Monday, 30 September 2013


When you spend your spare time reading blogposts like this one, it is easy to get a bit despondent and negative.

While we can all find something to whinge about, there is plenty to be chirpy about. I sometimes get a bit jealous of our Danish friends because some of them get to live in a city with architecture like the 8-House and Mountain Dwellings and others:

(Borrowed from here)

(and this one is from here)

Lots of architecture can end up fairly drab after a few years even though it looked fairly spiffy when built. And so I am particularly cheerful when I ride across Morphett Street bridge (on the pavement) and see the new South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute shimmering in the sunlight. There is no shortage of information on the web about how many people will work there and what they will be doing.

(Update 14.10.13: the builders asked for the picture back - see comment below - but if you Google SAHMRI you can see some images of it)

From my point of view, it just looks great the way it stands there on its two legs with all of those little triangle reflecting in different ways as you cross the bridge.

Just around the corner is the new stadium taking shape. If you use Linear Park on that side of the river, you are diverted close to where the entrance will be. Check out the progress if you haven't for a while. That and the bridge are going to transform that part of town.

Talking of finding new things, all of us slowly perfect our routes over time to make them the right combination of quick, safe and enjoyable. Until this morning, my route used to use part of Frome Road next to the zoo. I would come off Linear Park at the bridge, and join the road before hitting Adelaide CBD's only segregated bike path (for now).

I had seen a turnoff before and thought it would just take me to a road. I tried it today and ended up on a shared path the other side of the zoo:

It had road crossings that required cars to stop:

and it took me to the beginning of the off-road path:

All this time I had absolutely no idea it was there - little bits of red carpet slowly joining up.

The only blemish was when I was taking the photos. I accidentally pressed the button on the iPhone that switches to the camera on the front of the phone and so suddenly got a close up of my bloated face with the helmet on. Eek! Bad look. I never look at myself in the mirror with the plastic hat on. Now I know why.

Friday, 20 September 2013


These past few weeks, for various reasons, I have had to drive a lot more than usual. It has meant that instead of riding my bike to work almost every day, the bike has become the exception.

What it has brought home to me is just how tedious driving a car everywhere can be. I remember years ago I had a paper round. The thing about paper rounds is that you can build up your skills and speed to a point but beyond that you cannot get any faster. You still have to walk up all the stairs and deliver the papers. Driving the car around is a bit like that. You can try and reach the speed limit as quickly as you can and use side streets to try and shave time of your journey but sooner or later, you have to stop either at a red light, a give way sign or behind a line of traffic.

Generally your view of the world is this:

or if you're lucky and you get to see two flash German cars, it might be this:

What driving around also showed me is just how unattractive taking the bike or bus looks as an alternative - despite how dreary it is sitting in a car.

The buses are all stuck in the same traffic. The passengers get to catch up on Twitter or play Angry Birds but that seems to be their only advantage. On all of the routes I took, there was not a single part of the road where it was made easier for buses by allowing them to bypass the traffic. Indeed, their ability to keep to the timetable seems to rely almost exclusively on the generosity of motorists in allowing them to pull out.

From where I was sitting, I did not see that many people riding their bikes. A few passed in the opposite direction and there was the odd one that got past me while I was stuck in a traffic jam, which was the majority of the time. When they did, it was not quite like all those pictures of groups of Danish people speeding past traffic on those wide raised lanes along Nørrebrogade. No, it was usually a single cyclist creeping along in the gutter propelling themselves forward with their left foot on the pavement (that also served to stop them falling over because of the lack of space).

Those cyclists you see invariably have the fluoro yellow top, the tight pants and the obligatory grimace. I did once see a pretty young lady on a Dutch bike, which was a very pleasant though rare change.

Another thing I noticed was just how few roads actually have bike lanes. Those you do see are routinely ignored. It is weird. It is as if they are totally invisible and drivers instead use the gutter to guide themselves. The painted lines seem to be treated as if they are either decoration or a leftover from another time.

I also noticed how poor a condition some of our roads are in - not just the roads, the bike paths too:

That hole was not put their by overweight cyclists by the way. It was something a little heavier:

That lane is on Light Square. It was coloured green to prevent motor vehicles from being driven on it. Surely a corner like that needs something like this (at the very least):

It must have been an unusual couple of weeks for me. If the comments pages are to be believed, there are crazy lycra-clad cyclists swarming along roads, speeding through red lights and generally putting car occupants in mortal danger. I didn't really see much of that. I was keeping my eye out but managed to see a total of two scofflaw cyclists. One was riding on the pavement - because the road, including the painted bike lane, was completely blocked by two lanes of car traffic. The other went through a red light. It was at a pedestrian crossing. The lights were still red but about to change to green and nobody was crossing. The cyclist (in his 60s) was approaching slowly and riding uphill. You could see that it would have been a pain for him to have to slow down and restart. He just carried on travelling at about 8 km/h in the bike lane. He was halfway across the empty crossing when the lights changed. Is that really so bad?

All of this revealed one obvious truth. From the point of view of your average punter sitting behind their windscreen, the thought of taking any of their journeys using any means other than their motorcar is light years from their mind. Riding a bike looks fairly awful. You wouldn't let your kids do it and you probably wouldn't bother yourself. Riding the bus is only marginally better and then only if you really want to play Angry Birds. You still have to wait in a queue to get on and then sit in the same traffic as everyone else.

