Sunday, 24 February 2013

Where work is needed

There is a reason why you should not base cycling policies on the views of existing, committed cyclists. It is because in places like Australia, they are a tiny unrepresentative minority of the population and tend to put themselves in boxes. The word cyclist is used but is generally qualified with words like "commuter", "racing", "avid" or "recreational". If you are a "racing" cyclist, once a week on a Saturday morning, you will squeeze your beer gut into lycra and go on a 30, 40 or 50km bike ride with like minded fellows - and often a couple of women.

If you are a "commuter" cyclist, you'll get on your bike each morning to ride to work, helmet on your head, backpack on your back and maybe some plastic, garish fluoro yellow top. Alternatively, like the "sports" cyclists you may still squeeze your beer gut into lycra for the journey.

"Commuter" cyclists take the same route every day and slowly over time they will perfect it. Certain intersections may be avoided and instead, their route will consist of part of a footpath here and there or a small walk-through at the end of a cul-de-sac. Over time, they get used to the dangers of their route and develop a false sense of how easy it is to travel using that mode of transport. I know it happens to me. It is quite surprising when I stop to think about it how many stages of my route involve pavement riding. It is only when you have to take a different route that it is brought home to you how difficult it still is.

The other day, I had to take my car to the crash repairers *. My bike was in the boot so I could ride from there to work and then ride back in the late afternoon after work to pick it up again.

The crash repairers is north of the CBD on Churchill Road. This is the route I ended up taking:

In places, it was so bad that I felt I had to record my adventures on the way back. The first part was on Churchill Road - a very busy route into the city. I used the footpath as long as I could until it just came to an end. I crossed the road and rode on it for a short distance.

It was truly horrendous.

Having great big b-doubles pass you that close (as well as all of the cars speeding by), you almost instinctively ride onto the pavement at the first opportunity. It took me back how little space I was given and it reminded me why my route to work does not involve any main roads like that. There is a school of thought that says you just need to take the lane and have a bit of courage and then you'll be fine. Seriously? Who would do that? The thought that went through my mind was that if somebody had decided that day to start riding a bike to work and took that road, they would immediately turn round, head for home and never bother again.

Here are some highlights of the journey back.

Even getting out of the city is an obstacle course. I took Morphett Street and then Montifiore Road over the railway and River Torrens. The bridge has three lanes of traffic each side. I took the pavement and did not join the road again until I was at the other end of North Adelaide at the aquatic centre. Jeffcott Street has a bike lane but you're in between two lanes of traffic and parked cars. Why bother?

In any event, it soon disappears. You're then invited to use a bus lane:

The problem is that many motorists do not realise it's a bus lane so you're in danger of being side-swiped pretty much every time someone passes you. So again, I stayed on the pavement (or gravel verge because there was no pavement). At the end of that, there is really almost no choice but to use the narrow painted line:

leading to this intersection:

It's horrible. As soon as I could, I got on to the pavement on the side of the road I needed to be. For parts of it, it is designated shared use but it is still rubbish. The pavement as you leave the intersection is only about a meter wide. You then you have to go behind a bus stop and go downhill on a narrow curvy path:

Then there is another massive intersection:

before you can join the quiet street next to the railway line:

You are then finally able to travel north relatively unhindered for about 4½ kms until just before Regency Road. There are a couple of obstacles on the way such as this no-entry sign:

but also some (well, one) small touches to show you have not been forgotten:

About 300m before Regency Road, the road ends but there is a pathway alongside the railway:

which soon curves to the right:

and then takes you to the intersection of Regency Road and Churchill Road:

After that, it is terrible again. There is a joke bike lane on Regency Road to take foolhardy cyclists across the railway line if they wish:

Just a few seconds after I took that picture, the lane was underneath a b-double. I stayed on the footpath.

