Sunday, 27 June 2010


For many blokes, their car is an extension of their penis. You can see them often cruising down Hindley Street looking cool. The particularly clever ones make big loud noises with their exhaust pipes. It's all frightfully impressive.

For most of us though, cars have become a necessity that is imposed on us because of our environment. Even what used to be small neighbourhood groups of shops have free car parking. Wherever you go, pedestrians are an afterthought and it is just easier to go by car - even if it is around the corner.

Imagine if we designed our schools like that. Instead of the walkways you see, imagine if there were special roads for gophers between classrooms and a space larger than each classroom for storing the gophers. Rush hour would be between each lesson with long lines of gophers beeping at each other and their drivers wondering what is causing the hold up. There would be student teacher committees which would spend time dreaming up ways of making it easier for gophers to get around. Eventually, in big schools, someone would come up with the idea of super 4 lane gopher-ways for getting across school more quickly.

Most of the time, driving around in a car is not that much different. Cars don't make us look cool, they don't make your nob bigger and the roads we drive on are nothing like the empty wildernesses you see on adverts for 4WDs. We sit by ourselves in two tonne vehicles going, on average, not much faster than a gopher and not not carrying much more than would fit inside the shopping basket attached to the gopher. We also set aside, at next to no cost, huge tracts of public land for their movement and storage. We also, knowingly, tolerate them causing about 200,000 reported injuries, 20,000 serious injuries requiring long-term care and treatment and 1,400 deaths every single year.

The mind boggles.

How motorists often get it wrong

Walking my children to school in the morning I have to stop what is really a ridiculous number of times to wait for traffic for what is a very short distance. In many cases, I am having to wait though when it is my right of way. It happens a lot too when I go to the shops or just walk around the neighbourhood.

A thorough knowledge of the Australian Road Rules, or at least those dealing with pedestrians, is not a pre-requisite for getting a driver's licence in this country. If it were, you would not see the sorts of dangerous mistakes made (and the arrogance that comes from thinking you're in the right) that we see every day.

If you are walking along a pavement, you have the right of way at every single driveway. That includes driveways into the carpark at shopping centres every day. You would never believe it though watching people speed blindly out of their driveways. The Road Rule is number 74. Here is the very clear picture that comes with it:

Another rule that is less well known is what should happen at junctions (not including t-junctions). If a pedestrian is crossing the road you are turning on to (as a motorist), whether that road is a side road or a main road, the pedestrian has right of way. The Road Rule is number 72. Again, there are two very clear pictures that come with it; one for turning left on to a side road:

And the other for right:

Rule 73 deals with t-intersections and the rules are the same. You give way to pedestrians whether you are turning into the side road:

Or out of the side road:

Of course you should not walk out into the road if a driver is obviously not going to stop. That would be an uncomfortable way of making your point but make the point anyway. Shout and gesticulate.

If you are driving, please always stop for pedestrians. It is hard enough as it is.

Now a glaring omission in all of this is cyclists. What happens for example at a t-intersection when a motorist is turning left but to do so they would drive across the path of a cyclist? If there is a bike lane across the intersection (a rarity) you would think the answer would be clear but the Road Rules are silent. Cyclists are certainly allowed to overtake on the left (Rule 141 lets them). Some motorists are courteous enough to wait for you (usually because they actually use their mirrors and bother to see you), other do not.

As with many problems like this, the best thing is not to sail through but to hold back until you know the driver has seen you. Seems to be the advice on forums.

If we had proper infrastructure, you would hope the rules would be clear for everyone.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


In any debate about cycling infrastructure and the benefits that it can bring to a city, two countries are always at the top of th elist of examples. They are the Netherlands and Denmark. Netherlands seems to have the slightly more superior infrastructure but regardless, compared to here, both are light years ahead.
one of the latest. It is about Copenhagen's plan for what are called Cycling Super Highways that are intended to encourage people in outlying suburbs to use their bikes. Note the comment in the film that Copenhagen is one of the most sprawled out European cities. It kind of defeats the argument that we are too spread out for this sort of thing.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Virtual playing

It is common for people as they get older to remember with fondness how everything was much better when they were young, especially the respect that young people showed to the elders. It's nonsense of course. I am more impressed with the friends of my children than the yobbos I went to school with (including me) and I am confident in the future knowing that they are going to be running the place.

