Sunday, 26 March 2017

Subsidies by Design

We've had some pretty miserable news lately. Just in time for the mining boom to come to an end, the car industry shuts up shop and the last three remaining manufacturers decide to leave within a few years of each other. There is some good news in the form of the decision to have some very expensive submarines built here but at the same time, we are told the building industry is doing it tough. A local (and large) building firm not long ago went into voluntary administration with debts to the tune of $110m, many of them owed to small scale contractors who can ill-afford it.

Unemployment and (lack of) economic growth in South Australia currently lead the nation and the word on the streets is that things will get worse before they get better.

Now that we no longer have a car industry, it is odd that we design our streets and suburbs so that it is difficult and inconvenient to make even the shortest journey using any mode of transport other than the now imported car.

On top of that, we import 91% of our fuel - often from filthy regimes that like to lock up 17 year old boys for blogging and then sentence them to death by beheading and crucifixion (in the 21st century!) or they'll simply flog them 1,000 times.

Retrofitting older suburbs takes time (but is not hard) yet we are still building most of our new suburbs as if nothing exists other than cars. Here's an example:

This one is a little north of Elizabeth. It is close to a railway station (Munno Para to the right of the picture) although the link to the station seems to be an afterthought. There is no relationship to the village centre which is far to the west of the station. The station is a park and ride on the very edge of the development (on the edge of a paddock yet to be developed) instead of designing the commercial centre right next to the station. To be fair, eventually all of the paddocks will be developed with housing but that seems to be some years away.

That's not the worst bit. Right in middle of the village centre just to the west of the commercial centre is an On The Run petrol station. I've sung their praises in the past but there is a proper place for that sort of thing - on the edge of the development. The developers have it all backwards. The railway station needs to be where the petrol station is and the petrol station needs to be on a ring road on the edge of the development.

If you design a new development with a proper commercial centre, it is more conducive to new small businesses. The mistake we make is to plonk a huge great car park in the middle of developments and allow some developer to come along and slap a concrete shopping centre in the middle. That is then filled with the usual suspects. There is, as you would expect, a Maccas, a Woolworths and plenty of junk food outlets. Every part is surrounded by car park as if, regardless of distance, that is not only the default mode of transport but the only conceivable mode of transport:

It also happened recently at the Brickworks markets. It was redeveloped and turned into a clone of so many other suburban shopping centres containing Woolies, Smokemart, Big W and all the rest. And the worst thing about it is that it is right next to the Linear Park bikeway but barely even acknowledges that fact. The entrance has been built about as far away as it can be:

Our suburbs and new developments do not seem to encourage new independent businesses. We need to set up the right environment to encourage local entrepreneurship - not just the economic environment, but the built environment makes a big difference. If you build a big private shopping centre surrounded by car parks, you'll get another woolworths or Bunnings. That is what has happened in the Munno Para development. There is no allowance for a corner deli anywhere in the development - just the usual massive store in the middle of the car park. Do we really need more of that?

In the right environment, there are plenty of new business and employment opportunities. Even a thick person like me can think of some (although whether they work is another matter).

What about a lunchtime place selling Danish Smørrebrød? It's healthy, looks amazing and would be just right with a small glass of bubbly:

With the right kind of development we could have scope for new clothing and furniture designers, jewelry makers, chefs, architects, florists, fruit and veg shops. What about a book shop that sells only classics (and also does coffee)?

Or on a slightly larger scale, a suitably qualified builder making Dutch style houseboats to be floated on the banks of the Coorong?

Maybe a business that converts old shipping containers into transportable retail outlets that could be stuck on the back of a lorry and used - well anywhere?

Or a full service laundry with one of those fantastic sheet ironing machines that you never see? I don't know about you but I cannot work out how to get those stubborn creases out of my sheets.

Here's a one more: a factory that makes truck and bus seats that are fully ventilated for the Australian climate and finally see an end to sweaty backsides on long-haul journeys. Like the ventilated office chairs you can get:

Anyway, I digress. The point is that an integral part of a country's economic policy must be the built environment. We seem to be getting there slowly. The PM has a Minister for Cities and the Built Environment, and Adelaide City Council has released its Design Manual. It is beyond doubt now that people friendly cities and suburbs are good for business. We do not need more car parks - even in Adelaide.

Now that the car industry has gone, we also no longer need to set up our built environment as if it were a subsidy to the car industry. We can prop up something else now. As my good friend Jim tweeted:

An industry manufacturing hi-tech state-of-the-art vehicles using skilled workers. If only SA had such a need and opportunity.

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.

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

Thursday, 9 June 2016


The o-bahn extension along Hackney Road is starting to take shape. I took these pictures a couple of months ago:

This shows recent progress near the bridge over Linear Park:

Eventually (if the plans are correct), this space will be taken by a new bridge alongside the road bridge. Once complete, you'll be able to ride from North Adelaide toward North Terrace on a separate path and then join my pilot city cycle path network :-)

The extension is costing about $160m and is already causing complaints. This guy, who deserves his own post on APILN, made it on to the news.

