Monday, 30 July 2012

Mauer im Kopf

Between 1992 and 1997, I lived in Berlin. It was then and still is one of the coolest cities on the planet. The wall had only just come down and there was a great deal of change going on. I worked with quite a few people from the former DDR. An expression that was often used at the time was "Mauer im Kopf", meaning "wall in the head". It was a reference to the belief that while the wall may have come down, there was still a wall in people's heads that needed to be removed and, it was suggested, it would take a generation to remove it.

I don't know whether there was a mauer in people's kopfs and whether it is still there. I was in Berlin again in 2007 and there was no evidence of it all.

It is a good metaphor though for our thinking. I think it is common knowledge that we all tend to try and find information and evidence to suport our pre-conceived beliefs and notions. I know I do. It is also well known that human beings' thinking can be quite irrational. A perfect example is the fear that we now have to allow our children to walk home by themselves but at the same time will think nothing of strapping them into the back seat of a car and driving around in traffic - something that is way more risky.

When attempts are made to provide ways for people to use bicycles for some of their journeys, they are often met with "mauer im kopf". Any article in our local newspaper about improving cycling infrastructure is generally met with some support but also a lot of the usual comments about lycra, registration, obeying laws, etc ad nauseum. Combatting it I think is a bit of a waste of time. You cannot convince people one person at a time. You also often get the "we're not [insert nationality], it's too far, it's too hilly, it's too hot, it's too cold" and other nonsense. Interestingly, when the measures were first introduced that have transformed Copenhagen over the last 40 years, they were met with "we're not Italian" so it's nothing new.

One way to try and break down the "mauer im kopf" about increasing cycling is to point to children, particularly teenagers. They do not have access to cars and so have to rely on walking, riding a bike or catching public transport. I think anyone seeing a video such as this one would have to agree:

A few years back I heard a talk about how to get people to volunteer for things. This was about getting members of a club to volunteer to be president, treasurer, etc. The speaker's thesis was WIIFM (pronounced "wiffum"), which stands for "what's in it for me?" A lot of people you speak to treat riding a bike rather like the use of public transport, public education and reducing car use. They fully support it as long as it is someone else doing it. If you can appeal to that self-interest, I think you're halfway there.

Depending on what is being done, some transport methods are better than others. You wouldn't catch a cab from Adelaide to Melbourne. Clearly an aeroplane is better. In some circumstances, such as after a rock concert or football game, the best way to move a lot of people in one go is a decent mass transit system. Same with the rush hour when a lot of people are all moving in the same direction at the same time. And of course, for some journeys, the humble bicycle is best - either because of the relatively short distance or because the person travelling does not have access to a car.

Improving cycling networks raises the number of people cycling. That is unarguable. The rate of cycling, even inside countries like the Netherlands, is proportional to the quality of cycilng infrastructure. It might be claimed that it is merely correlation rather than causation but what cannot be denied is that it is more than mere chance. If you build a decent network that allows people to choose that mode of transport because there's something in it for them (low cost and speed spring to mind), they probably will.

Once you make those alternatives to cars good enough that people can choose them, they will. Maybe I'm being simplistic but it strikes me that you will then have fewer cars on the car networks. That makes those still driving happier. Also, if I use my car less, I have more of my household budget left over to spend on other things. It also means you have fewer cars making potholes on non-arterial roads administered by local councils that can ill-afford the maintenance. For those who choose cars for say short journeys, the length of them may be increased from 2 minutes to 4 minutes because they can no longer use streets where people live as rat-runs. But hey, that's a small price to pay. And besides, they're sitting down anyway.

Selling change as a good thing because other people will adopt the changes seems to me to be a winner. The other people who change are happy because they can change and the other other people like the fact that the other people changed so that the other other people don't have to.

If you know what I mean.

2½ minute video to watch while you have your morning coffee

One of my favourite cycling videos:

This is one of a series of excellent videos by Mark Wagenbuur, the author of the Bicycle Dutch website. Check out the one about shopping by bicycle. There is a whole bunch more on YouTube too.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Three observations

I noticed a few things around my neighbourhood recently:
  • Outside the local bakery I saw a man with two take away coffees getting into his car to drive them the short distance home.
  • I saw two young children on the pavement, one on a bike with training wheels the other on a scooter (both with massive oversized helmets of course). Their mother was "accompanying" them while driving her huge great Ford SUV at walking pace.
  • On the way to school I saw a neighbour drive out of her driveway and within seconds become part of a traffic jam that stretched around the corner to the school gate. Walking was faster.
I can't seem to work it out.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Don't worry, it's just a joke (trains)

Geographically, Adelaide is a transport planner's dream. To the west of the city centre (about 8 kms) is the sea and an even shorter distance to the east are the Adelaide Hills. There are some beautiful parts of the hills that feel rural but are only a 15 minute drive to the city. We are quite blessed here.

