Tuesday, 22 April 2014

And so it begins

You could almost have set your watch by it. The extensive and widely-publicised consultation about the Frome Street Bikeway seems to have been largely ignored but now that construction has begun, the howls of protest begin accompanied by, dare I say it, perhaps a little hyperbole?

You honestly would not believe some of the things that have been said and written: cyclists are privileged and there needs to be some balance.

No really.

We are told that short stretch of protected bike lane is going to cause traffic chaos don't you know. Columnists have added their negative two-cents worth and one journalist has gone so far as to make a short film about it. He is one of the presenters of the Matt and Dave Breakfast radio show on ABC 891. I think you pronounce it Matt'n'Dave (like salt 'n' vinegar chips).

Here he goes:

What Matt says requires some comment.

The first point is bike lanes on the other side of parked cars are not just common in most other countries, they are best practice. Instead of cyclists being used to protect parked cars, it is the other way around. The weird thing is though, parked cars don't really need much protection from passing traffic. Motorists as a rule drive in a straight line and do not sideswipe parked cars. If it does happen, it is rare. Having said that, as we all know from bitter experience, travelling by bike between parked cars and fast-moving traffic is just unpleasant and dangerous. Each door is a potential danger and cause of stress. If you are forced to brake suddenly or swerve, you can only cross your fingers that the motorist behind you has given you sufficient space.

It is a terrible system and it is about time we stopped purposely putting people in danger in that way. This bikeway is a start.

Matt's first objection is that cars wanting to park have to stop and reverse. At 0:50, he says the consequnce will be that "traffic's banking up". Frankly, this objection is laughable. The pre-bikeway Frome Road had parallel parking. I don't recall traffic being banked up then. And what about on nearby Carrington Street? That is a two-lane road with parallel parking. Where is all of the banked up traffic on that street? What about Wright Street, Halifax Street, Gouger Street, Rundle Street, Waymouth Street, Pirie Street to name a few? They are all two lane roads with parking each side - in most cases parallel parking. Why is this road suddenly so different?

At 1:05, Matt's second objection is that when cars are parked, the driver's door has to be opened into oncoming traffic? Again, I list the same streets. Why no objection to them? The requirement to check for oncoming traffic applies wherever you are parked - particularly because if you do not check, you risk knocking a cyclist over and potentially under a passing truck. It happened very recently in Melbourne.

At 1:47, Matt expresses his concern for pedestrians. It can't be the width of road they have to cross. That remains unchanged.

He begins at 1:57 at the designated crossing point - something I note was not there before. Previously, pedestrians would have to cross between closely parked cars and risk four lanes of traffic or detour to the end of road and cross at the lights (they would of course have to press a button to apply to cross there).

At 2:00, Matt's problem seems to be the fact that pedestrians now have to cross a designated bike lane. That is itself an odd thing to highlight. Even before the works, people on bicycles used that section of road. Pedestrians who were crossing still needed to watch for them.

Then there is the rather curious comment "there could be bikes banging along here. If you're an elderly person, you'll get cleaned up". Now why would there be bikes "banging along"? What does that mean? Were there not bikes "banging along" before this? And why the sudden additional risk to elderly people? If any person walks in front of traffic they will probably get "cleaned up", so why the comment? Don't we just do what we always do when we cross the road and look?

Note how at 2:12 Matt can magically "walk across the road" as if traffic is not there. No danger to elderly persons. No risk of getting cleaned up. He just strolls across carefree.

At 2:19, again Matt highlights walking "through another row of parked cars" conveniently forgetting of course that it was there before.

Finally, at 2:23 Matt walks "through another high speed cycle lane". Again, why the biased description? Why "high speed"? They will not be going anywhere near as fast as the traffic passing nearby. Why did that get no comment?

Finally at 2:29, the crowning turd in the cowpat - "if you're lucky you'll make it over here in one piece". Please enlighten me - I may be barking up the wrong tree but I would have thought an elderly person would have an easier time crossing two lanes of traffic rather than four. Am I missing something?

Previously, any person crossing the road had to watch for cars and bikes. They also had to walk between parked cars. The only changes are that now there is a designated place to cross and the order has changed. You watch for bikes now before you walk between the parked cars. That is the only change. I think most people can probably cope with that.

There are two lane roads right across the CBD. I have named some of them off the top of my head. Some, like Angas Street, are easily wide enough to accommodate four lanes. For some reason, a decision was made to make them only two. Imagine though if they were four lanes and a decision was made to reduce that. The screams and wails would be identical. But here we are and everything seems to work fine as it is.

