Saturday, 3 October 2015


So the family and I took a trip to Vietnam. It is a fantastic holiday destination.

For various reasons, notably income and tax levels, Vietnam's road transport system, particularly within its cities, is predominantly two-wheeled. Where it was once bicycle based, it is now mainly mopeds:

One of our tour guides made the point that traffic engineers there design roads that our terrible for cars because they are mainly thinking about the mopeds (sort of the reverse of what we get). All of the mopeds take a bit of getting used to because they rarely stop. When crossing the road, you have to look straight ahead and just keep your pace. Moped riders can judge where you are going and either nip into the space in front of you or go behind you. It is like a crowd of people running past you.

Although it is unnerving at first, it is in some ways preferable to walking through our cities where your journey is interupted so often for red lights. The negatives are the drone of the bikes and the pollution.

Moped parking is catered for everywhere:

both on street and off street. And some shop-fronts were used as small guarded moped parks.

Everywhere you see small design features that show that two-wheeled users come first:

It is of course not all wonderful. In the time we were there, we saw the fatal aftermaths of two accidents. However in both cases, the rider had been crushed under the wheels of a truck, which only serves as evidence of the inappropriateness of mixing those different forms of transport.

Children got around by themselves everywhere; sometimes walking but most of them seemed to be on bikes. School closing time had them out in droves:

And even tiny schools in villages had plenty of bike parking:

Naturally, we had a go and rode through paddy fields to the beach near Hoi An. We were one bike too short and so supergirl got to ride on the back of mine:

So nice to be able to ride around casually without some sanctimonious busy-body telling you off for what you are or aren't wearing.

Vietnam is one of the 193 countries in the world without bicycle helmet laws but they are required for mopeds. An industry has sprung up manufacturing some cool designs. As a souvenir I bought this leather look Nike knock-off. If you have to wear one, you may as well try and look as good as you can:

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Close Passes

This picture was posted on Twitter recently by the West Midlands Police in England:

The caption was "It's close when you can read the writing on the tyres, don't pass cyclists towards a blind crest! #joysofcommuting".

It's particularly hair-raising with the drain right there.

The police later tweeted "Driver will be reported, overtake towards the crest, car came over the crest so the HGV squeezed me out #duecare #Safercycling #poorplanning".

I have to say that while the person on the bike would have shat his pants, at the same time I have a bit of sympathy for truck drivers. They are heavy and difficult to slow down. Granted the driver misjudged the passing manouvre but the alternative was to slow right down and then later accelerate (slowly) to overtake when there was a sufficient gap in oncoming traffic to allow a safe pass. On a narrow road like that, there's no way of knowing how long that would have taken.

It is the type of misjudgment of which we are all guilty only this time the combination of the truck's large size, the type of road and the bike being right there made it extremely dangerous.

Having said that, there is no excuse for the sort of purposefully dangerous behaviour that is described in this excellent piece from Beyond the Kerb.

Even where there aren't blind corners, on a straight road errors of judgment and a failure to pay attention can have fatal consequences.

It was, sadly, precisely that type of road death that led to the establishment of the Amy Gillett Foundation which was instrumental in convincing the State Government to introduce a minimum 1 metre passing law.

I can't help asking myself though - is such a law likely to make a significant difference other than in people's minds? It is rare for someone in a car to ram into someone else deliberately. These collisions are, like most, the result of either human error or a failure to pay attention. It is the consequences that are catastrophic as we saw only recently in Brisbane with the appalling, tragic and preventable death of Rebekka Meyer.

At the time of writing, it was reported that the inquest heard "conflicting evidence" from eight witnesses.

They could not agree on where the cyclist and the truck were in traffic before the accident, if her feet were on both pedals, or if she fell or was struck.

When you look at the intersection, all of those questions start to lose relevance:

Who cares where the truck was beforehand? Who cares if Rebekka Meyer was hit or she fell? She was killed because that toxic road environment placed her in close proximity to a truck with massive blind spots. Isn't it that simple?

