Friday, 24 June 2011

Urban moats

One of the many great things about Australia is the names we give things. In many cases, no research or further reading is required because the names says it all. Football Park was called Football Park because it is a big park where people play football. The Great Sandy Desert is a great sandy desert.

It also applies to some of our roads. Main North Road is a main road travelling north. Main South Road is a main road travelling, you guessed it, south. Anzac Highway is the same. It's named Anzac in honour of Anzacs of course. An it is a highway. The speed limit may "only" be 60 km/h but it has three lanes each side of motorised traffic with very few places for pedestrians to cross. Like many large roads througout the city, it separates suburbs from each other like a large moat unless you are in a car.

It was therefore no surprise recently to hear of yet another pointless death of someone trying to cross that road.

The story itself was on the Adelaide Now website and was about motorists ignoring red lights at pedestrian crossings - something that needs to be highlighted. Two examples were given - both occurred at designated pedestrian crossings:

From the Sunday Mail

You can see that one of the drivers sailed through the crossing while a group of students were crossing. It was apparently a "momentary lapse of concentration". A momentary lapse, it seems, that dragged on for about 12 seconds. Needless to say, as you would expect, the driver lost her licence for 12 months.

The same article mentions the Anzac Highway death in a single sentence. No detail is given. It is a pity. We should know where these deaths and injuries occur.

I have no idea, but my guess is that the man was crossing a significant distance from one of the few crossings on the road. He could, I suppose, have walked the distance to the crossing, crossed there and walked back again but given that he was 84 years old, that may perhaps been a bit too much to ask. It would be good to know why he was crossing there, where he was going and where he was coming from. He would have had a reason for wanting to get across the road. My question is why it is still, after all this time, made so difficult.

Friday, 10 June 2011

"Bugger this", said Nicky

There is an interesting discussion on the Adelaide Cyclists website at the moment. It's generating a good deal of interest. It so far has five pages of comments.

It starts by quoting an email to Stephen Yarwood, the Mayor of Adelaide, from a local cyclist saying she is giving up cycling for now because, to summarise, she simply does not feel safe between speeding cars and buses on Pulteney Street and having to ride into opening doors while using the "bike lane". This is despite wearing the obligatory safety gear like a fluorescent jacket and helmet.

The author, Nicky, has taken the time and trouble to write to someone about why she isn't bothering to use a bike in the city but how many other people are there, who we never hear about and who now leave their bike in the shed slowly gathering dust and spider webs - along with many others across the country?

Some commenters come up with some useful suggestions, such as removing on street parking, lowering the speed limit and having a "strict liability" law. My own humble opinion is that while all of those suggestions have merit, we really need so much more.

Quite a few people do cycle in Adelaide. Generally though, they are either doing it for recreation, usually during the weekend, or they are commuting. At other times of the day, it is rare. In the main, those people who cycle regularly are used to traffic and roads being in the condition they are. Some of them will offer lessons to "novice" cyclists. You have to ask yourself what sort of message that is sending though. It is saying that this activity is one that requires special safety training. In other words, it is dangerous to the unskilled. Most people can see that of course and it is why they do not bother. Others try it for a bit and, like Nicky, give up because it is just not worth it. We are told that for the upteenth year in a row, bicycles outsold cars yet again. I see quite a few new cars on the road but not quite so many bikes. I can't help thinking that many of them are used for a bit but then sit idle.

If you have been riding on Adelaide's roads for some time (or indeed any city with ride roads dedicated almost exclusively to motor vehicles), it is easy to forget how non-cyclists perceive them. You get used to traffic and become familiar with your favoured route. You learn what obstacles and dangers to watch out for. As your confidence builds, you can easily forget that you are in fact at great risk from those trucks passing closely by you. It then becomes easy to dismiss claims that cycling either is not safe or does not feel safe. As George says in one of the posts:

I'm also suspicious of surveys that ask non-cyclists why they don't ride. People will give the answer that makes them look good or they think the interviewer wants, and lack of safety is a good reason that doesn't make people look bad whereas reasons like "its too hard", "it takes too long", "I get sweaty", "there are no showers" makes them look self-centred. (I do think some people answer honestly).

Quite a reasonable point. Or perhaps they do genuinely think it is unsafe (cycling at a leisurely pace is less taxing than walking so sweat and showers should not be an issue). If it is claimed that safety is not the issue, you have to ask yourself, "would I allow my 8 year old child to ride in this way?" "Would I be comfortable if my child's teacher wanted to take the class on an excursion to the zoo by bicycle?" (it happens in the Netherlands all the time) "Would a pensioner feel safe riding a bike to their nearest public library?" If the answer is no, ask why.

In a separate post, Belinda says:

If people feel unsafe riding, then rather than expect the general population to fund massively expensive alterations to current infrastructure, they should have a look at their own skill-set in riding, and seek first to build their confidence. Other people ride Pulteney St confidently with no problem. To me, its like asking the government to shave a few hundred feet off the top of Mt Lofty because a few people find it a bit too steep.

That is a valid point but it is a symptom of the poor environment for cycling and in fact impliedly accepts that safety is an issue. What does it mean to "build your confidence"? If people are justifiably reluctant to get on a bike and ride in heavy traffic, the answer is not simply to change your perception and build your confidence. It may well be that other people ride on Pulteney Street confidently, but that statement (perhaps unintentionally) implies that those who do not or cannot must have a problem. I do not think they do. There is nothing strange about not wanting to ride in what people properly perceive to be a dangerous and hostile environment.