Matt did not dwell on the fact that the four lane road has been reduced to two. I think we'll survive. Frome Street starts at a street with only two lanes itself.

Take a chill pill Matt. Give this six months. Traffic will sort itself out. There will be no change to congestion. It will be as bad as it always was. The only change will be that this bikeway will be full of people on bikes.

I look forward to our friends from overseas coming to Velo-City 2014 to experience this sort of nonsense first-hand. It has to be experienced to be believed.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Two new Kickstarter inventions

For Christmas, Santa brought me a clever rubbery handlebar iPhone holder and bottle opener in one. It is a new product funded on Kickstarter and is called the Handleband:

I also, not for Christmas, just got myself a pair of Copenhagen Parts magentic lights. They are just great and do exactly what they claim to do. The magnets are strong and stick to your bike frame without any problem. Bumps and potholes do not worry them. And once you put new batteries in, they are bright.

It is only a little thing but not having to mess around unclipping your bike lights and turning them off (often with multiple button presses) is a small bonus. You just pull them off and they stop flashing.

Plus they look kind of cool in their brushed metal casing:

I tried out the handleband. It opens bottles really well and holds on to your iPhone nice and tight. Problem is the weight of the phone pulls the Handleband down a bit. If you're filming your ride, it only takes a small bump and suddenly you're filming the road passing beneath you. I think for future models, the manufacturer might want to make the inside of it (the part that connects to the handlebars) a bit more grippy.

Not to worry though. Using my superior creativity and imagination, I cleverly fashioned a grippy bit for the handlebars by using a patch from a puncture repair kit.

And so here's the first attempt at filming my commute:

It's not the most direct route but one I have perfected over time to minimise exposure to busy roads. It seems I am not alone in that respect.

There are lots of places throughout the route where you will see scope of improvement and masses of potential for decent cycling infrastructure. I apologise for the bumpy picture. A lot of that is due I am afraid to a combination of smaller than usual wheels and shocking road surfaces. Ironically, once you get to about the 2:45 min mark, probably the worst surface is the separated shared walking and cycling path!

If you're coming to VeloCity 2014 in Adelaide, perhaps take notes and tell our decision makers what needs to be done.

And watch out for the lone schoolgirl riding her bike to school - a rare sight indeed.

See you in May.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Light Bulb Moment

I had a light bulb moment the other day. I was sitting flicking through tweets on Twitter when I came across the following tweet and response:

He's absolutely right of course.

If you are campaigning for a multi-modal city, one that gives choices for ways of getting around, simply shouting at motorists doesn't work. It just creates more of the 'them and us' attitude that seems to be evident in articles in cheap newspapers but in reality I am not sure exists.

Making things unnecessarily difficult just leads to resentment - especially when there is no alternative. By itself, removing parking or charging more for it will not reduce the amount of driving unless there is something reasonable to switch to.

As we all know, while well intentioned, 800mm wide painted bike lanes on main roads (and even then on only some of them) do not make taking an alternative to the car viable. On top of that, when you get to your destination, even the simple act of unravelling your lock and finding something to lock your bike to is an added inconvenience compared to pushing your bike into a space near the door and just flicking the wheel lock into place.

And despite claims that putting on a helmet and storing it when you get to your destination isn't a hassle,let's be honest - it is.

The answer, as we have seen from those places that work, is to make the alternatives simple and easy. And that means simple and easy relative to the car. If it is more hassle than taking the car, no rational person will bother.

Based on my very limited knowledge and based on what I have read, the unbroken network of cycle routes is a pre-requisite. Another absolute pre-requisite is avoiding conflict between different and incompatible transport modes by unravelling their routes.

From what I can tell, if you want to make that work over here in Australia, it does not mean digging up suburbs and starting again. We have seen how old suburbs can be brought into the modern age.

It is on those roads that because of differences in speed and mass that bikes and cars must be physically separated. To use an analogy from the London Underground, for those who are interested in these things, the Picadilly and District lines meet each other when the Picadilly comes from under the ground at Baron's Court in the west. They then both run paralled to each other as far as Acton Town. The District Line trains stop everywhere but the Picadilly Line trains speed through only stopping at Hammersmith and Turnham Green (but then only during rush hours):

A picture of the station shows that the two are kept separate:

Chiswick Park - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

The Picadilly Line trains speed through on the centre tracks.

Compare that with Aldgate East (in the east) where the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line meet each other:

Trains are the same size and as they travel further east towards Barking, they all stop at the same stations. Consequently, you don't need the separation:

Aldgate East - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

All trains run on the same tracks.

