Monday, 26 January 2015


Back in 2002, the famous Professor Jan Gehl was invited to make some recommendations about how the city of Adelaide could improve things for people. As part of his 83 page report, the Professor made a number of suggestions about changing the environment for people on foot. He also made some recommendations about bikes:

The walking recommendations included some that would have made an enormous difference, such as improving pedestrian connections generally and avoiding footpath interruptions by taking them across side streets. Leigh Street has since been quietened but I'm not sure what else.

Of the recommendations that were made back then, the two obvious ones that I can think of are the extension of the tramway and removing that terrible slip lane that used to be on the corner of North Terrace and Frome Street.

Professor Gehl came back in 2012 and from what I could tell, more or less made the same suggestions (and pointed out how little we had done in 10 years).

On the topic of bikes, he pointed out the lack of any coherent network and said this:

Adelaide has excellent conditions for bicycling, with climate and topography presenting few difficulties, an increased student population and more residents. The street widths in Adelaide offer obvious possibilities for integrating a superior network of bicycle lanes.

In the meantime, Professor Fred Wegman was South Australia's Thinker in Residence in 2010. He is the Managing Director of the SWOV Institute for Road Safety Research in the Netherlands, which has a pretty decent road safety record. He also produced a report and in it he too briefly touched on the issue of bikes as transport (see p57). He recommended, among other things, two major bike routes across the CBD, one north-south and one east-west, segregating the cyclist route from motor vehicle traffic and creating appropriate traffic management schemes at intersections. He used Vancouber as his example. Vancouver has since gone further and has done that on a number of city streets and beyond.

Then in 2014, a whole bunch of people came to Adelaide from all over the place and talked about nothing but bikes. The always modest Dutch were there but so were many others. There was even someone from a Canadian city very similar to Adelaide to talk about what they were doing and how, in the process, they were bringing a suspicious public along for the ride.

There was tons of information to take from the conference but an overwhelming message was No More Baby Steps:

At the end of the conference, the transport Minister, Stephen Mullighan, announced that his government would by 2018 double the number of school children taught to ride safely. Baby steps indeed.

All of that was soon forgotten and so recently the Government wanted more ideas and so instead of calling in the experts, it dragged 37 random people off the street and asked them. That became the Citizens' Jury - complete with its own hashtag.

The question they were asked to deal with was:

Motorists and cyclists will always be using our roads. What things could we trial to ensure they share the roads safely?

Members of the public and organisations were invited to send in their own submissions (with a strict 2 page limit, which the Amy Gillett Foundation shamelessly exceeded by 23 pages). My point was simple - you're asking the wrong question. Sharing the road is the problem. I said we had been asking people to share the road nicely for years; neither motorists nor cyclists deliberately tried to hurt each other but far too often, cyclists and motorists were put in positions of conflict where a simple error could be fatal - and so often was.

The Jury met about three times. They had a lot of topics to deal with which meant they had about 15 seconds to deal with each. They also had the assistance of some speakers (yours truly wasn't invited) and there was a Twitter chat too.

When the jury released its recommendations, everyone who had contributed in some way was invited so I got to go to Parliament House for an hour.

The recommendations were generally sensible but not earth shattering. A strong recommendation was for improved infrastructure (including connecting existing bike lanes), greenways and safer intersections (which meant bike boxes). That last one was a tad disappointing. Bike boxes are really not all they're cracked up to be.

It's only sometimes that you actually have a bike lane leading up to them:

Even then, accessibility can be an issue:

Another recommendation was allowing cycling on the footpath "when there is no safer alternative". Riding on the footpath is something that has been permitted in Japan for some time (as I understand it) but allowing it here I think is an admission of failure. It's an acceptance that the road is crap. And in any event, who decides when there is no safer alternative? Is my subjective opinion sufficient?

The Government thought long and hard about the jury's suggestions and then just the other day, during the TDU, came up with its answer:

The Government loved the recommendations and agreed with all but two. They will be investigated.

So it means more bike boxes, more education and campaigns, a one metre passing rule, pavement cycling and other things.

There was a bit of a do in the South Parklands to release the response. The Premier spoke as did the CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation and the head of the Motor Accident Commission. There was a fair bit of mutual congratulation and, dare I say it, a smattering of hyperbole - South Australia is leading the way.

I suppose all of this is a good thing because the Government is at least thinking about it. If some of the adopted recommendations are indeed carried through, it will mean some improvement. At the same time though, the things that are suggested are, to use the phrase from Velo-City, baby steps, while we continue to sit in traffic that is slowly getting worse and wonder why.

Perhaps it's time to stop complaining and run for city council.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A Useful Illustration

So I was in Melbourne again recently with the family. They do a lot of things right there. The CBD is humming, there is plenty to do and there is that great public transport system of theirs (depending on where you want to go). It makes you wonder what could be achieved if just some of the money that was earmarked for the ridiculous East-West Link was spent on improving tram and train services.

We also used the bikeshare system - complete with goofy helmets:

Most of the time it was necessary for at least a couple of us to ride like criminals without the plastic hat. They were so often not available. Quite often the reason for their lack of availability would ride past you:

(To be fair, I am sure that young lady bought her bikeshare helmet for $5 from a 7-Eleven and quite rightly kept it given that she had paid for it).

While there, we caught up with friends; two families who have moved from Adelaide to Melbourne in the last year. Both families are very similar - two children; both at school and similar ages; one boy and one girl; do different activities at different times.

As you would expect, both were two-car families when they lived in Adelaide. Unless you make a really concerted effort, it is quite difficult for a family like that to function normally in Adelaide without two cars. It can be done but as I say, it requires real effort.

In the short time they have been living in Melbourne (less than twelve months), both have got rid of one car.

Getting into the city is much cheaper, quicker and easier by tram. That means some children's activities can be reached that way. It also means the children (some of the time) can get there by themselves. Once of the dads has even got himself a year's subscription to bikeshare.

Melbourne is far from a world leader in public transport and biking infrastructure. Public transport is excellent by Australian standards but could still improve and biking as transport has massive scope for improvement. Despite that, Melbourne still offers sufficient transport choice for families like that not to have to fund two cars. Add up all of the families in that position and then work out the money they are saving and what it can be spent on. Then the wider benefits start to materialise.

Further improvements would merely improve mobility and independence, particularly for the children in each family.

I think once a city can boast that sort of choice, you know it is getting somewhere. And once we get to the point where people genuinely have the choice not to own a car, only then will be able to rest on our laurels - and then only for a short time.

Fitzroy Street, St Kilda