Sunday, 28 November 2010

A 10 minute how-to

David Hembrow has a large collection of videos on his blog many of which were made by Mark Wagenbuur.Anybody familiar with sites like Copenhagenize and Amsterdamize would be familiar with David's site. I had to embed this video on to my blog though if for no other reason than I can watch it each time I log in.

It shows an unbroken 10 minutes of Dutch cycling infrastructure. Along the way, it answers various objections to separated infrastructure. The part when he passes the bus twice is particularly good.

Watching the whole thing shows why the Dutch have such a high bicycle modal share among all ages. In my mind, there is really no other way to achieve it.

Compare the video with, for example, Portrush Road between the Magill and Payneham Road intersections. The narrow painted bike lane disappears regularly when the road narrows a little and at any time other than for about two hours each day, cyclists have to get around parked cars. It is little wonder that you almost never see a cyclist on it. Given that it is a designated heavy freight route with a speed limit of 60 km/h, you really have to wonder why they bothered.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Who do we advocate for?

The tireless freedom fighter from Waltham Forest in London makes plain his disappointment with the London Cycling Campaign. It should, you would think, be an advocate for cycling and be doing what it can to get more people out of cars and on to bikes for the better health and wellbeing of all of London. Not so says Freewheeler. The LCC is part of the problem.

In any debate, a common difficulty is that people do not view the debate through the same eyes. Two people may look at a building from different sides but see totally different things even though they are plainly looking at the same building. It is similar with urban transport. People who already regularly cycle see the debate from their point of view. For example, blokes who tog up in the lycra and clip shoes on a Sunday to do 70kms with some mates have a particular view of cycling that others may not share.

In countries like Australia, where we have a fraction of the cycling modal share of old favourites like Denmark and the Netherlands, advocacy groups generally portray a particular image. It matches the general image of the cyclists you see around town.

Nothing wrong with that of course except that it has become the prevailing image of cycling. Look at how any cycling event is promoted, such as the rides that coincide with the Tour Down Under, and a particular image is prevalent. Again, in this country that is what non-cyclists think of when the topic of cycling is raised. They certainly do not see the Danish tv character, Anna Pihl, riding her upright bike to the station to then taking it on the train to visit her father.

The question for me is whether the image is working.

Another way of looking at it is in a presentation I found on the web a while ago. The presenter, Mark Sanders, refers to a "blue ocean strategy", which is a reference to the size of the untapped market (his notes can be read here).

He is absolutely right that there is a massive untapped market of potential cyclists and with them, a massive market for new bike sales. I am not sure I necessarily agree that the big untapped market is in folding bicycles. My view is that it does not matter whether it is a folding or other bike, you need a new strategy to change modal share and unclog our streets.

A couple of things are vital. The main one for me is visible, unbroken and high quality infrastructure. The untapped market of cyclists includes children, grandparents and a whole bunch of people in between. The infrastructure needs to be so good that you would have no problem riding on it with your 8 year old child. The untapped market also consists of all of those thousands of car trips that are made every day to the hardware store, karate lessons, footy games and so on. It is not Sunday afternoon leisure rides. The infrastructure needs to be good enough that it makes more sense to make those trips by bike than in a car (have a check of the latest film on David Hembrow's site to see how that is done).

There are other things equally vital and they are described here far better than I could describe them (number 3 is particularly good).

The point for me though is that politicians and advocates should have in mind all of those people who never get on a bike when they are considering bike plans and policies. That is where the numbers are.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Freedom and independence

I had a conversation the other day with a couple of family members. One, a woman in her 20s, was asked when she was finally going to get her driver's licence. She reluctantly agreed that she would probably start driving lessons soon but pointed out that she and a number of her friends get around very easily on foot and using the bus. Yes, came the answer, but you need to be independent. She protested that she was independent. Quite right too I think.

It is surprising that the idea that you need a car to be independent still holds so strong. It is nonsense of course and thankfully it seems that many young people these days are not falling for it.

Contrary to the misleading images that are displayed on adverts for cars, they do not make you free. They are a major burden. Calculate how much a car costs per month. Include fuel, tyres, insurance, maintenance, spare parts and depreciation. If you own a car, you will invariably estimate conservatively but that does not matter. Get a monthly or weekly figure and then compare that to what you earn. How much of the first working day each month is spent paying for your car? In other words, how long are you working not for you but for your car?

Whenever you drive somewhere, especially somewhere busy like the CBD, a concert or one of the bigger suburban shopping centres, you cannot just jump out at the door and go in. You have to drive around looking for somewhere to store your car. What's the longest you have ever spent doing that? Add up all of the time you have ever spent doing it?

Now cars can be quite useful. Some people just love them and good on them too. If people choose to drive them more than others do, whatever. That's for them to decide. I do have a problem when it is subsidised though. What I am talking about is the idea that they bring you freedom and independence. That assertion I think is overstated.

People who ride bicycles a lot can sound terribly self-righteous when they bang on about it. Having said that, I seriously enjoy riding home with the wind in my face and smelling what my neighbours are cooking each evening. It's great being able to take my bike on the train and then just chain it to something when I reach my destination. It's free to ride and free to park.

Travelling by train or bus is also great. Sometimes there is a bit of waiting but with trains, you just have to read the timetable and with buses you don't generally have to wait too long especially if you're on a go-zone. The best thing is that when you reach your destination, you just hop off. You're not having to drive around looking for somewhere to leave your car. While you're on the bus/train/tram, you can read, listen to music or just veg out.

Adelaide is way off being a great place for getting around by public transport but it's really not all that bad (depending on where you want to go). Improvements could be made easily and cheaply, such as a proper transit mall on Grenfell Street, friendlier bus stops that tell you how far away the next bus is, decent cycling infrastructure that leads to train stations and transport interchanges with plenty of undercover bike parking when you get there, and so on. That day I am sure will come.

The fact is you don't need a car to be independent when you live in a big city. More people than we realise live without a car. And without doubt, many more of our journeys could be done on foot, on two wheels or using public transport. It is a tried and tested way of unclogging streets. Many more people could be more freer and more independent without a car if we helped them along. Such as all of those children strapped into the backs of 4WDs each morning and the many teenagers who have to rely on their parents to drive them to sports practice. Our children aren't stupid. They're perfectly capable if we just let them.

(stolen from Sue Abbott).

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Poo power

As part of the State Government's $2b investment in public transport, the railway lines are to be electrified. From what I understand, tenders have already been invited to build the new electric trains. My own view is that the benefits of electrification are limited. Trains will be newer and shinier and they will require less maintenance. Local pollution will also be reduced although that electricity has to be produced somewhere and it will inevitably be made from burning fossil fuels.

Electrification of itself is not going to increase passenger numbers. Increasing train frequencies and enlarging station catchment areas with bikeways and feeder buses might. That is a different topic though.

Modern diesel trains like this or this would do the job just as well but without the big investment in overhead wires.

I read an article some time ago about a Swedish train that runs on the left overs after animals have gone through abattoirs. It is turned into a biogas. There is more information here and here.

This video shows a bus in Oslo that runs partly on human leftovers - not human remains but poo:

A million of us would produce a decent quantity. I don't know anyone that uses it as fertilizer on their vegetable patch so this seems like a pretty clever use to me.