To the north and south, the city is quite sprawling but is limited to the east and west by the sea and hills. To the north it goes as far as Gawler before it starts thinning out and to the south to Seaford. Housing continues beyond that to Aldinga and Sellicks but it thins out a bit. As you go south on a map, the gap between the sea and hills narrows and that is reflected in the width of the built up area down there. Currently, the train only goes as far as Noarlunga but it is being extended 5.7km down to Seaford. Most of it will be on a long bridge. You can see a time lapse of how it is going so far here:

The metropolitan area is also very flat. If you've been for a walk or drive in the hills, that's obvious for anyone to see.

Adelaide is ideally set out for a north to south railway with a network of bus routes and bike routes feeding into the stations. We have the railway. We have bus routes that don't always correspond to the railway. But the bike routes are yet to come.

The State Government announced not long ago that they were investing $2b into public transport in Adelaide. It included new trams and buses and a substantial infrastructure project that involved converting the metropolitan railway system to standard gauge, electrifying it and buying shiny new electric trains (the interiors are being done by a local company). It was brilliant. I think the decision to convert to standard gauge was to allow for further expansion into the future. As part of that spending, the old railcar depot near Adelaide central railway station was moved (to allow space for the new hospital) to a shiny new one at Dry Creek north of the city in preparation for the new trains. The new depot is complete is is used to service the current diesel trains.

In preparation for standardisation, a lot of the track north and south of the city has been resleepered and relaid to allow smoother running. The new sleepers are dual gauge so that when the time comes, the rail can be moved across with a minimum of fuss:

(Original here

Having said that, converting all of the points (switches) will be a nightmare.

In the latest budget, because revenues have fallen, the announcement is that we're only going to get half of it for now. Electrification north of the city will be deferred (for how long we don't know) while the electrification south of the city will continue. A consequence is that we have to renegotiate the order of electric trains that has already been made.

If you ask me, our Treasurer hasn't really thought this through. Here's a map of the railway network:

The red line going north will not be electrified but the blue one going south will be. In other words, for an unspecified time, you will have electric trains south of the city and diesel trains north of the city. Not necessarily a problem you might think. Follow the red line up 6 stops from the city to Dry Creek and that is where the new depot is. It was suggested somewhere recently that the electric trains could be towed to the depot (by what is not clear). Thankfully, the new electric trains (how ever many we end up with) will be broad guage rather than standard as was announced back in 2008. When that decision was made is not entirely clear but it does seem certain that they will run on the tracks as they currently are. Had they not been, you can imagine trying to get electric standard gauge trains along a non-electrified track that is the wrong gauge so that they can be serviced!

In the meantime, we have a half electrified network for an indefinite period. As I say, I think it's a joke. A brilliant one. But a joke nonetheless.

NB: For non train tragics, the gauge is the distance between the two rails. There is a "standard" gauge used by 60% of the world's railways. Adelaide's metropolitan network uses a broad gauge. It is an accident of history caused when the various Australian colonies adopted different gauges before Federation. South Australia has used at least three different gauges at one time or another. The remnants of the narrow gauge network can be seen on the Pichi Richi Railway.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Not the end of the world after all

Today, the long-overdue bus lanes came into operation on Grenfell Street. Contrary to the many dire predictions, the world did not come to an end. Expect for the next few months the bus lanes to be blamed for every delay into and out of the city.

We have seen this sort of thing before time and time again and all over the place. Give it a few months and the traffic will sort itself out. In fact, I was walking along Grenfell Street today and there is no problem. Previously, car and bus drivers would rush to claim any piece of available road space while trying to convince themselves that they were making progress. Now with the new system, I saw a line of cars and a line of buses next to each other doing there thing with ease.

Things may get a tiny bit worse once the school holidays end but the problems (if that word is even justified) will slowly resolve.

We still hear the odd complaint about Pirie Street and the problems apparently caused by the (no longer new) scramble crossing at King William Street. The queue on Pirie Street is no longer anywhere near as long as it used to be - even during rush hours.

This sort of thing is definitely the way forward and it is so refreshing to see. In a couple of years, we'll all wonder what the fuss was about and will look in horror at any politician who suggests we revert back to pre bus lane days when everybody blocked each other to make a complete shambles.