Monday, 10 November 2014

The next few slow years

While our Dutch friends, without any fanfare at all, continue to update their already superior transport network, our Danish friends do the same and city mayors in the United States try to outdo each other in reforming the design and function of their city streets, the small burst of energy we have just seen in Adelaide, that led to the very short and really quite conservative little bikeway on Frome Street, may have just come to an end.

I moved back to Adelaide in 1997. There have been a few different State Premiers and city mayors since then. In all that time, I have never seen so much positive progress as I have in the last few years that Stephen Yarwood has been mayor of Adelaide, including the new Oval, the new hospital, Victoria Square, laneway reactivation, Leigh Street, Peel Street, food carts, RenewAdelaide, hosting Velo-City, online engagement and of course the small beginnings of a decent city-wide safe bike network.

Our new mayor, Martin Haese, made a number of promises on his campaign website but it is a little difficult to see exactly what he stands for. I suppose we will find out in the next few years.

Bike SA held a "spin cycle" for mayoral candidates to talk to cyclists about their policies. One thing Mr Haese said was that "bikeways and business do not mix" so, we were told, the Frome Bikeway has to go.

It is an odd comment and one that flies in the face of all of the evidence on the subject. If you want recent data, have a listen to New York's Transportation Commissioner, Janet Sadik-Khan, on her recent visit to Adelaide:

Just as a couple of examples, on one street corner in Brooklyn, a small car park was turned into a plaza. In 3 years, there was a 172% increase in retail sales. Since Times Square was changed and space was given back to pedestrians, 350,000 people use it every day. New York added 400 miles of on-street bike lanes in 7 years. As we have had here, every argument imaginable was raised against them. Gridlock was predicted. But things have turned out just fine. During weekends, bike ridership has doubled and on weekdays it has tripled.

All of that has been achieved on less than 1% of the roads maintenance budget. Injuries have halved and retail sales have increased 49% where protected bike lanes have been installed. And generally, travel times have improved for everyone.

That's just one city.

As strange as it is, that little bikeway on Frome Street has caused more wailing and gnashing of teeth than any other recent development. Despite all of the doom and gloom (which included Anne Moran telling us on the radio just the other day, without any irony, that Adelaide suffers from the "tyranny of distance" - this is from someone who drives to work from North Adelaide), the bikeway seems to have been a success - more so than many people predicted.

In response to requests from the Advertiser and Indaily, Adelaide City Council provided an update on the use of the Frome Street Bikeway and information on the evaluation process. It is useful to set out the information in full:

The Frome Bikeway opened on Wednesday 14 May 2014 and has been in use by cyclists for five months over winter, generally a time when fewer people ride bikes. However, early observations of the use of the bikeway are encouraging.

A survey undertaken in October 2014 indicates that up to 1000 cyclists are using the bikeway daily. This is a 50% increase from prior to the bikeway being installed. Further increases are anticipated as we head into the warmer season, noting that the full potential of the bikeway will not be realised until it is completed and forms part of a broader, interconnected network.

We have observed more females cycling, which is reflective of females feeling safer to cycle to the city now.

During the AM and PM weekday peaks, cyclists currently represent about 16% of the total traffic on Frome Street which is encouraging considering the current AM/PM peak across the city is approximately 2-3%. It demonstrates that the desire to offer alternative modes of transport is working.

From 2 or 3% to 16% in only six months on a bikeway that is incomplete and stops all of a sudden at Pirie Street just when the traffic is starting to build. It makes you wonder what we might see when it is completed and it is joined by other similar north south routes and some going east to west.

On the radio this morning, Mr Haese was asked whether he plans to rip up the bikeway. Using classic politician speak, he answer was neither yes nor no so we don't really know what his plans are. He did not rule out removing it. His priority is "safety" he tells us and if that means removing the bikeway then he will do so.

At the end of the radio programme, there was talk of the "pendulum swinging back" - a ridiculous proposition. Using that analogy assumes a starting point of equity rather than the heavily car-based and very inefficient city we have now. As for the pendulum swinging too far in favour of bikes, if one single (half-finished) bikeway constitutes going too far then we will never get anywhere. I found it hard to believe the presenter could say that with a straight face.

The futility of that thinking was brought home to me only this evening. I rode north along the bikeway on my way home. Once I got to Pirie Street it ended and it was time to ride along that narrow strip where you're trying to avoid car doors opening on the left and being side-swiped on the left. Two guys were up ahead on their bikes too - riding single file. They were doing the same thing and it meant that Mr Moustache in his Chrysler 300 could not get past until the painted bike lane appeared 6m before North Terrace. Had he caught up to them just a block earlier he would have sailed past without even noticing them.

Safe and decent biking infrastructure doesn't only benefit people on their bikes.

The figures really do speak for themselves both here and around the world. We hear a lot about "evidence based policy". Well, the evidence is there - some of it just published. Adelaide has barely started.