Thursday, 30 September 2010

A "new" strategy

Somewhere in Canberra, a copy of the Australian National Cycling Strategy 2005-2010 has been gathering dust on a shelf for the past five years. You can still get a shiny pdf version on the Australia Bicycle Council website.

It has just been replaced by the Australian National Cycling Strategy 2011-2015.

Both documents are on the same website.

The new cycling strategy aims to double the number of people cycling in Australia. The most interesting part for me is the section called Progress Over The Past 5 Years. Among commuters, the modal share has actually reduced from 1.9% to 1.6% - both woefully low numbers. Bear in mind also that most Australian cyclists are male so among women the numbers are negligible. And the numbers are of commuters. That is the time when you see most people riding. At other times of the day, it is probably safe to say that the modal share is close to zero. If you ask me, numbers like 1.9% are so low they are the equivalent of absolute zero in cycling numbers. Get rid of all cycle lanes and stop spending money on marketing and I cannot see that the modal share would get much lower. These are mostly the people who would ride a bike whatever you chucked at them.

Doubling the figure would make it 3.2% and that is described later in the policy as "ambitious". It isn't really. By way of comparison, starting from an already impressive 20%, the share of journeys made by bike in Malmö in Sweden increased by 1% every year for ten years. So how is the Strategy going to achieve this miracle? Easy - by following exactly the same policies that have failed during the life of the last Strategy.

The tragic thing is that the strategy at least gives the impression of some desire to change the ridiculous and wasteful way most of us get around but even though brief mention is made of some countries that have achieved it there is no mention of what exactly worked to achieve it.

This policy will not double the rate of cycling over the next 5 years and get people out of their cars. Why should they?

Let's have a look at some of the "priorities" of the strategy.

The first is Cycling Promotion. This has surely been done to death. Talk to anyone in the street and they can tell you the "benefits of cycling". The point is they don't do it. The plan says:

Marketing and education programs that promote the benefits of cycling and encourage people to cycle for short personal trips will continue to be developed and implemented. These programs should target:
i) underrepresented groups, such as school children, seniors and female commuters.

Why market to school children? We know their preferred way of getting to school is under their own steam on their bike. What's stopping them is not a lack of promotion. It's their parents. Roads are unsafe for children. There are way too few safe places to cross and traffic in the main is far too fast. Of course parents don't let their children ride to school. They're not stupid. Also, more and more people are choosing private schools which are not always around the corner. If you want those students to ride to school (and the distance could easily be 5 or more kms), there is only one way to do it. The answer is here.

You need to reclaim some road space from motorists and build a network of proper separated paths. No amount of promotion will convince people to allow their children to ride on roads with fast moving cars and trucks. They are not stupid and it is patronising to think yet more promotion will work.

The next priority is Infrastructure and Facilities. A paragraph is devoted to "end of trip" facilities which usually means bike racks and showers. Bike racks are easy. They should be in abundance at every railway station and shopping centre and all across the city. Showers are necessary if a person is in training but for most people, cycling should require no more exertion than walking. It should be able to be done in normal clothes without the need for showers at the end of every journey. "Facilitate" that and you will start attracting more people out of their cars. I have not seen any evidence for the claim in the Strategy that there has been investment in cycling routes. There are lines painted on parts of some roads and something approaching a proper bike lane on Frome Road but that is really it.

The third priority is integrated planning as it was in the previous plan. There are plans and strategies all over the place that pay lip service to this. I am sure my local council has some sort of plan or policy that claims it is "committed" to encouraging more people to go by bike. Again though, the evidence does not seem to be there. Every single new retail development is surrounded by car parks. One or two token bike stands might be installed but as always, getting to them is just unpleasant. Unless you are one of the 1.6% of the population who makes a conscious choice to get on a bike, nobody does. Integrated planning is what you see on the thousands of cycling and urban planning blogs splattered across the internet. Every new road or development has proper provision for cycling. Not just a token add-on at the end.

Fourth is "safety". After talking about more "educational campaigns", the Strategy says this:

Concerns over safety and aggression from motorists are seen as key deterrents, particularly for female participation, and it is important that road safety campaigns do not just target regular cyclists but also target motorists and pedestrians to increase their awareness of the rights of cyclists and understanding of how to interact with cyclists.

"Raising awareness"? Seriously? There is a great book called Stuff White People Like. Raising awareness is a favourite. Raising awareness is great because you don't actually have to do anything. As long as one person's awareness is raised, you've done your job.

