Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Useful Illustration

So I was in Melbourne again recently with the family. They do a lot of things right there. The CBD is humming, there is plenty to do and there is that great public transport system of theirs (depending on where you want to go). It makes you wonder what could be achieved if just some of the money that was earmarked for the ridiculous East-West Link was spent on improving tram and train services.

We also used the bikeshare system - complete with goofy helmets:

Most of the time it was necessary for at least a couple of us to ride like criminals without the plastic hat. They were so often not available. Quite often the reason for their lack of availability would ride past you:

(To be fair, I am sure that young lady bought her bikeshare helmet for $5 from a 7-Eleven and quite rightly kept it given that she had paid for it).

While there, we caught up with friends; two families who have moved from Adelaide to Melbourne in the last year. Both families are very similar - two children; both at school and similar ages; one boy and one girl; do different activities at different times.

As you would expect, both were two-car families when they lived in Adelaide. Unless you make a really concerted effort, it is quite difficult for a family like that to function normally in Adelaide without two cars. It can be done but as I say, it requires real effort.

In the short time they have been living in Melbourne (less than twelve months), both have got rid of one car.

Getting into the city is much cheaper, quicker and easier by tram. That means some children's activities can be reached that way. It also means the children (some of the time) can get there by themselves. Once of the dads has even got himself a year's subscription to bikeshare.

Melbourne is far from a world leader in public transport and biking infrastructure. Public transport is excellent by Australian standards but could still improve and biking as transport has massive scope for improvement. Despite that, Melbourne still offers sufficient transport choice for families like that not to have to fund two cars. Add up all of the families in that position and then work out the money they are saving and what it can be spent on. Then the wider benefits start to materialise.

Further improvements would merely improve mobility and independence, particularly for the children in each family.

I think once a city can boast that sort of choice, you know it is getting somewhere. And once we get to the point where people genuinely have the choice not to own a car, only then will be able to rest on our laurels - and then only for a short time.

Fitzroy Street, St Kilda

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Ahead of the pack

A recent article, that made it to the front page, told a lot of us what we already knew - that for some routes in the morning rush hour, it is quicker to ride a bike. The RAA tested four routes using a car, bike, bus, train and tram and on three out of the four, it was the bike that was quickest - by a fair margin.

The testing was actually quite vigorous. This was how it was described on the Adelaide Cyclists forum:

The experiment and subsequent report was produced really with the type of person in mind who has considered using alternate modes of transport for their commute into work but who has never gotten round to actually doing so. I appreciate that there is likely to be some scepticism around the results, but I can assure you all that our aim was to be as fair and objective as possible within the experiment. For instance, the start time for each survey varied to accommodate the departure times for public transport, but were generally between 8-8.15am. We picked start points according to where public transport infrastructure (train/tram) was in place, but with a distance of no more than 10km away from the city. I appreciate that many people live more than 10kms away, but one of the considerations that we had in the report was for people who may wish to consider driving to a park n ride and then cycling the rest of the way to their destination. I think that Glenelg, Mitcham and Paradise offer an ideal case in point for this option. In some cases (Mitcham and Paradise) it is possible to drive/cycle and get to the city quicker than just driving the entire journey.

Given that the bike was fastest 3 out of 4 times, the question then is why we do not have a more balanced use of the different modes available. Again, I think the RAA hits it on the head when they say:

Our official position is one that it is all well and good to try to encourage more people to use alternative modes of transport, but those options/infrastructure need to be in place in order to encourage people to use them in the first place.

Such a statement is intuitively correct. It is where the work is needed.

The newspaper report of the experiment led to a couple of interesting comments on the radio that morning. One was:

it's 80 km from Gawler to Seaford. When are people going to realise that cycling is just not viable for some?

The speaker chose the suburb furthest to the north and the one furthest to the south to make his point. Of course nobody would ride that distance but very few drive it either. I should add that both suburbs are served by trains.

Also, the presenter who said that commutes every day by car from Unley to the CBD - a distance of about 3km. Not just bikeable but walkable. He has every right to drive that distance every day - nobody is stopping him - but his neighbours might give the alternative some thought.

Progress will not come from radio presenters it seems.

I actually think, like most things, it will come from people and businesses. There is a whole movement of people quietly doing their thing to effect positive change in all sorts of areas.

We have all heard of the local company 'On The Run'. They seem to own every second petrol station in the entire metropolitan area and they load them up with all sorts of franchises so that when you walk into the shop, there is no end of things on offer.

I remember growing up when at night and on a Sunday, the only thing open was the local servo and the choice was woeful. And what little there was available was overpriced. These people changed all that with a simple and genius business model. They have done very well out of it and good on them.

I an willing to bet that they will be the first chain of petrol stations to install bike service stations of the type you find overseas where you can pump your tyres, fix a flat, oil your chain or give your bike a clean. I bet they will also lend you allen keys and tools to remove your tyres without charging you.

