Thursday, 26 January 2017

Two Pilots

I blogged a while ago about the city of Calgary's pilot cycle track network. I first heard about it at Velo-City in 2014 after the council had voted on it but before the pilot period began. The (obvious) reason for a pilot is that it feels less risky to the doubters. Also, because it's cheaper than something permanent, you can cover more ground.

It all began on 2 June 2015 together with announcements and a council video.

At the time, I collected three local news stories just to see how it was reported. What is interesting are the comments below each article. Exactly what you get here. The same tired old arguments against but Calgary gave it a go.

The pilot was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. From the outset, parts of the routes were busy and from early on. Motorists were slowed down. However, it was by about 90 seconds in the rush hour to get across town. Indeed, overall the figures were very positive:

And it soon became clear that more bike parking was needed.

Not far into the project, Alberta's other major city, Edmonton, released its own plans for a quick-build network. Once they had had an opportunity to see its benefits, local businesses also signed on to show their support.

The project ended in December last year with the council voting 10 to 4 (with one abstention) in favour of keeping it. Remember the project initially got off the ground with a narrow 8 to 7 vote in favour. That means it will be made permanent and hopefully expanded. Importantly for Australian cities, it is a good example of how even in a dispersed and heavily car-oriented city a minimum grid of bike routes can do well and benefit everyone.

Our city does not have any similar plans but it does have a pilot of sorts. Adelaide City Council and the State Government are spending $12m on completing the north-south bikeway along Frome Street and an east-west one on a street that is yet to be announced. Tragically, a chunk of that money is to be spent re-doing the already complete part of Frome Street.

The council have put together a series of short sample bike lanes for people to come and tryout and give feedback on. They had a drop-in even on Saturday 10 December 2016 complete with free coffee and crepes:

And people bringing their cool bikes out:

The plan to alter (yet again) Frome Street includes bringing back a lane of traffic for rush hour. The new section will also have two lanes of traffic each side which means that the new designs involve narrower cycle lanes:

The part of the lane closest to the picture on the left has lower kerbs. You can see the difference beyond the black stripe. The concensus seemed to be fairly clearly in favour of the lower kerb because it widens the effective width. People I spoke to who rode through them mentioned that you could feel the difference. So here's hoping.

I noticed near the plans that were pinned to a fence that there was a small table with name badges for all of the people who had been invited. That included city councillors some of whom had been vocal critics of Frome Street (even after a lengthy public consultation came down overwhelmingly in favour of the current design). The name badges remained untouched.

The proposal to change the current Frome Street bikeway is an odd one. On any view it has been a success. An independent report says so. There is no explanation for why that is being ignored. The proposal to spend all of this money to bring back two lanes of traffic in the rush hour is impossible to justify. There was never a volume of traffic sufficient to justify it in the first place. Not only that, Frome Street begins at Carrington Street which itself has only one lane each side. Where is the need for there to be two lanes of traffic at that point? On top of all that, motor vehicle traffic in major Adelaide City streets is decreasing. How can we possibly need additional lanes on a secondary street like Frome Street - at its quietest end?

Staff at the council seem to be bending over backwards to hear everybody's views. I hear a lot of carping on talkback radio for example where Frome Street is continually described as a "debacle". Have any of those commentators bothered to come and look at the designs to discuss them and provide feedback? I certainly didn't see them there even with free crepes. Nevertheless, whatever happens, if the bikeway is extended and it results in so much as one on street car park being removed, you'll hear about it first on talkback.

It is inevitable that whatever the council tries to do there will be complaints and negative comments. And that's ok. The experience overseas shows that whenever something new is tried, people are often wary at first. Once there is an opportunity to show that this stuff works, Calgary shows that people change their mind. They now have a permanent, well used city bike network. Vancouver is similar and even further ahead. They are at the stage where public transport, biking and walking account for 50% of all trips (four years ahead of what was planned) and one of every 10 work trips is by bike. Ideally it would be one in 10 of all trips.

Consultation is still open through the council's YourSay website. The comments on the forum already show a strong concensus that further tinkering with the current minimal infrastructure is a waste of everyone's time and money and that bike lanes need to be wide enough for overtaking and riding side by side.

I am confident this will eventually work out. We're just going to do it a bit more slowly than other places. That's ok too. Eventually, it should achieve its own momentum and all of a sudden, like the new Oval, everyone will be saying they always thought it was a good idea.

If you fancy reading just one more article, this one is a nice feel-good history of the project.


  1. Adelaide in a nutshell: "We're just going to do it a bit more slowly than other places."
    I ran down and had a look before xmas when I was holidaying and wanted to pop into the office to give my input but ran out of time. From memory, of the 7 designs most were alright, 1 was the real thing (Copenhagen) and a couple were wrong. I am not holding my breath but wish the council would spend 1500$ on a return flight with Emirates, perhaps pair it up with a Masterclass at Copenhagenize and get on with things instead of wasting everyones time, money and lives.

    1. Seriously. It would be great to see a blogpost on Copenhagenize with a bunch of familiar faces from Adelaide. There are a couple of people on the council who I would definitely like to see go along for the ride. And perhaps one of the groaners from talkbakc radio.