Thursday, 10 December 2015


This is a small suburban shopping centre. It is on North East Road at Collinswood on the way out of the city. There are small groups of shops like this all over the place. The bulk of the land is taken up with car parking and there are usually a relatively small number of shops. Generally they consist of a small supermarket, a chemist, a chicken shop and some others.

The second shop along has been empty and available for lease for years:

I highlight it only to make a point.

Back in 2008, Prospect Council proposed a local area traffic management plan for the area to the east of Main North Road:

It involved some smaller streets being closed to through traffic and traffic-calming in other areas. The idea was to limit rat-running by motorists who did not live in the area but used the streets as a rat-run in the morning and afternoon rush hours.

You can see the logic behind that. A large part of council expenditure is for maintenance of local roads (the bulk of our road network). Allowing unlimited rat-running means that local residents are subsidising the convenience of people who don't live in the area and don't conduct their business there.

The plan would have made the area a lot like the area of Prospect to the west of Main North Road. That has various little chicanes and other traffic calming measures and the odd road blocked to motorised traffic as well. Another area with similar treatments is around Unley. It was one of the first to introduce a 40km/h speed limit on residential streets and to incorporate filtering - particularly for people on bikes:

This is Porter Street not far from Greenhill Road

Unsurprisingly, it is the area in South Australia with the highest number of children who ride to school.

If you drive or ride or walk through the area to the east of Main North Road you will see that nothing ever came of the plan. Council received various petitions opposing the plan, signed mainly by people who did not live in the area. The complaints and objections were fairly typical. It would destroy local businesses, create congestion and just move traffic on to adjoining streets. That last one seems to rest on the common misconception that traffic is a fixed volume that must somehow be accommodated rather than something that is a function of the road layout itself.

One of the petitions came from the then lessees of the empty shop in the picture above. It sat on the counter and invited customers to sign the petition against the traffic management plan because it would harm local businesses like that one. That "local business" was a BWS, a chain of liquor stores owned by Woolworths. There are 1200 of them across Australia.

The loud complainers won the day and the traffic management plan was never to be seen again. Because as we all know from recent history, "impossible! You cannot ever close a street! Out of the question!":

A still from this film:

It is such a great documentary. Mark Wagenbuur, the author of the Bicycle Dutch blog, shortened it and added subtitles. Please do read the accompanying blogpost.

Now when you go to the group of shops, you will see people arriving and leaving in their car (with the odd bicycle seen leaned up against a shop wall because there is still not a single bike stand after decades), often dressed in ugg boots and tracky-dacks as if they've just got out of bed. Many will waddle the short distance from their car to the chemist to get their medication for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Anyway, not long after the plan was aborted, just down the road, another new shopping centre was built in Walkerville:

This was a shiny new one with an underground car park and a great big new Woolworths inside. The BWS shifted down there pretty soon afterwards. To be fair though, they put a nice friendly message on their counter to all the people who signed their petition inviting them to drive down and see them at the new shiny shopping centre.

And nothing has changed since that day. Not proceeding with the local area traffic management plan protected local businesses so well that the shop has remained empty and dormant since the day that BWS buggered off.

PS: a good test would be to propose a new Unley traffic plan that gets rid of the traffic calming, 40km/h speed limits and filtering. I wonder what the local residents would think of that one.

Monday, 9 November 2015


The latest South Australian cycling-friendly innovation was to introduce two of the recommendations of the citizens' jury. They were a one metre passing rule and allowing people on bikes to ride on footpaths. Despite the extensive public consultation at the time, it still came as a surprise to some - mostly radio hosts for some reason. Despite a (very) few vocal howls of protest, the regulations were introduced and the world did not stop turning.
Not only that but progress is slowly being made on the famous Frome Street bikeway. Councillor Anne Moran was on the radio the other day and she said the thing has to be finished. As she correctly said, at the moment people ride along it in safety only to find themselves disgorged into traffic just when protection is needed the most. Just what form the extension will take and how long it will take remain to be seen. Although Adelaide City Council did release some nice pictures of what it could look like:

(Note the totally wrong treatment at the side street. The pathway and bike lane should be continuous to reflect give way rules)

While we have been introducing new regulations that make it the law to show consideration and also recognise that some roads are so awful that the only sensible thing to do is ride on the pavement, the rest of the world is moving along nicely.

They have been a long time coming but London is building its new separated cycling highways - one east-west and one north-south (with more to come):

London - 4 views from MaidstoneOnBike

I'm fairly certain they will be a game changer.

Salt Lake City (a very conservative town) has gone beyond bike lanes and has just built its first proper protected intersection:

Another U.S. city, Seattle, in the time it has taken for us to build half of one protected bike lane has completed seven. It persisted through a series of negative newspaper editorials until the voice of the people was heard and they voted 56 percent to 44 percent in favour of a property tax increase that will spend $65 million on a 50-mile protected bike lane network and a 60-mile neighborhood greenway network over the next nine years.