This route alongside the railway line is earmarked as a Greenway (part of the State Government's policy). The quiet road can be easily converted as long as it is closed to through motorised traffic. At each end though, you can see that there is work to do. Allowing the route to end at a big intersection and then expecting people somehow to muddle through is not the way to go. Also, if a person who rides a bike regularly has that much trouble making a simple journey, how would it be for someone who has not ridden a bike for a few years? It illustrates just how much work is needed if we want to achieve anything like European modal shares for bike riding (and I assume we do?). I assume we also want to make things a little safer?

Currently, Adelaide has the dubious honour of having the highest rate of car use for journeys to work of any Australian city. There is a cost to that. Cars are not cheap to run. That portion of the household budget spent running a car (or two) is not available to be spent supporting the local economy. The cost of road maintenance is also excessive. Not to mention the social costs of that much car use and the cost of all of that time wasted in stuck traffic.

Adelaide is hosting the Velo-City conference in 2014. This year it is Vienna's turn and last year it was Vancouver's. It would be so great if we were in a position to show to all of our visitors from around the world that we get it, that it is not all fluff and hot air and that there is a reason we were picked to host the conference. Show some decent plans for those shocking roads and intersections and I think might be able to.

Hope springs eternal but I think we have a bit of planning to do before next year.

* I should add that it was not my fault. I was not the driver. There was only minor damage to the bumper and it was the other driver's fault anyway.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

The fall from grace

Have you noticed that despite the shiny pedestal on which motorists are placed, even they are often treated with contempt the moment they step out of their car? Case in point - car parks.

I noticed it the other day. I forget where because I noticed exactly the same thing in about three car parks. Once you're out of the car, you have to creep around all of the parked cars, all of the time watching out in case one of them reverses, and then stay as far as you can to the left while you're walking towards the entrance to Ikea, Bunnings, Officeworks the shopping centre or wherever you might be.

The magical transformation works the other way too. Humble pedestrians, after creeping around the car park head bowed, get into their cars and can turn immediately into total dicks.

I noticed this recently at the airport car park when I mistakenly failed to follow the keep to the left rule. I was with my family, having just seen someone off, and we were walking back to our car. I am ashamed to say that we were not walking single file. A man and his girlfriend in their ute drove towards us (I mean literally towards us) despite the fact that there was tons of space to give us a bit of room. The woman pulled an odd face. It was one of those faces that people in cars often pull. You are supposed to know exactly what they mean just from that one face. It's rather like the rule that you are supposed to understand exactly what they mean when you see them silently gesticulating and mouthing things from behind their windscreen on the other side of the road.

Needless to say, none of us really knew what she meant but my wife, always perceptive, simply said "some people are just always angry".

Anyway, back to the design of car parks. Could we not design them in such a way that when you step out of your car, there is a safe walkway for you, your children, prams, trolleys and so on? I found this picture of a decently designed car park on the web a while ago. I am ashamed to say I have no idea where:

Note how between the rows of cars there are safe walkways for people. At the end of them are little crossings where amazingly cars might have to wait for the people.

How angry would my friend in the ute be though?

Monday, 11 February 2013

Critical blog-mass

I remember when Microsoft Windows was at its peak, before the advent of smartphones and other powerful handheld devices, there was hope of some new competitor to the dominance of Windows. Back then, one of the contenders was Linux. With all of the available software and its two high quality GUI's (Gnome and KDE), it could and can do pretty much everything Windows could.

On the websites I looked at, I remember at the beginning of each year they always said this was going to be the year of Linux on the desktop. I don't know nearly enough to say whether it was or wasn't the year of Linux on the desktop but I do remember it being said more than once.

The same thing could sometimes be said of bicycles as part of a city's transport system. I started reading bike blogs sometime in 2008 (or possibly earlier). Back then, some of my favourite blogs were well established. Since then, many other great blogs have joined them.

I do not think by any stretch have they simply been preaching to the converted. Without having any real clue, I think that readership has increased as people slowly get sick of being imprisoned in their cars each day and the associated financial cost of being so and of course wondering if there is not perhaps a better way.

