 to 80 rule. Would you be happy with your 8 year old child using it? Would you be happy with your 80 year old parent or grandparent using it? If the answer to either question is no, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

7. In time, divide the CBD into 4

Suggest this to anyone who comes to the CBD by car and you will either be looked at with disbelief and, more likely, it will be assumed that you are either mad or joking. However if you have been following bike blogs this last year, you will have seen the Streetfilms film about Groningen and know that it works beautifully. Here's the link. The part about dividing into segments begins at the 2 minute mark.

Under such a plan, the four Terraces around the CBD become a ring route. To get from segment to segment (in a car), you must use the ring route. The main north-south and east-west roads can then become transit corridors for buses with big, well lit and comfortable bus stops.

8. Start making underground parking mandatory

If you look at parts of some Australian cities from the air, the amount of land that is devoted to storing cars practically free of charge is astounding. Here is Dr Behooving's take on Launceston. And here is a bird's eye view of Norwood, a densely populated inner city suburb where space is at a premium:

Asking that it is made easier to walk or take some other form of transport that is not a car is not about forcing anyone out of their car. That simply does not work. It is simply about providing an environment that allows people to make the most rational choice. If people want or need to take the car, so be it. If that is the case, it is ultimately better for everyone if we use the land available for efficient uses and dig holes to store our cars. It works especially well when it is hot.

The end result, while a little more expensive, actually makes things better for everyone. Your car is safe, secure and cool if choose to come that way but it is just as easy to get there in other ways too. The environment seems to be preferable too.

This is another favourite post of mine that explains it all.

9. We seriously need that underground railway

This is quite topical because it is suggested in the State Government's Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. Among the plans for new tramlines around and from the city to Prospect, Unley, Henley Beach and Norwood, it suggests as a long-term proposal a railway tunnel under the city with four intermediate stations. If you ask me, it is more important and will be far more effective than the tramline plans.

I have a blog post slowly brewing but to summarise, a tunnel under the city will allow long distance trains to service most of the CBD, it will facilitate easier train changes and will allow direct and predictable through train services. Regular services along with a combination of park-and-ride and the things under number 5 above will allow our railway network to service a pretty decent proportion of the metropolitan area.

10. Thank people (Cykel Karma)

If you ride a bike, you rock. And you should be told so. That is why I like the people from Cykel Karma so much. I'm not entirely sure what they say but you can hazard a pretty good guess. This is a great excuse to post their video again:

I bike CPH - god cykelkarma from I bike CPH on Vimeo.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Prime Directive

As captain of the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk and Captain Picard after him and Captain Janeway after him (and various others) have all been required to follow the Prime Directive. It has been defined in various ways including:

As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes introducing superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely.

In other words, Captain Kirk was not allowed to appear to Neanderthals and show them how his iPhone worked. They were supposed to develop their own iPhone at their own speed.

With certain types of design, the Prime Directive sometimes seems to be alive and well on planet earth. Judging by some of the more recent UK blogposts (eg: this, this and this), you would think that we are simply not permitted to use superior designs already used by other civilisations. Through a long, painful and sometimes lethal process of trial and error, eventually we will learn what works and sometime in the far distant future, we may perhaps even use it. However, until that day, the Prime Directive prohibits us from cutting short our slow development.

We are guilty of that a little here as well. Rather than moving straight to best practice, we like to have a go with things that have already been tried elsewhere but replaced with something better. An example is bicycle storage areas, aka bike boxes. There has been a fair bit of literature written about them and I recall I may even have had a little moan about them at some time or another.

There are two main flaws with bike boxes. First, they are so easily ignored:

(I did not have to wait any time at all for a driver to ignore the bike box. I just crossed the road and the car was just sitting there)

Second, they are the precise shape of a truck's blind spot:

(Borrowed from Demotix via ibikelondon)

Third, how do you use them? The bike lane that leads to them is to the left. When you leave them you travel on the left. Why would you position yourself in front of cars only to have to move out of the way and back to the left once you get moving?

There is a way they could be improved, without breaching the Prime Directive, by turning them into hook turn boxes. At the moment, all we have are those little turn boxes sitting by themselves in the middle of the road:

My cheap and cheerful change requires only two small changes.

First, swap the pedestrian crossing and the bike box around. At the moment, the bike box is behind the pedestrian crossing so that when you do your hook turn, you either have to cut cross the pedestrian crossing to get to the bike box or, more likely, you just turn around and sit in the middle of the pedestrian crossing - I know that's what I end up doing.

Put the bike box the other side of the pedestrian crossing:

Second, change the stencil to one showing the direction you take to perform the hook turn, eg:

(This picture is not mine. It is shamelessly stolen from Thomas Davidson who appears to be a New Zealander who, among other things, is really very good at art which can be found scattered around his website)

Also, if we have nice wide raised lanes, the bike boxes become redundant for people travelling straight on. Those people can just sit behind the lights waiting for green while the bike box turned that has been turned into a handbrake turn box slowly fills up with people doing their hook and handbraketurns.

Easy - einfach - facile - eenvoudig

Monday, 21 October 2013

One-Two-One One-Three-Two

Not one to give up easily, the Mayor of Adelaide, Steven Yarwood, and Adelaide City Council were not prepared to accept all of the negativity and carping about the experimental Sturt Street bike land and after a lengthy period fo thorough consultation, have released plans for proper cycling infrastructure along Frome Road in the city. It actually looks really good. Here's hoping it spreads across the city.

Beginning at South Terrace, the plan is for a complete route all the way to North Terrace using protected bike lanes.

Predictably, the howls of protest did not take long to start and Mayor Yarwood to have to get on the defensive and ask everyone to simmer down a little.

The complaints you hear are predictable and the assumptions behind them generally mistaken. A common gripe comes from what is perceived to be removing space for cars, generally in the form of reducing the number of lanes.

The plan involves Frome Street being reduced from two to one lane, except at intersections where there will be a separate slip lane.

Is reducing the street to one lane really so bad and will it increase congestion? The concept of induced demand suggests no as does the fact that traffic often seems to behave like a liquid. It seems to flow quite well until it reaches a bottleneck of blockage and then you have tailbacks.

Starting at the southern end, Frome Street starts at Carrington Street. That street only has one lane in each direction:

Turning on to Frome Street, it suddenly switches to two lanes:

There is no reason for the change at all other than the fact that there is space for it. That then continues all the way down to the zoo where, because of space restrictions, it reduces back to one:

At certain times of day, that is where you get the bottleneck - exactly as you would expect.

