Monday, 6 April 2015

If I were Mayor - a CBD Bike Network

Of all the talks at Velo-City 2014, it was the one from Calgary in Canada that I found most relevant to Adelaide. I blogged about it then but just to recap, rather than installing individual bike routes one at a time and having to justify each, Calgary city council (after a lot of deliberation) decided to install a network of routes on a pilot basis. The benefits of the pilot proposal were that it was easier to "sell" to reluctant councillors and to a public unfamiliar with cycling networks, plus the benefits of a complete network would be experienced first hand.

You might think it would be obvious but it took some effort. It is now at the installation stage. The final evaluation report goes to council in December 2016:

There are many important lessons to learn from the Dutch but to my mind one of the most important is the necessity of having a dense grid that serves all destinations and which everyone (that is everyone) can use; "complete, connected, efficient, predictable, and safe in both perception and reality".

Single routes can be useful (and Frome Street has already shown a clear increase in traffic even though it is unfinished) but they work far more effectively as part of a wider network. The network becomes greater than the sum of its parts. That is why I think what Calgary has done is a realistic example to follow.

Wide, good quality bike tracks would fit on pretty much all of the Adelaide CBD's major roads. Almost without exception they are ridiculously wide. And in their current state, acres of space is wasted:

This is Pulteney Street at Hindmarsh Square (another perfect street for protected bike lanes)

That wide space is in many places used for on-street car parking. It is very difficult to remove parking without people getting very upset even though converting on-street parking to bike lanes makes a lot of commercial sense. But it is one of the obstacles you face before a project like this can even get off the ground. People get upset and MPs and council members get very nervous about suggesting any limit on car use - even though it may be entirely reasonable and for the greater good.

So if something like this is to work, it has to result in an absolute minimum reduction in on-street parking and it must not in any way be allowed to look as if you are forcing people out of their cars. If not, it is nigh on impossible to sell.

Here goes:

The orange represents two-way protected bike lanes (and parklands paths). The red represents one-way protected bike lanes. The pink is the already existing (and tentatively planned extension of) Frome Street Bikeway. The green just shows where possible future treatments might go.

Obviously missing from the plan is a north-south route on the western side of the city. That is what I am still struggling with. Morphett Street seems the ideal choice, especially with how easy it would be to move the parallel parking closer to the middle of the road to allow for bike lanes on the safe side of cars but it is Light Square and Whitmore Square that cause difficulties. I'm still contemplating them.

North Terrace

Under the plan, North Terrace has a two-way protected bike lane on its northern side. Two-way bike tracks are admittedly not best practice but along that stretch of North Terrace there are really not that many intersections so it is not a bad compromise. It would also be on the right side of the road to serve the universities, museum and new hospital (and new high school if it is ever built). While the network is in its pilot stage, the lanes are delineated using concrete or rubber sleepers and temporary markers - tall enough to be seen, hard enough to put a dent in a plastic bumper but removable so that fears are allayed:

Borrowed from here

When you get to East Terrace, the lane cannot continue because of the bus lane along North Terrace to Hackney Road. Instead, the plan uses a diagonal crossing to cross into the parklands. That connects the route to the eastern suburbs and to the paths along Hackney Road that are planned as part of the o-bahn extension. Ideally, in the parklands, rather than a path shared with pedestrians, we would ultimately be able to avoid that conflict:

Borrowed from Brent Toderian

To be useful, the lane would have to be at least as wide as the current traffic/parking lane closest to the northern side of the road. There will inevitably be complaints about the removal of car parks. However, they are part-time car parks and there is in fact a very small number of them - maybe 8:

They are all in front of the South Australia museum. From what I can tell, that is really all that will be lost (or reclaimed). There will be some expected whining about congestion being caused through their removal but frankly we must have a serious transport problem if we need more than two lanes of traffic each side of a road running right through the city. Besides, at each end, there are only two lanes in each direction anyway. The only reason the third lane gets filled up is because it is there.

The problem is with the western side of King William Street. Politicians like their limos to be able to stop out the front of Parliament House and there is a long taxi rank outside the casino and Intercontinental Hotel. I am sure something could be worked out though because that section of road is part of the State Government's Greenway plan anyway.

Bus stops would also need to be dealt with but that issue can also be solved - something along the lines of what is done on the tram stops on Swanston Street in Melbourne could work.

King William Street (KWS)

At the intersection between North Terrace and South Terrace, quite a number of bike commuters come from the south west via the Mike Turtur Bikeway. There are also riders coming through the parklands from Unley via the Parklands Trail. They all converge and result in a fair amount of bicycle traffic each morning along King William Street in the direction of Victoria Square.

(There's this green thing there but only painted lines beyond)

The plan incorporates protected bike lanes each side of KWS for them. Again, it is a pilot and so temporary measures are put in place:

Importantly, the idea is to put people on bikes on the safe side of parked cars. It is easy to sell because no car parking spaces or traffic lanes are lost.

Once the route reaches Victoria Square, it diverts. The reason for this is that between Victoria Square and North Terrace, KWS is a very busy bus route that is also blocked by large numbers of private cars. Frankly, there should be a double width bus lane each side to stop the buses getting held up but that is a topic for another day. The point is, it is simply too clogged to try and use it for a pilot project like this.

Instead, the route uses the new lanes that travel east-west across Victoria Square

and the route continues along Gawler Place, over North Terrace and potentially down Kintore Avenue to join Linear Park. Along Gawler Place, the idea is to use a two-way track again but this time on a quieter non-through street to see how it works (it's a bit like Dunsmuir Street in Vancouver):

Borrowed from here

Predictable complaints will include that the road is too narrow to accommodate anything but the current traffic and parking lanes but it should be remembered that Gawler Place has been blocked like this for months and the world has not stopped turning:

For almost its entire length, the road is one-way and the few car parks it has are short-term.