A major deterrent to getting around on a bike is being forced to risk being hit by a car or truck. Minimise that risk and you might get somewhere. How do we do that? Well, without wishing to labour the point, what do those countries with the highest modal share for cycling do?

Priority 5 is monitoring and evaluation. That's actually a relief. I am glad whoever is in charge of this thing will be monitoring how ineffective it will be.

This new Strategy, which is filled with more of the same, will regrettably never achieve what it sets out to achieve. It certainly won't achieve the "ambitious" target of raising only cycling commuter modal share to a measly 3.2%. I would really love to be positive about this but can't. It is a great disappointment.

Main North Road
Original here.

Free-range kids

Love this woman. She was the mother who allowed her son to travel home on the New York subway - something anyone who is 40 or older would have done when they were young, along with going to the swimming pool by themselves, or to the park, or to their soccer training, crossing the road, etc, etc.

She was labelled "America's worst mum". She is worthwhile googling because there is tons of stuff on her.

Pedestrian day

National Walk to Work Day is coming up on 1 October. It's the one day of the year when something appears to be done to encourage people not to get in their cars to drive the short distance to their office but instead to walk. The website says that the scheme is now in its 12th year.

It's a bit like Walk Safely to School Day which is in May. That's the one day of the year when parents are encouraged to get out of the 4wd and walk their children around the corner to school instead of driving. It's all great fun and you can get stickers and everything.

The next day of course is back to normal with streets choked with cars and children imprisoned in the back of 4WDs on the way to school.

A great initiative.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Joining the dots

The State Government is slowly filling the gaps in its world-class cycling infrastructure. The latest street to benefit is Victoria Drive next to Adelaide University. As you approach Frome Road, and after you have passed all of the diagonally parked cars, each of which can pull out half a car length before they finally see you, you are greeted with this:

Some lines painted on the road. As we all know they have magical qualities and act like invisible forcefields to stop cars and trucks driving into them. No wonder so many people, young and old, use them. Drive along Anzac Highway or Marion Road to see whole families travelling together or have a look at the "bike lanes" under the Gallipoli Underpass on South Road to see all of the children riding their bikes to school.

Another fine example of a lengthy piece of quality infrastructure.

But hello, what's this?

This is unusual for Adelaide. A bike lane suddenly coming to an end for no apparent reason?

You might think that this is only half finished and that soon the kerb will be altered to make a proper separated junction there. I bet you a puncture repair kit it doesn't happen though. As usual, the bike rider is directed into the gutter while cars will continue to turn left and ignore them. Watch how nobody uses it and, quite understandably, will move to the centre of the road as they do now before turning left.

I sometimes understand exactly how the guy from Waltham Forest feels.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

A terribly sexist blog post

A good friend of mine has gone on a trip to Europe to find himself. He is young and a bit silly and claims he has gone there in search of the biggest hangover known to man. In fact, judging by his emails, he is learning about art, culture and European history.

The latest city he visited was Amsterdam. I heard a lot about the Van Gogh museum, canals and Irish tourists he met. He also had what sounded like a good time at a "coffee shop". The magic mushrooms he sampled certainly had an effect on him.

I suggested that if he was in one of the world's premier cycling cities he might wish to hire a decent Dutch bike and sample the sights that way. He wrote back and said (and I apologise in advance for the language):

Dude, Dutch women are hot! And they all have tight ar--s because of the cycling.

You can imagine my dismay. There I am publishing blog posts left, right and centre, trying to convince people of the benefits of encouraging a proper cycling culture and he comes along and does it in a single sentence.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Rap video

Yet another cool video from the masters:

Monday, 13 September 2010

How to design a junction

A common complaint from cyclists in Adelaide is that the few bike lanes that exist (and I use the term "bike lane" in a broad sense to include the joke bike lanes we have that are in fact just white lines in gutters) just disappear when the road narrows or you approach a junction. It is at junctions where they are needed the most. Not just lanes are needed at junctions but a proper design that makes it clear when cyclists can go. It also needs to be a design that so far as is possible removes conflict.

Mark Wagenbuur has produced a whole bunch of videos about Dutch cycling infrastructure and deals also with some of the myths about it. This is his latest. It has already been posted around the place but it is so good that I wanted to post it here. Now this is how you design a junction:

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

"Cyclists should pay rego", etc.