Another bottleneck is at the intersection with North Terrace because of buses turning right. Once Frome Street is reduced to one lane and the bike lanes, there will still be plenty of space to allow for that and even space for buses to have their own lane:

You see this sort of thing all over the place. This is close to the intersection of Main North Road and Fitzroy Terrace - both of them busy and wide roads:

You can see that the single right turning lane turns into three just before the intersection. In fairness, I assume that is so that three short rows of traffic can get around the corner when the light is green to avoid a long tailback. Having said that, once it's around the corner, the traffic is taken the short distance to Prospect Road and then just after that, the three lanes reduce back to two - another bottleneck:

All that happens when a lane is split like that is that there is a mad dash to the front of the queue in each lane followed by ridiculous jossling to get in front once the light turns to green. It slows everyone down. You see it happening every day.

I cannot help thinking that traffic could flow more smoothly (if that is your goal) by avoiding bottlenecks like that. Slow the traffic down to increase road capacity. The new single lane Frome Street will be just fine with a 40 km/h speed limit - and it will be fine with one lane. Slower traffic travelling more smoothly is better for everyone:

You burn the least fuel, and thus pollute the least, when you drive at a slow speed, providing a steady flow of gas to the engine or, even better, coasting. The biggest cause of pollution is the traffic dance of constantly speeding up, slowing down, braking, and idling. In urban areas particularly, the faster the speed limit or the feel of the street, the more starting and stopping drivers do. When traffic speeds slow down overall, the flow becomes smoother, and the result is less pollution.

It is also of course a lot less stressful. I have heard that heart attacks are not all that comfortable so if we can avoid them, all the better.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Neighbourhood traffic calming

While pondering bike lanes, where they should go, how separated they should be and how wide, it is easy to forget the things that can easily be done in your local neighbourhood to slow things down and drag residents out of their houses into the sunshine.

I think it is fairly well established that sticking 40 or 30km/h speed limit signs around the place is not that effective. People either ignore them or whinge about them. You change behaviour by changing the built environment. Traffic is slowed very easily by narrowing the street, removing the painted line in the middle of the road and by making it much harder to speed around corners. It amazes me that there are not more prangs involving cars at residential intersections. So often we see drivers take a right turn at speed and on the wrong side of the road. It is a matter of pure dumb luck that there is not someone coming the other way at that point. They are generally just a few metres back. Enough to make the driver swerve just a little but not quite enough of a scare to stop the practice.

Narrowing the road at intersections can serve a number of purposes. If you make the street narrow enough, only one vehicle at a time can get through. That certainly slows things down. Narrowing the street also makes it easier for pedestrians to cross - they don't have quite as far to walk. As part of the narrowing you can also send a clear signal by making the pavement continuous so that cars have to be driven across the pavement. You would think that would send a pretty clear signal about right of way.

Another positive about build-outs at intersections is that they can be turned into stormwater gardens. If the local council advertises well enough, there is generally a helpful neighbour who would be happy to adopt it and tend to the plants.

Doing the right thing on corners can not only bring the place alive but it can boost business. Here's a corner on Wright Street where the Jam Bistro is (go there for great food and coffee served by one of the best Baristas in town - Adam. He has no hair on his head but lots on his chin. Go figure):

There is space for nearly 20 people to sit out the front. A single car takes up the same space. How easy would it be to extend the pavement further out into the street (the same width as the parked cars) and free up all that space for more tables? You would double the number of patrons for the price of a single car parking space. The person parked there probably isn't buying coffee from Adam anyway. It would be no loss at all, only a gain - for the city and local business.

Montreal shows us how:

Monday, 30 September 2013


When you spend your spare time reading blogposts like this one, it is easy to get a bit despondent and negative.

While we can all find something to whinge about, there is plenty to be chirpy about. I sometimes get a bit jealous of our Danish friends because some of them get to live in a city with architecture like the 8-House and Mountain Dwellings and others:

(Borrowed from here)

(and this one is from here)

Lots of architecture can end up fairly drab after a few years even though it looked fairly spiffy when built. And so I am particularly cheerful when I ride across Morphett Street bridge (on the pavement) and see the new South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute shimmering in the sunlight. There is no shortage of information on the web about how many people will work there and what they will be doing.

(Update 14.10.13: the builders asked for the picture back - see comment below - but if you Google SAHMRI you can see some images of it)

From my point of view, it just looks great the way it stands there on its two legs with all of those little triangle reflecting in different ways as you cross the bridge.

Just around the corner is the new stadium taking shape. If you use Linear Park on that side of the river, you are diverted close to where the entrance will be. Check out the progress if you haven't for a while. That and the bridge are going to transform that part of town.

Talking of finding new things, all of us slowly perfect our routes over time to make them the right combination of quick, safe and enjoyable. Until this morning, my route used to use part of Frome Road next to the zoo. I would come off Linear Park at the bridge, and join the road before hitting Adelaide CBD's only segregated bike path (for now).

I had seen a turnoff before and thought it would just take me to a road. I tried it today and ended up on a shared path the other side of the zoo:

It had road crossings that required cars to stop:

and it took me to the beginning of the off-road path:

All this time I had absolutely no idea it was there - little bits of red carpet slowly joining up.

The only blemish was when I was taking the photos. I accidentally pressed the button on the iPhone that switches to the camera on the front of the phone and so suddenly got a close up of my bloated face with the helmet on. Eek! Bad look. I never look at myself in the mirror with the plastic hat on. Now I know why.

Friday, 20 September 2013


These past few weeks, for various reasons, I have had to drive a lot more than usual. It has meant that instead of riding my bike to work almost every day, the bike has become the exception.

What it has brought home to me is just how tedious driving a car everywhere can be. I remember years ago I had a paper round. The thing about paper rounds is that you can build up your skills and speed to a point but beyond that you cannot get any faster. You still have to walk up all the stairs and deliver the papers. Driving the car around is a bit like that. You can try and reach the speed limit as quickly as you can and use side streets to try and shave time of your journey but sooner or later, you have to stop either at a red light, a give way sign or behind a line of traffic.

Generally your view of the world is this:

or if you're lucky and you get to see two flash German cars, it might be this:

What driving around also showed me is just how unattractive taking the bike or bus looks as an alternative - despite how dreary it is sitting in a car.