There will be some potential conflict as the route crosses Rundle Mall but I would hope that people would be able to sort themselves out by just taking their time and looking around.

Flinders/Franklin Street

This is the second of potentially three east-west routes. This is a very wide street and if we really wanted to we could easily find space for wide separated bike lanes and still have room for parking plus two traffic lanes each side. However, as with all of these things the hurdle is convincing people. The idea behind the pilot is to cause as little perceived disruption as possible while showing that this can work and benefit everybody.

Along the street there is a lot of on-street parking. Some of it is parallel parking but some is that country town style parking facing the kerb. To be acceptable, any plan has to remove as little of it as possible. And so this is where a further compromise comes in.

For those parts where on-street parking is parallel (like between Pulteney Street and Victoria Square) it is easy. With no change to the street layout, the bike lane is placed the other side of parked cars. Temporary protection for the purposes of the pilot can be supplied with sleepers for example:

Borrowed from the Alternative DfT

The same thing could be done where the parking faces the kerb but on those parts of the streets there are also well-established trees to deal with. Where the trees are on the footpath (like the western end of Franklin Street), the same sleepers can be used to protect the bike lanes. However where the trees sit in the road (Flinders Street between Pulteney and Hutt Streets),

one option might be to keep the street layout but provide protective barriers every so often to prevent drivers straying into the bike lanes. The trees are quite closely spaced so if the barriers were opposite them it might work up to a point.

Here's what I mean:

It's a bit rudimentary because I only know how to use Microsoft Paint rather than Illustrator. The idea is to have a kerb extension (with greenery) around the tree and for it to be extended to the edge of the bike lane. Opposite that is a physical barrier to protect the other side of the bike lane. It's far from ideal because of cars entering and exiting the parking spaces between the trees but it should at least significantly reduce the chances of being struck at speed from behind (which is one of my biggest fears). As I say, the idea is to cause as little friction as possible to get the pilot off the ground.

Leaving the CBD

To the right of the map, you can see that the routes join up with selected streets, including Beulah Road through Norwood. The idea is to illustrate the network idea and to suggest possible routes between arterial roads as a safer alternative to them. They would of course need a bit more than a fancy name and some speed limit signs. Where roads are successfully turned into priority streets for bicycles, they work because they are blocked to through traffic. There are many ways that can be achieved without too much expense:

Or this:

This is borrowed from here where there are a few other potential designs.

It may well be that there are currently 2,000 traffic movements per day on those roads but that only happens because it can. It is not inevitable. If the roads are blocked in some places, the traffic will sort itself out as it always does.

The same thing should happen in the west but I am not as familiar with that neck of the woods. I cannot imagine it would be that difficult incorporating the current West Terrace path and, if nothing else, the space available next to Sir Donald Bradman Drive and Glover Street. Beyond that, Keswick Creek is an obvious route for a new Greenway.

So there you go. Nothing amazing. Just the beginning of a conversation. Not best practice - far from it. But potentially do-able and sellable. For the period of the pilot project, as it is in Calgary, it would also be measurable and if successful, could be justification for making it permanent and for investigating further extensions (including the enormous amount of spare space next to Adelaide's ring roads).


Depending on who you ask, a plan like this is either the end of the world or so woefully inadequate as to be embarrassing. Go on to talkbalk radio to be interviewed and you would likely be criticised and told this is going too far and how it is now time for some balance in favour of motorists. Speak to any progressive urban planning advocate and you will be looked at with incredulity and asked why you are trying so hard to achieve mediocrity.

And this is my dilemma. Do we insist on the absolute best or nothing? Or do we adopt what cities similar to us have done - not just what they build but how they got the decision made to build in the first place even though the entire process and result are a series of compromises? It is a debate that could go on forever.

I look at places like London and the rest of the UK. Their cousins just across the North Sea have all the expertise and examples (good and bad) they could ever require. An ex-pat has study tours on offer for anyone who is interested. Invitations have been extended to mayors and MPs but as far as I know, few if any have taken up the offer. And despite all of the hype, absolute garbage continues to be built - or painted.

I would love it if we could have what the Dutch have right away. The thing is - how long will it take? And I don't mean how long will it take to build something but how long will it take before something even begins? Is it even possible with the heavily car-based history we have now? I don't know. But I do know that cities similar to ours (wide, dispersed and heavily car-centric) have made some progress despite all of the obstacles that are in their way (remember Calgary City Council debated for 13 hours just to get a majority of votes). They are not a bad example to follow, especially if change is achieved that people can see really works. That can then be built on.

Your average punter views any change to their habits with extreme scepticism and as we know, Adelaide is absolutely petrified of change. Not only that, alternative ways of getting around are viewed differently here from over there. Don't believe me? This is a picture of the Canberra Parliamentary Cycling Group being introduced to Dutch e-bikes:

Borrowed from the Gazelle Bikes Facebook page

These are the sort of bikes that Dutch grannies ride every day but those blokes dress like they're in the Tour De France. That alone is one of the biggest obstacles we face. It cannot be knocked down in one hit but it can be chipped at slowly and steadily.

Update: 4 October 2015
Lennart Nout tweeted a couple of pictures of a new bike lane in Auckland recently:

If you squint a bit, it could almost be North Terrace just next to where the skate park used to be. It would be that easy.