Pick any article in the news about, shock horror, actually spending a bit of money on infrastructure to encourage people to get out of their cars and maybe once in a while take a short trip on foot or on a bicycle and you will see the same tired and dull old comments. In short, the argument is this - motorists pay for roads through rego and petrol taxes, cyclists don't so the roads belong to cars.

Begrudgingly, I recently paid my car rego. I paid it for three months online. When you scroll through the various payment stages on the ezyreg website, one of them breaks down the payment into its constituent parts including stamp duty and levies.

The first two are the actual cost of the rego and the amount for compulsory third party insurance. They were about $50 and $155 respectively. That is, $155 is paid as an insurance premium. This reflects the cost of the damage and injury caused by motor vehicles each day although having said that, I think it is safe to say that motorists still get a pretty good deal. If the full cost of the damage caused by motor vehicles was calculated, we would probably have to pay more.

Registration then is $50. That is for a crappy six cylinder Commodore. A four cylinder will cost you less even though you may do more driving.

That raises the question. Does 50 bucks properly cover the cost of roads?

What do you think it costs to fix one pothole? Or to resurface a stretch of road? What does it cost to repair yet another lamppost or road sign that has been knocked flat by a car that "left the road"? More than 50 bucks I guarantee you.

There is a great page on the website of the Public Transport Users' Association in Victoria. Using data from the Bureau of Statistics, they come up with a deficit of about $16 billion a year. They include in their calculation of income from motorists the amounts spent on insurance premiums. They also include GST on car purchases which strictly are not intended for spending on roads. But putting it at its highest and using the most favourable scenario for motorists, there is still a deficit of $16 billion. Who pays that? Taxpayers generally, which of course include motorists but also include people who take public transport to work or cycle or who only have one car or no car at all. Local roads are paid for through council rates. It is the local homeowners who pay even though the beneficiaries are people from other council areas just passing through.

As Wheels of Justice say:

Not ONE CENT of your rego pays for roads. A small component goes toward the admin of running the rego system, the greatest element (over 80%) is a TAC insurance premium. This goes toward paying for the carnage (notice it’s not called bikenage!) that vehicles cause on a daily basis where thousands get killed annually. Our road network is paid for through general tax revenue. Currently only 30% of the excise on petrol has gone to funding roads. The balance is paid by you and me. Bike Rego has been costed by countless governments and abandoned for decades as it would cost far more than it could realistically collect.
When you next go shopping the suburbs, look at the space set aside for free parking. Every major shopping centre seems to have enough space set aside for a decent school. That is a cost that we all bear. Even small shops give away space for parking - partly because often misguided local council planning rules require a certain number of car parks for a certain size of shop. The particularly stupid thing is that because shopping centres with big car parks are everywhere, we know that people rarely drive a long distance specifically to visit that shopping centre. There may be some exceptions like Ikea or the homemaker centre near Gepps Cross but in the main, you will not drive across town to visit Woolworths when there is one close to you. So most of those shopping centres are within walking or cycling distance. True it is that many people pick up their weekly shop and will be taking home a large number of bags but next time you are there, look at how many people are wheeling out trolleys laden with lots of bags. Most people do not and what they are carrying they could easily carry home on foot.

It has become a bad habit and it requires a bit of effort to stop it. It needs to stop too. Sooner or later, peak oil will become a reality and the days when you take a 4WD around the corner to buy a packet of fags and the Sunday paper will be over. If you ask me, it can't come too soon but anyway, we are going to have to get used to it. We can start now.

One solution is, as we all know, proper cycling infrastructure for those short journeys. Not lines painted in the gutter but separated lanes that are so safe that you would happily let your children and grandparent use them. If an 8 year old and an 80 year old can comfortably use them you have got it right.

As for cyclists having to pay rego or some fee to use roads, I say bring it on. I would happily pay $50 a year so that the amount made is not all spent on administering the system. But there is one qualification. My $50 is spent solely on bike infrastructure. It does not go into the general road fund to be spent on the crappy, only open for two hours a day, lines in the gutter that are, without any irony, referred to as bike lanes.

This is I think one of the most linked to videos on David Hembrow's blog. It makes the point I think:

Thursday, 2 September 2010


For a little while I lived in a small city in northern Germany. It only had a population of about 250,000 but it had a great railway station next to which was a proper bus terminal. They couldn't have been better situated because on the other side of the road was the main shopping centre. The bus station was on both sides of the road to cater for buses going in both directions.