Canada's cities continue to leave ours behind. A mate of mine was there recently and sent back pictures of Toronto:

and Calgary:

We all now know about Calgary's pilot city cycle network. By all accounts, it is going great guns:

And if you need any more ideas or guidance on how to get things right, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has released its own Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide that could be transplanted here almost overnight:

While all that's going on, we're still spending large wads of cash on new freeways. We've finished the elevated "superway" over Grand Junction Road for a cosy $842m:

(Borrowed from here)

Darlington is next on the list (at $620m):

along with the Torrens to Torrens section (at $896m).

It is interesting that at the same time, Utrecht in the Netherlands has just removed an urban freeway to bring back the original canal:

(From here)

and Vancouver has also voted to knock down what remains of its 1970s freeway system. Just as Vancouver (along with many other cities around the world) ends an era of highway building, we are just starting on ours with a price tag that will be in the billions.

It's a long road ahead.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


So the family and I took a trip to Vietnam. It is a fantastic holiday destination.

For various reasons, notably income and tax levels, Vietnam's road transport system, particularly within its cities, is predominantly two-wheeled. Where it was once bicycle based, it is now mainly mopeds:

One of our tour guides made the point that traffic engineers there design roads that our terrible for cars because they are mainly thinking about the mopeds (sort of the reverse of what we get). All of the mopeds take a bit of getting used to because they rarely stop. When crossing the road, you have to look straight ahead and just keep your pace. Moped riders can judge where you are going and either nip into the space in front of you or go behind you. It is like a crowd of people running past you.

Although it is unnerving at first, it is in some ways preferable to walking through our cities where your journey is interupted so often for red lights. The negatives are the drone of the bikes and the pollution.

Moped parking is catered for everywhere:

both on street and off street. And some shop-fronts were used as small guarded moped parks.

Everywhere you see small design features that show that two-wheeled users come first:

It is of course not all wonderful. In the time we were there, we saw the fatal aftermaths of two accidents crashes. However in both cases, the rider had been crushed under the wheels of a truck, which only serves as evidence of the inappropriateness of mixing those different forms of transport.

Children got around by themselves everywhere; sometimes walking but most of them seemed to be on bikes. School closing time had them out in droves:

And even tiny schools in villages had plenty of bike parking:

Naturally, we had a go and rode through paddy fields to the beach near Hoi An. We were one bike too short and so supergirl got to ride on the back of mine:

So nice to be able to ride around casually without some sanctimonious busy-body telling you off for what you are or aren't wearing.

Vietnam is one of the 193 countries in the world without bicycle helmet laws but they are required for mopeds. An industry has sprung up manufacturing some cool designs. As a souvenir I bought this leather look Nike knock-off. If you have to wear one, you may as well try and look as good as you can:

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Close Passes

This picture was posted on Twitter recently by the West Midlands Police in England:

The caption was "It's close when you can read the writing on the tyres, don't pass cyclists towards a blind crest! #joysofcommuting".

It's particularly hair-raising with the drain right there.

The police later tweeted "Driver will be reported, overtake towards the crest, car came over the crest so the HGV squeezed me out #duecare #Safercycling #poorplanning".

I have to say that while the person on the bike would have shat his pants, at the same time I have a bit of sympathy for truck drivers. They are heavy and difficult to slow down. Granted the driver misjudged the passing manouvre but the alternative was to slow right down and then later accelerate (slowly) to overtake when there was a sufficient gap in oncoming traffic to allow a safe pass. On a narrow road like that, there's no way of knowing how long that would have taken.

It is the type of misjudgment of which we are all guilty only this time the combination of the truck's large size, the type of road and the bike being right there made it extremely dangerous.

Having said that, there is no excuse for the sort of purposefully dangerous behaviour that is described in this excellent piece from Beyond the Kerb.

Even where there aren't blind corners, on a straight road errors of judgment and a failure to pay attention can have fatal consequences.

It was, sadly, precisely that type of road death that led to the establishment of the Amy Gillett Foundation which was instrumental in convincing the State Government to introduce a minimum 1 metre passing law.

I can't help asking myself though - is such a law likely to make a significant difference other than in people's minds? It is rare for someone in a car to ram into someone else deliberately. These collisions are, like most, the result of either human error or a failure to pay attention. It is the consequences that are catastrophic as we saw only recently in Brisbane with the appalling, tragic and preventable death of Rebekka Meyer.

At the time of writing, it was reported that the inquest heard "conflicting evidence" from eight witnesses.

They could not agree on where the cyclist and the truck were in traffic before the accident, if her feet were on both pedals, or if she fell or was struck.

When you look at the intersection, all of those questions start to lose relevance:

Who cares where the truck was beforehand? Who cares if Rebekka Meyer was hit or she fell? She was killed because that toxic road environment placed her in close proximity to a truck with massive blind spots. Isn't it that simple?

How can it be that we continue to tolerate such idiotic road layouts that lead to potentially fatal consequences? Roads with speed limits of 60km/h or more that rely on drivers to see people up ahead and then competently gauge speeds and distances before overtaking - and for everyone to get it right all of the time?

There are far more sensible ways to deal with that type of risk.

The fact that we continue doing this to people, in light of all the knowledge available, is bordering on the criminal.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Walk in my shoes

A good friend of mine has had problems with her eyes for some time. Recently she received the disappointing news from the eye surgeon that she's kind of stuck with it now. She's not blind but can no longer drive and she does now require a certain amount of assistance.

She went to the Royal Society for the Blind to get some equipment, including magnifying screens for her PC and iPad, a small telescope for looking at menus on walls at cafes along with other little things. So more than anything, it is just getting used to a new set of circumstances.

There are various things that can be done to make life a little easier for people like my friend. When we were chatting, I mentioned a European directive that requires the doors of suburban trains to be a clearly different colour from the rest of the train:

Borrowed from here.

My friend pointed out that that is one of those small things that costs nothing but brings not only comfort but also confidence. Instead of having to hope, guess or ask for help, the work is done with no effort.

Another easy thing to do is keep hedges and low hanging trees well pruned to avoid easily avodable scratches to the face.

It is walking around the city with someone who has a small difficulty that you notice how much easier life could be made for many people with just a little thought. I see my friend stop while she is crossing the road because she has to peer down to work out where the edge is on these camouflaged dropped kerbs:

Why do we even have them on minor intersections? Why not just continue the pavement over the road so the cars have to stop and cross that?

Just navigating pavements can itself be a problem. For example, this is a view along Market Street. The entrance to the Central Market is just behind the white van:

For those of us with good eye sight, those three poles are quite visible. Not for my friend. She notices getting close to them that something is there and has to put her hand up to stop her self bumping into it and then guide herself around. The streets are actually full of clutter like the poles. They are difficult to see because of their shape and their colour which allows them to blend in with the asphalt grey that is everywhere.

The poles serve no purpose other than to indicate how long you can store a car alongside them free of charge. Could we not achieve the same end with a single sign at the end of the street? This is a 2 hour parking area. Or better still, instead of leaving the street with silly narrow pavements, why don't we widen them to help the already struggling businesses? Narrow the street or even block it off. The cars can be parked in the car park above the market surely?

Another obstacle is crossing the road. If you happen to be going to the market, there is only one place that actually has a signalised crossing on all of Gouger Street. There are a couple of other designated crossing points but it is the people who have to wait. Good luck if you can't see very well. And good luck if you wish to cross a moat of asphalt like this:

This is fairly typical of the city. All roads almost without exception have a 50km/h speed limit. The only place where you will be offered any assistance to cross the road is at a signalised intersection. And they are there not to assist pedestrians but because they are needed to regulate motorised traffic.

Here's another example that is a nightmare for anyone who can't see very well or cannot move quickly:

I see people being beeped at all of the time when they mis-time their crossing. I make a habit of giving them the finger even if they don't see me.

I took the picture during a very quiet part of the day. It is worst during the rush hour. The white car you see has just come around the corner. Although there is a green bike lane, the bend does not have a tight radius and cars can come around there at a high speed. Crossing the road is an exercise in hope when you finally get a space in the traffic.

Vehicles also come from the two lanes to the left of the white car. And in the case of all traffic, despite a requirement to indicate, you can only guess as to whether they may be going left or right. Indicating seems to be optional.

Now imagine all of that during the evening rush hour when it is often dusk and even harder to see.

It is very easy to assume that everyone experiences the world in the same way you do. We all fall into that trap. But the danger is that we then fail to see the difficulties that others sometime face. A consequence of building streets and cities with cars at the forefront of our minds is that we risk ignoring the needs of people close to us. If nothing else, it makes us appear quite thoughtless.

Perhaps it's time we established a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian office.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The itch that won't go away

You would think that adding a protected bike lane to a street would be a fairly mundane affair - almost a non-event.

Not in Adelaide.

The Frome Street Bikeway has used up more newspaper column space and talkback radio time than any other correspondingly minor issue. For the first time in the history of the Adelaide City Council, it dragged enough people out of their homes for it to be necessary to film the council's debate so that the stragglers could watch it in a separate room.

