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,

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.

Monday, 23 December 2013

10 wishes

Even when we're getting old and grumpy, we all still have things we would secretly love to get from Santa each year. I know of at least one bloke who would never admit it but would love to get an Airfix kit of a Spitfire.

Now that the preparation for Velo-City 2014 is well underway and we have some great keynote speakers organised, there are probably 101 things we could do in preparation and 101 more other new ideas that we will get out of the conference.

As a starting point, this is my wishlist for Christmas:

1. Designate streets

Earlier this year, those clever people at Copenhagenize Design Co produced an easy to follow bicycle infrastructure planning guide. The required road treatment depends on speeds and motor vehicle numbers:

The important point to note is that this should not come after the event. Speeds and vehicle numbers can be decided beforehand by properly designating streets as residential, 'neighbourhood rings', main roads, arterials and so on. Designating streets in that way determines their role and whether, for example, they are through routes. For a better explanation, see one of my favourite blog posts of this year.

Our problem at the moment is that almost every single street or road is a thoroughfare.

2. Divide suburbs into cells/segments

Once you have designated your streets, divide suburbs or parts of suburbs into their own self-contained segments. Organise things in such a way that you have to leave each segment (by car) the same way you came in and use the designated arterial route to get to another segment. Filtered permeability of course means that there will be different rules for people on foot, people on bikes and in public transport.

Journey times by cars will be increased only marginally but it makes all the difference to the quality of living spaces.

3. Introduce a mandatory design guide for arterial roads

I wrote a blog post about this a little while ago after finding out the estimated life span of a road surface. They are renewed generally every 15 years. If we make as part of that timetable, our road network could be transformed in 15 years. Even in 10 it would be unrecognisable.

There is a reason this is so important.

We hear calls for people to share the road, for their to be mutual respect and for things like one metre passing laws. They're all very well but even with the best intentions, human frailties get in the way and can lead to disaster. That is where good design comes in. Decent design can do a lot for safety by sending clear signals about speed, upcoming obstacles and, importantly, who goes where.

4. Change local government road laws so that filtered permeability becomes default

This related to wish number 2 and it is all about priorities.  For a far better explanation than I could ever give, see one of the old favourites.

5. Make all railway stations transit and cycle-oriented development

A network of cycling routes or feeder buses synchronised with train times can increase the catchment area of each station by a significant margin. Cycling routes have the advantage of being so much cheaper.

Imagine being able to hop on your bike, ride 15 minutes without having to worry about traffic and main roads, parking your bike in abundant, secure, under-cover parking and then, after a very short wait, jumping on a train that will speed you to work. I know I would use it.

Here's Mikael explaining how it works (in part 3 of his 10 part series):

Episode 03 - Intermodality - Top 10 Design Elements in Copenhagen's Bicycle Culture from Copenhagenize on Vimeo.

 6. Introduce the 8-80 test

Adelaide City Council has not been idle in the last few years. The Sturt Street lane was attempted and learned from. There are new ones on their way on Frome Street. The Victoria Square redevelopment is underway, as is Rundle Mall and there are other bigger projects thanks to the State Government. Our "bicycle network" also continues to grow with bike boxes and new stencils on roads like Pulteney Street. The question is whether it is the right kind of treatment.

All new changes I think should have an overall fitness test applied once they're complete - the easy to apply 8 to 80 rule. Would you be happy with your 8 year old child using it? Would you be happy with your 80 year old parent or grandparent using it? If the answer to either question is no, it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

7. In time, divide the CBD into 4

Suggest this to anyone who comes to the CBD by car and you will either be looked at with disbelief and, more likely, it will be assumed that you are either mad or joking. However if you have been following bike blogs this last year, you will have seen the Streetfilms film about Groningen and know that it works beautifully. Here's the link. The part about dividing into segments begins at the 2 minute mark.

Under such a plan, the four Terraces around the CBD become a ring route. To get from segment to segment (in a car), you must use the ring route. The main north-south and east-west roads can then become transit corridors for buses with big, well lit and comfortable bus stops.

8. Start making underground parking mandatory

If you look at parts of some Australian cities from the air, the amount of land that is devoted to storing cars practically free of charge is astounding. Here is Dr Behooving's take on Launceston. And here is a bird's eye view of Norwood, a densely populated inner city suburb where space is at a premium:

Asking that it is made easier to walk or take some other form of transport that is not a car is not about forcing anyone out of their car. That simply does not work. It is simply about providing an environment that allows people to make the most rational choice. If people want or need to take the car, so be it. If that is the case, it is ultimately better for everyone if we use the land available for efficient uses and dig holes to store our cars. It works especially well when it is hot.

The end result, while a little more expensive, actually makes things better for everyone. Your car is safe, secure and cool if choose to come that way but it is just as easy to get there in other ways too. The environment seems to be preferable too.

This is another favourite post of mine that explains it all.

9. We seriously need that underground railway

This is quite topical because it is suggested in the State Government's Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. Among the plans for new tramlines around and from the city to Prospect, Unley, Henley Beach and Norwood, it suggests as a long-term proposal a railway tunnel under the city with four intermediate stations. If you ask me, it is more important and will be far more effective than the tramline plans.

I have a blog post slowly brewing but to summarise, a tunnel under the city will allow long distance trains to service most of the CBD, it will facilitate easier train changes and will allow direct and predictable through train services. Regular services along with a combination of park-and-ride and the things under number 5 above will allow our railway network to service a pretty decent proportion of the metropolitan area.

10. Thank people (Cykel Karma)

If you ride a bike, you rock. And you should be told so. That is why I like the people from Cykel Karma so much. I'm not entirely sure what they say but you can hazard a pretty good guess. This is a great excuse to post their video again:

I bike CPH - god cykelkarma from I bike CPH on Vimeo.

Merry Christmas everyone!