Saturday, 2 April 2016

New South Wales

There has been a lot of talk and press coverage of new laws introduced recently in New South Wales. Mostly, they increase (massively) fines for various bicycle infringements so that now you face a fine of something in the order of $391 for not wearing your helmet compared to the $71 it used to be.

I still don't understand the need for the increase. I assume it was so that people on bikes and in cars are treated "equally". It's a laughable notion and a pointless goal.

When you see an interview with the architect of the laws, the Roads Minister Duncan Gay, you see someone with very fixed views (many based on personal biases and a lot of misconceptions) and someone who rarely in fact listens. When I watch him, he gives the impression of someone who is thinking what he is going to say next rather than actually engaging and responding to questions.

As he claims, he is "all about safety".

Whatever.

The thing that puzzles me most is the chain of logic he seems to have adopted. The starting point was that too many cyclists are killed and injured each year. We would all agree with that. The next step is then ergo we must increase fines. The clear assumption of course is that the death and injury is solely the fault of people who happen at the time to be on a bike. It conveniently ignores, for example, dooring injuries but it blatantly ignores the facts about who is responsible in most collisions involving bikes.

Where I am really dumbfounded is that while Mr Gay is saying he is "all about safety", at the same time he ripped up the College Street that was installed only a few years before at not insignificant cost. Not only that, he did not have it replaced with anything on any alternative route.

Prior to its removal, it was one of Sydney's busiest pieces of dedicated cycle infrastructure, used by 2200 riders each weekday. Transport for NSW's own report showed that it regularly carried as many people as the lane for cars that runs alongside.


The before shot


As you would expect, the road is still used by people getting places by bike but compared to before it is only a handful. Despite Mr Gay's claims of being "all about safety", it is dangerous for them. Not only that, it slows down motorised traffic:

These are Michael O'Reilly's pictures


Mr Gay thinks he's doing something about traffic flow but thanks to him, everyone loses out. The few cyclists using the road effectively block a lane. You may as well have left the bikeway!

While London is shooting ahead, Sydney and the rest of Australia continue to plod about in the 1970s.


This is one of London's new cycling routes showing the type of people who can use it and who couldn't before (the picture belongs to Rosie Downes)

This is not about cars vs bikes. I do not understand the weird attitude that leads to bizarre decisions like this one. The issue is simply one of choice. A multi-modal city is one where people chose a mode that best suits a journey. Currently we can "choose" the only one that's catered for.

This signed (placed not long after the laws were introduced) really says it all:


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Bike Parking

One of the people I met at Velo-City 2014 was Tina Giannopoulou from Malmö in Sweden. She presented in one of the various roundtable workshops and spoke (in flawless English) about the much-publicised new bike parking station that was built there a couple of years ago. Copenhagenize blogged about it in February 2014 and there are a few more pictures of it here.

Tina had me totally on-side from the very beginning when she gave me an orange Malmö usb wrist-band thingo:


The authorities in Malmö found that when you provide alternatives to the car by way safe routes for riding, people use them (I know, right? Who would have thought?). Also, when they built their brand new railway tunnel under the city (something we desparately need), the stations at Malmö Central, Triangeln and Hyllie needed decent bike parking.

Tina explained that the bike park (at least the one she focussed on) was privately funded. The bike parking is on the bottom floor of a car park. The local authorities promised the developer that they would lease the bottom floor from them for bike parking.

They are bright and cheerful. They have lockers and showers, cargo bike parking and vending machines for bus and train tickets. There is even a shop where you can leave your bike for a service:

Pictures borrowed from here

Partly because of our land use patterns (which we still persist with) and what we perceive to be the necessity of using a car, park and ride stations do very well here. There are already capacity problems at the stations on the o-bahn, at Seaford and a number of others.

While popular, they are also an indication that we are still getting it wrong. If people need (or perceive they need) to drive a car to catch a bus or train, we are getting our land use wrong and are failing at putting together an efficient multi-modal transport system. If designed well, decent cycling routes can significantly increase the catchment area of public transport stops and stations and also increases (again significantly) the potential customer base. I don't think it is any surprise that something like 40% of Dutch train passengers get to the station by bike.

Decent bicycle parking is one thing but it is kind of useless if it is not easy to get to it.

I wrote a submission a while ago to the State Goverment Integrated Transport and Land Use Plan. I pointed out that there is a large unused are of land next door to Islington railway station that could be used as a park and ride:



One of the State Government's long term plans is for a tram network including to Prospect which is not far from Islington. The proposed route would run about 700m parallel to the already existing railway line. It seems a bit of a waste to me especially as you could increase ridership at a much lower cost by expanding the catchment area of the railway line.

The block of land is privately owned so it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future (even though privately owned land did not stop South Road being widened and turned into an urban motorway. The State Government just compulsorily acquired people's homes and bulldozed them).

The thing about bike parking is that is does not need anything like the space of a car-based park and ride and so it is another area where you can get a massive bang for your buck. You can accommodate a lot of bikes cheaply and in a small space. And it increases tenfold the catchment area of your public transport stations.



Thursday, 10 December 2015

Impossible

This is a small suburban shopping centre. It is on North East Road at Collinswood on the way out of the city. There are small groups of shops like this all over the place. The bulk of the land is taken up with car parking and there are usually a relatively small number of shops. Generally they consist of a small supermarket, a chemist, a chicken shop and some others.


The second shop along has been empty and available for lease for years:


I highlight it only to make a point.