The Bikeway was completed just before the Velo-City conference in May 2014. Delegates were invited to go and try it out. It was, and still is, the only part of a long-since planned north-south protected bike route through the city (emphasis on the singular).

Now that it has been in existence for over 12 months, the council ordered an independent report into its performance. The report (which cost $90,000) made a number of findings. In summary, business trade, property prices and the street’s amenity had not been negatively affected by the project, and there had been a 23 per cent increase in cyclists using the bikeway since the concrete barriers and car parks were installed. However, there was some confusion about right of way at intersections and the report authors made some suggestions about that.

The finding that seemed to cause concern was the "significant decrease in motorist volumes along Frome Street since the separated bikeway was introduced". At the same time, there was "no indication that reduced traffic on Frome Street had caused in any increase in traffic on adjacent routes."

A day after the report was released I was listening to that Penberthy fellow on the radio. His suggestion was that the bikeway was a "debacle" because it had scared people away from the city. That was the only explanation for the drop in car numbers. That is also what I understood Councillor Moran's attitude to be when she was interviewed - although I stand to be corrected.

It should be remembered that the reduction in traffic is exactly what we should expect. Traffic volumes are not a fixed thing to which we must cater by building more roads. It is the other way around. Traffic volumes are reflexive and respond to the road-space available. Increase the road-space and traffic volumes increase. Decrease the road-space and the opposite happens. That is not even remotely controversial. It just happens.

In the case of the Bikeway, some previous car trips have been substituted - either by changing the mode of transport (witness the increase in bicycle numbers), a substitution by time or a substitution by route.

The well-worn issue of the reduction in traffic lanes was covered in the report. Indeed, that was one of the reasons for the report's commissioning. In short, the authors said that returning the street to two driving lanes at peak times would have a “negligible” impact on congestion, which was mainly affected by intersections rather than by mid-block capacity.

Anyway, a motion was put in council. On 23 June, the Economic and Community Development Committee voted to develop options and costings on how to return the street to four lanes of traffic during peak times. The proposal was planned to be put to council for approval at its meeting on 30 June.

And that was the day we all turned up.

We met at the Box Factory on Regent Street South:

rode along the Bikeway and left on to Pirie Street:

in time for the debate. I am embarrassed to say that I had never been inside the Council Chamber to watch democracy in action.

(Please excuse the grainy pictures. I had to zoom in from the back of the public gallery)

It is unnecessary to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it is back to the drawing board. The motion that was ultimately passed can be read in all its glory here (go straight to page 6).

It was all very courteous.

A couple of things to note. First, each councillor who spoke confirmed their support for a rollout of protected bike lanes across the city. That is at least welcome. Once Councillor Simms' proposed amendment was defeated, the motion (on p6) was passed unanimously. They all love the idea. Second, while councillors (and their constituents) like protected bike lanes, there is something about Frome Street that bothers them. Words and phrases such as "over-engineered", "clunky" and "concrete blobs" are heard repeatedly.

Both Councillor Moran and another (possibly Councillor Clearihan) sang the praises of Danish bike lanes. One of them even carefully described the gentle drop from pavement to bike lane and the other gentle drop from bike lane to road. The Danish design is something Councillor Moran has repeatedly raised since her visit there and, in response to my email to her, wrote that she too loves the Danish design and will promote it.

The concrete blobs that they refer to are nothing unusual, eg:

They can be seen on many intersections across the metropolitan area. The reason for them being used on a bike lane remains a mystery to me but it seems to be a requirement of the applicable design standards, the source of which I cannot fathom. It is those standards that seem to be the problem.

If Danish design is what the Councillors want, that is the design they should adopt. It is interesting that people from around the globe visit Denmark each year to learn from one of the leaders and yet not a single country or even city has come close to properly adopting what they see. The Streetfilms movie about the US visit is now 5 years old.

Wouldn't it be great if all of a sudden, we were the first city to roll out something that has been proven to work and then - surprise, surprise - it suddenly works here?

It would be easy.

It shouldn't cost much.

And drains are not a problem. Mikael Colville-Andersen told me :)

It was a great experience to watch the council in action on a topic about which people feel so strongly. Nobody could deny their commitment and dedication. All of them agreed that this is the right thing for Adelaide. They all wanted to make sure they get it right and bring the public with them for the ride. I just hope that Anne Moran's love of Smørrebrød and all things Danish translates into some decent cykelstier.

It's as if the bike lanes are not even there. What's not to love? Via David Arditi @VoleOSpeed

NB: Yet again though, this is a compromise. If you are going to redesign the bikeway, why not do it properly? Why not treat it as part of a larger plan that includes a genuine desire to cut traffic, prioritise safety and provide a complete network that works seamlessly with public transport. This report from Cycling in Christchurch covers it all and applies equally to a city like ours.