How can it be that we continue to tolerate such idiotic road layouts that lead to potentially fatal consequences? Roads with speed limits of 60km/h or more that rely on drivers to see people up ahead and then competently gauge speeds and distances before overtaking - and for everyone to get it right all of the time?

There are far more sensible ways to deal with that type of risk.

The fact that we continue doing this to people, in light of all the knowledge available, is bordering on the criminal.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Walk in my shoes

A good friend of mine has had problems with her eyes for some time. Recently she received the disappointing news from the eye surgeon that she's kind of stuck with it now. She's not blind but can no longer drive and she does now require a certain amount of assistance.

She went to the Royal Society for the Blind to get some equipment, including magnifying screens for her PC and iPad, a small telescope for looking at menus on walls at cafes along with other little things. So more than anything, it is just getting used to a new set of circumstances.

There are various things that can be done to make life a little easier for people like my friend. When we were chatting, I mentioned a European directive that requires the doors of suburban trains to be a clearly different colour from the rest of the train:

Borrowed from here.

My friend pointed out that that is one of those small things that costs nothing but brings not only comfort but also confidence. Instead of having to hope, guess or ask for help, the work is done with no effort.

Another easy thing to do is keep hedges and low hanging trees well pruned to avoid easily avodable scratches to the face.

It is walking around the city with someone who has a small difficulty that you notice how much easier life could be made for many people with just a little thought. I see my friend stop while she is crossing the road because she has to peer down to work out where the edge is on these camouflaged dropped kerbs:

Why do we even have them on minor intersections? Why not just continue the pavement over the road so the cars have to stop and cross that?

Just navigating pavements can itself be a problem. For example, this is a view along Market Street. The entrance to the Central Market is just behind the white van:

For those of us with good eye sight, those three poles are quite visible. Not for my friend. She notices getting close to them that something is there and has to put her hand up to stop her self bumping into it and then guide herself around. The streets are actually full of clutter like the poles. They are difficult to see because of their shape and their colour which allows them to blend in with the asphalt grey that is everywhere.

The poles serve no purpose other than to indicate how long you can store a car alongside them free of charge. Could we not achieve the same end with a single sign at the end of the street? This is a 2 hour parking area. Or better still, instead of leaving the street with silly narrow pavements, why don't we widen them to help the already struggling businesses? Narrow the street or even block it off. The cars can be parked in the car park above the market surely?

Another obstacle is crossing the road. If you happen to be going to the market, there is only one place that actually has a signalised crossing on all of Gouger Street. There are a couple of other designated crossing points but it is the people who have to wait. Good luck if you can't see very well. And good luck if you wish to cross a moat of asphalt like this:

This is fairly typical of the city. All roads almost without exception have a 50km/h speed limit. The only place where you will be offered any assistance to cross the road is at a signalised intersection. And they are there not to assist pedestrians but because they are needed to regulate motorised traffic.

Here's another example that is a nightmare for anyone who can't see very well or cannot move quickly:

I see people being beeped at all of the time when they mis-time their crossing. I make a habit of giving them the finger even if they don't see me.

I took the picture during a very quiet part of the day. It is worst during the rush hour. The white car you see has just come around the corner. Although there is a green bike lane, the bend does not have a tight radius and cars can come around there at a high speed. Crossing the road is an exercise in hope when you finally get a space in the traffic.

Vehicles also come from the two lanes to the left of the white car. And in the case of all traffic, despite a requirement to indicate, you can only guess as to whether they may be going left or right. Indicating seems to be optional.

Now imagine all of that during the evening rush hour when it is often dusk and even harder to see.

It is very easy to assume that everyone experiences the world in the same way you do. We all fall into that trap. But the danger is that we then fail to see the difficulties that others sometime face. A consequence of building streets and cities with cars at the forefront of our minds is that we risk ignoring the needs of people close to us. If nothing else, it makes us appear quite thoughtless.

Perhaps it's time we established a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian office.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

The itch that won't go away

You would think that adding a protected bike lane to a street would be a fairly mundane affair - almost a non-event.

Not in Adelaide.