The buses are all stuck in the same traffic. The passengers get to catch up on Twitter or play Angry Birds but that seems to be their only advantage. On all of the routes I took, there was not a single part of the road where it was made easier for buses by allowing them to bypass the traffic. Indeed, their ability to keep to the timetable seems to rely almost exclusively on the generosity of motorists in allowing them to pull out.

From where I was sitting, I did not see that many people riding their bikes. A few passed in the opposite direction and there was the odd one that got past me while I was stuck in a traffic jam, which was the majority of the time. When they did, it was not quite like all those pictures of groups of Danish people speeding past traffic on those wide raised lanes along Nørrebrogade. No, it was usually a single cyclist creeping along in the gutter propelling themselves forward with their left foot on the pavement (that also served to stop them falling over because of the lack of space).

Those cyclists you see invariably have the fluoro yellow top, the tight pants and the obligatory grimace. I did once see a pretty young lady on a Dutch bike, which was a very pleasant though rare change.

Another thing I noticed was just how few roads actually have bike lanes. Those you do see are routinely ignored. It is weird. It is as if they are totally invisible and drivers instead use the gutter to guide themselves. The painted lines seem to be treated as if they are either decoration or a leftover from another time.

I also noticed how poor a condition some of our roads are in - not just the roads, the bike paths too:

That hole was not put their by overweight cyclists by the way. It was something a little heavier:

That lane is on Light Square. It was coloured green to prevent motor vehicles from being driven on it. Surely a corner like that needs something like this (at the very least):

It must have been an unusual couple of weeks for me. If the comments pages are to be believed, there are crazy lycra-clad cyclists swarming along roads, speeding through red lights and generally putting car occupants in mortal danger. I didn't really see much of that. I was keeping my eye out but managed to see a total of two scofflaw cyclists. One was riding on the pavement - because the road, including the painted bike lane, was completely blocked by two lanes of car traffic. The other went through a red light. It was at a pedestrian crossing. The lights were still red but about to change to green and nobody was crossing. The cyclist (in his 60s) was approaching slowly and riding uphill. You could see that it would have been a pain for him to have to slow down and restart. He just carried on travelling at about 8 km/h in the bike lane. He was halfway across the empty crossing when the lights changed. Is that really so bad?

All of this revealed one obvious truth. From the point of view of your average punter sitting behind their windscreen, the thought of taking any of their journeys using any means other than their motorcar is light years from their mind. Riding a bike looks fairly awful. You wouldn't let your kids do it and you probably wouldn't bother yourself. Riding the bus is only marginally better and then only if you really want to play Angry Birds. You still have to wait in a queue to get on and then sit in the same traffic as everyone else.

It shows that we still have a lot of work to do.

I'm back on the bike this week - out of breath and feeling chubby. The temptation to make an excuse why I need to take the car is strong. However I have given the bike a polish and taken the luggage rack off the back so it feels marginally lighter and looks good. Also, it's spring and the sun will soon be shining, Apple has released not one but two new iPhones and Mikaell Colville-Andersen is a keynote speaker at Velo-City 2014.

All good.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


We already knew this but it is very often quicker by bike even in a sprawling city like Adelaide. Top Gear proved that it is the case in London. Streetfilms did it in New York and for the Dutch it is just every day.

I had to run an errand not long ago in the morning. Part of it involved a drive along Kensington Road to the city. I took the car. It was about 7.20am and there was light traffic - a lot less than you get during rush hour. It was plain sailing the whole way.

On my way, I passed a guy on a bike. I saw him first before Portrush Road near where Marryatville High School is. He was travelling the same way as me towards the city. It was a cool bike too. A dark grey Specialized something or other. It had internal gears and a carbon drive belt instead of a chain.

On the way down, I saw the cyclist a couple of times. I didn't really consider him again until I got right into the city to Frome Street and there he was again. Even outside of the rush hour in light traffic, he was just as fast. During peak times, he would definitely be faster. I should add he was not speeding. He wasn't on a racing bike. He wasn't in racing gear. He was wearing cargo pants and travelling at a fairly normal speed. Admittedly, that stretch of road is a long gentle downhill slope but he still kept up with almost no effort at all.

And that is in a car-centric city like Adelaide!

Now why would you not encourage that? It really is absurd not to. Admittedly, that way of getting around is not everyone's cup of tea but why not make it easy, advertise it by making it visible and give everyone the choice?

Seeing alternative forms of transport turning out to be as fast or quicker than the car shows a couple of things:

1. The pent up demand for alternatives is underestimated. This is most clearly seen in things like the British Skyrides;

2. Alternatives to the car can and should be available as part of wider intermodal network. For example, allowing that sort of intermodality can increase significantly the catchment area of our north-south railway line. It can also do it in a much more efficient and less expensive way than park-and-ride stations that inevitably take up a lot of land.

We can see the seeds of this with the Greenway program but we have a lot of under-utilised space on our roads too. It's time to put that to good use.

Despite the obvious advantages that alternative modes of transport have in certain circumstances, we still have the usual calls for massive road-building projects. Our new Prime-Minister, Tony Abbott, has announed he will provide funding (as if it is his money) to about six major road projects, including the highly dubious East-West Link in Melbourne. He seems to be under this strange illusion that roads a a national issue while suburban rail infrastructure is a local State issue. Similarly, not long ago,'Infrastructure Partnerships Australia' put out a press release calling for 'genuine debate' on infrastructure before nominating four different road building projects as sound investments.

This has been going on for years. I bet you Tony Abbott could not name a single city that has solved or even reduced its congestion problems by building more roads like the ones he is supporting. I know that because there is no such place. We all know that.

To reduce congestion, reduce the cause of it. Do that by making the alternatives easy to choose. A common quote I see around the traps says:

"If you make the bicycle the fastest and easiest way from A to B, people will use it."

I have a feeling the quote is attributable to Mikael Colville-Andersen. For many journeys, as we see every day, it already is the quickest. The next step is to make it the easiest.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Learning Lessons

Someone I know quite well was involved in a minor collision the other day. It happened at a small roundabout on a quiet street not far from a school. It was the beginning of the afternoon rush hour. School had not long ended for the day.