It should be remembered that this extension is costing less than one fifth of one part of the North-South motorway that's being built - just when we're told that driverless cars will soon revolutionise the way we get around and lead to a situation where most of us probably won't even need to own a car. One of them will be shared between a bunch of us.

Another complaint I occasionally here relates to the o-bahn itself. It's not used anywhere else so we should get rid of it and put a tram track down there instead. That's an argument but it's a very expensive solution to a problem that does not really exist. The o-bahn single-handedly carries more passengers than each of Adelaide's suburban railway lines (or so I'm told). Its already existing park and ride stations are bursting at the seams.

I may be wrong but its success seems to come from its speed and frequency rather than the type of technology it is. It also has the added flexibility of being able to serve surrounding suburbs before buses join the o-bahn itself.

Brisbane has something similar with its network of busways and everyone knows about Transmilenio in Bogota, Colombia. Those systems are not guided busways but are networks where buses have their own right of way along with dedicated stations.

I mention that because of the plans being discussed at the moment to build an innner suburbs tram network called AdeLINK. Once completed, it will have lines running along Prospect Road, Unley Road, the Parade, Henley Beach Road and a conversion or shared running along the Outer Harbor line to Port Adelaide and Semaphore.

It's all very wonderful - but very expensive. Because a Federal election is imminent, the Federal member is promising to chuck lots of other people's money at the idea, but it's still not enough to finish even one line so you have to wonder about the chances of the idea surviving beyond one electoral cycle.

There is a blogpost by Jarrett Walker of Human Transit fame where he described waiting at a tram stop outside Heidelberg station in Germany. Several lines stopped there, each with a two digit number. There was information about where each route went, and an electronic display showing when the next one was coming. However, when the service arrived, it turned out to be a bus. Inside, it had a low-floor, high windows, goodseating, and the type of information systems you find on trams and good buses. In other words, unless you were a public transport nerd, you might not even notice the difference.

This is the point I think. Trams don't suddenly attract masses of new riders simply because of their technology. But a clear, high-frequency service does. More than that, a clear high-frequency network with easy changes can attract more riders.

Canberra is going through a similar debate. A tram network is planned that will ultimately cover a lot of the city. Just looking at the map you can see it would be very expensive. The political cycle tells you that unless there is energetic bipartisan support for it, theh chances of it being finished are low. Further, there has already been some criticism of its business case.

The other side have come up with an alternative (and likely much cheaper) bus rapid transit plan. It includes buses that can carry bikes (or should I say - a bike).

I'm no expert and could not say which is best (indeed, which is best depends on the questions you ask) but I can't help thinking that the tram network is a wonderful idea but very expensive and it will take a long time to finish. A change of Government would probably put it on hold until its proponents are re-elected. Even then, there's no guarantee.

The idea of upgraded and high-frequency public transport routes that have their own dedicated right of way (or some other form of priority) is brilliant. That is what will enable people to choose public transport for more journeys. The technology is secondary. Once you have the dedicated right of way, rails don't necessarily really add a great deal.

There are some great examples of buses achieving the same outcome but at a fraction of the cost such as Brisbane, Almere, Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

Also, if you're really that keen on trams, you can buy buses that look like them:

 And if you're really keen, here's a driver's view of the right of way.

The agreement I think is about the need for high capacity, high frequency public transport with, so far as is possible, its own right of way. Trams can achieve that but so can other vehicles. If you start with something cheaper but just as effective, you can afford more of the network more quickly. Plus, if these things are going to be sharing space with lines of cars (which is likely), I think I might prefer a bus that can manoeuvre past obstacles.

As part of the o-bahn extension, there is a new shared (please no) cycling and walking path along Hackney Road. It includes a new bridge alongside existing road bridge. It's a clever move because that will provide a safe route all the way from North Terrace into North Adelaide using the new path and the service streets along Mann Terrace (great minds think alike).

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Build it and they will come

If ever there was proof of the statement build it and they will come, it is the newly opened cycle superhighways in London. Boris Johnson has just stepped down as Mayor to be replaced by Sadiq Khan. The cycle route were one of the last things he did and they were a huge improvement from the cycle highways mark 1, which consisted of a lot of wasted blue paint on select roads.

Depending on who you follow, there has been a lot of Twitter traffic and a lot of happy faces. What many of the pictures and Vine videos show is that the routes already look to be victims of their own success. There are long tailbacks in places and it is apparent that they really ought to be one-way tracks with the same thing on the other side of the road.


On many of the pictures and videos, it is also apparent that at times the cycle routes are carrying more people than the neighbouring and wider motorised routes, eg:

For all his faults, I think Boris Johnson should be congratulated if for no other reason that those of us in the rest of the world can now point to another city as an example of what happens when you use street space a little more wisely. He said some smart things in his interview:

The routes are far from perfect. They seem to be too narrow for all of the two-way traffic and a number of the junctions need a bit of work. But they have already made a huge difference, along with the 'mini-Hollands' that have been built in a couple of council areas. I hope these things are built on and that in time we lose the 'super' tag and they just become standard.

