Sunday, 26 January 2014

How the mighty fall

In amongst the very many blogs loosely and directly related to bicycles, urban transport and city design, there is one called the Desegregated Cyclist. Its author, Ian Cooper, is one of the last of the diehard vehicular cyclists. For a long time I thought his site was a spoof (and I mean no disrespect) but I think, on balance, he is serious. Only very recently he posted a comment after an article in Forbes Magazine online (if you scroll a little further down, you'll also see my 5 cents worth).

As a vehicular cyclist, Mr Cooper believes that cyclists fare best when the obey the rules of the road and act as if they are equal participants. It's sometimes called "Bicycle Driving". Among other techniques, one commonly used and recommended is the famous "take the lane". By placing yourself in front of the motorist (or truck driver) behind you, they are forced to wait for you to complete their manouvre. And that makes you safer.

It is a brilliant plan but there is one tiny flaw. Most motorists don't realise why some cyclists do that.

That has been Mr Cooper's experience for some time. A lot of his blog posts describe run-ins he and his daughter have had with motorists who do not understand the rules of vehicular cycling or who have placed him in danger by being overly cautious and allowing him, for example, to move through and away from a junction first - even though he did not have right of way. Very often, his descriptions of these run-ins have the title "Cletus Asks Cyclists" - the inference being that Mr Cooper is forever having to educate imbeciles.

Mr Cooper seems to have taken on the very heavy burden of educating the world one motorist at a time. By the sounds of it, some motorists require more than one lesson so it is going to be a long job.

The thing is, Mr Cooper seems to have had enough. He tells us he had a few more run-ins leading up to Christmas. He stopped each time to address the issue. The response was the same - "no one listened". The consequence is that Mr Cooper is giving himself a break.

I really do feel for Mr Cooper. I flatly disagree with his views on dedicated infrastructure and routes for bicycles but I have a lot of symphathy for how he is feeling now.

At the same time, I am not surprised.

So much conflict is built into our roads. Whether you have right of way or not, each junction is a potential source of nerves while you wonder whether the driver about to cut you up from the left has seen you. Bike lane or not, there is also a small niggle of doubt in your mind whether the person (each of them) coming up behind you has actually seen you. Thinking ahead to deal with getting around the parked car up ahead is a source of stress and involves twisting to look behind you and quick decisions about whether or not to slow down - once you do that, you generally might as well stop because your loss of momentum means you won't be able to get through that small gap in the traffic.

The people Mr Cooper is dealing with are not bad people and they're not stupid. They simply do not understand. They are, not unreasonably, reacting to their environment - one that tells them they have priority. And they are no doubt wondering who these weird people are getting in their way, slowing them down and putting themselves in danger (having said that, some would definitely just be turds).

That stress is tiring. It puts people off. As does the fact that even a short simple journey is presumed to require preparation, special equipment, provisions for on the way and a whole bunch of facilities for once you get there. You know how when you go on any short journey, you jump in your car, drive straight there, find a (free) car park and just jump out? No other form of transport matches that convenience here. They could - very easily - but they are presently far from it.

Most of all it is because of what Mr Cooper has experienced. It is what happens when our cities are built in such a way that using any form of transport other than a car (regardless of journey) becomes, as Her Majesty the Queen would say, a right royal pain in the arse.

Mr Cooper is giving himself a bit of a rest until Spring Break. I wish him well. I hope he gets his energy and determination back but with the current state of things, he is facing a losing battle and I fear he may end up like the vast bulk of the population who make the most rational choice based on the clear signals given to them by their built environment.

That of course is the part that needs changing. If (and it is a very big if) we are serious about changing our transport choices and lowering the noise, pollution, danger and cost we all share, we require a fairly radical change.

Mr Cooper has done his best. Encouraging people to ride around in heavy, howling traffic and to take the lane is nice in theory. It is even a fairly rational way to try and keep yourself safe if that is the environment you choose to ride in.

But as Mr Cooper has slowly found (although I am not sure he would admit it), I think it now requires a different approach.

Artwork by Bikeyface,

If Mr Cooper is interested, I can put him on to a ton of propaganda. Here's a great one to start with which was published just a few days ago. Make sure you watch the 4 minute video Ian and all the very best :)

And if you have time, please read this absolute classic from the Waltham Forest archives.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

There are plans and then there are plans

It only took until the second day of the year for an article on cycling to appear in our local news. It's about a plan to turn an eastern suburbs road into a bicycle boulevard.

Bicycle Boulevards have been introduced with success in a number of American cities (Portland, Berkeley, Davis and Boulder spring to mind).

The boulevard is part of a new cycling plan for Norwood, Payneham and St Peter's Council. Knowing that it has no way of changing what happens on State Government controlled arterial roads, the council is upgrading a series of residential streets to create (as best it can) a network. Beulah Road is currently the most used street by people travelling on two wheels. Hence the upgrade plan.

At the moment though, it is just a plan. We are told it is expected to cost between $50,000 and $300,000 and that it needs approval from the Transport Department.

So even now (despite the modest cost) it may or may not eventuate.

This is the main part of the council's cycling plan - its flagship if you will. The pictures look nice but I suspect that in truth it is a stretch of road with snazzy signs at each end, large bicycle logos on the ground and a 30 km/h speed limit. In other words, putting aside the fancy signs at the beginning, it is what all residential streets should be. The reasons for the low speed limit are to allow sharing the road and because frankly there is no need to have a faster speed limit because the road is a destination rather than thoroughfare.

In other words, if it were genuinely part of a network, it would be one small and quiet part of it.

We are blessed with wide main roads. I just wish we could finally use them properly. We all know about the easy to follow graphic:

And in a fit of perfect timing, Copenhagenize just published a post about Copenhagen's easy to follow design manual for bicycle infrastructure and parking. Adopt something like that, apply it each time a road is resurfaced or undergoes maintenance and before you know what has happened, 15 years have passed and you have transformed your city.

Despite my moaning, one thing I think is certain is that this will be a success. Bicycle traffic will increase along it and it should in time lead to more of them in other areas. It won't result in the end of the world for motorists. People will still be able to park and reach their houses.

I only have one wish. Please, please, please let us not refer to it as a "super" route. It is an improvement on what was there before but it does not deserve the title "super".

These are only slow baby steps and we are yet again copying from a city that itself has only taken baby steps and not copied what really works - but there you go. It is something.

Incidentally, do not bother going to the comments on the news article - they contain the same tired old dreary nonsense. Over something that in the scheme of things costs peanuts. And is not even definite anyway.