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.

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.