The whole route can be seen here:

I should of course add that it could never happen here!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

New South Wales

There has been a lot of talk and press coverage of new laws introduced recently in New South Wales. Mostly, they increase (massively) fines for various bicycle infringements so that now you face a fine of something in the order of $391 for not wearing your helmet compared to the $71 it used to be.

I still don't understand the need for the increase. I assume it was so that people on bikes and in cars are treated "equally". It's a laughable notion and a pointless goal.

When you see an interview with the architect of the laws, the Roads Minister Duncan Gay, you see someone with very fixed views (many based on personal biases and a lot of misconceptions) and someone who rarely in fact listens. When I watch him, he gives the impression of someone who is thinking what he is going to say next rather than actually engaging and responding to questions.

As he claims, he is "all about safety".


The thing that puzzles me most is the chain of logic he seems to have adopted. The starting point was that too many cyclists are killed and injured each year. We would all agree with that. The next step is then ergo we must increase fines. The clear assumption of course is that the death and injury is solely the fault of people who happen at the time to be on a bike. It conveniently ignores, for example, dooring injuries but it blatantly ignores the facts about who is responsible in most collisions involving bikes.

Where I am really dumbfounded is that while Mr Gay is saying he is "all about safety", at the same time he ripped up the College Street that was installed only a few years before at not insignificant cost. Not only that, he did not have it replaced with anything on any alternative route.

Prior to its removal, it was one of Sydney's busiest pieces of dedicated cycle infrastructure, used by 2200 riders each weekday. Transport for NSW's own report showed that it regularly carried as many people as the lane for cars that runs alongside.

The before shot

As you would expect, the road is still used by people getting places by bike but compared to before it is only a handful. Despite Mr Gay's claims of being "all about safety", it is dangerous for them. Not only that, it slows down motorised traffic:

These are Michael O'Reilly's pictures

Mr Gay thinks he's doing something about traffic flow but thanks to him, everyone loses out. The few cyclists using the road effectively block a lane. You may as well have left the bikeway!

While London is shooting ahead, Sydney and the rest of Australia continue to plod about in the 1970s.

This is one of London's new cycling routes showing the type of people who can use it and who couldn't before (the picture belongs to Rosie Downes)

This is not about cars vs bikes. I do not understand the weird attitude that leads to bizarre decisions like this one. The issue is simply one of choice. A multi-modal city is one where people chose a mode that best suits a journey. Currently we can "choose" the only one that's catered for.

This signed (placed not long after the laws were introduced) really says it all:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Bike Parking

One of the people I met at Velo-City 2014 was Tina Giannopoulou from Malmö in Sweden. She presented in one of the various roundtable workshops and spoke (in flawless English) about the much-publicised new bike parking station that was built there a couple of years ago. Copenhagenize blogged about it in February 2014 and there are a few more pictures of it here.

Tina had me totally on-side from the very beginning when she gave me an orange Malmö usb wrist-band thingo:

The authorities in Malmö found that when you provide alternatives to the car by way safe routes for riding, people use them (I know, right? Who would have thought?). Also, when they built their brand new railway tunnel under the city (something we desparately need), the stations at Malmö Central, Triangeln and Hyllie needed decent bike parking.

Tina explained that the bike park (at least the one she focussed on) was privately funded. The bike parking is on the bottom floor of a car park. The local authorities promised the developer that they would lease the bottom floor from them for bike parking.

They are bright and cheerful. They have lockers and showers, cargo bike parking and vending machines for bus and train tickets. There is even a shop where you can leave your bike for a service:

Pictures borrowed from here

Partly because of our land use patterns (which we still persist with) and what we perceive to be the necessity of using a car, park and ride stations do very well here. There are already capacity problems at the stations on the o-bahn, at Seaford and a number of others.

While popular, they are also an indication that we are still getting it wrong. If people need (or perceive they need) to drive a car to catch a bus or train, we are getting our land use wrong and are failing at putting together an efficient multi-modal transport system. If designed well, decent cycling routes can significantly increase the catchment area of public transport stops and stations and also increases (again significantly) the potential customer base. I don't think it is any surprise that something like 40% of Dutch train passengers get to the station by bike.

Decent bicycle parking is one thing but it is kind of useless if it is not easy to get to it.

I wrote a submission a while ago to the State Goverment Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. I pointed out that there is a large unused are of land next door to Islington railway station that could be used as a park and ride:

One of the State Government's long term plans is for a tram network including to Prospect which is not far from Islington. The proposed route would run about 700m parallel to the already existing railway line. It seems a bit of a waste to me especially as you could increase ridership at a much lower cost by expanding the catchment area of the railway line.

The block of land is privately owned so it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future (even though privately owned land did not stop South Road being widened and turned into an urban motorway. The State Government just compulsorily acquired people's homes and bulldozed them).

The thing about bike parking is that is does not need anything like the space of a car-based park and ride and so it is another area where you can get a massive bang for your buck. You can accommodate a lot of bikes cheaply and in a small space. And it increases tenfold the catchment area of your public transport stations.