The Frome Street Bikeway has used up more newspaper column space and talkback radio time than any other correspondingly minor issue. For the first time in the history of the Adelaide City Council, it dragged enough people out of their homes for it to be necessary to film the council's debate so that the stragglers could watch it in a separate room.

The Bikeway was completed just before the Velo-City conference in May 2014. Delegates were invited to go and try it out. It was, and still is, the only part of a long-since planned north-south protected bike route through the city (emphasis on the singular).

Now that it has been in existence for over 12 months, the council ordered an independent report into its performance. The report (which cost $90,000) made a number of findings. In summary, business trade, property prices and the street’s amenity had not been negatively affected by the project, and there had been a 23 per cent increase in cyclists using the bikeway since the concrete barriers and car parks were installed. However, there was some confusion about right of way at intersections and the report authors made some suggestions about that.

The finding that seemed to cause concern was the "significant decrease in motorist volumes along Frome Street since the separated bikeway was introduced". At the same time, there was "no indication that reduced traffic on Frome Street had caused in any increase in traffic on adjacent routes."

A day after the report was released I was listening to that Penberthy fellow on the radio. His suggestion was that the bikeway was a "debacle" because it had scared people away from the city. That was the only explanation for the drop in car numbers. That is also what I understood Councillor Moran's attitude to be when she was interviewed - although I stand to be corrected.

It should be remembered that the reduction in traffic is exactly what we should expect. Traffic volumes are not a fixed thing to which we must cater by building more roads. It is the other way around. Traffic volumes are reflexive and respond to the road-space available. Increase the road-space and traffic volumes increase. Decrease the road-space and the opposite happens. That is not even remotely controversial. It just happens.

In the case of the Bikeway, some previous car trips have been substituted - either by changing the mode of transport (witness the increase in bicycle numbers), a substitution by time or a substitution by route.

The well-worn issue of the reduction in traffic lanes was covered in the report. Indeed, that was one of the reasons for the report's commissioning. In short, the authors said that returning the street to two driving lanes at peak times would have a “negligible” impact on congestion, which was mainly affected by intersections rather than by mid-block capacity.

Anyway, a motion was put in council. On 23 June, the Economic and Community Development Committee voted to develop options and costings on how to return the street to four lanes of traffic during peak times. The proposal was planned to be put to council for approval at its meeting on 30 June.

And that was the day we all turned up.

We met at the Box Factory on Regent Street South:

rode along the Bikeway and left on to Pirie Street:

in time for the debate. I am embarrassed to say that I had never been inside the Council Chamber to watch democracy in action.

(Please excuse the grainy pictures. I had to zoom in from the back of the public gallery)

It is unnecessary to bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it is back to the drawing board. The motion that was ultimately passed can be read in all its glory here (go straight to page 6).

It was all very courteous.

A couple of things to note. First, each councillor who spoke confirmed their support for a rollout of protected bike lanes across the city. That is at least welcome. Once Councillor Simms' proposed amendment was defeated, the motion (on p6) was passed unanimously. They all love the idea. Second, while councillors (and their constituents) like protected bike lanes, there is something about Frome Street that bothers them. Words and phrases such as "over-engineered", "clunky" and "concrete blobs" are heard repeatedly.

Both Councillor Moran and another (possibly Councillor Clearihan) sang the praises of Danish bike lanes. One of them even carefully described the gentle drop from pavement to bike lane and the other gentle drop from bike lane to road. The Danish design is something Councillor Moran has repeatedly raised since her visit there and, in response to my email to her, wrote that she too loves the Danish design and will promote it.

The concrete blobs that they refer to are nothing unusual, eg:

They can be seen on many intersections across the metropolitan area. The reason for them being used on a bike lane remains a mystery to me but it seems to be a requirement of the applicable design standards, the source of which I cannot fathom. It is those standards that seem to be the problem.

If Danish design is what the Councillors want, that is the design they should adopt. It is interesting that people from around the globe visit Denmark each year to learn from one of the leaders and yet not a single country or even city has come close to properly adopting what they see. The Streetfilms movie about the US visit is now 5 years old.

