Saturday, 22 March 2014

Light Bulb Moment

I had a light bulb moment the other day. I was sitting flicking through tweets on Twitter when I came across the following tweet and response:

He's absolutely right of course.

If you are campaigning for a multi-modal city, one that gives choices for ways of getting around, simply shouting at motorists doesn't work. It just creates more of the 'them and us' attitude that seems to be evident in articles in cheap newspapers but in reality I am not sure exists.

Making things unnecessarily difficult just leads to resentment - especially when there is no alternative. By itself, removing parking or charging more for it will not reduce the amount of driving unless there is something reasonable to switch to.

As we all know, while well intentioned, 800mm wide painted bike lanes on main roads (and even then on only some of them) do not make taking an alternative to the car viable. On top of that, when you get to your destination, even the simple act of unravelling your lock and finding something to lock your bike to is an added inconvenience compared to pushing your bike into a space near the door and just flicking the wheel lock into place.

And despite claims that putting on a helmet and storing it when you get to your destination isn't a hassle,let's be honest - it is.

The answer, as we have seen from those places that work, is to make the alternatives simple and easy. And that means simple and easy relative to the car. If it is more hassle than taking the car, no rational person will bother.

Based on my very limited knowledge and based on what I have read, the unbroken network of cycle routes is a pre-requisite. Another absolute pre-requisite is avoiding conflict between different and incompatible transport modes by unravelling their routes.

From what I can tell, if you want to make that work over here in Australia, it does not mean digging up suburbs and starting again. We have seen how old suburbs can be brought into the modern age.

It is on those roads that because of differences in speed and mass that bikes and cars must be physically separated. To use an analogy from the London Underground, for those who are interested in these things, the Picadilly and District lines meet each other when the Picadilly comes from under the ground at Baron's Court in the west. They then both run paralled to each other as far as Acton Town. The District Line trains stop everywhere but the Picadilly Line trains speed through only stopping at Hammersmith and Turnham Green (but then only during rush hours):

A picture of the station shows that the two are kept separate:

Chiswick Park - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

The Picadilly Line trains speed through on the centre tracks.

Compare that with Aldgate East (in the east) where the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line meet each other:

Trains are the same size and as they travel further east towards Barking, they all stop at the same stations. Consequently, you don't need the separation:

Aldgate East - Borrowed from Wikipedia Commons

All trains run on the same tracks.

The analogy is a bit of a stretch I know but you get my point. Where people live, there is no reason to have motorised traffic speeding through at 50km/h or whatever the default speed limit might be. It is astounding that we still allow that in the 21st century. It is not any inconvenience to motorists to limit them to through routes that are designated as such. Once cars are slowed down and their numbers are reduced to those who actually have business in the street then like at Aldgate East, cars and bikes can comfortably share.

However once you get to more main through routes, you need to go back and have a look at Chiswick Park and see what you can do to unravel modes in other physical ways.

Motorists still get to go everywhere and store their car when they get there but they use routes that are appropriate for that. If their journey is made longer, it is only marginally and it is done so not to make life difficult for them but as part of a wider, sensible and more balanced transport and urban planning policy.

But we know this already, don't we?


  1. In fairness to Mark, it's all about context. For instance, in Melbourne, many streets have THREE LANES of car parking. Parallel parking on each side, and right angle parking in the middle, which really equates to four car-width lanes worth of parking. But naturally, there is "no space" proper bike paths! I think the frustration stems from the fact that councils are unwilling to make the unpopular decisions to reduce space for parking to allow other modes in the first place. I'm not against cars, but I am against the total ownership of space by cars.

  2. Totally agree. Indeed, if I recall correctly, the Twitter conversation then continued and said more or less what you are saying now. Providing parking at a destination is one thing but handing over valuable public space on the sides of roads is another.

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