So what's the answer?

It is obvious and is explained in what in my experience is one of the most widely quoted cycling blogposts. You increase subjective safety. Read the post. First, the roads must be actually safe for cyclists - not just road warriors who speed along Pulteney Street with confidence, but children and adults of all ages. You do that by avoiding conflicts between people on bicycles and heavy motor vehicles. There are many tried and tested ways of doing so that can be applied to all sorts of junctions and road layouts. Second, you must make the roads feel safe for people on bicycles. If they are having to look over their shoulder and pull out into a lane of traffic to get past a parked car and then still worry about the driver's door being swung into their path, they will not feel safe and will not ride a bike there.

What Belinda describes as "massively expensive alterations to current infrastructure" is perhaps over-egging the pudding a little. It is not that expensive. We have very wide roads in Adelaide that can easily accommodate the types of road layout that would give people a choice of transport modes. Even on narrow streets it can still easily be done.

Until we do that, we will continue to have a tiny modal share for cycling made up almost exclusively of commuters and we will worsen congestion. No amount of additional road building will stop that.

Pulteney Street - not entirely cycling-friendly.

Monday, 6 June 2011


I drove to Norwood the other day. Big mistake. 15 minutes to get there and 20 minutes to find a park. This is despite there being about six big car parks around one block of the parade. Here is one of them choc-a-block as it generally is all day Saturday:

And here's one of the many side streets off the Parade with a line of cars queueing near the entrance to one of the car parks:

It's all a bit silly really. Shopping on the Parade can be a lot of fun. It's not like a normal suburban shopping centre. For one thing, it's a proper street with shop fronts you can browse and it has plenty of places to stop and eat or drink - it has "High Street" feel you might say. For those reasons, unsurprisingly a good number of visitors come from further away than Norwood itself. Some car parking is of course necessary.

It would be interesting though to stand at the entrance to say Norwood Place and ask visitors what suburb they came from and how they got there. I can't help thinking that a lot of visitors are from Norwood and adjoining suburbs. Some are there buying the week's groceries and wheel out a trolley packed to the brim. That's not everybody though. Some just leave with pastry flakes on their fingers and coffee breath.

The parade in Norwood is the perfect suburb for the beginnings of a decent bike network. Start by removing the on-street parking on the Parade and go from there. Before you can say "segregated bike path", you'll see children riding around and locking their bikes outside Cibo's and then where will we be?

Meanwhile, a study in the UK confirms the obvious.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


One of the reasons the Apple iPhone is so popular is its ease of use. When I got mine, I never once looked at the instruction booklet because it is so intuitive. The same seems to go for all of their products. Many people I speak to have the same experience.

So it should be with getting on a bike instead of taking a car. It should not require specialist training and nor should it require extra equipment.

A group of Australians recently went across to the Netherlands to see how the Dutch masters have managed to get a modal share for cycling up above 50% in some places. A brief look at the set of photos taken from a park bench within 15 minutes shows how. Everybody can get around easily by bike - young and old, male and female.

The modal share for cycling that we have in Australia generally hovers between 1 and 2%. Certainly in Adelaide, the majority of cyclists have a number of similarities. If they are the cyclists who come out for long rides at the weekend, the are on expensive racing bikes and wear proper cycling gear, including shoes that clip on to the pedals, streamlined helmets and lycra clothes. The other type of cyclist you see is the "commuter cyclist". They are generally more varied in appearance but will often be wearing tight pants (long and short), often clip-on shoes and a bright yellow fluorescent jacket or top.

Almost nobody in Australia takes up cycling on a regular basis as an alternative to driving. And by that, I mean as a direct alternative. Most people who take a quick journey by car just jump in and go without getting into fireproof overalls and a crash helmet. Taking the bike is not really a viable alternative. Invariably, if you wish to get anywhere, you must share the road with motorised traffic. The alternative of driving feels safer, faster and much more comfortable to most people. That is why they prefer it.

Cycling needs to be like an iPhone. Take it out of the box and start; no special equipment needed, easy, safe and so intuitive that anybody can do it regardless of age.

What we have here seems to be a vicious circle. In the main, the only people who cycle regularly are the die-hards. They are of course passionate and mean well but they become the voice of cycling instead of the rest of the population - cycling is a hobby and so it is assumed it is the same for everyone else. You see the effects of this everywhere. A video posted on Sydney Cycle Chic recently illustrates it perfectly. It was a video about commuter cycling. On top of all the equipment that was recommended, the film recommended taking energy bars! As if you're trekking across the Nullarbor. I really don't think you need that sort of advice if all you're planning to do is start riding the short distance to work or elsewhere.

The reason to increase cycling's modal share is not to get other people to share in your hobby. It is because cities are more pleasant and safer with fewer cars speeding through them. Also, at busy places, like around schools, there is simply not the space for all of those cars and it is actually quite silly to encourage so much car use. The great thing is that we are all now aware of this. Take a look at some of the suggestions on the Adelaide City Council iPhone and Android app. Nearly all are about making the city friendlier for people on foot or wanting to sit and enjoy their surrounding. Great stuff!

From a great recent post on Amsterdamize.