Wouldn't it be great if all of a sudden, we were the first city to roll out something that has been proven to work and then - surprise, surprise - it suddenly works here?

It would be easy.

It shouldn't cost much.

And drains are not a problem. Mikael Colville-Andersen told me :)

It was a great experience to watch the council in action on a topic about which people feel so strongly. Nobody could deny their commitment and dedication. All of them agreed that this is the right thing for Adelaide. They all wanted to make sure they get it right and bring the public with them for the ride. I just hope that Anne Moran's love of Smørrebrød and all things Danish translates into some decent cykelstier.

It's as if the bike lanes are not even there. What's not to love? Via David Arditi @VoleOSpeed

NB: Yet again though, this is a compromise. If you are going to redesign the bikeway, why not do it properly? Why not treat it as part of a larger plan that includes a genuine desire to cut traffic, prioritise safety and provide a complete network that works seamlessly with public transport. This report from Cycling in Christchurch covers it all and applies equally to a city like ours.

Monday, 6 April 2015

If I were Mayor - a CBD Bike Network

Of all the talks at Velo-City 2014, it was the one from Calgary in Canada that I found most relevant to Adelaide. I blogged about it then but just to recap, rather than installing individual bike routes one at a time and having to justify each, Calgary city council (after a lot of deliberation) decided to install a network of routes on a pilot basis. The benefits of the pilot proposal were that it was easier to "sell" to reluctant councillors and to a public unfamiliar with cycling networks, plus the benefits of a complete network would be experienced first hand.

You might think it would be obvious but it took some effort. It is now at the installation stage. The final evaluation report goes to council in December 2016:

There are many important lessons to learn from the Dutch but to my mind one of the most important is the necessity of having a dense grid that serves all destinations and which everyone (that is everyone) can use; "complete, connected, efficient, predictable, and safe in both perception and reality".

Single routes can be useful (and Frome Street has already shown a clear increase in traffic even though it is unfinished) but they work far more effectively as part of a wider network. The network becomes greater than the sum of its parts. That is why I think what Calgary has done is a realistic example to follow.

Wide, good quality bike tracks would fit on pretty much all of the Adelaide CBD's major roads. Almost without exception they are ridiculously wide. And in their current state, acres of space is wasted:

This is Pulteney Street at Hindmarsh Square (another perfect street for protected bike lanes)

That wide space is in many places used for on-street car parking. It is very difficult to remove parking without people getting very upset even though converting on-street parking to bike lanes makes a lot of commercial sense. But it is one of the obstacles you face before a project like this can even get off the ground. People get upset and MPs and council members get very nervous about suggesting any limit on car use - even though it may be entirely reasonable and for the greater good.

So if something like this is to work, it has to result in an absolute minimum reduction in on-street parking and it must not in any way be allowed to look as if you are forcing people out of their cars. If not, it is nigh on impossible to sell.

Here goes:

The orange represents two-way protected bike lanes (and parklands paths). The red represents one-way protected bike lanes. The pink is the already existing (and tentatively planned extension of) Frome Street Bikeway. The green just shows where possible future treatments might go.

Obviously missing from the plan is a north-south route on the western side of the city. That is what I am still struggling with. Morphett Street seems the ideal choice, especially with how easy it would be to move the parallel parking closer to the middle of the road to allow for bike lanes on the safe side of cars but it is Light Square and Whitmore Square that cause difficulties. I'm still contemplating them.

North Terrace

Under the plan, North Terrace has a two-way protected bike lane on its northern side. Two-way bike tracks are admittedly not best practice but along that stretch of North Terrace there are really not that many intersections so it is not a bad compromise. It would also be on the right side of the road to serve the universities, museum and new hospital (and new high school if it is ever built). While the network is in its pilot stage, the lanes are delineated using concrete or rubber sleepers and temporary markers - tall enough to be seen, hard enough to put a dent in a plastic bumper but removable so that fears are allayed:

Borrowed from here

When you get to East Terrace, the lane cannot continue because of the bus lane along North Terrace to Hackney Road. Instead, the plan uses a diagonal crossing to cross into the parklands. That connects the route to the eastern suburbs and to the paths along Hackney Road that are planned as part of the o-bahn extension. Ideally, in the parklands, rather than a path shared with pedestrians, we would ultimately be able to avoid that conflict:

Borrowed from Brent Toderian

To be useful, the lane would have to be at least as wide as the current traffic/parking lane closest to the northern side of the road. There will inevitably be complaints about the removal of car parks. However, they are part-time car parks and there is in fact a very small number of them - maybe 8:

They are all in front of the South Australia museum. From what I can tell, that is really all that will be lost (or reclaimed). There will be some expected whining about congestion being caused through their removal but frankly we must have a serious transport problem if we need more than two lanes of traffic each side of a road running right through the city. Besides, at each end, there are only two lanes in each direction anyway. The only reason the third lane gets filled up is because it is there.

The problem is with the western side of King William Street. Politicians like their limos to be able to stop out the front of Parliament House and there is a long taxi rank outside the casino and Intercontinental Hotel. I am sure something could be worked out though because that section of road is part of the State Government's Greenway plan anyway.

Bus stops would also need to be dealt with but that issue can also be solved - something along the lines of what is done on the tram stops on Swanston Street in Melbourne could work.

King William Street (KWS)

At the intersection between North Terrace and South Terrace, quite a number of bike commuters come from the south west via the Mike Turtur Bikeway. There are also riders coming through the parklands from Unley via the Parklands Trail. They all converge and result in a fair amount of bicycle traffic each morning along King William Street in the direction of Victoria Square.

(There's this green thing there but only painted lines beyond)

The plan incorporates protected bike lanes each side of KWS for them. Again, it is a pilot and so temporary measures are put in place:

Importantly, the idea is to put people on bikes on the safe side of parked cars. It is easy to sell because no car parking spaces or traffic lanes are lost.

Once the route reaches Victoria Square, it diverts. The reason for this is that between Victoria Square and North Terrace, KWS is a very busy bus route that is also blocked by large numbers of private cars. Frankly, there should be a double width bus lane each side to stop the buses getting held up but that is a topic for another day. The point is, it is simply too clogged to try and use it for a pilot project like this.

Instead, the route uses the new lanes that travel east-west across Victoria Square

and the route continues along Gawler Place, over North Terrace and potentially down Kintore Avenue to join Linear Park. Along Gawler Place, the idea is to use a two-way track again but this time on a quieter non-through street to see how it works (it's a bit like Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver):

Borrowed from here

Predictable complaints will include that the road is too narrow to accommodate anything but the current traffic and parking lanes but it should be remembered that Gawler Place has been blocked like this for months and the world has not stopped turning:

For almost its entire length, the road is one-way and the few car parks it has are short-term.

There will be some potential conflict as the route crosses Rundle Mall but I would hope that people would be able to sort themselves out by just taking their time and looking around.

Flinders/Franklin Street

This is the second of potentially three east-west routes. This is a very wide street and if we really wanted to we could easily find space for wide separated bike lanes and still have room for parking plus two traffic lanes each side. However, as with all of these things the hurdle is convincing people. The idea behind the pilot is to cause as little perceived disruption as possible while showing that this can work and benefit everybody.

Along the street there is a lot of on-street parking. Some of it is parallel parking but some is that country town style parking facing the kerb. To be acceptable, any plan has to remove as little of it as possible. And so this is where a further compromise comes in.

For those parts where on-street parking is parallel (like between Pulteney Street and Victoria Square) it is easy. With no change to the street layout, the bike lane is placed the other side of parked cars. Temporary protection for the purposes of the pilot can be supplied with sleepers for example:

Borrowed from the Alternative DfT

The same thing could be done where the parking faces the kerb but on those parts of the streets there are also well-established trees to deal with. Where the trees are on the footpath (like the western end of Franklin Street), the same sleepers can be used to protect the bike lanes. However where the trees sit in the road (Flinders Street between Pulteney and Hutt Streets),

one option might be to keep the street layout but provide protective barriers every so often to prevent drivers straying into the bike lanes. The trees are quite closely spaced so if the barriers were opposite them it might work up to a point.