Back in 2008, Prospect Council proposed a local area traffic management plan for the area to the east of Main North Road:



It involved some smaller streets being closed to through traffic and traffic-calming in other areas. The idea was to limit rat-running by motorists who did not live in the area but used the streets as a rat-run in the morning and afternoon rush hours.

You can see the logic behind that. A large part of council expenditure is for maintenance of local roads (the bulk of our road network). Allowing unlimited rat-running means that local residents are subsidising the convenience of people who don't live in the area and don't conduct their business there.

The plan would have made the area a lot like the area of Prospect to the west of Main North Road. That has various little chicanes and other traffic calming measures and the odd road blocked to motorised traffic as well. Another area with similar treatments is around Unley. It was one of the first to introduce a 40km/h speed limit on residential streets and to incorporate filtering - particularly for people on bikes:


This is Porter Street not far from Greenhill Road

Unsurprisingly, it is the area in South Australia with the highest number of children who ride to school.

If you drive or ride or walk through the area to the east of Main North Road you will see that nothing ever came of the plan. Council received various petitions opposing the plan, signed mainly by people who did not live in the area. The complaints and objections were fairly typical. It would destroy local businesses, create congestion and just move traffic on to adjoining streets. That last one seems to rest on the common misconception that traffic is a fixed volume that must somehow be accommodated rather than something that is a function of the road layout itself.

One of the petitions came from the then lessees of the empty shop in the picture above. It sat on the counter and invited customers to sign the petition against the traffic management plan because it would harm local businesses like that one. That "local business" was a BWS, a chain of liquor stores owned by Woolworths. There are 1200 of them across Australia.

The loud complainers won the day and the traffic management plan was never to be seen again. Because as we all know from recent history, "impossible! You cannot ever close a street! Out of the question!":


A still from this film:



It is such a great documentary. Mark Wagenbuur, the author of the Bicycle Dutch blog, shortened it and added subtitles. Please do read the accompanying blogpost.

Now when you go to the group of shops, you will see people arriving and leaving in their car (with the odd bicycle seen leaned up against a shop wall because there is still not a single bike stand after decades), often dressed in ugg boots and tracky-dacks as if they've just got out of bed. Many will waddle the short distance from their car to the chemist to get their medication for high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease.

Anyway, not long after the plan was aborted, just down the road, another new shopping centre was built in Walkerville:


This was a shiny new one with an underground car park and a great big new Woolworths inside. The BWS shifted down there pretty soon afterwards. To be fair though, they put a nice friendly message on their counter to all the people who signed their petition inviting them to drive down and see them at the new shiny shopping centre.

And nothing has changed since that day. Not proceeding with the local area traffic management plan protected local businesses so well that the shop has remained empty and dormant since the day that BWS buggered off.

PS: a good test would be to propose a new Unley traffic plan that gets rid of the traffic calming, 40km/h speed limits and filtering. I wonder what the local residents would think of that one.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Meanwhile

The latest South Australian cycling-friendly innovation was to introduce two of the recommendations of the citizens' jury. They were a one metre passing rule and allowing people on bikes to ride on footpaths. Despite the extensive public consultation at the time, it still came as a surprise to some - mostly radio hosts for some reason. Despite a (very) few vocal howls of protest, the regulations were introduced and the world did not stop turning.
Not only that but progress is slowly being made on the famous Frome Street bikeway. Councillor Anne Moran was on the radio the other day and she said the thing has to be finished. As she correctly said, at the moment people ride along it in safety only to find themselves disgorged into traffic just when protection is needed the most. Just what form the extension will take and how long it will take remain to be seen. Although Adelaide City Council did release some nice pictures of what it could look like:


(Note the totally wrong treatment at the side street. The pathway and bike lane should be continuous to reflect give way rules)

While we have been introducing new regulations that make it the law to show consideration and also recognise that some roads are so awful that the only sensible thing to do is ride on the pavement, the rest of the world is moving along nicely.

They have been a long time coming but London is building its new separated cycling highways - one east-west and one north-south (with more to come):

London - 4 views from MaidstoneOnBike

I'm fairly certain they will be a game changer.

Salt Lake City (a very conservative town) has gone beyond bike lanes and has just built its first proper protected intersection:


Another U.S. city, Seattle, in the time it has taken for us to build half of one protected bike lane has completed seven. It persisted through a series of negative newspaper editorials until the voice of the people was heard and they voted 56 percent to 44 percent in favour of a property tax increase that will spend $65 million on a 50-mile protected bike lane network and a 60-mile neighborhood greenway network over the next nine years.


Canada's cities continue to leave ours behind. A mate of mine was there recently and sent back pictures of Toronto:


and Calgary:


We all now know about Calgary's pilot city cycle network. By all accounts, it is going great guns:


And if you need any more ideas or guidance on how to get things right, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has released its own Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide that could be transplanted here almost overnight:



While all that's going on, we're still spending large wads of cash on new freeways. We've finished the elevated "superway" over Grand Junction Road for a cosy $842m:


(Borrowed from here)

Darlington is next on the list (at $620m):


along with the Torrens to Torrens section (at $896m).

It is interesting that at the same time, Utrecht in the Netherlands has just removed an urban freeway to bring back the original canal:

(From here)

and Vancouver has also voted to knock down what remains of its 1970s freeway system. Just as Vancouver (along with many other cities around the world) ends an era of highway building, we are just starting on ours with a price tag that will be in the billions.

It's a long road ahead.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Vietnam

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 crashes. 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.