Sunday, 31 July 2016

Big Announcement

At about lunchtime last Wednesday, an announcement was made by the State Government and Adelaide City Council that they would jointly spend $12m to make Adelaide "the cycling capital of Australia". That's $6m each. The money will be spent on extending and modifying the Frome Street bikeway and building a new, dedicated east-west cycling corridor through the city, as well as extending the bike-share scheme across inner-metropolitan Adelaide.

In the scheme of things, it is in fact a fairly modest spend. Despite that, according to the Lord Mayor, it is the single largest investment in cycling infrastructure in the history of the City of Adelaide.

The plan raises a few questions. First, what is involved in "modifying" Frome Street? We know the planted boxes will be removed. What is now space for cars will become space for a couple of more cars each side but a clearway during peak hours - "to ease congestion". How the bikeway will remain protected is not clear but I understand whatever design is used will be extended down to North Terrace.

The Infrastructure Minister appeared on radio the following morning. Disappointly he accepted that the argument that it had caused friction because of a perception that it had unfairly disadvantaged "motorists". While far from perfect, the design that was used was the subject of public consultation. I recall at least three designs were put forward. The chosen one was by far the most popular. Once the decision was made and building work began, of course the groaners came out of the woodwork including this embarrassing YouTube clip from one of the morning radio presenters.

Not only that, it was the subject of an expensive independent review that found it did not adversely affect traffic flow or businesses in the vicinity and Adelaide City Council's own figures support that. Yet the myth is allowed to continue. Why is money still being spent on this nonsense?

It's also not clear at this stage where the single east-west route will go. Three candidate streets have been picked:

Of the three possibilities, Pirie/Waymouth seems the least suitable. Both have one lane of motorised traffic each side and one lane of parking. Good luck with removing any of that parking! Grote/Wakefield and Flinders/Franklin and massively wide with tons of wasted space that could be used. The only question is how to extend them into th suburbs. That should not be difficult with a bit of support.

The bike-share system will involve something similar to what we see in Melbourne and Brisbane. There will be docking stations at various places allowing bikes to be used for one-way trips. No doubt we will experience similar difficulties to Melbourne's and Brisbane's as a result of helmet laws. And do we honestly expect it to be a success just because we've added one and a half additional bikeways? Why not finish a complete network first?

It will be interesting to watch the development of this announcement. One of the reasons for tinkering with Frome Street despite their being no need is to find a design that everyone is happy with - if that is possible - so it can be rolled out across the city. $12m is not that much money and I would have thought we'd be better off spending it all on new infrastructure rather than tinkering with the existing perfectly decent stuff and introducing a bike share system that is guaranteed to fail and be used as a reason not to spend any more money in the future.

While a $12m spend is miniscule by world standards, for Adelaide it is massive. That is why it was reported widely and deserved its own media announcement between the Infrastructure Minister and Lord Mayor. Against the obvious cynicism is the argument that it's a start and can be built on when this is shown to be a success. I have two words for that argument - Duncan Gay. Evidence is no answer to personal biases.

If all you have is $12m, there are ways to achieve a bang for your buck. I'm sorry to labour the point yet again but our Canadian friends show you can demonstrate the benefits of a minimum grid flexibly and nimbly and for not much cost.

Rather than just one east-west link, why not two or three? Why not trial different streets and treatments and see which one works best? Why only one north-south route on one side of town?

I had the privilege of talking at the recent Australian Walking and Cycling Conference on a plan for a pilot CBD cycling network similar to the Calgary (and now possibly Edmonton) experience:

I was part of a series of roundtable sessions. It was great. People were engaged and I received some really helpful and constructive feedback. The general concensus was that my idea for temporary barriers on Flinders Street was shit:

Far better, people suggested, would be to move the cars out from where they are and just have the bike lane swerve around the trees:

Pretty obvious and a clear improvement. The really helpful information was the tips on how to get an audience with council members and getting stakeholder organisations onside. I was really grateful for the help.

I am fairly certain that the one part of this new plan that will definitely go ahead will be the dismantling of parts of the Frome Street bikeway to open up more space for cars (that will be stationary for 21 hours a day). Getting councillors to agree on which street to use for the east-west route and what type of treatment I think will take a tad longer. Watch this space.

Meanwhile, on Mars:

From Chris Bruntlett's Twitter feed