Sunday, 29 April 2012

Small things

There are lots of little things that can be done to make life easier for people trying to get around on a bicycle. A quick look through a website such as Copenhagenize will show lots of little things, such as foot rests at traffic lights, generous space for bikes on trains along with bike pumps, using bike parking to calm traffic, bicycle care stations at service stations, bridges, remembering cyclists during roadworks and the famous green wave.

In Adelaide, one of the best and most popular pieces of cycling infrastructure is the Linear Park bike path that runs from Henley Beach to the foothills. It is not perfect - in places it is far too narrow and sharing it with joggers and walkers can be problematic in places. Nevertheless it is a pleasure to use whether you are going somewhere or just using it recreationally.

If you use it for part of your journey and have to get off to join a road, its shortcomings are made clear. Often you are just dumped on the pavement and have to find your own way. Getting off itself can also be a hassle if you have to take the stairs. That is why I was very pleased to see a subtle addition to a staircase that allows people to walk up the stairs and wheel their bike easily at the same time. A nice touch:

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Not my responsibility

My bike's a few years old now and is starting to show its age and look a bit daggy. The only thing it has in its favour is the very groovy Copenhagen Parts Bike Porter I put on it when I needed a new set of handlebars.

When I bought my bike, it was a fabulously bright fire engine red. It's still fairly bright but has a number of chips and scuffs in it. One of the first that was inflicted on it was when it was about a week old. I rode it to my local corner shop, which like in most Australia suburbs is a big supermarket in the middle of a car park the size of a school oval. The shop itself is not exactly an architectural masterpiece. It's a large vomit coloured box.

For such a large shop there are surprisingly few places to lock a bike. In total it has zero. I had to lock my bike against the steel thing where the shopping trolleys are kept. There was nothing to hold the wheels still so the bike slipped a bit (very different from this bike rack that holds your bike upright so you can load it) The crossbar scratched against the steel frame of the trolley bay. It wasn't that smooth left to deep chips in my paintwork.

I filled out one of the "please rate us" cards and suggested that a little bit of bike parking would not go astray given that this served people who lives a stone's throw away.

NOt long afterwards, I received a letter saying that they were looking into it. It turned out Woolworths was renting the space from the building owner. At the time, in additional to the Woolworths, there was a pharmacy, a cafe, a bank and a "Cheap as Chips" shop. Woolworths took by far the bulk of the floor space.

That was 5 years ago and I'm still waiting. I suppose because the building does not belong to Woolworths there's nothing they can do. It must be the greedy building owner. You might think that Woolworths would have the clout to be able to require bike racks but what would I know?

Meanwhile, the local council has to reject a plan to open a restaurant because it didn't provide sufficient car parks to satisfy the development plan.

Wouldn't it be great if Woolworths (or Tesco or Wallmart depending on where you live) did not get permission to open a new store until adequate parking for bicycles was organised?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Bicycles are dangerous - it's official

A recent survey conducted by Newspoll for GIO research and discussed in a story on AdelaideNow came up with the following result:

The survey found cyclists were rated as the most dangerous type of road user by 54 per cent of all drivers, followed by taxi drivers (45 per cent), motorcyclists (44 per cent) and truck drivers (37).

That's right. Out of all road users, cyclists are the most dangerous. You can just imagine all of those people cowering in their cars terrified of the dangerous psychopath on his lethal bicycle.

It is difficult to know what to make of it. I assume that what people mean is not that cyclists are dangerous to them but that they ride in a way that is dangerous to themselves. It is a common thing you hear in this country. I wonder why.

I think the answer is obvious. The comments you read on AdelaideNow and the results of the survey are symptoms of the woefully inadequate system we have.

If driving and cycling ever comes up in a conversation I notice some common themes. Cyclists are dangerous because they disobey the road rules. For example, they ride through red lights, across pedestrian crossings, two abreast, not in bike lanes and so on. Putting aside the fact that it is quite silly to tar everyone with the same brush, a lot of the time people on bicycles are simply reacting to their environment. More often though, a motorist might think the cyclist is being dangerous when in fact they're not. The problem is that the motorist and cyclist are looking at the same thing from different angles.

This can be illustrated with some examples. Assume there is a line of stationary traffic. A cyclist, not unreasonably, travels along the left to the front of the queue. Is she cheating? What about when she gets to the front? Should she stay to the left and hope that she will be given enough space? What about if the driver rode down the right side? Is that against the law? What if that is the only side where there is space?

If they're supposed to stay behind the line of cars because they're a "vehicle" and "wait their turn" what happens when the traffic moves again? Are they then expected to move to the left and stay out of the way of motorists?

What about when a cyclist approaches one of the many small roundabouts around the place that have disappearing cycle lanes leading up to them? Self-preservation dictates that you take the lane so that you can be seen. I've tried that. One time the driver behind me gestured by pointing towards his head as he passed too close. Other times you might get the finger or a toot but most commonly you get the car accelerating away and passing a little too close for you to feel comfortable.

The problem is that most drivers do not understand "taking the lane" and other things that cyclists do to keep themselves safe. This is despite all of the "raising awareness" and "education". But even more problematic is that our road system sends conflicting and dangerous signals all over the place. You see it all of the time when a cyclist has to overtake a parked car. Many motorists have no idea what to do. Some genuinely think that the cyclist has to stop and wait for cars to pass before riding around the parked car. You also see it at intersections where a cyclist is not pretending to be a vehicle but is instead riding to the left. Problems arise when they are travelling straight on over the intersection but the cars passing them are turning left. It is a collision waiting to happen.

The problem starts with the fact that none of our roads are properly categorised. There are still very few streets that are blocked to through traffic and so motorists quite rightly believe that they can travel through them at 50 or 60 km/h. Across the city are countless places where motorists come into conflict with cyclists and neither really knows what to do because the road does not clearly tell them. On busy roads, the space for cyclists must be clearly delineated and what is expected from each road user must be made clear at conflict points. Cyclists can be kept separated not just through bike lanes but through proper road design and networks. You do not need a bike path on every road but you do need to design a network for cars and a separate network for bikes.

Other countries, as we know, are way ahead of us. We have barely begun.

Oh, and when you do require a bike path, it does of course need to be designed properly.

Just as a postscript, when I was riding home today, I came across the aftermath of a collision between a utility and a Subaru station wagon. The front of the Subaru was crushed while somehow the cab of the utility had been flattened from the top. How the crash happened I can only guess but judging by the damage to the two vehicles they hit each other with considerable force. It was a perfect illustration of system failure. This was at an intersection right in the middle of a residential area. It is also a busy pedestrian route for the local primary school. The road design allowed two cars to come into conflict at the speed they did. I do not know but I am willing to bet that they were both probably just passing through. Most of the traffic around here is.