(I borrowed this from Copenhagenize. The picture was taken by Mads Odgaard)

The payoff for them will be more customers coming through the shops and more likely buying overpriced bottles of water. But it will also mean that like the RAA, they get it and they understand that their business comes not just from people in cars. Business owners who forget that are missing out on a lot of valuable custom and radio presenters and others who constantly gripe about changes to the use of roads are doing them a disservice.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The next few slow years

While our Dutch friends, without any fanfare at all, continue to update their already superior transport network, our Danish friends do the same and city mayors in the United States try to outdo each other in reforming the design and function of their city streets, the small burst of energy we have just seen in Adelaide, that led to the very short and really quite conservative little bikeway on Frome Street, may have just come to an end.

I moved back to Adelaide in 1997. There have been a few different State Premiers and city mayors since then. In all that time, I have never seen so much positive progress as I have in the last few years that Stephen Yarwood has been mayor of Adelaide, including the new Oval, the new hospital, Victoria Square, laneway reactivation, Leigh Street, Peel Street, food carts, RenewAdelaide, hosting Velo-City, online engagement and of course the small beginnings of a decent city-wide safe bike network.

Our new mayor, Martin Haese, made a number of promises on his campaign website but it is a little difficult to see exactly what he stands for. I suppose we will find out in the next few years.

Bike SA held a "spin cycle" for mayoral candidates to talk to cyclists about their policies. One thing Mr Haese said was that "bikeways and business do not mix" so, we were told, the Frome Bikeway has to go.

It is an odd comment and one that flies in the face of all of the evidence on the subject. If you want recent data, have a listen to New York's Transportation Commissioner, Janet Sadik-Khan, on her recent visit to Adelaide:

Just as a couple of examples, on one street corner in Brooklyn, a small car park was turned into a plaza. In 3 years, there was a 172% increase in retail sales. Since Times Square was changed and space was given back to pedestrians, 350,000 people use it every day. New York added 400 miles of on-street bike lanes in 7 years. As we have had here, every argument imaginable was raised against them. Gridlock was predicted. But things have turned out just fine. During weekends, bike ridership has doubled and on weekdays it has tripled.

All of that has been achieved on less than 1% of the roads maintenance budget. Injuries have halved and retail sales have increased 49% where protected bike lanes have been installed. And generally, travel times have improved for everyone.

That's just one city.

As strange as it is, that little bikeway on Frome Street has caused more wailing and gnashing of teeth than any other recent development. Despite all of the doom and gloom (which included Anne Moran telling us on the radio just the other day, without any irony, that Adelaide suffers from the "tyranny of distance" - this is from someone who drives to work from North Adelaide), the bikeway seems to have been a success - more so than many people predicted.

In response to requests from the Advertiser and Indaily, Adelaide City Council provided an update on the use of the Frome Street Bikeway and information on the evaluation process. It is useful to set out the information in full:

The Frome Bikeway opened on Wednesday 14 May 2014 and has been in use by cyclists for five months over winter, generally a time when fewer people ride bikes. However, early observations of the use of the bikeway are encouraging.

A survey undertaken in October 2014 indicates that up to 1000 cyclists are using the bikeway daily. This is a 50% increase from prior to the bikeway being installed. Further increases are anticipated as we head into the warmer season, noting that the full potential of the bikeway will not be realised until it is completed and forms part of a broader, interconnected network.

We have observed more females cycling, which is reflective of females feeling safer to cycle to the city now.

During the AM and PM weekday peaks, cyclists currently represent about 16% of the total traffic on Frome Street which is encouraging considering the current AM/PM peak across the city is approximately 2-3%. It demonstrates that the desire to offer alternative modes of transport is working.

From 2 or 3% to 16% in only six months on a bikeway that is incomplete and stops all of a sudden at Pirie Street just when the traffic is starting to build. It makes you wonder what we might see when it is completed and it is joined by other similar north south routes and some going east to west.

On the radio this morning, Mr Haese was asked whether he plans to rip up the bikeway. Using classic politician speak, he answer was neither yes nor no so we don't really know what his plans are. He did not rule out removing it. His priority is "safety" he tells us and if that means removing the bikeway then he will do so.

At the end of the radio programme, there was talk of the "pendulum swinging back" - a ridiculous proposition. Using that analogy assumes a starting point of equity rather than the heavily car-based and very inefficient city we have now. As for the pendulum swinging too far in favour of bikes, if one single (half-finished) bikeway constitutes going too far then we will never get anywhere. I found it hard to believe the presenter could say that with a straight face.

The futility of that thinking was brought home to me only this evening. I rode north along the bikeway on my way home. Once I got to Pirie Street it ended and it was time to ride along that narrow strip where you're trying to avoid car doors opening on the left and being side-swiped on the left. Two guys were up ahead on their bikes too - riding single file. They were doing the same thing and it meant that Mr Moustache in his Chrysler 300 could not get past until the painted bike lane appeared 6m before North Terrace. Had he caught up to them just a block earlier he would have sailed past without even noticing them.

Safe and decent biking infrastructure doesn't only benefit people on their bikes.

