Saturday, 25 October 2014

Unforgiving

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.

Eh?

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.



Saturday, 7 June 2014

What I learned at Velo-City 2014

At first glance, Adelaide may seem an odd place for hosting the Velo-City conference. When you think of the names of cities around the world that might be described as cycling friendly, Adelaide is not at the top of the list. We have wide roads dedicated solely to motorised traffic and it is rare to see traffic calming on even the quietest residential streets. Nevertheless, thanks to the work (among many other people) of an energetic and forward-thinking mayor, Adelaide did get to host not only the conference but cycling and infrastructure experts from around the world - along with a whole bunch of cool other people.

It was a rare but expensive opportunity and one we will not have again for a long time. That was the reason I forked out the not insignificant sum to get in.

One of the best parts of the conference was meeting with people I had been following on the Net for a while and feeling as if I had known them for a long time; members of Freestyle Cyclists, Dr Behooving, Perth Biker and the fabulous Free-Dame Cyclist, Sue Abbott.

It was not until the very end of the conference that it really made the news, which was a pity because many of the messages really need to be reported - for example, Dr Larry Frank's amazing talk on the links between walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods and general public health (watch out for that one when the presentations come online). Having said that, by the end, both the ABC and InDaily had published good reports.

There have already been a number of blog posts about the conference (the ECF reported on days 1, 2, 3 and 4 separately) so I just want to point out one small presentation that I thought was particularly relevant to Adelaide.


After the opening, including Mikhail (oops) Mikael Colville-Andersen's timely and effective "what the fuck" speech, we had our morning break. I took the opportunity, like the tragic groupie I am, to go and say hello and thank him for coming all this way. After a short chat about Adelaide, he introduced me to Blanka Bracic from Calgary. With all of the stats at his fingertips, he explained how Calgary (a city of 1 million like Adelaide) planned and approved its city wide bicycle network and recommended I go and watch Blanka's talk. Funnily enough I had already circled it as one I definitely wanted to see.

Calgary City Council had up to $22m to spend in a bicycle capital budget. They could have built a car park that would serve 435 people per day or, they worked out, a bicycle track network that would serve 2470 people per day. So they decided on the network. Most cities start with one route (eg: Frome Street) but they decided to do the whole thing in one go and to do it as a trial.

Doing one street at a time becomes complicated. Each has to be justified and subsequent ones are determined by reference to the performance of earlier ones. According to Blanka, they were already on a bit of a roll. Their 7th Street route had doubled bicycle trips and pavement cycling had reduced from 25% to 1%. Something seemed to be working.

The benefits of the pilot proposal were that it was easier to "sell" to reluctant councillors and to a public unfamiliar with cycling networks and the benefits of a complete network would be experienced first hand.

Just as happened when our tramway was extended through the city, there were plenty of information sessions and public displays. It was also well advertised. The message was transport choice with safe space for cycling and predictable space for each mode of transport.

When choosing the network, a minimum number of streets was chosen to ensure minimum disruption (or perceived disruption). Three north-south streets were chosen and two east-west. Once that was done, there were three post-installation options available: (1) leave as a pilot, (2) convert to permanent for $5m or (3) remove everything at a cost of $2m.

When the decision was made, the debate went on for 13 hours and 37 different presenters were heard from. After all that, it got the go ahead. A few councillors were still fence-sitters but it seems the pilot nature of the project is something that tipped the scales in its favour.

Time will ultimately tell what happens but I am quietly confident that once complete, this will become a permanent fixture and, hopefully, something that is expanded.

There are a couple of lessons. The first is that if Calgary can do it so can we. There is very little to distinguish our two cities that would constitute a barrier to this. A complete city-wide network makes so much more sense than part of a street here and there. And a "pilot" is so much easier to sell.

The second is that Blanka and her team faced the same obstacles as we do. Frome Street has attracted a fair number of negative editorials and Calgary was no different. Also, read some of the comments on the newspaper articles I have linked to. You only need to read for about 30 seconds to realise they are exactly the same as we get here.

This went ahead despite them. So could we. The answer I think is to ignore the comments but do what Blanka's team did (and the tramway team did) by advertising and informing well. That way you do not need to respond directly to the negative carping. While I was reading up on Blanka's work after I had heard her presentation, there was a highly relevant tweet from Captain Crom that popped up on my timeline:


You will not get anywhere by engaging with nonsense on comments pages so don't waste energy trying.

I enjoyed all of the presentations at Velo-City but especially enjoyed the round-table sessions where we could share ideas. It was there that I met people from the Department of Transport, Adelaide City Council, other Adelaide Councils and from interstate. What impressed me was the enthusiasm and knowledge they all shared. They taught me a thing or two.

One of my very favourite parts of the conference was Niels Hoe's talk (he runs HOE360 Consulting in Denmark and was interviewed on ABC News before the conference began).

He said during his talk, "if I didn't have all that cycling around me, I wouldn't be as happy" and had one of the best images of the conference:


It simply says, "On her own".

Yes.