The analogy is a bit of a stretch I know but you get my point. Where people live, there is no reason to have motorised traffic speeding through at 50km/h or whatever the default speed limit might be. It is astounding that we still allow that in the 21st century. It is not any inconvenience to motorists to limit them to through routes that are designated as such. Once cars are slowed down and their numbers are reduced to those who actually have business in the street then like at Aldgate East, cars and bikes can comfortably share.

However once you get to more main through routes, you need to go back and have a look at Chiswick Park and see what you can do to unravel modes in other physical ways.

Motorists still get to go everywhere and store their car when they get there but they use routes that are appropriate for that. If their journey is made longer, it is only marginally and it is done so not to make life difficult for them but as part of a wider, sensible and more balanced transport and urban planning policy.

But we know this already, don't we?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Urban Planning Fails

I was in Port Augusta recently for work. Like many South Australian country towns it is quite small and easily navigable. It is divided in to. Port Augusta itself is about 3km by 3km. Port Augusta west is on the other side of the river and is about half the size. Also like most small country towns, despite the small size, everyone (that is, everyone) gets around by car. That could easily change of course with a dash of design change and a dollop of political will.

Port Augusta has a bit of a poor reputation but it is actually a very attractive town. One of its assets is its waterfront. The centre of town borders the water. On the Port Augusta side is an old wooden quay that still has the old narrow gauge railway lines on it:

Next to that is a shared bike and walking path in between well manicured lawns:

You would think that would be fairly valuable real estate that would be taken advantage of in any planning decisions but what faces it?

The arse-end of Big W and a car park!

You have to walk a bit further and then cross the car park to see the entrance. Even then it doesn't even face the water:

You would hope in time that as those places are redeveloped the buildings and the car park might swap places and windows might be used. Big W and Woolworths (both part of the same retail group) share that area. If the idea was to attract people and try and keep them there, you might think a food court or something with windows facing the water might be a draw card.

Unfortunately, the space has been wasted and we have a beige box, the type of which you could see in any car park across the nation, without any regard to its surroundings. Still, we know now. That space will one day be redeveloped and there will be some connection between it and the water.

Just sayin'

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Our family recently had a beach day with close friends. While the children were doing their thing, we dads were staying cool by standing in the sea. Dad 2 told me about a book well worth reading; by Don Miguel Ruiz, it is called "The Four Agreements". Without spoiling the book I can tell you the four agreements are these: Be impeccable with your word. Don't take anything personally. Don't make assumptions. Always do your best. It's the how and why you should do these things that make the book worth reading.

I haven't read it - yet - and so I am in so position to comment on what it all means. If I tried, I would most certainly be breaking the third agreement about not making assumptions.

But you can see assumptions being made all of the time. On a topic I am interested in, there was an article not long ago on the local newspaper site. Despite our unique in the world life-saving mandatory helmet laws, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people on bicycles killed or injured in the last decade. If you go by the comments, the answer to all of the carnage is bike registration.

Another article (in which the headline set out clearly the assumption) spoke about the daily "battle" on our roads. The answer to that one, suprisingly, is the same.

And then on top of that, I was driving one day just after the new year and listening to talkback in the morning. The usual guy was away so they had a stand-in - quite a well known radio personality. I got the impression that it was not a busy day and that the lady who had rung in and was talking was the only one. She had almost a free run to talk about all of her gripes.

All the usual topics were there and it did not take long for her to get to "those" cyclists. Billions of dollars were spent on thousands of kilometres of bike lanes - which were never used - and roads were narrowed everywhere because of it. What made it worse is that the idiot presenter did not challenge or question any of it. I thought about pulling over and responding but there is honestly no point.

From my very helpful discussion in the sea, a couple of things can be said about all the garbage on the comments pages and on talkback radio. The first is that it should not be taken personally. Even though it seems to be targeted personally it is not. What we are reading and hearing is a whole bunch of assumptions and out-group homogeneity bias. Which leads to the second point - when you hear and read this stuff, how many assumptions are being made?
  • Is there a "battle"?
  • Will registration reduce injuries?
  • Does everyone run red lights?
  • Do motorists pay for roads?
  • Is removing parking bad for business?
Just on the topic of that last one, you might think just a little bit of research or just looking around might reveal an answer to that one. This is Magill Road on a Saturday afternoon:

It is one of the main arterial roads travelling east-west and linking the eastern suburbs with the CBD. It has two lanes each side and a speed limit of 60 km/h. As you can guess, during rush hour traffic does not reach anywhere near that speed. At other times of the day, cars can park on the outer lanes as you see in the picture. Now the picture shows just part of the road - a group of shops. You can see seven cars parked. You could maybe fit 8 or 9 along that stretch.

The stretch consists of about 6 businesses - let's call it 8 or 9 to be generous. That means one car per business. Let's be generous again and assume that each car brought five people. If our assumption is correct, that means five people per business (those people arriving and leaving together) as long as the cars are parked there. And we don't know how long they will be there. For all we know, the occupants could have nipped across the road to the pub for a couple of pints.

Is it really that good for business or is there perhaps another more effective way of getting people to come past?

Note also how the road is too narrow for anything but four lanes of motorised traffic.

Assumptions. Not only that but as we all do most of the time, when you call into talkback or put a comment on a news article, you are generally having a conversation with yourself. A bit like writing your own blog.

Toltec wisdom says ignore it and don't take it personally. Although 300-odd comments on one article seems like a lot, in reality it isn't. And many of those comments are from the same people. I know I posted about 5 while I was having a conversation with myself. For all we know, we're looking at a single bus-load of people.

I should say I am equally guilty. I remember standing at a bbq talking about an airline, how crap it is and how it could easily use larger aeroplanes for busy morning and afternoon flights. A short discussion with someone who had just a basic idea revealed just how little I knew (zero) and how much of what I was saying was just a bunch of garbage I had invented while talking to myself. Stopping, listening and properly researching can sometimes pay handsome dividends.

We should simply ignore all of that white noise on talkback and on the whingers pages of the newspaper. Speak to most people and they support changes. The objectors I think are a loud minority.

Rather than trying to answer the repeated nonsense based on false assumptions and biases, the focus of course needs to be on decision makers. Each time a transport plan or other change is the subject of consultation, we should write our own submission. There is no end of well written supportive argument. Just go to any of the blogs in the top right hand corner. Two quick examples: Charles Sturt Council is inviting submissions on its transport plan for the north west (due date in 7 March). The closing date for submissions on the State Government's Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan has passed but hey, there's no harm in writing anyway even if you're late.

From hearing one of the responsible people speak one day, I can tell you they really want this feedback.

That clever fellow Dr Behooving recently published a post on Cycle-Space that made a similar point about targeting decision makers. I promise I did not copy. I have been mulling over this for some time. Honest. I think it is just another case of odd (but not necessarily great) minds thinking alike.

Can I also say that I would have no problem at all with bicycle registration. I would have no difficulty putting a small licence plate on my rear mudguard (just don't try and force me to wear a plastic fluoro jacket with the licence number on it). But please do not try and kid yourself that licensing cyclists will all of a sudden change things.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

How the mighty fall

In amongst the very many blogs loosely and directly related to bicycles, urban transport and city design, there is one called the Desegregated Cyclist. Its author, Ian Cooper, is one of the last of the diehard vehicular cyclists. For a long time I thought his site was a spoof (and I mean no disrespect) but I think, on balance, he is serious. Only very recently he posted a comment after an article in Forbes Magazine online (if you scroll a little further down, you'll also see my 5 cents worth).

As a vehicular cyclist, Mr Cooper believes that cyclists fare best when the obey the rules of the road and act as if they are equal participants. It's sometimes called "Bicycle Driving". Among other techniques, one commonly used and recommended is the famous "take the lane". By placing yourself in front of the motorist (or truck driver) behind you, they are forced to wait for you to complete their manouvre. And that makes you safer.

It is a brilliant plan but there is one tiny flaw. Most motorists don't realise why some cyclists do that.

That has been Mr Cooper's experience for some time. A lot of his blog posts describe run-ins he and his daughter have had with motorists who do not understand the rules of vehicular cycling or who have placed him in danger by being overly cautious and allowing him, for example, to move through and away from a junction first - even though he did not have right of way. Very often, his descriptions of these run-ins have the title "Cletus Asks Cyclists" - the inference being that Mr Cooper is forever having to educate imbeciles.

Mr Cooper seems to have taken on the very heavy burden of educating the world one motorist at a time. By the sounds of it, some motorists require more than one lesson so it is going to be a long job.

The thing is, Mr Cooper seems to have had enough. He tells us he had a few more run-ins leading up to Christmas. He stopped each time to address the issue. The response was the same - "no one listened". The consequence is that Mr Cooper is giving himself a break.

I really do feel for Mr Cooper. I flatly disagree with his views on dedicated infrastructure and routes for bicycles but I have a lot of symphathy for how he is feeling now.

At the same time, I am not surprised.