My friend was travelling very slowly and, as is quite often the case, she missed the cyclist who was also approaching the roundabout from her right. He hit the side of her car and fell down. Other than a couple of scrapes to his arms, he was fine. It all happened at slow speed.

My friend did the right thing. She stopped immediately and made sure he was ok. So did the driver of the car behind her. That person then commented that she was glad my friend had been in front because she did not see the cyclist either.

A conversation then ensued. The other driver commented that the cyclist might want to wear brighter clothing next time. She also asked what the cyclist was doing out on the roads at that time and whether he was going anywhere in particular. He said he was just out for a ride. The driver suggested that this was probably not the time to be out just riding with all of the traffic on the roads.

Given the proximity to the nearby school, there is a certain irony there but I think it was probably lost on the driver.

Just in case, my friend also reported what had happened to the police. The officer was very understanding. She said this happens a lot where drivers simply do not see cyclists and there are collisions like this - thankfully at low speeds.

The officer had a little more insight than the other driver and said that the roads were unforgiving. "The bike lanes should be wider", she said.

And she is right.

It should be a concern to traffic engineers, the police, our politicians and indeed all of us that this is happening to such an extent that the police officer was not in the slightest bit surprised and was so understanding. The cyclist probably would have been seen with a fluoro top or something in bright pink or if he had some paint-stripper lights flashing away on the front of his bike. But then again, he may not have.

One of the reasons these things happen is because of our unforgiving roads. Roundabouts like that say loudly and clearly "cars are coming". But they do not even whisper "bikes and people might be coming too". They should.

We all know about the principles of sustainable safety because Professor Wegman told us about them. It is time they were implemented.

Look at those children riding around at school at closing time. Don't they realise how dangerous it is?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Half Man Half Lefty

Most bicycle blog followers would know that England is making some baby steps towards a more balanced transport policy. Whether it can be classified as progress depends on where you are and how you define progress. Regardless, there are some promising things happening. One is the experiments with Dutch road designs, especially roundabouts. The Guardian reported on it recently.

It led, as these things do, to a flurry of comments. One of my favourites is from "camerasouth"

Yes, all this if fine IF you can cycle, but not everyone can, especially many elderly and disabled people who have to use cars (and mobility scooters etc). Additionally, motorists are paying more and more for less and less road use yet cyclists are paying absolutely nothing towards all of the benefits and priorities that they are and are likely to get as a result of research like this. It's no use them claiming that they pay in their rates because many do not pay rates (children etc.) and there may be many cyclists in just one rate paying household. Besides, motorists also pay rates on top of all the other motoring expenses.

I agree that anything to make cycling more acceptable and safer is a good thing but I also think that it is time that cyclists started to share some of the cost of all these initiatives and appreciated that, as road users, they also have an important responsibility to act sensibly and safely and keep their machines in good order. Maybe a compulsory cycle MOT and registration number, financed by the cyclist would assist here and also provide some new jobs for the testers etc!

It has all the old favourites: "not everyone can cycle", "only motorists pay", "cyclists get all the benefits and pay nothing", etc.

And "children don't pay".


These comments are a dime a dozen on any news article that mentions bicycle riders, especially if the article has the audacity to suggest that space or money could be used differently.

It is great when soon afterwards you read a short punchy response that deals with those sorts of answers succinctly and lucidly. For that we have Half Man Half Lefty to thank:

Firstly, you seem to be under the mistaken belief that you get something in return for tax. You don't, you just pay it and that's the end. That is why it is called tax and not a subscription or a service charge or a licence fee or a membership. What do you think you are entitled to in return for the VAT you pay, for income tax, for insurance tax, for alchol duty? We all pay tax you know, not just when we get in a car and none of us get anything back for it. Do you think perhaps that public services should only be available on presentation on a tax return which shows how much tax we have paid so perhaps you have heart attack and the paramedics tell you that they only use the defibrillator on people in the higher rate income tax band? or do you think we should all pay in to a big pot based roughly on what we can afford, so more or less the system we have now then?

Secondly, I am not sure how you are getting less road use. As far as I know roads are still being built but none are being dug up so surely you are getting more roads to use, not less

Thirdly, households haven't paid rates for many years. They pay council tax. Also, are you seriously suggesting children should be taxed as because they have a bike but it is only their parents who pay council tax, not them? presumably you'd need some kind of legal sanction for tax evading six year olds but I'm not sure a stretch in dartmoor is really appropiate so you'd need to come up with something new on that

Fourthly, I don't think the funds dedicated to a bunch of boffins in a field in Berkshire quite compares yet to the funds lavished on roads for motor vehicles. My local trunk road is to have an extra lane added for around 12 miles at a cost of £300 million. Perhaps you could find out how long it would take before the spending on cycling in the entire country would take to reach £300 million. Another local town of a few thousand popupulation is getting a £42 million bypass to take a moderatly busy non trunk road around a market town of a less than 5,000 people, so perhaps add that on as well. Perhaps to give a southern perspective, look up how much the Hindhead Tunnel cost and whether cyclists are allowed to use it. I'll give you clue: £155,000 per metre and no, they're not. Can you point me to a bike lane which cost £150 grand a yard?

Fifthly, perhaps of car drivers stopped killing cyclists then the cost of all these improvements, coming out of your own pocket apparently, could be avoided. Motor vehicles kill over 100 cyclists a year, cyclists do not kill any motorists. Bit of unfair fight wouldn't you say, and bit mean minded to begrudge spending any money trying to reduce that number wouldn't you say?

Sixthly, a tax on bikes which you propose would be £zero as it is for around 2 million low emmison motor vehicles so it would be a net cost to the system, not a revenue raiser. Also, would you make everyone on a bike get one of these £zero bike tax discs, even a kid doing his paper round? where would you attach a tax disc on a bike and what duties would you have the traffic police give up in order to stop people on bikes and check their free issue tax disc? bikes don't go on motorways so those ANPR vans wouldn't be much use

Seventhly, when we see an end to the carnage inflicted on the community by motor vehicles; pile ups, drunk driving, hit and runs, staging accidents to make fraudulent insurance claims, killing 400 pedestrians a year, 50 of them on the foot path, pumping pollution into the air, parking on footpaths, killing each other in fights over parking spaces then perhaps you can tell cyclists they should be sensible and safe but until ten an indignant motorist telling bike riders to act safely is unlikely to be taken very seriously don't you think?

