Saturday, 25 May 2013

What if you build it and they don't come?

I got a bit depressed a little while ago. I was reading a superbly well-researched article about a town north of London called Stevenage. The article was about its network of off-road bicycle routes and the fact that not many people really uses them. There is also a shorter but just as good article on the European Cyclists' Federation website.

Borrowed from the article, which is written by Carlton Reid.

A couple of lessons come from the article. The first is that this was a different time. The paths were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Car ownership was expanding quickly and there was nothing like the congestion we experience now - especially the UK. At the same time, car use was not curtailed at all. The bike paths were there but it was just as easy, in fact easier, to get everywhere by car. The network has not been updated or expanded on since the 1970s. Since then, new shopping centres have been built further out of town that are not reached by the current network. Finally, it was never updated. It's effectively frozen in the 1970s. Compare that to the Dutch who have continuously improved their system since then.

A further lesson is that building infrastructure is just one of a number of things that are required to change transport practices. It is not just about bikes but rather about a coordinated package of planning and urban design policies that lead to a democratic choice of ways of getting around.

The great difficulty for Adelaide is that not only is it one of the most carcentric cities around, it feels like it has always been that way. It is as if alternatives simply cannot be contemplated. They have to be though because what we have now is unsustainable and it disempowers a large segment of the population, including all children, the elderly and anyone without their own car.

Re-engineering the entire built environment is not really politically realistic. Not overnight anyway. What needs to happen is that a network begins in the CBD and expands outwards. Utility cycling practically does not exist in Australia but more and more people are commuting by bicycle. Whatever changes are made first must be highly visible and be seen to be working. Aiming at those commuter cyclists first of all and the motorists who sit in stationary traffic alongside them is probably the most effective way to make your point to start with.

It is for that reason that I think the Danish style of bike path would work best in Adelaide at first. It is sometimes criticised but by comparison to Adelaide, it is light years ahead.

You only have to speak to anyone in Adelaide who has spent their life getting around by car to realise that they do not get it. Cycling friendly nations around the world may as well be on Mars. Any form of transport that is not a car is so far off their radar that you may as well be speaking to a fridge. For any changes to be made, there has to be some public support. At the moment, there isn't because there is very little misunderstanding.

Adelaide has wide streets with plenty of space for the road to be rearranged but without any obvious impact on motorised traffic. Lanes can be narrowed or, as happened very successfully in Grenfell Street, lanes can be reallocated to public transport. Or bicycles.

A series of wide raised lanes that do not disappear at intersections would be a visible reminder that taking the bicycle is a genuine alternative. The width of course must be sufficient for passing and talking side by side. You can in a car, on foot or on a bus. Why not on the bike lane?

Here is a view from Google Streetview where you can see a lane halfway through being built:

Here are a couple more borrowed from Hamburgize:

And the finished product:

There are also good views on two posts on Copenhagenize. Indeed, at first, it need not necessarily involve raised lanes of that style. Separation can be achieved in other ways too.

But it is why I think adopting the Danish style of bike path at first will make such a dramatic change at modest cost. It is something that is easily achievable and highly visible.

And it's not about arrogance or forcing people to adopt a particular way of getting around. It is about giving everyone the choice - something that is lacking at the moment. In fact, I could not put it better than this comment:

... just sensible and economic: a very effective way of increasing mobility while reducing congestion and using available city space better, at low cost.

The fact is, there is a direct correlation between modal share and quality of infrastructure that can be seen between countries and within them. That means the right treatment depending on the designation of the road so that there is a continuous network that is useable for everyone.

Another English town that experimented with segregated infrastructure is Milton Keynes (also north of London but you have to catch the train from Euston rather than Kings Cross). Its paths became known as Redways and, like those in Stevenage, had mixed results. A good balanced article about them is on the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain website.

For a recent thorough and well-written description of the Danish system, see Voleospeed.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Yay Adelaide City Council

For some time now, every time I crossed Pirie Street outside the Adelaide City Council Administration Centre I would stand and wonder why the groups of people on both sides of the street would have to wait for cars to pass only to watch them have to slow down and join the stationary traffic queue 20 metres down the road.

The wondering is over because at long last, the council has installed a pedestrian crossing:


I would like to think it was because of some feedback I provided to the draft Integrated Movement Strategy but it wouldn't have been. A crossing there has been obviously missing for ages. Everybody would have suggested it. Now all we need is one outside the market entrance on Gouger Street - and probably a few other places.

This one even has little warning signs on the green bike lanes:

And just next to it, there is a new bike corral:

Good stuff. Keep it coming.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Gotta love the Germans

It would seem that in addition to having a highly successful 'mittelstand' manufacturing quality goods that the rest of the world wants, running a superb railway system, knowing how to use an Autobahn properly despite no speed limits in places and single-handedly paying to keep Europe afloat, the Germans also know a little bit about cycling.

The Mitteldeutscherrundfunk (MDR) has a show called 'Exakt' which recently had a short segment about cycling. The segment is called 'Wo und warum passieren die meisten Radunfälle?' or 'Where and when do most cycle accidents occur?' I would love to be able to embed it but it is very difficult so here is the link instead.

Often, foreign cycling films are still fun to watch because of the footage. However this one only shows the guy talking (not to the camera weirdly) and a bit of footage of him driving. It is what he says that is interesting. He answers a series of questions which pop up after each other. These are my favourite bits:

What are the most common cycle accidents?

