Month: March 2014

I Might Just Sit This One Out

purse

Everyone likes a bit of a sit down, don’t they? The above captures a lass doing that in the busy Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne as she lolls about on a piece of public art.

A moment of reflection, a brief pause, a small comma in an otherwise lengthy sentence (okay, you get the drift). The point is, we like seats, and we like public seats. I’m not going to dwell on the whole ‘we like looking at people and being with people and that is why we go to public parks and sit aside from just to find respite’ thing here, suffice to say that that is true – albeit long winded.

What I do want to focus on however is planners and designers who decide where seats will go, and why. In my own wonderings around and about, I have witnessed all manner of seating in frankly obscure places, leading me to believe that seats can be as pointless as carrying an extra tube but not knowing how to fix a flat. In short, it’s just for show.

A seat in a pointless place says ‘We, as a Council, care and we offer comfort and respite and look here – a seat for you to spend some time on’. That’s what this seat looks like:

pb 1

If you were sitting on the seat, you would have the lovely Yarra river behind you, a smooth, easy bike and pedestrian path, er, behind you, and some really lovely old bluestone brickwork, um, behind you. And what would your view be?

pb 2

This: six lanes of traffic. Ahhh, the serenity.

Further along the Yarra river bike path (which I really can’t fault), is this utterly odd arrangement of seating:

yarra 1

It is honestly as though it was arranged for bickering siblings or bored couples. What’s such a pity is that the view from both seats is splendid:

yarra 2

 

I can’t help but wonder if the people who installed it merely read their directions incorrectly and they are meant to in a ‘V’ shape, but both looking out to the river, and indeed, each other.

Here’s a lovely nighttime snap of a lonely bench with 6 lanes of traffic in front of it. What is more perverse is that this is on the edge of one of Melbourne’s most splendid parks – the Fitzroy Gardens. Would you rather face traffic or people and trees?

night bench

I know I am saving the best for last here, but this is too delicious. In the university ‘courtyard’ (and I use the term advisedly), near to where I live, there is this inviting, wonderful public bench amidst this hallowed seat of learning:

uni bench

Seriously, would anyone want to sit here? Would anyone want to even walk through here?

The world is not a perfect place, I know, but truly, could we not spend a little more time thinking about the placement of these public seats? Is it really so difficult to think about what you, as a person, would like to look at in the real world rather than what looks good on a plan?

Amongst all this bafflement, it was nice to notice the ducks on the way home and remember that when I ride my bike, I’m always sitting comfortably and the scenery is a moveable feast.

ducks

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Worst case scenario

Oslo

“It’s not a bike lane, but it is a crime scene”

Further to last week’s post discussing confusion over what a bike lane consists of (or doesn’t), the wonderful cartoonist, Oslo, has provided a perfect pictorial representation of the ramifications. Found in The Age newspaper, today.

Dear Cyclist, you’re wrong. Again.

Glen

New bike lanes in my local area are now in. My inital response to the news of their arrival was joyous, then muted but now – having seen the lanes – it’s verging on negative.

‘Why?’, I hear you ask. Why would I, a committed cyclist, a keen advocate for cycling and a massive supporter of push bikes everywhere not be celebrating such an initiative? Well, these bike lanes are a little different.

As usual, the lanes are a strip of green next to parked cars (so that cyclists can protect parked cars, as Jan Gehl so famously notes). However, the green treatment only covers half the width of the bike lane, leaving the other half (the half closest to the car) completely untreated. There’s then the ubiquitous yellow line to seperate (well, ‘to indicate a supposed seperation of’) the cyclist from cars and trams. But beyond that are white ‘gashes’ (chevrons, they are actually called) and that’s where things get interesting.

I spoke to one of the men working on the new paths (including the white gashes) and asked him what the white bits were meant to indicate. He explained that it was to highlight to the cyclist to stay as far right as possible, when in the bike lane, to avoid dooring. I asked him if he thought it would work and he said “Er, no, to be honest”.

I then asked a driver – a random person getting out of a van – if he thought the new look bike lanes would work. I asked in particular about what he thought the white ‘bits’ meant. He said “Um, I don’t know, really. I suppose maybe it just means to be aware of cyclists or something? No, I don’t know”.

This is a problem. If I don’t know what the signs on the road mean, as a cyclist, and neither does someone as a driver and the person putting the signs on the road don’t think they will have any success, why are we doing this? At the very least, we need some education for road users as to what the signs actually indicate. Not everyone who uses these lanes (whether they be a driver, pedestrian or cyclist) is a traffic engineer.

The lanes were a response to the tragic death of James Cross who died as he dodged a car door being opened and fell under the wheels of a vehicle behind him. It doesn’t seem that there is anything here that will stop this from happening again.

Furthermore, the onus is on the cyclist to be careful, to stick to the right, to notice doors being flung open and so on. Where is the responsiblitiy of the driver in all of these markings? I can see a situation occuring where a cyclist is doored and then being accused of not being far enough over to the right and therefore bringing it on themselves. There is the potential here for the cyclist to always be found to be wrong. I don’t want this blog to be renamed The Whining Cyclist, but I do think we need to be brave and call something tokenistic when it appears as such.