Wish I could write like that.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


A recent front page story in the local newspaper made the unsurprising point that lowering speed limits reduces the number of fatalities. The Centre for Automotive Research at Adelaide University (those clever people who also published a study on protective headbands for motorists) now suggest that speed limits should be cut further to 40km/h - or so the article claims.

It was met with the usual predictable howls of protest on talkback radio and in the comments section of AdelaideNow but they included some original gags about going back to horses and carts and people carrying red flags while walking in front of cars. Hilarious stuff.

Reducing motor vehicle speeds undeniably reduces fatalities and serious injuries. The difference between 40km/h and 60km/h is significant:

Having said that, reducing speed is but one way of reducing conflict and serious injuries. It works perfectly in residential streets. Unley Council has a 40km/h speed limit on most of its side roads. That policy along with blocking off many of them to through traffic has worked very well.

At the same time, we need arterial roads that can move traffic. I would love to see 40% and 50% modal shares for bikes and similarly high shares for public transport but we need to move cars too. Simply reducing the speed limit is all very well but governments can create problems for themselves when the speed limit is difficult to enforce (as it would be) and difficult to justify (which it might be given some of the comments).

In those situations, there are other ways of reducing risk. Risk can be minimised through design. For example, by separating road users whotravel at different speeds and avoiding right hand unsignalised turns and other traffic movements with conflict built into them.

How you design the road depends of course on its intended use. A higher speed arterial road is designed and treated very differently from a narrower road that leads only to where people live. A guide to potential treatments is found in the Austroads cycling guide and is similar to others:

The question is which comes first. I get the feeling sometimes that traffic is allowed to congregate on certain roads and the amount of traffic then determines what treatment, if any, is applied. I'm probably wrong but it is often difficult to tell.

Far better is to designate the street in the first place. Decide what its purpose will be then you can apply the appropriate treatments, including blocking it, narrowing it, assigning the appropriate speed limit and adding the appropriate bus, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Designated arterial roads should be treated with appropriate speed limits, separation of users and, if necessary, multiple lanes. By contrast, other types of road should have speed limits and physical means of lowering speeds and blocking through traffic and of course feeding traffic on to the closest designated arterial road.

The mistake we make is to treat most of our roads in the same way. That is perhaps illustrated in calls for a blanket 40 km/h speed limit. I should add that I doubt that would happen anyway. We now have a default 50 km/h speed limit but many of our arterial roads remain signposted with a higher limit.

It has been said many times but you can see this in the morning rush hour. Main roads are full but many side streets have lines of cars running parallel to the main roads - they generaly seem to be parents on the school run.

So what so we do and why would it be better?

Step one is to designate the use and purpose of the road. The categories are not just main road and side street. Main arterial roads are pretty clear. They are the yellow ones in the street directory and on Google Maps. But there are other roads that while quieter than the main arterial road still serve an important feeder role. Galway Avenue next to the ABC Building on North East Road is an obvious example.

Once you have designated your main arterials, you then work on the feeder routes inside neighbourhoods and the residential streets that should not be able to be used as through routes.

There is a very useful post on the excellent Bicycle Dutch website that deals with this. It discusses a neighbourhood in Utrecht that was built in the 1960s. What makes it particularly relevant to us is that before it was retrofitted, its streets were just like ours:

In the original 1960s street grid for this area, motor traffic was able to use all streets to get from one end to the other. Some streets were even wider than others and served as through street. Most streets were purely residential, but all streets had the same speed limit of 50km/h (31mph).

So what did they do (and what should we do):

To channel the traffic flow better, the city designated a so-called ‘neighbourhood ring’. This is the street that is designed to give quick access from the city’s arterial roads to the purely residential streets. The latter type of streets have all become 30km/h (19mph) streets. This means that no 30km/h street has a direct access to an arterial road, but that traffic is forced to use the neighbourhood ring to get to the main arteries via only very few access points.

Read the whole post here. It's short and very clear.

Second question - why is this better? Well, among other things, it is obviously safer; it encourages alternatives to the car, which is also good for car users; rat-running and neighbourhood hoon driving are all but eliminated; neighbourhoods are quieter; effort can be put into making arterial roads work properly.

And so on.

Finally, definitely watch the four minute video:

Note how once the speed limit is lowered (in an appropriate environment) it is safe for different transport types to mix. It shows how segregation without separation works as part of a wider network.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

David Hembrow and Velo-City 2014

It is difficult to remember what made me start blogging. I used to get almost everywhere by bike when I was a child. I had a Raleigh Chopper - one of the pre-OHS ones with the funky gear stick on the cross bar. Once I got older and left home to live in other places that all stopped. When I was living in London in the 1980s, it did not even occur to me. In fact, I have no memory of seeing anyone on a bicycle. I do have clear memories of backed up traffic on Clerkenwell Road in the days before catalytic converters. I also distinctly remember finding it hard to breathe.

I came back to the idea of riding a bike when I decided I was pretty bored of getting the bus to work every day. I thought it would be far better to have a shiny new bike I could use for nothing than spend all that money on bus tickets.

Once I was riding, I began looking around at other new bikes and found a few blogs about them and cycling. That was when Copenhagenize was only a couple of years old. Since then, I have come across others and there is now a good number of very high quality blogs around. Some are in the list to the right but there are also many others. When I was first reading, that was when Freewheeler was producing a prodigious amount of erudite sarcasm and ridicule. Happy days.

And then there was David Hembrow's site - one which probably more than any other opened my eyes to what can be achieved and the nuts and bolts of how it is done. The site has become very influential, often quoted and, by the sounds of it, routinely pinched from. And now thanks to an earlier collaboration, we have the Bicycle Dutch website which continues to explain carefully and patiently how the Dutch do it.

The whole movement has changed noticeably since I started talking to myself about it. The Guardian Newspaper has its own cycling column and not long ago The Times launched its Cities Fit for Cycling campaign. It is well and truly an important issue.

Five years ago I would not have predicted that Adelaide of all places would be hosting a worldwide cycling conference like Velo-City yet it is coming here in 2014.

The organisers recently asked for suggestions for possible speakers at the conference. I wrote an email mentioning various names including David Hembrow's. I am sure I was not the only one. The mayor recently wrote an invitation but the answer was, alas, a polite 'thankyou but no'.


The full wording of the response is here.