Here's what I mean:

It's a bit rudimentary because I only know how to use Microsoft Paint rather than Illustrator. The idea is to have a kerb extension (with greenery) around the tree and for it to be extended to the edge of the bike lane. Opposite that is a physical barrier to protect the other side of the bike lane. It's far from ideal because of cars entering and exiting the parking spaces between the trees but it should at least significantly reduce the chances of being struck at speed from behind (which is one of my biggest fears). As I say, the idea is to cause as little friction as possible to get the pilot off the ground.

Leaving the CBD

To the right of the map, you can see that the routes join up with selected streets, including Beulah Road through Norwood. The idea is to illustrate the network idea and to suggest possible routes between arterial roads as a safer alternative to them. They would of course need a bit more than a fancy name and some speed limit signs. Where roads are successfully turned into priority streets for bicycles, they work because they are blocked to through traffic. There are many ways that can be achieved without too much expense:

Or this:

This is borrowed from here where there are a few other potential designs.

It may well be that there are currently 2,000 traffic movements per day on those roads but that only happens because it can. It is not inevitable. If the roads are blocked in some places, the traffic will sort itself out as it always does.

The same thing should happen in the west but I am not as familiar with that neck of the woods. I cannot imagine it would be that difficult incorporating the current West Terrace path and, if nothing else, the space available next to Sir Donald Bradman Drive and Glover Street. Beyond that, Keswick Creek is an obvious route for a new Greenway.

So there you go. Nothing amazing. Just the beginning of a conversation. Not best practice - far from it. But potentially do-able and sellable. For the period of the pilot project, as it is in Calgary, it would also be measurable and if successful, could be justification for making it permanent and for investigating further extensions (including the enormous amount of spare space next to Adelaide's ring roads).


Depending on who you ask, a plan like this is either the end of the world or so woefully inadequate as to be embarrassing. Go on to talkbalk radio to be interviewed and you would likely be criticised and told this is going too far and how it is now time for some balance in favour of motorists. Speak to any progressive urban planning advocate and you will be looked at with incredulity and asked why you are trying so hard to achieve mediocrity.

And this is my dilemma. Do we insist on the absolute best or nothing? Or do we adopt what cities similar to us have done - not just what they build but how they got the decision made to build in the first place even though the entire process and result are a series of compromises? It is a debate that could go on forever.

I look at places like London and the rest of the UK. Their cousins just across the North Sea have all the expertise and examples (good and bad) they could ever require. An ex-pat has study tours on offer for anyone who is interested. Invitations have been extended to mayors and MPs but as far as I know, few if any have taken up the offer. And despite all of the hype, absolute garbage continues to be built - or painted.

I would love it if we could have what the Dutch have right away. The thing is - how long will it take? And I don't mean how long will it take to build something but how long will it take before something even begins? Is it even possible with the heavily car-based history we have now? I don't know. But I do know that cities similar to ours (wide, dispersed and heavily car-centric) have made some progress despite all of the obstacles that are in their way (remember Calgary City Council debated for 13 hours just to get a majority of votes). They are not a bad example to follow, especially if change is achieved that people can see really works. That can then be built on.

Your average punter views any change to their habits with extreme scepticism and as we know, Adelaide is absolutely petrified of change. Not only that, alternative ways of getting around are viewed differently here from over there. Don't believe me? This is a picture of the Canberra Parliamentary Cycling Group being introduced to Dutch e-bikes:

Borrowed from the Gazelle Bikes Facebook page

These are the sort of bikes that Dutch grannies ride every day but those blokes dress like they're in the Tour De France. That alone is one of the biggest obstacles we face. It cannot be knocked down in one hit but it can be chipped at slowly and steadily.

Update: 4 October 2015
Lennart Nout tweeted a couple of pictures of a new bike lane in Auckland recently:

If you squint a bit, it could almost be North Terrace just next to where the skate park used to be. It would be that easy.