Tuesday, 22 February 2011

What country is this?

In a recent post, David Hembrow described a pedestrianised shopping street that had just been built in his neighbourhood. It is very different from what is built here. It is well worth a read. What is particularly interesting is that despite the ease with which the shops can be accessed by bicycle, cars are not necessarily actively discouraged. Car parking is free. However, as in most cases in the Netherlands, the bike is the most convenient way of getting the short distance from your home to the local shops. In a response to a comment, David says:

What you have here is an example not of a hair-shirt community choosing to exclude cars and embrace bicycles, but of "everytown" being designed to encourage cycle usage. Given the problems which occur so frequently in other places when attempts made to restrict motor vehicles are interpreted as a threat to people's freedom and livelihood, I think there is a lesson here about a better way to go about things - a way which involves less conflict, but works.

Making it easy and convenient really is the best way.

In another comment, there is a link to one of the streets that leads to the shopping area. Here is the Google Maps link (you can see better if you click on the Bigger Map link):

Bigger map

It is noteworthy for a number of reasons.

The first is the school group. If you scroll to the right, you see more students following suggesting that this might be a whole class. You would of course never see an image like that here. Occasionally I see a small group of children being walked to school. The parents wear yellow safety vests! That says something about the levels of safety they feel.

The second thing is the look of the street going away from the picture. It could be Northfield or any new suburb around Adelaide. Even when you look at the map in the bottom right hand corner, its layout is similar.

The third thing for me is the housing. The three storey buildings in the front of the picture are clearly townhouses. They are like the ones in the development around Halifax Street in the city - except bigger. If you scroll to the left about 45 degrees, you see a line of double storey single family houses. They look to me to be on blocks of land bigger than those you find in many new subdivisions. In other words, it could quite easily be Australia. Makes you wonder.

De Professor

Adelaide's current Thinker in Residence, Professor Fred Wegman, gave his second big public lecture a couple of weeks back on 15 February. He gave his first last May and outlined the concept of designing systems that minimise the chances of road accidents. His thesis, as I understood it, was that rather than asking "whose fault is this" we should be asking "how could this happen?"

For almost any journey, whether it is by car or bike or bus, part of the journey is on foot and we are pedestrians. That and cycling were of course what I was interested in most of all.

There were a couple of main points that the Professor made that stuck in my mind.

The first was his comment about the size of some intersections. He had pictures of three intersections. One was immediately recognisable as the football field sized crossing at Gepps Cross where Main North Road and Grand Junction Road meet. Both of those roads are of course wide arterial roads and have a corresponding amount of traffic. However there are plenty of other examples where you can barely see the other side because, as Jim Kunstler described it, of the curvature of the earth. They are unpleasant and dangerous. This is the Gepps Cross intersection:

View Larger Map

This is of course how it should be done:

View Larger Map

The next was the use to which we put Adelaide streets. He showed on his presentation part of an Adelaide street directory. He had highlighted some of the main roads that go around the CBD. He said that he had driven around a few of our streets during his visit but noticed that he could go wherever he wanted. Whatever street he chose, whether residential or arterial, he was never blocked. His recommendation was that we give some thought to the purpose of different streets; whether we want them to be thoroughfares or whether they should be for access only. As it is, he described it as a poor network design. If bigger roads are properly classified as distributors, they can be treated in the proper way. For example, on street parking can be removed.

This for me is a simple way of making things safer but also of improving the public realm. It's a no-brainer. If certain residential streets are built for access only, the volume of traffic can only decrease. They are logically safer and more pleasant.

The last was cyclists. He began this short segment by asking "why do you expose cyclists to fast-moving traffic?" He discussed that in more detail in a recent interview with the Chair of the Bicycle Institute of SA, Jeremy Miller. He said that it did not take him long to realise that he had to ride in a very defensive way, including constantly looking over his shoulder while passing parked cars and riding in the centre of the lane. Anyone who has ridden a bike in Adelaide would agree that that sort of riding style is necessary. It is quite stressful though and it is one of the reasons so few people use bikes instead of cars for so many trips. It feels stressful and unsafe. That point is nothing new.

His suggestion, unsurprisingly, was to separate cyclists from that fast-moving traffic. There are a number of examples of this with the best being the Professor's home country. He used Vancouver as his example. He sees Vancouver and Adelaide as similar, which you can agree with, and thinks that what Vancouver has done could easily be applied here. They are described here with a couple of pictures (that I have pinched) - one of them here:

and one here:

The city has its own website about them too. He described at as developing a second generation bike network. It would need to provide direct access to public transport and serve local shopping.

Overall, the talk was nothing revolutionary, which is what you would expect. The suggestions I have noted are nothing new and have a proven record of success - separated bike infrastructure, residential streets used for that purpose and safe intersections. Watch out for his report when it is published. It should have more detail.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What were we thinking?

If you have a spare hour, there is an audio recording of a recent lecture together with slides that is doing the rounds in the blogosphere. It can be seen here and the PowerPoint slides can be downloaded separately here.

Its thesis is a simple one - we are far too complacent and tolerant of the incredible damage that motor vehicles do; specifically, the number of people they kill every year. We have all read the numbers. Each year it is more people than were killed in the First World War. That is not to single out pedestrians and cyclists of course. It is not about those labels. It is the number of people killed overall, whether in or outside the car. After the attacks on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001, it was estimated that more people died in motor vehicle accidents than were killed in the attacks directly as a result of choosing to drive instead of flying.

In the 19th century, during the industrial revolution in England, life expectancy for certain areas was appallingly low - as low as 30 in places. It was because of the cholera that people suffered from living effectively in an open sewer. The details are in the lecture. In the 20th century, the big killer was tobacco smoke.

We now live in an age where clean water is available through a tap and we would not dream of asking people to live close to open sewers. Smoking is banned in pubs and restaurants, it is an offence for a person to smoke in their car when children are present and it is probably only a matter of time before it is completely banned in public places. The lecturer makes the following very valid point:

"If you had suggested in 1810, at the very start of the industrial revolution, that in a centuries time the open sewers would have been covered over, fresh water would be piped to houses, Individual latrines built for every property; they would have thought you mad.

If you had suggested too strongly in 1910, just before the First World War made cigarette smoking the national pass-time, that in a century most adults would no longer smoke and it might even be illegal to smoke in any public building; they might have certified you.

If you suggest in 2010 that within a century we will no longer live in towns and villages choked by cars, paving over gardens, even if all cars are electrically powered by batteries recharged from wind-farms; they might accuse you of taking a flight of fantasy."

On that last paragraph, I think it is only a matter of time.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Cool bikes

Like many boys my age who grew up in the pre-internet age, some of my time would be spent dreaming about stuff I was "gonna get". Generally, the stuff would be in Lego or toy catalogs. None of it came true because before long a new catalog would be released with a whole load of new and exciting stuff to dream about.

Tragically I still do it. Living in a weird dream world, I ask myself what would I ride if my fantasy world came true and you could ride a bicycle on separate protected paths to a railway station, park your bike among hundreds in undercover parking and catch the every-15-minutes train service to the city or wherever you are going.

A combination of daydreaming and the Internet means you can find out all sorts of stuff. As self-indulgent as it is, these are the top three bikes I would buy:

1. Biomega Mopion

I understand this is still in prototype stage. It really should go into production. To me, it looks totally cool but is at the same time totally useful. That massive basket on the front could take a week's shopping. Mr Copenhagenize has already reviewed it thoroughly. It gets the thumbs-up.

Biomega make a few bikes. One of the coolest is the Boston. It is a semi-folding bike with a steel cable across the frame that also acts as a lock. If the cable is broken the bike just won't work. And of course, it looks totally cool.

Biomega also teamed up with Puma to make different versions of the Boston and Mopion. They also produced the Pico, which is another smart looking bike with a smart looking basket on the front - also on the shopping list. Some good pictures are here.

2. Viva

Viva is another Danish design but one that is available here. There are some in the bike shop on the Parade in Norwood. The coolest for me is the Urban Deluxe. It's really stylish in the flesh. Not cheap though - about $2k.

3. Vanmoof

This is still my favourite bike. It looks awesome and has everything you need included. They have just released a new rear rack with a built-in light. There is also a front rack available and judging by the European site,  you will also soon be able to get a bright orange plastic crate to go on the front for your trips to the central market.


Thursday, 3 February 2011


It's a funny thing. The older you get, the more beautiful women become.

I am always very distracted walking around town. Everywhere I go there are beautiful women all around me. They all look great, some in figure hugging jeans, some in some dresses and some in more formal officewear. Saying all of this makes me sound like a dreadful perve but I try my best not to be. I find different hairstyles distrating too. Braids always look fabulous while platts are just amazing. Have you ever seen a picture of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko? Goodness me.

Thankfully I am not the only one, but I also get very distracted by women on bicycles. I know I am not the only one because there are websites devoted to them all over the place. Just look at some of the different cities linked to on Copenhagen Cycle Chic. A recent post on Amsterdamize showed some fabulous photographs. I don't know how he does it. If I ever saw Yulia Tymoshenko on a bicycle, I think I would need a quiet lie down.

On my way to work, I sometimes see women on older style bikes that they have restored (or ust kept in good condition) or bought from the classic bicycle shop. They glide past me quite often, summer frocks fluttering in the breeze.

Compared to some cities though, they are few and far between. Cycling is not marketed here using those types of images.

In one of his earlier posts, David Hembrow referred to cyclists as pit canaries. His view was (and, I assume, still is) the number and variety of cyclists is a clear indication of the safety and "normalness" of cycling. As he says:

Are your cyclists a small part of traffic, wearing helmets, dressed in fluorescent jackets and predominantly young and/or "sporty" ? Do your cyclists cycle "vehicularly" and identify themselves as "cyclists"? Or do you live in a location where cyclists are of all ages, both sexes, and generally ride in normal clothes with no worries about visibility ?

Cyclists are the pit-canaries of the roads. If they're numerous, dressed in ordinary clothing and wide-ranging in age you can tell that you are in a location where cycling is "normal" in society and where it is safe enough, and feels subjectively safe enough, that everyone cycle

The recent increase (though slight) in normally dressed women is perhaps an indication that cycling is slowly becoming a legitimate form of transport again in Australia. How much the increase continues (and whether it does continue) remains to be seen. The fact is that the numbers of women and children using a bicycle as every day transport remains tiny. David Hembrow's most recent post discusses some of the "problems" that Amsterdam is facing because of increased bicycle traffic, particularly congestion (if you can call it that) from cargo bikes. Amsterdam has also experienced an increase in bicycle ownership. It has increased most among people aged 45 and over. Among people aged over 65 it has almost doubled. At the other end of the age spectrum, the group aged 12 to 15 is cycling more and is the age group with the highest bicycle use.

These are the ages that you practically never see here on a bicycle. It cannot be that we are so different from the Dutch. The untapped demand is no doubt there. It just needs to be tapped. We all know how.

(Pinched yet again from Amsterdamize).