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.


  1. Coincidentally this week I had a meeting in the city. I usually ride in, this time I drove the car. I wanted the car for a trip after the meeting so I thought I might as well combine the two. It was a mistake. The trip into the city took about the same time as a leisurely ride (distance is 3.5 km) because I needed to try two parking stations to find a spot and then still had to walk a few hundred metres to the building. However, leaving the city took me twice as long as riding because I got caught in peak hour traffic. I also had to pay $31 for five hours of parking. Ow!

    1. Good point. It is the door to door time that should be considered rather than just journey time. Also, how long did you have to work to earn that $31? That's a part of journey time that we easily forget.

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