So much conflict is built into our roads. Whether you have right of way or not, each junction is a potential source of nerves while you wonder whether the driver about to cut you up from the left has seen you. Bike lane or not, there is also a small niggle of doubt in your mind whether the person (each of them) coming up behind you has actually seen you. Thinking ahead to deal with getting around the parked car up ahead is a source of stress and involves twisting to look behind you and quick decisions about whether or not to slow down - once you do that, you generally might as well stop because your loss of momentum means you won't be able to get through that small gap in the traffic.

The people Mr Cooper is dealing with are not bad people and they're not stupid. They simply do not understand. They are, not unreasonably, reacting to their environment - one that tells them they have priority. And they are no doubt wondering who these weird people are getting in their way, slowing them down and putting themselves in danger (having said that, some would definitely just be turds).

That stress is tiring. It puts people off. As does the fact that even a short simple journey is presumed to require preparation, special equipment, provisions for on the way and a whole bunch of facilities for once you get there. You know how when you go on any short journey, you jump in your car, drive straight there, find a (free) car park and just jump out? No other form of transport matches that convenience here. They could - very easily - but they are presently far from it.

Most of all it is because of what Mr Cooper has experienced. It is what happens when our cities are built in such a way that using any form of transport other than a car (regardless of journey) becomes, as Her Majesty the Queen would say, a right royal pain in the arse.

Mr Cooper is giving himself a bit of a rest until Spring Break. I wish him well. I hope he gets his energy and determination back but with the current state of things, he is facing a losing battle and I fear he may end up like the vast bulk of the population who make the most rational choice based on the clear signals given to them by their built environment.

That of course is the part that needs changing. If (and it is a very big if) we are serious about changing our transport choices and lowering the noise, pollution, danger and cost we all share, we require a fairly radical change.

Mr Cooper has done his best. Encouraging people to ride around in heavy, howling traffic and to take the lane is nice in theory. It is even a fairly rational way to try and keep yourself safe if that is the environment you choose to ride in.

But as Mr Cooper has slowly found (although I am not sure he would admit it), I think it now requires a different approach.

Artwork by Bikeyface, www.bikeyface.com

If Mr Cooper is interested, I can put him on to a ton of propaganda. Here's a great one to start with which was published just a few days ago. Make sure you watch the 4 minute video Ian and all the very best :)

And if you have time, please read this absolute classic from the Waltham Forest archives.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

There are plans and then there are plans

It only took until the second day of the year for an article on cycling to appear in our local news. It's about a plan to turn an eastern suburbs road into a bicycle boulevard.

Bicycle Boulevards have been introduced with success in a number of American cities (Portland, Berkeley, Davis and Boulder spring to mind).

The boulevard is part of a new cycling plan for Norwood, Payneham and St Peter's Council. Knowing that it has no way of changing what happens on State Government controlled arterial roads, the council is upgrading a series of residential streets to create (as best it can) a network. Beulah Road is currently the most used street by people travelling on two wheels. Hence the upgrade plan.

At the moment though, it is just a plan. We are told it is expected to cost between $50,000 and $300,000 and that it needs approval from the Transport Department.

So even now (despite the modest cost) it may or may not eventuate.

This is the main part of the council's cycling plan - its flagship if you will. The pictures look nice but I suspect that in truth it is a stretch of road with snazzy signs at each end, large bicycle logos on the ground and a 30 km/h speed limit. In other words, putting aside the fancy signs at the beginning, it is what all residential streets should be. The reasons for the low speed limit are to allow sharing the road and because frankly there is no need to have a faster speed limit because the road is a destination rather than thoroughfare.

In other words, if it were genuinely part of a network, it would be one small and quiet part of it.

We are blessed with wide main roads. I just wish we could finally use them properly. We all know about the easy to follow graphic:

And in a fit of perfect timing, Copenhagenize just published a post about Copenhagen's easy to follow design manual for bicycle infrastructure and parking. Adopt something like that, apply it each time a road is resurfaced or undergoes maintenance and before you know what has happened, 15 years have passed and you have transformed your city.

Despite my moaning, one thing I think is certain is that this will be a success. Bicycle traffic will increase along it and it should in time lead to more of them in other areas. It won't result in the end of the world for motorists. People will still be able to park and reach their houses.

I only have one wish. Please, please, please let us not refer to it as a "super" route. It is an improvement on what was there before but it does not deserve the title "super".

These are only slow baby steps and we are yet again copying from a city that itself has only taken baby steps and not copied what really works - but there you go. It is something.

Incidentally, do not bother going to the comments on the news article - they contain the same tired old dreary nonsense. Over something that in the scheme of things costs peanuts. And is not even definite anyway.