Through a series of emails, someone else has already tried to make him reconsider but unsuccessfully. You could say that if his attendance at the conference goes on to change the behaviour, even slightly, of a bunch of Adelaide people, the negative entry in the ledger from his journey will be balanced. You could also ask what about the people who fly across for a study tour, especially the recent Australian group? You could say that the plane you'd be flying on will be flying anyway so you may as well just come along and enjoy the airline food. You could also suggest turning the conference into a longer trip. There are lots of things to see and do in Australia.

But the answer is no. It is about personal integrity and something very much to be respected.

David does say at the end of his reply:

If it would be helpful, I could perhaps record a video exclusively for you to show at the Velo-city conference in lieu of my own attendance in person.

All I can say is 'yes please'. Your average Adelaidean simply does not get it. To have images and footage published in our newspaper (singular!) and broadcasted on local television of something as simple as a bunch of children getting themselves to school, together with an explanation of how that is achieved, could make a huge difference to us and plant some strong seeds of change. Please make a video if you can.

I was very hopeful that David Hembrow would be able to make it to our conference but it is not to be. But hey, I know that Marc van Woudenberg is coming. He is totally cool.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Keeping the enemy at bay

Margaret Thatcher died not long ago. Love her or hate her, what cannot be denied is that she left her mark. I grew up in the UK in the 1970s and 80s and have a strong memory of her. Primarily it is through the eyes of 'The Young Ones' with Rick shouting things like "Thatcher's ruddy Britain!" the whole time.

What strikes me is how much she looked like Meryl Streep:

A bit like Lindy Chamberlain used to:

Lady Thatcher is credited with saying a few things including the mythical, "A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure." One thing she definitely did say though is, "In my lifetime all our problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world."

Really? All our problems?

When I lived in the UK, there was the ever present threat of the problem of a reliable and functioning train service intruding from mainland Europe. Mrs Thatcher successfully kept that at bay. One of their best secret weapons was the "we've had a centimetre of snow and the points have frozen" excuse. It was hugely successful. Even though she is long gone, her legacy seems to remain in England. The British have the dubious honour of the most expensive train tickets in Europe.

Another dreadful threat from mainland Europe was a functioning and high quality health service. I thought we were in big trouble with the National Health Service. However, plucky Mrs Thatcher stuck to her guns (as did Tony Blair after her) with a slow and deliberate strategy of internal markets and sub-contracting. They're slowly making headway.

To their credit, the whole way through my childhood, the Government showed steely resolve in steadily eliminating the European threat of providing all citizens with the freedom of getting around at low cost and under their own steam. In the late 1970s, kids my age were probably the last of misguided generation who thought that it was somehow appropriate to ride a Raleigh Chopper around the neighbourhood. That sort of ridiculous behaviour has rightly all but been eliminated.

Australia (another English-speaking nation full of solutions) did the same but just to make sure, it carpet-bombed the problem with an all ages mandatory helmet law. Genius. And that is one of the reasons why you never see this type of crazy foreign mainland-European threat:

(Borrowed from here)

Children on bikes? Pfft. Look at them. They're clearly on drugs.

I do not know why but it seems to be mainly English-speaking countries that have the problem with this.

I have never understood why. Without too much effort, it is possible to think of a number reasons why it is beneficial to develop a transport and planning system that does not have the car at its heart for every single journey no matter how short and no matter how many other people may be going in exactly the same direction at exactly the same time. They include:

  • it is cheaper;
  • it is safer;
  • it is more democratic;
  • it is healthier in so many ways;
  • it is better for business - both through exposure and to the fact that there is more disposable income available;
  • and so on.

How a transport system with the private car as its primary focus was allowed to develope is clear. Back then, it seemed like it would work. Nobody seems to have predicted that the system would eventually suffocate under its own weight. We now know better and slowly but surely the public opinion seems to be turning. Despite that and true to form, we still have two recent announcements for huge pointless road projects - one in Melbourne ($8 bn) and one in Queensland ($6.7 bn). To put it in perspective, that total is more than the entire Gonski reform. They have 'barely raised an eyebrow'. On top of that, the Australian Automobile Association is demanding better roads (in other words, more money). The claim is that it is for "all Australians" but have a look at the sample petition letter to your local MP and you see it is for the minority of the population with access to a car - "As a motorist, ..."

Why do we persist with a system that excludes well over half the population? One that not just encourages the least efficient way of getting around but actively discourages others? There is no reason other than the type of thinking that led to that ridiculous and embarrassing comment for which Margaret Thatcher will always be famous.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Sudden realisation

Adelaide is weird.

We have just finished the school holidays. If you did not read in the paper all of the tips for keeping children entertained during the holidays, you probably wouldn't have noticed. Actually that is wrong. You know it is the school holidays because the number of cars drops by a third in the morning rush hour. Regardless, whether it is the school holidays or not, whether the sun is shining or not, you almost never see children in the street. That is, hanging out and playing and being normal.

It dawned on me the other day that while you may see adults walking around, the vast bulk of them are doing it not to get anywhere but solely to keep fit. That is not a criticism of course - merely an observation.

People who walk places in Australia are just like people who ride bicycles.

You get a tiny minority who make a conscious choice to walk places, perhaps holding a calico bag or shopping basket on the way. On the other hand, some do not make the choice. It is left to them because they do not have access to the dominant and almost exclusive form of transport. They are the utility walkers and are seldom seen.

For a couple of hours in the morning and afternoon on a weekday, you'll see people walking to work too. Often they are in their work gear but with sneakers on. Others will be in their fitness gear. They are the commuter walkers.

But far and away the biggest group are the fitness walkers. It struck me the other day when I was in Golden Grove. That is a 1980s housing development that is totally car-centric. Great wide arterial roads and car parks are everywhere. It was the evening and there seemed to be a good number of people just walking the streets. You could tell they weren't going anywhere. They were just walking for the sake of it. All were dressed in tight pants (lycra - what else?), sports tops with reflective stripes and specialised walking sneakers - with little reflective swooshes on them. And they were walking with purpose. And breathing heavily.

A pair of "walkers" as found in Australia

As with people on bikes, the biggest group of walkers consists of the people who come out at the weekend specially dressed to go nowhere in particular but to go up lots of hills in the process.

We are weird.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

In the news

Since the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix moved to Australia all those years ago, outside of the country very few people have actually heard of Adelaide. Sydney and Melbourne are generally well known but not so much the other cities, especially ours.