It shows that we still have a lot of work to do.

I'm back on the bike this week - out of breath and feeling chubby. The temptation to make an excuse why I need to take the car is strong. However I have given the bike a polish and taken the luggage rack off the back so it feels marginally lighter and looks good. Also, it's spring and the sun will soon be shining, Apple has released not one but two new iPhones and Mikaell Colville-Andersen is a keynote speaker at Velo-City 2014.

All good.

Saturday, 14 September 2013


We already knew this but it is very often quicker by bike even in a sprawling city like Adelaide. Top Gear proved that it is the case in London. Streetfilms did it in New York and for the Dutch it is just every day.

I had to run an errand not long ago in the morning. Part of it involved a drive along Kensington Road to the city. I took the car. It was about 7.20am and there was light traffic - a lot less than you get during rush hour. It was plain sailing the whole way.

On my way, I passed a guy on a bike. I saw him first before Portrush Road near where Marryatville High School is. He was travelling the same way as me towards the city. It was a cool bike too. A dark grey Specialized something or other. It had internal gears and a carbon drive belt instead of a chain.

On the way down, I saw the cyclist a couple of times. I didn't really consider him again until I got right into the city to Frome Street and there he was again. Even outside of the rush hour in light traffic, he was just as fast. During peak times, he would definitely be faster. I should add he was not speeding. He wasn't on a racing bike. He wasn't in racing gear. He was wearing cargo pants and travelling at a fairly normal speed. Admittedly, that stretch of road is a long gentle downhill slope but he still kept up with almost no effort at all.

And that is in a car-centric city like Adelaide!

Now why would you not encourage that? It really is absurd not to. Admittedly, that way of getting around is not everyone's cup of tea but why not make it easy, advertise it by making it visible and give everyone the choice?

Seeing alternative forms of transport turning out to be as fast or quicker than the car shows a couple of things:

1. The pent up demand for alternatives is underestimated. This is most clearly seen in things like the British Skyrides;

2. Alternatives to the car can and should be available as part of wider intermodal network. For example, allowing that sort of intermodality can increase significantly the catchment area of our north-south railway line. It can also do it in a much more efficient and less expensive way than park-and-ride stations that inevitably take up a lot of land.

We can see the seeds of this with the Greenway program but we have a lot of under-utilised space on our roads too. It's time to put that to good use.

Despite the obvious advantages that alternative modes of transport have in certain circumstances, we still have the usual calls for massive road-building projects. Our new Prime-Minister, Tony Abbott, has announed he will provide funding (as if it is his money) to about six major road projects, including the highly dubious East-West Link in Melbourne. He seems to be under this strange illusion that roads a a national issue while suburban rail infrastructure is a local State issue. Similarly, not long ago,'Infrastructure Partnerships Australia' put out a press release calling for 'genuine debate' on infrastructure before nominating four different road building projects as sound investments.

This has been going on for years. I bet you Tony Abbott could not name a single city that has solved or even reduced its congestion problems by building more roads like the ones he is supporting. I know that because there is no such place. We all know that.

To reduce congestion, reduce the cause of it. Do that by making the alternatives easy to choose. A common quote I see around the traps says:

"If you make the bicycle the fastest and easiest way from A to B, people will use it."

I have a feeling the quote is attributable to Mikael Colville-Andersen. For many journeys, as we see every day, it already is the quickest. The next step is to make it the easiest.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Learning Lessons

Someone I know quite well was involved in a minor collision the other day. It happened at a small roundabout on a quiet street not far from a school. It was the beginning of the afternoon rush hour. School had not long ended for the day.

My friend was travelling very slowly and, as is quite often the case, she missed the cyclist who was also approaching the roundabout from her right. He hit the side of her car and fell down. Other than a couple of scrapes to his arms, he was fine. It all happened at slow speed.

My friend did the right thing. She stopped immediately and made sure he was ok. So did the driver of the car behind her. That person then commented that she was glad my friend had been in front because she did not see the cyclist either.

A conversation then ensued. The other driver commented that the cyclist might want to wear brighter clothing next time. She also asked what the cyclist was doing out on the roads at that time and whether he was going anywhere in particular. He said he was just out for a ride. The driver suggested that this was probably not the time to be out just riding with all of the traffic on the roads.

Given the proximity to the nearby school, there is a certain irony there but I think it was probably lost on the driver.

Just in case, my friend also reported what had happened to the police. The officer was very understanding. She said this happens a lot where drivers simply do not see cyclists and there are collisions like this - thankfully at low speeds.

The officer had a little more insight than the other driver and said that the roads were unforgiving. "The bike lanes should be wider", she said.

And she is right.

It should be a concern to traffic engineers, the police, our politicians and indeed all of us that this is happening to such an extent that the police officer was not in the slightest bit surprised and was so understanding. The cyclist probably would have been seen with a fluoro top or something in bright pink or if he had some paint-stripper lights flashing away on the front of his bike. But then again, he may not have.

One of the reasons these things happen is because of our unforgiving roads. Roundabouts like that say loudly and clearly "cars are coming". But they do not even whisper "bikes and people might be coming too". They should.

We all know about the principles of sustainable safety because Professor Wegman told us about them. It is time they were implemented.

Look at those children riding around at school at closing time. Don't they realise how dangerous it is?