The lanes are currently a trial project and this innocent bikestander will be watching how effective they are with interest. And if they are found out to be a success, I will be the first to order a whole lotta humble pie.

Fingers crossed I’ll have to.

 

 

 

Face to the Fjord: A look at Oslo on the release of their new PSPL

A great blog here by the good folk at Gehl Architects. Do they ever do anything terrible?! Enjoy.

Cities for People

Oslo_feature Gehl Architects’ Public Space Public Life study of Oslo was made public today, March 24, 2014.
This ‘special feature #1′ aims to incite dialogue around the challenges and opportunities facing the public realm in Oslo and other cities.

ga8404

By Bonnie Fortune, freelance journalist
Facts and findings are based on Gehl Architects’ report
‘Bylivsundersøkelse Oslo sentrum’

Bonnie_Fortune8

“Oslo is a small city where everyone knows one another,” says landscape architect and project leader for Levende Oslo (Lively Oslo), Yngvar Hegrenes. Norway’s capital city on the Olso fjord recently commissioned a Public Space-Public Life (PSPL) survey that took over two years to complete, despite the city’s compact size. Hegrenes is responsible for commissioning the survey, stating that Oslo was interested in taking a fresh look at their city center with input from knowledgeable outside sources. Hegrenes worked closely with the Oslo municipality, community business owners and organizations, and Gehl Architects to complete the…

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The real rules of the road

Absolutely brilliant post here thanks to accidento bizarro on how to use the road, no matter what mode of transport you use (according to the car).

accidento bizarro

It’s clear that many motorists ignore much of the Highway Code. However, the reasons for this have been obscure until now. As my teenage neighbour sloped out of her driving instructor’s car yesterday, a dog-eared scrap of paper fluttered to the ground in her wake. I picked it up, and realised I’d stumbled upon a top-secret document of extraordinary importance, which supersedes the Highway Code in all circumstances.

The Motorist’s Rulebook

1. Get out of the GODDAMN way.

a. Stopping or going slowly? Move over as far as possible. Up the pavement, preferably. Pedestrians? They’ll shift.Dorking Dene Street

b. Park quickly. Come on, it’s not a bus. You can get it in there. That’ll do.

c. Move quickly when someone lets you out, even if it means simultaneously steering, changing gear and doing that left-right-left thing with the indicators to say ‘thank you’.

2. No holding ANYONE up.

a. No indecision, particularly…

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When is a Bike Lane, not a Bike Lane?

Not

This is not a bike lane

If it looks like a bike lane and feels like a bike lane, is it not a bike lane? It is not a question merely for Magritte.

For those who haven’t seen it, there is a YouTube video that is doing the rounds at the moment of a woman who was ‘doored’ here in Melbourne. In just over 48 hours, the clip has had in excess of 34, 000 views. That’s a lot of people interested in dooring (or they just want to watch someone being knocked from their bike endlessly). A woman is knocked to the ground by a man opening the door of a taxi, to exit the vehicle, into the path of the cyclist. The passenger of the taxi is accompanied by two other men.

The incident has fuelled a great deal of discussion not necessarily due to the accident, but what followed. The cyclist asked for the details of the passengers, claiming that they had doored her and that it is illegal to do this in a bike lane. Whilst dooring is illegal, what the cyclist was riding on  – and here’s the corker – wasn’t a bike path.

What the cyclist was riding in, was a sliver of a lane that had a solid white line running along it, with a width of about 50 cm or so and cyclists use this ‘lane’ (let’s call it what it is – the gutter) to ride on, next to stationary cars waiting for the lights to change. However, legally, a bike lane is only a bike lane if it is at least 1.2m wide in a 40 km/h zone or at least 1.5m wide in a 60 km/h zone and all lanes (regardless of size) must be signposted with ‘Start of Bike Lane’ and ‘End of Bike Lane’. This certainly isn’t the case with the narrow lane that the cyclist was riding on and, like many others who cycle in the city, she was perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it actually was a bike lane. Given that these gutter lanes very often have a stencil of a bike on it, any reasonable person could be forgiven for believing that they actually are lanes for cyclists.

However, the cyclist was right to track them down and get their details because it is a $352 on-the-spot fine for opening a car door in the direct path of a cyclist and at $1408 maximum court penalty. Sadly, the passengers aggravate an already tricky situation by antagonising the woman, with one man saying that “cyclists on the road disgust me”. No apology was offered by any of the taxi passengers.

So, in short, the incident that is captured in a three minute video sparks a great deal of debate. When is a bike lane, actually a bike lane and how can a cyclist, driver and pedestrian know the difference? How do we educate road users to look out for bikes, whether they are on a bike path that adheres to the – very prescriptive – measurements or not? How do we tone down the inflated aggression that cyclists and drivers have to one another? Some argue that the cyclist was actually moving too fast given the restricted space she had. Maybe further education is needed for cyclists themselves?