The developments over the past few years can be seen particularly in the UK. The number of blogs from there has ballooned but for me one of the most important developments was the formation of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain. You can also see the effect of all of this advocacy in the last election for London's mayor and the role that transportation played in it as well as the changes that have been won in various TfL plans. Indeed, the whole concept of Love London Go Dutch would have been unimaginable a few years ago.

That it has become part of general discourse I think is illustrated in this video from the BBC's Newsnight programme (the equivalent to the ABC's Lateline):

This was uploaded by the owner of the excellent As Easy as Riding a Bike blog

I cannot see that this would have happened a few years ago. When I was very young growing up in the UK, I remember a short segment of a children's show called Blue Peter all about the Netherlands. It seemed to be this far-off foreign place - very different from home. Indeed at the end of the segment, the presenter said, in a matter-of-fact way, that what we saw couldn't be achieved in the UK because the pavements were too narrow. And that was that.

Now thankfully we have moved on.

To ensure 'balance', the BBC dutifully spoke to a motoring journalist for his view. Some of the sad old canards came out: 'We already have cycle paths' (ie: what more do you want?), 'just use the roads' (he obviously missed the scene with the truck at the beginning).

Then along came the interviewer with a purposefully stupid comment - it's raining and it's windy here [snore].

And then the crowning turd on the cowpat from the motoring journalist again - 'but they have a cycling culture there'. Classic attribution error. Note what he said in passing just before the interview ended. We need to spend money on health and education. Correct but the inference is that we cannot possibly invest in this strange cycling nonsense - even the small amounts required are not available. But at the same time, from his point of view, it could not possibly come out of his motorway budget or just be a 5% part of it as the point was made. Classic 'carhead'.

The video shows that instead of being the province of a handful of bloggers tapping a furiously and producing a bicycle basket full of blogposts, this is now so much in the national consiousness that it is the subject of BBC Newsnight articles. Further than that, the UK Parliament currently has an all-party 'Get Britain Cycling' committee dealing with the topic.

At the same time, the video also shows that the tired old myths are still alive and kicking. Our friend the motoring journalist would do well to have a look at David Hembrow's much linked-to myths and excuses page or its equivalent on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

Looking at the progress made in London, dare I say it, it may be that we see some significant changes in the next few years. A lot of valuable lessons could be learned. As usual, Australia is a few years behind the times but happily we are slowly learning.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Can you guess what it is yet?

Those of us who grew up with Rolf Harris on our televisions painting using a 4 inch wide brush while doing that strange impression of a trumpet that dads do once they reach 50 will remember him saying "can you guess what it is yet" halfway through painting his picture.

For the next couple of weeks you can play "can you guess" on the corner of Pulteney Street and Wakefield Street in the city.

Travelling north (where you'll know there is no bike lane, you come across this:

The word 'green' and the letter 'b' suggest that this is going to be a bike box, or what the Australian Road Rules refer to as a bicycle storage area. The short line leading up to it makes me think that this is all you're gonna get and we won't (at least for a while) see a wide, raised lane leading up to it.

Once you're in the intersection, you see this:

And here's a close-up:

I stand to be corrected but I reckon 'SB' might refer to a bicycle stensil. The arrow is probably self-explanatory. This appears to be a small space dedicated for people conducting a hook-turn on their bicycles. Judging by the size of it, there's only room for about three people to use it at any time. A bit like a revolving door where even two people in the one segment can be awkward.

Judging by similar treatments in other States (and indeed based on what's been happening around Adelaide), I would guess that the bike box and the turny bit will be painted green.

We are told that bike lanes that are the colour of snot reduce collisions by 38%. The figure comes from a Danish study but is otherwise not cited (a bit like the famous 85% figure). If it's correct, then great but alas, it didn't stop this on Rundle Street today:

(The bike box on the corner of Frome Street)

Regardless, it is far from what you see in Groningen but it is something. It is another very small, glacially-paced step towards a healthy cycling culture.