Update: 14.6.14
Blanka kindly emailed me to point out a couple of factual errors I had made. They have now been corrected. And, dammit, I spelt Mikael's name wrong. My apologies.

Update 27.6.14
The talk by Larry Frank I mentioned above has been posted to YouTube. It is a must-see. 

Disappointingly, family commitments got in the way of me attending what by the sounds of it was the highlight of the entire conference - a free evening at Bike Kitchen in Bowden with speakers including Mikael Colville-Andersen, Stephen Fleming and Sue Abbott. I had to follow it jealously via Twitter. Still, what can you do? It doesn't matter. They were here, they inspired and Adelaide is the better for it. It's up to us to keep the momentum.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Frome Street Part 2

In an excellent speech a short while ago, David Burton, the Convenor of the Adelaide 2050 group, pointed out that Adelaide's CBD has one tram line, one railway station and, as from a few weeks ago, one segregated bike lane.

And oh my goodness, has that segregated bike lane caused some frothing at the mouth.

They are still talking about it on the radio and the congestion it is apparently going to cause. Forget that traffic movements on that part of the street are 10,000 a day - the same as Rundle and Hindley Streets, both of them only one lane each way.

Forget that Frome Street does not even take traffic across the whole CBD. Until a few decades ago, it was a couple of tiny lanes. They were widened and a whole bunch of historic buildings flattened to make way for what was to be a wide north-south arterial right through the CBD - a bit like most of the other roads except that was potentially even wider. As things turned out, it never went anywhere.

Forget also that this was the subject of extensive consultation which resulted in overwhelming majority support. The bleaters and moaners were asleep at the wheel (literally!) when that happened.

Stage 2 of the consultation will begin soon to begin the next phase of what will become a (hopefully the first and not the only) dedicated north-south bike route through the city. The next phase is Pirie Street to North Terrace:


This part of Frome Street is much busier than than the length with the completed bike lane. Traffic volume (motorised that is) is about 15,000 vehicles a day. Accordingly, it will be very difficult to argue successfully for the removal of a lane of traffic. It is apparently needed. Close to North Terrace, the right hand lane is needed so that it can be blocked by buses that are held up trying to turn right. The left lane is then used by traffic speeding down the hill towards the bottleneck near the zoo where two lanes become one again. It all makes a lot of sense.

Bearing in mind that we are more than likely going to be stuck with two lanes of traffic each side of the road, the obvious answer is to remove the lane of parking. During busy periods, keep the left traffic lane as a clearway but at other times allow parking. Traffic is lessened at those times so the one remaining lane each side will be quite adequate. It's what happens on a number of roads - Unley Road is an example that springs to mind.

This is a rare opportunity to get the design just right so people can see it works and that traffic is largely unaffected. Getting it right means that it will be much easier to extend the concept to other streets and build the complete network that we so desperately need.

Not only is there a lot of motorised traffic on that section of the street, there are a lot of people on bikes too. A wide lane with plenty of space of overtaking is required. To assist with that, the kerbs on the side of the lane should be forgiving - low and at a 45° angle:


Borrowed from the excellent and well known A View from the Cycle Path. The post it is on explains with the help of a short video why sloping kerbs are a good idea.

My only criticism of the current Frome Street bike lane concerns its kerbs. On both sides, they are the normal height for roads and almost vertical. When riding along you need to be careful not to go too close to either just in case you hit your pedals on them. That narrows the effective width of the lane.

For the next stage, we could do a lot worse than adopt the famous Danish design using the half dropped kerb with a lane as wide as the current parking lane:


From Streetsblog

Oor better still, one with a built-in buffer to deal with doors on parked cars.

There are a couple of benefits:
  • It is relatively cheap and easy to build on to existing streets and roads (including dealing with drains);
  • Although inferior to the best Dutch designs it is sufficient for CBD streets because it provides enough separation for the relatively slow traffic speeds in the city;
  • It can fit well with simple intersection treatments using simultaneous green;
  • It is tried and tested. A standard design should become familiar to even the dumbest motorist.
Although as I say it is inferior to the best Dutch designs, its ease and cheapness is I think vital to its success. We know that transport choice and street layout have very little to do with "culture" and more to do with deliberate political choices. Nevertheless, Adelaide's stubborn resistance to change has to be experienced to be believed. The ridiculous carry-on over one single bike lane shows that it is alive and well.

People listen to those muppets on the radio but if things are done right, we can drag them, kicking and screaming, into the future.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Vox Populi

Thanks to staying up late and checking Twitter, I was led (from at least three different sources) to this brilliant video made by Paul Van Bellen:



What is particularly nice is to see and hear the sensible and rational responses from 8 Australians picked at random outside a supermarket. It makes a heart-warming change from some of the shit we have to read in the comments section of some news websites.

8 out of 8 people agreed that we would benefit from this sort of thing. Not only by providing a choice that is available to non-motorists (like Cameron with his scooter and David with his wheelchair) but judging by the average prices, we would save some serious coin as well.

I'm not sure we can afford any longer not to do this.