Occasionally though, we do make the news. Now that news spreads quickly through the Twittosphere, that can happen quite quickly and the news can spread fast. Regrettably, it is often for the wrong reasons. We all remember those 'lose your licence and you're screwed' adverts from the MAC and the reaction to them. It was not a good look.

Now it is the turn of the town of Clare and its newspaper, the Northern Argus. This has been retweeted more times than I could remember. The article is all about a crossing outside of the Clare Medical Centre. The problem has been rectified, you will be pleased to read, and "near misses should be a thing of the past".

Here's a picture of the crossing thanks to Google Streetview:

The "problem" is that elderly people are leaving the medical centre and crossing the road "in front of cars". They mistakenly think they have right of way.

So what do we do about it?

The road itself runs parallel to the main highway running through the centre of town. You can see it runs between Wright Place and Lennon Street - a distance of about 450m. The medical centre is helpfully pointed out:

You might think a pedestrian crossing could work there. You would be wrong of course. Even though one was installed on Pirie Street in the city recently, we are told it was "the first in South Australia" (not true) and "South Australian drivers aren’t used to zebra crossings".

Luckily, "the council has implemented a plan to avoid future accidents." The solution? Give way signs for pedestrians.

I kid you not.

In addition to the obligation to give way on a narrow and short road, pedestrians have other obligations too. "High visibility vests, tabards, arm bands or clothing will highlight your presence for a significant distance."

And my favourite to finish the article:

Clare neighbourhood watch are giving away high visibility vests for people who walk in early hours or at night, free of charge, thanks to the support of Clare Auto Centre.

Vests can be obtained from the Clare Police Station.

Now what's that saying about the inside of the lunatic asylum appearing normal to the inmates?

Friday, 28 June 2013

The 40 year excuse

One of my favourite blog posts to refer people to after a conversation about transport and urban planning is David Hembrow's much linked-to "all those myths and excuse in one post" post. They are all there.

A common one is the 40 years ahead excuse. It is even the subject of a widget:
As the post says, it is wrong anyway. The actual figure (assuming it is even relevant) is more like 15 years. What was done 40 years ago has long since been replaced and improved.

Not that long ago, part of the Parade in Norwood was resurfaced. It must have cost a fair bit. There was lots of serious machinery and a lot of tarmac. It took a couple of weeks. It was quite depressing to watch. Here was an opportunity to make some changes to the road layout as part of ongoing maintenance but it was left exactly the same. There is bountiful off-street parking but the few on street parks were kept there, blocking buses from pulling out and providing a door zone for anyone game enough to ride a bike along there.

More recently, part of O'Connell Street in North Adelaide was resurfaced:

and a close up:

Again, no change whatsoever to the road layout. I wondered how long it has been since that road was last resurfaced and so I asked by making a Freedom of Information request.

I spoke to a very helpful fellow at the council. He explained that the asset life is generally estimated to be around 25 years. However, it quite often ends up being shorter than that. The stretch of O’Connell Street that was just resurfaced was last done 15 years ago. That is no uncommon. For example, the council is finding that Grenfell Street is wearing out more quickly since the bus lanes opened. That seems to me to be a good thing. It shows that the buses are now able to travel along that stretch of road at a decent speed instead of crawling along stuck behind a line of traffic as they used to be. The drawback of course is that the road wears out more quickly.

Another thing that determines the life of the road is its foundation. On busy roads, you need a decent 50cm foundation. Where you start seeing potholes, like there are on Jeffcott Street at the moment, that is often because the foundation is a bit inadequate for the level of traffic that the road is experiencing.

A quick but important aside: different levels of government are responsible for different roads. The vast bulk of our roads are in fact council run and maintained. It is only really main arterial roads that are the responsibility of the State Government. This map shows which ones

You can see that Adelaide City Council is responsible for everything inside the ring road. That includes very busy roads like North, South and West Terrace, the café strips, Grenfell Street with its bus lanes and everything in between. The paltry amount that motorists pay for registration (not to be confused with compulsory third party insurance which is the bulk of the payment) does not go towards any of those roads. It is all paid for by local residents and business paying their rates. All those many motorists who come into (and through) the city do not pay for the roads through registration and petrol tax. Someone else pays. Granted, the city workers indirectly contribute by supporting the businesses that own the buildings for which rates are paid but it is far from a user pays system. Those motorists who simply pass through do not contribute at all.

Rates provide less than 50 percent of the revenue of the Council, with other revenue gained from fees & charges (including parking fees that are the subject of so many complaints), external funding, borrowings and commercial operations.

The Federal Government has its ‘Roads to Recovery’ program which provides road funding to local councils but it is funding that must be applied for. It does not come automatically. I was told Adelaide City Council receives $850,000 a year. It is not a great deal. Roads are very expensive.

With such limited funding sources it is perhaps not surprising that it takes a while for holes to be fixed and roads to be upgraded.

Getting back to my point, 15 years is not that long ago. Titanic won the Oscar for best picture, Microsoft released Windows 98, Google was founded and season 4 of Friends was broadcast. However in other respects it is a very long time. 15 years ago, most of today's children were not alive. It is topical because of what this recently posted video shows:

A whole bunch of children in the last 15 years have been denied independent mobility. That is a whole generation.

There is no excuse for such a crap and undemocratic system. The frequency of road maintenance shows that genuine upgrades could easily be part of that budget. And there is no excuse for crapness either. Bus lanes, well designed intersections, roads and neighbourhoods that stop rat-running and quality cycling infrastructure are all part of the same road transport system. They should all be paid for out of the same budget.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Melbourne Bike Share

So I had another romantic weekend away in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. I highly recommend it. This time round we saw the Australian Ballet do a triple bill of modern ballet pieces. Just beautiful. See it if you can.

Next morning we went to the Art Gallery to see the Monet exhibition. Being a philistine I never knew that Monet spent many years developing his garden in Giverny, about 70km north east of Paris. That then led to Monet's many paintings of lilies, his green bridge and other flowers:

Our hotel was opposite the MCG. Below is a map of the area. The orange arrow points to the hotel (I fear I am fairly crap with graphics programs so a dodgy arrow is the best I can do). The Art Gallery, as I am sure you know, is where the purple arrow is pointing:

On our first day, to get to the arts centre, we walked along Wellington Parade and then picked up the free city circle tram near where the Hotel Lindrum is. That took us to Flinders Street station and then we walked across the bridge to South Bank.