Having said that though, there certainly are differences I notice from my childhood and it seems to be something shared with people my age. I grew up in the 1970s and early 1980s. I used to go everywhere on my bike which was a magnificent Raleigh Chopper. It was one of the originals that had the aeroplane throttle style gear stick on the cross bar. Later versions had it removed apparently because of health and safety issues. I guess it was because if you were involved in a very bizarre collision that defied the laws of physics, you might hurt your goolies.

Here is a picture of a group of children who have been out on their Choppers that I found here. Clearly they are taking their baseball bats to visit a rival gang or something:

I used to take my bike on the train and see friends on the other side of town and We would then ride all over the place. I would also get myself to sports practice, swimming lessons and so on. Bike riding memories go back quite far to when I had a small tricycle. That I used to ride around the block and sometimes beyond.

That for me is the key difference with now. I don't know exactly when it happened or how but I never ever see children playing in the street and only very seldom getting themselves to school or friends houses in the neighbourhood.

There is a rational fear that children might be abducted but the chances have been shown to be infinitesimally small. Regrettably, in almost all cases, the culprits of that sort of foul behaviour are people our children already know.

There is no doubt more motorised traffic around than there used to be and I think that is the reason we don't see children playing or riding around our neighbourhoods. People aren't stupid. Why would they expose their children to that sort of danger? I know I don't. But the result is a generation of children who play only in their backyard or if they do go to a local playground, it is usually in the backseat of their parents' car.

Even worse, instead of children being able to play outside, we see those revolting Nintendo Wii's displaying a cartoon world on a flatscreen tv. Rather than running outside in the fresh air, children waddle around on top of a plastic sensor.

Having said that, I do enjoy the boxing game. I am ideologically opposed to pretending to jog through Wii world but I have no problem with virtual punches to the face.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The limits of fluorescent yellow

As far as I am aware, there are two theories of cycling. The first is that adopted by some European countries. Cycling is recognised as a legitimate form of transport ideally suited to short trips and for that reason it is positively encouraged. Separate networks of bicycle lanes are installed and at junctions it is very clear who has right of way and when. The other is vehicular cycling which is practiced in Australia, the US, the UK and other English speaking countries. That is the theory that bikes are vehicles too and they should be treated the same way as all other vehicles. They should be subject to exactly the same rules and as a consequence deserve the same respect. That respect is of course seen on the AdelaideNow website whenever there is an article even remotely related to bicycles.

With vehicular cycling there is no need for separated bike lanes because people on bicycles are treated the same way as people in cars. That means that they can be rear ended in the same way as cars. That is generally not advisable for a person on a bicycle so instead of removing that danger altogether, you are encouraged to put on your helmet and fluorescent yellow jacket. Very sensible of course but you have to hope that the motorist behind you is not like this bloke. I saw this video on Tom Vanderbilt's blog How We Drive (he is the author of the book "Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)" - a must read):

Regrettably, no matter how careful you might be for your own safety, human beings being what they are, inevitably someone will eventually make a mistake. If you are in a big European car with magnificent crumple zones and multiple airbags, your chances of serious injury are lessened (to a point). Not so if you are a pedestrian or on a bike. Somehow we continue to expose people to this sort of danger though.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Pictures of Utopia

Shamelessly pinched from the latest post on Amsterdamize.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


A woman goes into a car showroom in Australia:

Woman: Hello. I'd like to buy a car.

Shopkeeper: Yes of course. Over here we have the Formula 1 racers and over here we have the monster trucks for speeding down the side of a mountain.

Woman: Oh dear. Neither look particularly comfortable.

Shopkeeper: We do have these specialist "ladies" cars. The manufacturers take a Formula 1 car, install a slightly more comfortable steering wheel and then paint it an insulting "girly" colour like pink or lime green.

Woman: Well if it's designed especially for women, I suppose I'd better take one. I'm not sure I'll need that many gears. And do they have to be exposed like that? I might get my skirt caught in them.

Shopkeeper: Sorry. It's that or nothing.

Woman: I would like to be able to carry shopping home on it though.

Shopkeeper: A luggage rack? Yes. That will cost extra.

Woman: It also doesn't look like it will stop mud and water from splashing up my back.

Shopkeeper: Mudguards? Extra.

Woman: Will people be able to see me at night?

Shopkeeper: Lights? Extra.

Woman: Will it be safe when I go inside the shop?

Shopkeeper: Security system? Extra.

Woman: [Sigh]. Can't I just buy something that is comfortable, that I can carry things on, that won't get me dirty and that comes with all the things I need?

Shopkeeper: Yes but to get that you have to spend a fortune on the European model hidden over there in the corner.