The figures really do speak for themselves both here and around the world. We hear a lot about "evidence based policy". Well, the evidence is there - some of it just published. Adelaide has barely started.

Saturday, 25 October 2014


An 8 year old boy's life was taken away from him a little while ago in Sydney. He was riding close to his home when he was hit by a car. He dies soon after his arrival in hospital.

His family will no doubt never recover and nor will the driver of the vehicle involved.

It happened at the intersection of Paddock Street and Capertree Street, The Ponds, in Sydney's west. This is a view of the intersection:

and here you can see where it is on a map:

You can see it is no far from the main road, Stanhope Parkway. You can also see that all of the surrounding streets are long, generally straight and open to traffic. All of them, including this one, have default speed limits of 50 km/h even though, as the picture shows, people live on them. A quick squizz on Streetview will also show you that it is a very new sub-division.

The roads are quite wide, very smooth and have long sight lines. The curves into side streets are generous and allow turns to be taken at a decent speed - despite give way rules involving pedestrians walking along the street being turned off.

The little boy was riding on the road (rather than the pavement which is on only one side of the road) and, tragically, he failed to give way.

It does seem an extraordinarily high price to pay for a simple and understandable error.

How can we have a road system that is so unforgiving of a simple mistake like that one?

In any workplace, risks are dealt with first by elimination, then by substitution. OHS manuals generally say something along the lines of "If it is not possible to eliminate the hazard, substitute it with something preferably of a lesser risk which will still perform the same task in a satisfactory manner." Something like the same intersection with a much lower speed limit? Or the same intersection on roads with traffic volume reduced because it doesn't need to be there?

I don't wish to appear in bad taste by discussing this but it is very upsetting to hear about anyone killed on our roads. Each time this happens, we should be asking why so that we (and each level of Government) can do our level best to ensure it never happens again.

There is no excuse not to. And there is no excuse to leave that street as it is with its obvious hazard that has now made itself known with such appalling consequences.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Citizens' Jury

I don't know if it is a first (probably not) but you will know doubt have read that the SA Government's "Citizen Jury" has been tasked to address the problem of cars and bike sharing the road and how they can do it safely. This is its second task. First time round it was asked to consider the issue of ensuring we have a vibrant and safe nightlife.

With the vibrancy question, in its final report the jury came back saying Adelaide nightlife is already vibrant and safe when compared with similar cities interstate and overseas. And so they dealt with making it even more vibrant and safer.

What was good was that the jury did not simply accept that the right question was asked.

I think (and hope) that will be the outcome this time.

Calls to share the road are all very well but they detract from the real issue. They assume that various road users can be divided into labels (forgetting that anyone could be a "driver", "pedestrian", "rider" or "passenger") and assuming equal responsibility and culpability to each. They forget human error and the consequences of it. Please read this excellent discussion of the problems with sharing the road campaigns:

“share the road” campaigns always fall into the same trap: the belief that if you’re sending a set of messages to one set of road users, you have to send an equivalent set of messages to another.

[They imply] that the journeys – made by the combination of the person and the vehicle – are equivalent, and thus by extension it implies that person-plus-car and person-plus-bicycle are equivalent. They are not. And this is, once more, the crucial failing. The authors of the messages wilfully blind themselves to the fundamental inequality of danger due to people’s choice of kinetic energy and base the whole campaign not on danger, but on diplomacy.

Rather than share the road campaigns, that we have tried and tried, we know how to reduce our road toll. It by using the concept of sustainable safety:

Sustainable Safety is all about prevention - preventing crashing from occurring, and, secondarily, reducing the risk of serious injuries when collisions do occur.

One of the core principles of this approach is homogeneity – equalising, as much as possible, the mass, speed and direction of vehicles, to reduce collision risk. In particular, fast objects should not share space with slow ones; and vehicles travelling at speed should not be travelling in opposing directions, without separation. Likewise measures should be taken to separate bodies of unequal mass; for instance, heavy vehicles like buses and lorries should be not be sharing the same space as pedestrians and cyclists. The basis for this approach – and other Sustainable Safety measures – is that human beings are fallible, and that the environment we travel in should respond to that fallibility, rather than expecting us to not make mistakes, ever.

This has been an issue for a long time. You would think that our representatives would have been able to work it out by now. They never do and inevitably MPs (like all of us) rely on their own biases and prejudices to make their decisions. When you leave it to politicians alone to deal with these issues, the risk is that you end up with this sort of thing:

I actually think it's a joke. That bloke looks far too much like Sir Les Patterson for it to be real.

But that is why I think handing the issue to a jury of 35 sensible women and men for all walks of life may finally provide us with some meaningful change.

I have already provided my submission. The closing date is 5 October.

Providing a submission is quite a challenge because whatever you write has to fit on two pages. Font and margin sizes can only get so small before it becomes a joke. But the information is there and with just a modicum of skill (and a few website links) the message can be put across. Indeed, in less than two pages you can probably find a picture or video and say, "er, yeah, that".

(Danish Cycling Embassy)

Have your say!

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.