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.


  1. Another good post. I often think the worst obstacle
    to cycling is the different tribes of current cyclists - especially the "racing cyclists" in all their glory of lycra, plastic drinking bottles, yellow shirts, helmets, padded pants -- the works in other words. If that does it for them, great. But it is a negative for cycling. Local council here and people generally think that is "cycling".

    In the meantime cycling facilities in Australia are mostly a bad joke -- often ill designed, often over engineered by people who know little of general cycling, overtly expensive in parts, and nonsensical in other parts. As often stated: design cycling facilities for 9 year old kids. If 9 year olds can't use it safely by themselves, only a tiny minority of adults will ever use it. And that is where Australian cycling languishes today and will stay unless the current crop of "cycling planners" with their destructive views are changed.

  2. Great post Edward. Hit many nails on the head. Can you imagine riding on those off-road paths at night as most if them are unlit with no passive surveillance. They're almost too scary in daylight and I'm a healthy male.

    Does SA want Euro cycling levels? Actually no. The SA Strategic Plan is 2% of "people cycling" by 2020. A pitifully small and ambiguous target set so far into the political future that it is almost meaningless. A token gesture.

  3. Continuing on, the City of Yarra's target is 15% of cyclists commuting to work by 2015. One could argue that the focus on commutes is too narrow, but at least they will be able to measure and report on progress within the term of the current Council, so it's not a hollow commitment.

    If SA wanted to achieve its target of 2% it could just repeal the MHL, based on the latest research.

    2014 Velo City is going to be so embarrassing. Maybe we could get Lance to come back and speak at it to deflect attention from our cycling inferiorstructure.

    And to Anonymous, when did you start channeling my thoughts!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. As a daily commuter I basically stick to the same 5 klm everyday, like you say it has been tweaked over a period of time and I stay off the major roads.
    If I do decide take a longer ride to work it is planned with google maps and my local knowledge, but when I am on the road on my bike it can be quite different to what is expected.
    Have to agree with you about the bike lane between moving and stationery cars... need to keep and eye on the parked car if some one is in it and the traffic coming behind you.
    I enjoy the fitness of commuting daily... but not being seen by a car is always on my mind.