We can’t all cycle around with cameras on our heads and load up YouTube vids in the hope that something will happen (well, I don’t want it to come to that). But we do need to seriously think about these issues and tackle them. I know that the City of Melbourne is embarking on a shared space campaign called ‘Share our Streets’, and hopefully that will go some way to addressing shared space problems and this is to be commended (as a side note, I actually suggested at a Bike Futures meeting this week that the campaign shouldn’t use the word ‘street’ as there are plenty of places where cyclists share the space with pedestrians and drivers – not just on streets, but I digress).

The bottom line is this: not only infrastructure but education and laws needs to keep up with the popularity of cycling. Another option might be to overthrow the 1.2m and 1.5m rules. Who came up with such arbitrary figures? If they don’t work for the city they are in, let’s try something new. The status quo isn’t working and so let’s change it. Let’s be brave.

No one will die if we try it, but people might die if we don’t.

Piecemeal planning: impracticality for pedestrians

path1  path2

No matter how much you might want people to walk somewhere, they will walk where they feel right.

There’s a little path that runs from the bottom of a road, near where I work, up the side of a park to the top of a hill. This path, in the 6 years I have worked nearby, has not been completely paved. You can see (if you squint) that the picture on the left does actually have a slab of concrete but it then ends and the pedestrian is left with a treck to the top with bare dirt. At the time of taking these snaps (about, oh, I don’t know, an hour ago), we are at the tail end of summer so things are looking a little less muddy than they will in 6 months’ time. Come July however, that is a pretty nasty path to walk up (or down).

So why, I hear you ask, why do these brave pedestrians make this perilous sojurn, risking mud on their clothing and a nasty spill? Here’s your answer:

bus stop

Low and behold! A bus stop! Who knew?!

In my world – in my ideal, wonderfully bike, pedestrian and public transport friendly world – there would be an accessible (and paved) path leading from where people live (the top of the hill) to where people catch the bus (the bottom of the hill).

You might look at this and ask “Goodness, this is one path, who cares?”, but I think it is a small demonstration of not only piecemeal planning but not looking at how people move, naturally, and designing places for them with this in mind, instead of looking over a plan and thinking ‘Mmm, straight lines look good from up here so we’ll use them at street level’. Well, we’re not birds.

Certainly, there is a road (with a footpath on the side of it) that could be walked up to reach the top of the hill, but that would involve at least another 5 minutes of exercise. What would you choose to do? Walk down the feetmade (as opposed to handmade) path through a park and get another 5 minutes in bed, or walk down the road?

Recognising people’s behaviour and how they move in public space has to be more considered in planning. Otherwise you end up putting in partway paths for pedestrians, with impractical applications.

Seven Year Olds and Seagulls

girl

Cycling along the other day, I caught this delightful little pic (yeah, I know it’s little). It’s of a young girl, maybe 6 or 7 years of age who was just skipping, running and generally being active with the seagulls on a hill. Her parents/guardians were on top of the hill, however they’re out of this frame. It was a beautiful day and I thought to myself: that little girl feels good. She’s in the city and she’s feeling good. She obviously feels safe, and from what I can tell she is doing something that is fun whist being active.

For her, this city is working.

Imagine if that’s what we did: designed cities for seven year olds and seagulls.

If this was an invitation, would you accept it?

Does this make you want to ride on this street? No, me neither. Pity it’s the street that I ride on every day to get to work. Such is the life of The Innocent Bikestander.

Not all Nights Need to be White

Oftentimes, even without a night that is white, Melbourne still gets it right. The City of Melbourne does a simply amazing job in welcoming people, inviting them to stay in the spaces between buildings. After securing my bike, I had wander through the city and this is what I witnessed:pub1

That truly is a bloke just reading a book at one end of a long wall and a bloke at the other end strumming a guitar and then a random few people chatting, staying and just ‘being’ in between these two urbanites. Nice.

pub s2

Meanwhile, further up the same street, a seriously good busker, Jack Man Friday draws a not insignificant crowd as he entertains young and old alike (and yes, you do need a permit to busk in Melbourne and have an audition – basically if a busker is legally busking in Melbourne, the quality is beyond question).

pub3

And then, further still – a couple of folks play chess as onlookers, well, look on.

It may be presumptuous of me to say, but I suspect that these two may never have met were it not for the novelty sized chess game. Connections are made, albeit fleetingly, but that is the role of a city that works well and space that is utilised affectively. It allows for these connections. It facilitates them. It invites them and welcomes them when they arrive.

garden city

People stop and stay to smell and touch as they discover this pop up herb garden outside of the Town Hall (this was actually seen two weeks ago, but it just proves my point that this happens in Melbourne often).

beanbags

And lastly, people lounge outside of the State Library on beanbags provided by the Library (as is the chess). It could be argued that there is nothing really to ‘do’ here, but that is the point. People stay, because people are there. People go where people go because, well, we like people. We like being with them. We don’t want to talk to them (necessarily), but we like being near them and knowing they are there. People are interesting. People watching is legitimate.

I look at how I use the city on a day like this one and know that I will be taking the long route to wherever I need to go just to be in the city for longer.

This is a city that invites me to stay, and I welcome the invitation every time.