I found a recent picture of it. You'll see it even had a bike lane safely passing through. This is the railway station side:

(original here)

This is the other side of the road:

(original here)
It had a number of good points. First, it was close to shops and food and secondly, it was right next door to the railway station which allowed for quick and easy transfers. There is even a covered bridge connecting the two sides.

Compare it to Adelaide and things don't look quite so good. In the city, the equivalent of a "bus station" is the collection of bus stops on King William Street and Grenfell Street. One of the busiest I have seen is on King William Street. It is just outside an old building that seems to have been abandoned for some time. This is what passengers are greeted with:

It looks fairly daggy in daylight but is worse at night time. It is not even properly lit. There is no seating and passengers are left to share the footpath with people trying to walk by. Meanwhile, motorists have three lanes of traffic each side of the road to speed through. There has been a marginal improvement recently when Adelaide City Council had some murals painted on the walls but that is it.

The situation is similar on Grenfell Street around the corner. This is the bus stop for o-bahn users outside of Harris Scarve. Again, passengers have to share a narrow space with passers-by as well as bins, shop signs and other clutter. Like the King William Street stop, it is dark and drab:

In both cases, the fact that the stops are sheltered seems to be by accident rather than design.

When a bus finally comes, particularly in the rush hour, once it gets into traffic, it has to sit and be blocked in by a line of single occupant cars clogging up Grenfell Street.

When it was announced that the o-bahn would be "extended" (which in reality means a reversible lane in the centre of Hackney Road and single bus lanes on the edges of Grenfell Street), already it attracted the usual whining and negative comments on AdelaideNow about perceived congestion being caused.

The fact is it is ridiculous that bus passengers should be held up in this way. It treats them with contempt. At the very least, there should be a double bus lane each side to allow buses to pass each other. Better still, Grenfell Street should be closed to private cars and it should be turned into a proper transit mall as you find in parts of North America, eg: Portland. Alternatively, there should be separate bus lanes in the middle of the road with decent stops and shelters like the Paris Mobilien system.

Also, passengers deserve proper facilities that include space to stand or sit if they choose, displays that show in real time when the next bus will arrive and, of course, shelter.

Like with cycling, the intention at the moment seems to be to make taking the bus as difficult and unpleasant as possible.

If you want a decent bus interchange designed and built, you have to get your Lego bricks out:

(Lego Public Transport Station - Item #: 8404)

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Road works

There are roadworks on King William Street in the city opposite the Commonwealth bank building. Why they are there I do not know. At the moment, the equivalent of a lane of traffic has been closed. A bus stop is also out of action.

The interesting thing is that, certainly on my biased observations, it has made no difference at all to traffic during our 15 minute rush hour. Just as extending the tram from Victoria Square made no real difference to it.

Just goes to show that there is plenty of capacity for wide Danish-style bike lanes raised above other traffic

Bad manners

I was waiting to turn left this morning from War Memorial Drive on to Frome Road before going over the bridge, past the zoo and then on to Adelaide CBD's only proper bike lane. In front of me was a driver in a gold coloured Mazda 3. I felt her pain because she had been sitting there a fair while and there was just no break in the traffic. I don't think my bright light flashing in her back window helped either.

Sometimes you can nip through on the left and join the traffic on Frome Road but it is a gamble because almost every second driver cuts the corner and drives right through the bike lane even though it is painted bright green.

Eventually there was a small gap which the Mazda 3 driver took. The next car was a big red Land Cruiser. From where I was waiting it looked as if Mazda 3 had misjudged the distance just a tad and the Land Cruiser driver, horror of horrors, had to take his foot off the accelerator. He didn't have to hit the brakes. You could tell because his brake lights did not come on once he passed the intersection.

Instead of carrying on as normal though, this fat slob tailgated Mazda 3 as far as he could and beeped his horn until he was right over the bridge. I could help thinking that if he had thought for just a millisecond he may have realised that (a) Mazda 3 didn't do it on purpose, (2) he only had to take his foot off the accelerator (hardly taxing) and (3) Mazda 3 may have been waiting there for a long time.

It confirmed by strongly held belief that only professional driving instructors should be allowed to teach people to drive. Land Cruiser slob is currently permitted to as an instructor to a learner driver and teach them all of his bad habits and bad manners. A terrible thought.