Saturday, 9 August 2014

Why I'll be voting for the other guy

Not long ago, I received an email from Mark Hamilton; one of the candidates running for the position of Adelaide's mayor. It was a very helpful email. Even though I do not live in the Adelaide City Council area, the fact that I am self-employed and working in the CBD means I am nevertheless eligible to vote.

That was very good of Mr Hamilton. I won't be voting for him though.

Mr Hamilton was one of the most vocal opponents of Frome Street and remains so. He described it in April as cycling policy “gone berserk" and a sure sign that ACC is anti-car. I would be the first to admit that the Frome Street bikeway is far from best practice. It is unfinished, its design could be so much better and it was surprisingly expensive compared to what can be done for the same money. But having said that, it is part of one of at least two planned north-south routes and, as far as I am aware, there are east-west routes planned too (or maybe one is). Not only that, as we all know, the bikeway was the subject of fairly extensive consultation before it was begun and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Mr Hamilton feels this is the wrong direction for Adelaide and to that end, he has developed a 13 point "car friendly" city action plan:

Not people friendly, not family friendly, not even mobility scooter friendly - just cars. I think the chain of logic seems to be along the lines of (1) cars carry people, (2) businesses need people, (3) we therefore need cars.

The 13 points include limits on car parking fee increases, no further removals of on-street car parks, scrapping bus lanes, opposing 40 km/h speed limits and introducing a year long moratorium on new bike lanes.

Car Parks

According to the blurb, "Mark wants to bring back the days when we all had the chance of getting that ‘rock-star’ car park out the front of restaurants, shops and businesses. Plus, maximising the number of street car parks helps our local city businesses and traders."

That is such a nice idea. The problem is, that 'rock star' car park really is a matter of luck. We all remember the scene from Seinfeld when Jerry's dad got a car park right outside his building. He ended up not driving his car for days because he didn't want to lose it. Trying to provide an unlimited number of car parks is a nice idea but it is like the provision of bread in the Soviet Union. There is an insatiable demand and never enough to go around.

The idea also forgets that there is a finite amount of road space available for on-street parking. Mr Hamilton complains about the number of on-street car parks that have been removed but frankly, the number is tiny. They are still everywhere. When they are too cheap (as they are), they are taken and used very quickly. One consequence is that a lot of traffic consists of cars hunting for a car parking space. You can limit that by rationing them - through pricing. That is done either by charging an appropriate amount and/or having a time limit. You can actually do a lot with variable pricing depending on the time of day and demand.

More and more off-street parking is also a nice idea that Mr Hamilton advocates. Not only should the current batch of U-Park car parks not be sold, there should be plans for the next wave of them. If that is what rate-payers vote for, so be it. But they should understand that by building car parks to provide cheap parking, it is a direct subsidy only to motorists who come from out of town.

It also means money that could otherwise be spent on supporting business by encouraging more foot traffic is spent on your car parks.

When you're using up all your energy catering to cars (because of the common mistake about their importance) you can end up not seeing the forest for the trees. This is a small set of shops in Walkerville. It is fairly typical of the kind you see all over the city. Most people seem to come for the IGA supermarket but there is also a hairdresser, a newsagent, a bakery, a florist and a gift store:

Not including the car park for people with disabilities in the front of the picture, there is a total of 14 car parks. That's your limit. Now imagine on a Saturday morning, you have a couple of people who are visiting the hairdresser and planning for a highlights and a haircut. They will be blocking the car park all morning. You'll also have a few sitting in the bakery contemplating life and making their soy latte last 45 minutes. Do we honestly think that the remaining car parks support the other businesses?

If as a business you cater solely to motor vehicles, you are seriously cutting yourself short. It is obvious that not everyone does arrive by car. I cannot see how the businesses would survive if they did. Business owners consistently over-estimate the importance of car traffic to their business - and it seems that Mr Hamilton does as well. But if you set up a system where all of the alternatives are so awful and difficult that people don't bother and you are reliant solely on car traffic, watch what happens. We have seen it around the world. You end up with a donut city that is dead outside of the hours that office workers are there. If that's what you want, knock yourself out.

Anybody advocating more and more free parking has to read The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup and address the inevitable negative effects.

Bus Lanes

Mr Hamilton's opposition to bus lanes surprises me. Prior to their introduction on Grenfell Street, traffic during rush hour was at a standstill. Cars and buses blocked each other. The new system, while not perfect, is a serious improvement.

If you're sitting in a car in stationary traffic and a lone bus goes by in the bus lane, it is natural to feel a little miffed that those bus passengers are getting a free ride. But often, even that single bus is carrying more people itself than the line of cars you are sitting in. If bus lanes are working well, they do look empty by comparison to the car lane. The important point is that they are carrying more people. A single bus can carry as many people as 50 single-occupant cars. Should the bus be treated on an equal footing with a car containing one person? No. It is a no-brainer to provide faster travel times to people who use limited capacity more efficiently.

Bike Lanes

I am not entirely sure where Mr Hamilton gets his figures from but he says that of 130,000 workers commuting into the city each day, 0.8% of them arrive on a bike. That could be right. But, he says, cycling lanes take up around 20% of effective roadway and "numerous" on-street car parks have been removed to make them.


Name me one street in the CBD where on-street car parks have been removed to make way for a bike lane. I am not sure of any. About three were removed for Frome Street but please show me the "numerous" others.

20% of effective roadway? Seriously? Frome Street is the only place anywhere in the CBD where a single car lane has been removed. That's it. Where do you get 20%? Most CBD lanes don't even have bike lanes and on those that do, the lanes are poxy little painted ones about 80cm wide.

Mr Hamilton's figures suggest that 91% of commuters arrive by car. If he's right, shouldn't we be focussing on that figure? Is that really sustainable? Is that consistent with the sort of city we want? Is there any sense in a transport system that encourages people from suburbs as close as Unley and North Adelaide to drive into the CBD because the alternatives are so inconvenient in comparison? You end up increasing the very congestion you are trying to avoid.

The rest of the world is moving on. It is time for us to catch up.

The one part of Mr Hamilton's Car Friendly City Action Plan that does intrigue me is his plan to "review and reduce the number of existing bike lanes to end up with a tightly defined, safe, bike lane network that doesn’t conflict with city traffic". When that point is viewed in light of all of the other "buses and bikes are shit" dot points, I am suspicious. But you never know, so I'll be chatting with Mr Hamilton when he comes knocking on my door.

In the meantime, I would encourage anyone with a similar worldview to Mr Hamilton to check out the latest from Streetfilms showing how our Danish friends are moving even further ahead of us:

Can I quickly mention helmets just this once?

I was minding my business just the other day when I saw a young child being pushed along at walking pace on a small tricycle via a handle that the child's mother was holding. The child had a big pink helmet strapped to her head. Because you never know.

It reminded me of one of the events at Velo-City 2014 and the fact that Australia can sometimes be a very odd place.

Nik Dow and Freestyle Cyclists organised a small protest ride along Linear Park just to make the point that helmet laws had perhaps not been the panacea that had been hoped and, if anything, have had a negative effect on public health.

Disappointly I could not go along which meant I also missed the jamming session at Bike Kitchen.

There was a good crowd to start with and more joined as they went along including a few of the overseas delegates. That ride was the only time I saw Herbert Tiemens (bicycle program manager at Bestuur Regio Utrecht) and Klaus Bondam (Director of the Danish Cyclists' Federation) on a bike for the entire week. In fact, it was the only time I saw Danish man-crush, Mr Copenhagenize, riding a bike in Adelaide under his own steam. All the other times he was either getting transported on one of the rickshaws or he was making use of the free wi-fi on the tram.

A couple of things struck me. The first is that riding a bike along a river (away from traffic on a Linear Park) is something children do in other countries every single day. When our friends did it, it made the news - front page no less:

Even worse, it required a police escort with officers in hi-viz at the front and rear of the convoy!

And it was the riders who were painted as the strange ones. Funny old world.