He starts by saying that cycle accidents are many and varied. The type of accident generally determines who is at fault. One of the most common is the turning collision where a motorist crosses the path of the cyclist. In practically all of those cases, the motorist is at fault. Where two cyclists crash into each other, it is almost always because on of them is going in the wrong direction.

Do higher fines change cyclist behaviour?

Interestingly, he supports that. The problem is one of enforcement though. He likes the idea of bicycle police officers who can stop cyclists and talk with them about rules and actually understand things from their point of view. Sounds reasonable to me.

What sort of problems do cyclists experience in traffic?

He says, "they claim that traffic rules are not appropriate for cyclists and that the infrastructure is not designed with cyclists in mind. They are absolutely right!" 'Nuff said.

What do you think of the helmet law under discussion?

Er ... let's not go there. He's sceptical. He says there is very little evidence that a helmet law reduces injuries. In individual cases of course, depending on the injury, it makes a difference. But most accidents occur with other types of injury - chest and abdomen for example - and helmets do not do a great deal for them.

How high is the potential for aggression between cyclists and motorists?

He (quite rightly) doesn't think that motorists go out of their way to injure others. The problem, he says, is that motorists have very little understanding of what people on bicycles are going through. At this point, the speaker is in his car and he shows a good example of what he means. You can see the cyclist about to overtake a parked car and he talks about the necessity of taking the foot of the accelerator and waiting just a few seconds to give the cyclist space. It is that understanding that is often missing. It takes only a couple of seconds.

What do we learn from crashtests?

To cut a long story short, in the crash test that you see, he says the cyclist would likely not survive - helmet or no helmet. He talks about a common error where motorists pull out of a driveway across a cycle path and the need for quick reactions. Regrettably, this time he does not give a solution other than to point out the problem.

What technical possibilities are there to keep cyclists safe?

They are limited. He says there is very little that can be added to 'vulnerable' road users to help them. What there is must be added to the car. He is confident that there are solutions on the horizon. He accepts that slowing traffic down is one solution but says that it does not help with all problems such as cars pulling across a bike lane. As we all know though, there are known solutions to that problem - most obviously segregation by time or perhaps simply designing intersections properly?

It would be helpful if something similarly objective was broadcast or reported here. There seems to be no shortage of articles and reportss about supposed aggression, danger or lawlessness by people on bicycles but precious few that are properly investigative and informative. That is, articles and bulletins that actually give a balanced and objective viewpoint. They are pretty few and far between. Don't believe me? How's this? A car owner (quite rightly) gets a parking ticket for leaving his car on a grass verge instead of parking it in his driveway and it makes the news! Not only that, it's reported as a "push" to free up space in "narrow" streets. Thankfully a lot of the comments tell it like it is:

Stop whining.

Now imagine a bike user making the news because they are complaining about getting fined for riding on the pavement for part of their journey. No, neither can I.

Although embedding the video is too hard for me, a little bit of detective work can lead you to the mp4 file. Not sure if it's legal but you can find it here.

Change in one generation

From The Space Wasters - The architecture of Australian Misanthropy by Robert Nelson:
You can never let a child pedal a bike on the road because it is lethal. Suburban space disempowers anyone who does not drive a motorcar—which is the entire population of the young and much of the old—and it makes pedestrians dependent and resentful. The people who are not motorists or who cannot depend on a family chauffeur for their rides are condemned to long periods of waiting for buses on exposed corners and desolate slip roads, where they feel alienated. All too often, public transport is too remote because spread-out cities mean few and infrequent services. To lose a driver’s licence is to be excommunicated and this punishment is weighed as a strong penalty imposed against a crime. To walk in automotive space, which is nearly all Australian suburbs including many of the inner suburbs, means feeling estranged from the community; and indeed you cannot see the community in any manifestation on the streets. I call it antisocial space because it is worse than unfriendly but ferocious. On a bike, you are likely to be maimed and the alienation brings on a brooding dissatisfaction, a glum and defeated feeling, a damnation that might only be redeemed by the prospect of future car ownership.

Sooner or later we will surely realise where we have gone wrong.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Lax standards

Unless there is a high standard bicycle route hidden somewhere else, by my reckoning, Adelaide's CBD has one proper bike path. By proper, I mean it has an appropriate level of separation from motorised traffic given the volume of traffic. It is on Frome Street just north of North Terrace (where it ends). It starts at the end of the zoo and so in total it is about 500m long.

It has been there a couple of years now and is starting to look a little worse for wear. In places it has been resurfaced - poorly:

And along its length, tree routes are beginning to make for a bumpy ride:

In other countries it might be considered a bit of an embarrassment but it is the best we have.

It is in the same style as some German paths that in reality are part of the pavement and which are often the subject of complaints. This example is in Berlin:

and this one is in Cologne:

Pictures borrowed from Hamburgize

Our path is not too far from one of the entrances to the Linear Park route and so it likely gets traffic from there as well as the route through the parklands from Botanic Drive. I would hazard a guess that some people purposely make it part of their route into the city because of its design. I know I do.

Over the course of its life it has improved too. Now there is a proper treatment when it reaches North Terrace whereas before it would just come to an end on the pavement:

It also shows that we do not have to follow whatever set of design guidelines is in vogue. Instead, we can try new and different things and see if what has worked elsewhere could work here too, which in the case of the Frome Street lane, it plainly does. I am very pleased to see the English are trying what for them are new things although in reality they have been tried and tested elsewhere for decades.

Now that we've seen this working for a while and given its crumbling quality, is it not time for a bit of an upgrade? And an extension to other city streets while we're at it?