Woman: How much is that?

Shopkeeper: A fortune.

It wouldn't happen of course. But in my experience, it's not far from what a bike buyer is usually faced with. The bikes that are sold here are very different from those sold elsewhere, particularly in European countries. In most cases, they come with dynamo lights, a chain guard, mudguards and a luggage rack included, and often even come with a built in lock. They generally have the low maintenance internal gear hubs too. We are starting to see that sort of thing here but it is only a trickle. Giant bikes make the Transend City:

and Trek make the Allant although that does not come with a chain guard:

Each to their own but I find riding every day is a pain with exposed gears and chain. Adding mudguards has made a world of difference but after a few days of rain, the grime hits the chain and you get that awful scratching sound knowing that your cogs are slowly being ground down. I should clean it more often but that is a pain in the backside. My next bike will have a proper chain guard and internal gears.

There is a theory that it is the general bike culture that determines the bikes that are sold. What is sold in Australia and the US is world's apart from what you get in the Netherlands. Cycling here is still sold primarily as a form of keeping fit or as a sport. Hence the expensive racers, lycra, etc in marketing. Nothing wrong with that of course but it appeals only to a particular crowd. You won't, for example, get teenage girls on their bikes to go out with their friends with that sort of marketing.

Things are changing though. There are most definitely more people commuting each day. Gazelle Bikes are sold here, as is the Danish brand Viva and, of course, the totally funky Vanmoof. A clever more recent design was on the Bicycle Design blog. Called the "Etta" and designed by Nick Foley, it's tall, comfy and has a big space for a shopping bag:

See the website for more.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The guy off the radio

I heard Matt Abraham on the radio for the first time the other day. I happened to be in a car during the morning rush hour - something that never happens usually. He's quite good on the radio but I totally disagree with what he wrote on his blog on the Messenger Press website.

It was a dig at the Sturt Street bike lane and people trying generally to change Adelaide. Fingers are pointed, among others, at Don Dunstan and Jan Gehl. The premise is based on a trip to a tool shop on Whitmore Square, one of the businesses so badly hurt apparently by a few months of bike lane. Matt sings the praises of inner city businesses and, as I understand him, seems almost to be suggesting that you won't find that anywhere else. He finishes his article by saying:

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen is a top city for bicycles and Tasmanian princesses, but a lousy place to buy a set of sockets.

You what? This bloke has clearly never been to Copenhagen. You can't buy sockets there? Why? Because it is a friendly place to walk and cycle? Get real Matt.

Like many people who view the world from behind a windscreen, Matt loves Adelaide's streets mainly because, it seems, he is allowed to drive through them at will and park wherever he wants at next to no cost. The thing is though, there is always a cost. Anyone who has studied Economics will know about opportunity cost - the cost of losing out on the next best thing. So the opportunity cost of land set aside for a massive car park outside Bunnings is what else you could have used the land for. Like a primary school for example.

Matt has a bit of a dig at Jan Gehl saying:

The Copenhagen Experiment stems in part from the work of a visiting Danish urban planner, Jan Gehl, who abhors inner city traffic and is keen on closing the north-south traffic corridor through Victoria Square, a move that would threaten many of Adelaide’s traditional inner-city businesses in the market precinct.

Nonsense of course. If anything, it is cheap and free parking outside of the city that damages inner city businesses. Matt talks about the specialty pump and irrigation shop. I'll bet Matt a Van Moof that a bike lane would not damage that business one iota. On the other hand, name a proper hardware shop in the CBD. Harris Scarfe used to have a small collection but nowadays they are all out of town megastores. Fine if you want to support only Woolworths and Coles but they are hardly local businesses. That happens the world over. Far from damaging businesses, there is plenty of research to show that making places pedestrian friendly increases businesses. How else do you explain Rundle Mall? When that was proposed, the same old arguments were heard about hurting businesses. Now look at it.

Matt clearly has not read Jan Gehl's publication about Adelaide called Public Spaces Public Life. If he were to take time to read it, he would see what Professor Gehl meant about Adelaide not fulfilling its potential. It is well worth a read. It is also very surprising how few people have even heard of it. It is one of the only proper studies about pedestrian movement in the CBD. There is plenty of attention devoted to allowing cars to speed through the middle at speed but very little attention paid to the many pedestrian squashed on to the pavements.

If you want to get what Jan Gehl is about (he's supposed to be coming back to Adelaide in the not too distant future, watch "Contested Streets". This is a trailer for it: