Thursday, 31 March 2011

Grenfell Street again

The current Thinker in Residence is Fred Hansen, who used to be the General Manager of Tri-Met, the public transport operator in Portland, Oregon. One of his ideas is to turn Grenfell Street into a pedestrian and bus only zone. Brilliant. There was an announcement recently with pictures about the extension of the O'Bahn into the city and along Grenfell Street. It looked fairly crappy. It had some bus lanes but they were incomplete and still required the buses to try and pull and into traffic and inevitably be blocked.

The new and better plan is on AdelaideNow and on page 7 of today's paper:

Currently, particularly during rush hour, it is clogged with cars and properly fits the description of a "moving carpark" that bus drivers give it. Mr Hansen has clearly walked down Grenfell Street and taken notice. Pedestrians and bus users are squashed on to pavements far too narrow. The solution: "You pull out a traffic lane so people are not so cramped in. At 5pm now, you can barely navigate your way down the footpath."

At 10 o'clock this morning, 51 people had voted but of them, an overwhelming 40 say the project should go ahead. If you ask me, the people have spoken.

Looking at the comments, you see many of the usual objections based on unproven assumptions. For example:

Closing this road would be stupid and think of all the traffic that would take Grote st instead.

That statement assumes a fixed and invariable number of cars. We all know that is not the case. The number of cars on streets is, in large part, a reflection of the road space available. There is no ideal amount of space. The road space in the city at the moment is largely arbitrary. Take away that space from cars and it will adjust.


The people that use Grenfell Street for driving through being diverted into other smaller Streets would start another decline of the amount of people using the City yet again and this would reflect upon the business in that area. Then people with disabilities would have to also have to have a say not just be forced out and then make it even harder for them to go shopping.

This is an interesting comment. People with disabilities are hardly catered for at the moment along Grenfell Street's pavements. This would be a huge improvement. The statement also assumes that people driving cars along Grenfell Street are the source of business for shops in the area. You just need to stand on the street to see that that is not true. Granted some drive in and out of the Harris Scarfe car park but the bulk of them just sail through treating the CBD as a thoroughfare. By far the most business comes from those people squashed on the pavement and coming from Rundle Mall on the other side.

And this one from "Old Codger of Adelaide":

Outdoor cafes do not make a street pedestrian friendly, quite the opposite. There are a few outdoor cafes already and it is a nightmare trying to get past the chairs and tables and dodging the rushing waiters.

I don't think he sees the irony.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Munich as an example

In amongst the many helmet-cam videos on YouTube, there are some altogether happier cycling videos such as the great collection from Mark Wagenbuur in the Netherlands.

Many people like to film their daily commute and then have it played at a faster speed. I saw this one recently:

It is a seven minute commute in Munich which by German standards seems to be a very bike friendly city. It has its own blog.

The video is interesting for us for two reasons.

First, the various bike paths next to the roads, while not of the same standard as you find in the Netherlands, do not look expensive but are very effective in giving cyclists a safe path, unobstructed by parked cars or car doors. Cars generally do not drive on them either. The junction treatments (while again not up to Dutch standards) nevertheless continue over the intersection into the raised path on the other side. That type of treatment together with priority lights for cyclists would make a massive difference to some of the intersections that Adelaide cyclists have to contend with. The video shows just how easy it is. We have tons of space for paths like that.

Second, a large part of the route, as you will see, is on a separate path next to a river. It is a lot like the Linear Park path once you are in the city. Indeed, one of the bridges on the video looks suspiciously like the one where King William Road crosses the Torrens. The important lesson from the video is what happens when the path hits a road. It is not always perfect and there are some obstacles in places, but in general the path continues once it reaches a road and cyclists are not just dumped into a gutter as so often happens here when you leave the Linear Park path.

Whether it is just the sunny weather or there is in fact an increase in numbers, it sometimes does feel as if there are more people on bikes (at least during the rush hour). In many places now, I see groups of cyclists bunched up and squashed at traffic lights on those tiny painted lanes that are only about 80cm across. It's time for a change. Cycling is well and truly on the map as evidenced by new cycling magazines and the fact that you can finally buy cargobikes here. It is about time State Governments and local councils recognised it.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Congestion and the Clipsal 500

Each year, when the Clipsal 500 race is on, quite a few roads around the eastern parklands are closed and all of those motorists coming from the eastern suburbs and beyond have to find an alternative route. It is not a bad time to cycle to work. Not that you want to be all smug while traffic is at a standstill but because it is travelling so slowly, cycling feels much safer and more pleasant than usual. This was the view behind me this morning on Frome Street. All that traffic was hardly moving.

Who says there's no room for proper bike paths? The lane behind me that is usually blocked by about 8 parked cars could be raised a little and become a great double width lane with room for people to overtake each other if needed. It would also be wide enough for cargo bikes like Mr Gruntworks rides. There's also room on the other side of the road.

Predictably, the week and a half of slightly slower traffic than usual leads to some brainwaves about how to relieve the congestion. On AdelaideNow this morning was an article suggesting turning the city streets into one-way systems. That would mean either two or four lanes of speeding traffic in one direction depending on the road.

You only need to look at London and some of the posts on Crap Cycling in Waltham Forest to see the effect of wide one-way streets. They certainly do not relieve congestion and neither does building more or wider roads. There is not a single city in the world that has solved its traffic problems by building more roads. I drove through parts of Los Angeles once. It has a lot of freeways and it is not difficult to find footage of some of them, 5 or more lanes each side, at a standstill. The same thing happened in London when the M25 orbital motorway was widened to 5 lanes each side. Rather than widening roads to that many lanes, if you are in that position, I would have thought it would be time to recognise that you are doing something wrong. If you think you need 5 lanes of traffic in one direction, you have a serious transport problem.

There was a great post on War on the Motorist recently. Its thesis was that the way in which we invest in roads and other infrastructure to support car use amounts to State intervention in lifestyle. It is true that nobody is actually forced to drive a car everywhere but you have to admit that people generally do the most rational and comfortable thing. If driving is by far the most convenient (or perhaps it's better to say "least inconvenient") way of getting around, that is what they will do. That is of course what nearly all of us do here.

Not that there's anything wrong with that but if your goal is to reduce car use to avoid streets slowly becoming so clogged that they stop working, you have to invest in alternatives.

Just treating relieving congestion as a worthy end in itself is a mistake if you ask me. You need to ask where all those cars in the picture on Frome Street are going and where they have come from. How long is the journey? What is its purpose? Is there an alternative? If not, why not? If there is, how effective is it? Simply saying we need to keep traffic moving is lazy thinking. Traffic is not a single large blob. It is a whole bunch of individual people taking individual journeys. Those journeys should be the focus and the alternatives that are available.

Turning city streets into one-way gyratories wil not relieve congestion. By widening the already wide city streets even more, you will just invite yet more motorised traffic and with it more congestion. The State Government and Adelaide City Council could equally leave the street circuit in place and keep those roads blocked. After a few months, the traffic would sort itself out and you would not notice the difference.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A view from the bus seat

I have ridden my bike to work and back almost every single day since I bought it four years ago. It has been regularly serviced in that time but sooner or later things get worn and need to be replaced. I had to get brand new tyres the other day. I bought the expensive puncture resistant versions because it slowly becomes irritating having to fix a puncture every second week because of sharp thing on the road.

I booked the bike in for a much needed service too knowing that after four years the cogs and chain also needed replacing. Lucky too because that evening on my way home, the chain snapped so I wheeled the bike back to the shop for an early service and repair.

While the bike's out of action, I have been taking the bus each day and very annoying it is too. The whole way into and out of town there are cars in the way.

On a recent post on Adelaide Cyclists, the convenor of the Prospect BUG, Heather (you can see her around town wearing a "Keep Bike Lanes" t-shirt), told us that Adelaide City Council was inviting submissions on its bicycle plan. One suggestion she had made was for proper (and overdue) bike lanes on King William Street between North Terrace and Victoria Square. The laughable response was that since the tramway has been extended, there is no room. You really have to wonder what that comment is based on. Adelaide is noticeable for its wide streets. Even with the tram, there are effectively three lanes of traffic each side of King William Street.

In the evening rush hour, it is interesting to watch the flow of traffic. The lives of bus drivers are made quite difficult because if they are stuck behind another bus at a bus stop, pulling out can be a trial.

Most frustrating of all is being stuck inside a bus that is standing room only. It takes ages to get from Victoria Square to North Terrace (a pretty short distance) before you finally start moving a bit. If you stand on Beehive Corner when the lights finally turn green for pedestrians, it is interesting to note just how many pedestrians have been waiting to cross and how many people are on the Rundle Street tram stop waiting for a tram. When the tram comes along, have a look at how many people are on it. It is easily between 80 and 100. I reckon there are sometimes that many people waiting to cross the road too.

(This is the Pirie Street tram stop at 5pm. Trams cause congestion we are told. You would notice the difference if all of those poeple drove separate cars)

The same is true of the people on buses stuck in traffic on that stretch of road. Even a fairly empty bus can easily be carrying 20 people. It is does take long before their way is blocked by about 8 cars at a traffic light stopping their driver from pulling out. Invariably, those 8 cars will be carrying about 10 people. The problem is that each vehicle is treated as if it is just as important. Buses carrying enough people to fill King William Street if they were all in separate cars are not given any priority over single occupant vehicles. They should be.

(In this picture, the 174 has managed to nose ahead but all the passengers on the 254X will have to wait for that car turning left)

Why, I ask, is there not a double width bus lane along that stretch of road? It is an easy way of giving priority to buses. The consequence of course will be that only one lane will be left over for private cars. But why is that not enough? It may be that drivers have to sit in traffic jams but that is the perfect way of pricing precious road space. My own view is that congestion pricing is not a useful measure because it unfairly targets people on lower incomes. Pricing road use by time is much fairer. In any event, as we are told so often, Adelaide doesn't really have congestion problems. Sure, people may sit in traffic for an extra 15 minutes but what else would they have done with that time. If they see buses speeding past them and getting to their home suburb more quickly, all the better. Paradoxically, encouraging congestion is the best way of reducing it.

Don't get me started on riding a bike down that stretch of road. It looks like madness.

We all know why this happens of course. Only the elderly, the unemployed and losers take the bus. I really should get a grip.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


Last weekend I had to go to Canberra for meetings. If ever there was a city crying out for better cycling infrastructure, Canberra is it.

I stayed at University House which is part of the Australian National University. It is in one of the original parts of Canberra designed by Walter Burley-Griffin and is a textbook example of good urban planning. It is a beautiful area. The houses are attractive and surrounded by tall gum trees. There is something to be said for walking around that sort of environment and then turning the corner to see the place where the nation's laws are made.

Pedestrians are looked after with decent crossings like this one:

There are a few quite wide cycle lanes too:

Regrettably, as is so often the way, they come to an abrupt halt just where you need them most. This one ends at the roundabout but it is not necessarily a bad thing because traffic is quite sparse and slow moving. I saw a lot of people on bikes. Interestingly, like in Byron Bay, at least 50% of those I saw choose to ride like the rest of the world does - in normal clothes and without a helmet. It must be an Eastern States thing.

Once you get into the centre of town, things are not quite as rosy. Roads are wide and can be fast moving:

Only a few have bike lanes and they are only the painted on type:

Plenty of space is of course set aside for the storage of motor vehicles:

Having said that, there were still lots of cyclists. This was one of the only bike racks I saw (and there are quite a few around) that had no bikes on it (this was a Sunday!):

This one matches the concrete brutalist architecture of the High Court:

There are some decent paths if you look hard enough, particularly by the lake. From what I could tell on my bus ride back to the airport, you could probably cycle the whole way from the city to the airport on a Linear Park style track although it is poorly signposted and looked to me like you could easily get lost.

Canberra is a fairly small city but unfortunately not very walkable. The sights and monuments are relatively close to each other but can still be quite a walk. Going from Civic to Parliament House looks like a short stroll across the bridge but things can be deceiving. It takes ages. You really need a bike. A decent bike hire scheme with docking stations in the city centre and at all of the attractions would be just great for visitors. Like in Adelaide, roads are wide and there is masses of space in between them - plenty of space for an integrated bike network. You would think the nation's capital could provide an example of intelligent transport planning. The city itself is well planned. It just needs that final step.