The next day I was determined to have a go on the bike share bikes and luckily there was a station near the hotel (where the blue arrow is pointing). Had it not been that close, I would not have been allowed. The system is very easy to use and very cheap. You pay $2.70 for the whole day and as long as each journey you make is less than 30 mins you don't pay anything else. Just climbing into a taxi is more expensive than that.

As we all know, Australia is one of three countries in the world with all ages helmet laws. There were about 6 bikes at the station but only one helmet. However a sign where you pick up the bike tells you they are closer than you think:

The 7-Eleven I was directed to was about 800 metres away in the opposite direction from where we wanted to go. Also, when the system was introduced there were a number of complaints about a lack of helmets at the 7-Elevens. I didn't fancy a wasted walk so I broke the law instead.

The bikes themselves are great - comfortable and smooth with a functional little luggage rack on the front. The gearing makes the bikes quite slow even in top gear but that kind of works because you end up spending a lot of time on the pavement and journeys are quite short.

We passed another set of bikes near Federation Square and I was able to pick up a helmet there. That meant I was no longer a criminal. I have to say though the helmets are probably the cheapest crappiest examples I have ever seen. And they make you look like a total goob. Before that I had been rolling through the streets looking all debonair with my linen jacket flapping in the breeze. The image was totally destroyed once I put the plastic hat on. A total turn off.

And completely unnecessary. I'd been on the pavement the entire time. Everyone we passed was fine about it. I was doing maybe 12 km/h tops. Is the plastic hat really necessary? There was no way I was going to walk to the 7-Eleven and back. Had I not had a specific intention to use the bikes, like most people, I would not have bothered.

Now it may be that there are other reasons for the woeful performance of Melbourne's bike share compared to other cities. I doubt it though. Dublin uses the same system - with fewer bikes. It is just as hilly and the weather is much worse. Yet it easily outperforms Melbourne by a mile. A combination of ditching the blue hat requirement and setting up a decent grid of safe bike lanes would transform it.

After Monet's exhibition, we took the bikes to see Legally Blonde the Musical (of course). This time, although there were plenty of bikes, there was not a single helmet. Again, the 7-Eleven was "closer than you think" but really? For a 5 minute journey? We both broke the law initially and then found some again near Federation Square. So after a brief spell of feeling just a little bit European, we went back to looking like the two guys off the Motor Accident Commission advert:

Not sure I'll bother next time.

When we dropped the bikes off, there were 3 helmets for 7 bikes (the largest ratio we'd seen). Something tells me they would not have been there a couple of hours later.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

What if you build it and they don't come?

I got a bit depressed a little while ago. I was reading a superbly well-researched article about a town north of London called Stevenage. The article was about its network of off-road bicycle routes and the fact that not many people really uses them. There is also a shorter but just as good article on the European Cyclists' Federation website.

Borrowed from the article, which is written by Carlton Reid.

A couple of lessons come from the article. The first is that this was a different time. The paths were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Car ownership was expanding quickly and there was nothing like the congestion we experience now - especially the UK. At the same time, car use was not curtailed at all. The bike paths were there but it was just as easy, in fact easier, to get everywhere by car. The network has not been updated or expanded on since the 1970s. Since then, new shopping centres have been built further out of town that are not reached by the current network. Finally, it was never updated. It's effectively frozen in the 1970s. Compare that to the Dutch who have continuously improved their system since then.

A further lesson is that building infrastructure is just one of a number of things that are required to change transport practices. It is not just about bikes but rather about a coordinated package of planning and urban design policies that lead to a democratic choice of ways of getting around.

The great difficulty for Adelaide is that not only is it one of the most carcentric cities around, it feels like it has always been that way. It is as if alternatives simply cannot be contemplated. They have to be though because what we have now is unsustainable and it disempowers a large segment of the population, including all children, the elderly and anyone without their own car.

Re-engineering the entire built environment is not really politically realistic. Not overnight anyway. What needs to happen is that a network begins in the CBD and expands outwards. Utility cycling practically does not exist in Australia but more and more people are commuting by bicycle. Whatever changes are made first must be highly visible and be seen to be working. Aiming at those commuter cyclists first of all and the motorists who sit in stationary traffic alongside them is probably the most effective way to make your point to start with.

It is for that reason that I think the Danish style of bike path would work best in Adelaide at first. It is sometimes criticised but by comparison to Adelaide, it is light years ahead.

You only have to speak to anyone in Adelaide who has spent their life getting around by car to realise that they do not get it. Cycling friendly nations around the world may as well be on Mars. Any form of transport that is not a car is so far off their radar that you may as well be speaking to a fridge. For any changes to be made, there has to be some public support. At the moment, there isn't because there is very little misunderstanding.

Adelaide has wide streets with plenty of space for the road to be rearranged but without any obvious impact on motorised traffic. Lanes can be narrowed or, as happened very successfully in Grenfell Street, lanes can be reallocated to public transport. Or bicycles.

A series of wide raised lanes that do not disappear at intersections would be a visible reminder that taking the bicycle is a genuine alternative. The width of course must be sufficient for passing and talking side by side. You can in a car, on foot or on a bus. Why not on the bike lane?

Here is a view from Google Streetview where you can see a lane halfway through being built:

Here are a couple more borrowed from Hamburgize:

And the finished product:

There are also good views on two posts on Copenhagenize. Indeed, at first, it need not necessarily involve raised lanes of that style. Separation can be achieved in other ways too.

But it is why I think adopting the Danish style of bike path at first will make such a dramatic change at modest cost. It is something that is easily achievable and highly visible.

And it's not about arrogance or forcing people to adopt a particular way of getting around. It is about giving everyone the choice - something that is lacking at the moment. In fact, I could not put it better than this comment:

... just sensible and economic: a very effective way of increasing mobility while reducing congestion and using available city space better, at low cost.

The fact is, there is a direct correlation between modal share and quality of infrastructure that can be seen between countries and within them. That means the right treatment depending on the designation of the road so that there is a continuous network that is useable for everyone.

Another English town that experimented with segregated infrastructure is Milton Keynes (also north of London but you have to catch the train from Euston rather than Kings Cross). Its paths became known as Redways and, like those in Stevenage, had mixed results. A good balanced article about them is on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

For a recent thorough and well-written description of the Danish system, see Voleospeed.