Bike Lanes

This is a Bike Lane (to a certain extent)

Whether it's bike lanes or marriage, everyone loves a disclaimer

Whether it’s bike lanes or marriage, everyone loves a disclaimer

First things first, the image is by amazing artist, David Shrigley. I start this little offering by using this brilliant image as the subject matter for today is the power of words, particularly in relation to – you guessed it – bikes, but more specifically bike lanes.

I’ve written about the area where I live before and how it is not the most progressive Council in terms of infrastructure. They like to make sure that the bike paths along the river are in OK condition, and that is to be commended, but that is the sum of it. They aren’t really that interested in making it better for people who don’t ride along the river and, it would appear, they assume that people are going to drive to the river with their bikes and then go for a ride. As an aside, I spoke to a traffic engineer from the Council at a Bike Futures Conference a couple of years ago (which I funded myself – yeah, I’m that committed). He said that not many people cycle in the area ‘…because there are so many hills’. I wanted to ask him if he’d been to San Francisco, if he’d heard of ‘The Wiggle’, the innovative way they get around (and over) this problem, which is infinitely greater than ours. But I didn’t as I didn’t want to look like I had all the answers (I mean, I do, obviously, but he doesn’t need to know that).

What I did say however was that the roads make for pretty challenging bike journeys in the region. Let’s use me as an example. I am a fairly typical person, not in a particularly strange location and a semi typical bike rider (I probably ride a bit more than most but travel shorter distances than some). Here’s a map of where I live, as seen on the TravelSmart Map which is – supposedly – my guide to walking, cycling and PT options in my region:

This is my ‘hood

In the lower bottom hand corner, you can see a blue circle. That’s pretty much where I live. Now, to get to the city, which is West, how would you get there? Similar to a choose your own adventure story, it’s both exciting but seemingly straightforward. The blue dots on the road indicate what is known as an ‘informal’ bike lane, the blue dashes mean a dedicated on-road bike path (with parked cars to your left) and a solid blue line means a completely separate bike path, solely dedicated to cyclists. As you can see, going West is tricky due to the river that needs to be crossed.

I know what you’re thinking ‘Just go down Burwood Road and then follow it along until it joins with Church and then cross the river. Easy’. And it should be. But this is where the criteria of what an informal bike path is becomes important. Here’s a picture of it:

An 'informal' bike path

An ‘informal’ bike lane on Burwood Road

That, my friends, is it. A bike logo painted on the road with 3 dashes alongside it, which is in the same lane as the cars and trucks hurtling along at 60-70 km/h. And in peak times, it’s not much better. Safer, maybe, but not better:

Would you describe this as a bike path?

Would you describe this as a bike lane?

So, with Burwood Road being out of the question, let’s reconsider other options. I could go down Oxley, which is a quieter road, but once I hit Glenferrie Road I’m in a predicament. That’s four lanes of traffic I have to negotiate – including trams – to get to the other side and continue with my journey. There are no traffic lights here and at a four way intersection it’s incredibly time consuming and dangerous to say the least (it’s also at the bottom of a hill before heading up another one and as every cyclist knows, you want to keep that momentum if you can). Even if I did get through the Glenferrie intersection, I am faced with the same dilemma once I hit Power street where I need to turn right and then, what do you know, left onto…you guessed it, Burwood Road. I’m not being a fussy bastard here, there is literally no way for me to get there safely. And let’s look again – Power Street, Riversdale and all of the other options are all ‘informal’ bike paths.

They’re not informal. They’re a joke. Would you let your 12 year old kid on the roads pictured here? I ride it through necessity, not happily, and I resent it every single time I do.

The City of Boroondara (the Council in which I reside) runs various courses on how to get people of all ages and abilities on two wheels and some of them cost nothing. Again, I can’t find fault with this. But what happens after the course? What happens when that new rider receives their certificate of completion? Do they remove their – mandatory – helmet and think they’ve now found the best way to get around? Or do they think it’s a nice hobby and, weather permitting, they put their bike in the car next weekend and drive to where they can ride along the river ? It would be nice to see some evaluation on this as I suspect they would either do the latter or not ride at all.

In short, the City of Boroondara doesn’t rate cycling as important and certainly not as a priority. This is made perhaps most apparent on their website. On the homepage, these are largely your options of where to go:

Cycling sounds like transport doesn't it?

Cycling sounds like transport doesn’t it?

If I wanted to find out more about cycling in the area, I would think that ‘Transport and Parking’ would be where it would be found. The fact that the image for this section is a car might foreshadow how this ends up. Because in clicking on said section, these are my options:

Cycling, cycling, cycling...not here.

Cycling, cycling, cycling…not here.

Nothing on cycling, and walking is all the way down the bottom and only refers to walking very specifically in Camberwell Junction. Why don’t they just call this section what it really is – ‘Parking and Driving’? Cycling is eventually found under ‘Our City’, between the seemingly touchy feely subjects of ‘Community’ and ‘Environment’.

This isn’t taking cycling seriously. This is faffing about. It’s easier, cheaper and far less controversial to run free bike riding lessons than it is to actually provide cyclists with the infrastructure to ride safely. Even a few bike sharrows (shared road arrows where bikes and cars genuinely share the space, usually found on back streets) would be preferable to the lame ‘informal’ bike paths in my ‘hood. No wonder that the City of Boroondara currently rates as 4th out of 79 municipalities for having the most bike crashes.

Two words for you, City of Boroondara: poor form.

Truly, if it’s so ‘informal’ it serves no purpose, why bother at all?

 

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Allowing Planning to be Praised Pupil, not Dejected Dullard

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A recent article in The Guardian beseeches us to make town planning as cool as architecture, for the sake of our cities.

The author, Tom Campbell, makes a compelling argument, pointing to the desperate need for better planning given the current state of affairs. Whilst he focuses on England, the same arguments for the need for this paradigm shift could be applied to many, many countries and certainly here in Melbourne, Australia where barely a day passes without editorial content spilling out of local papers on urban planning and how badly we’re currently tracking.

But this is an interesting point, and brings me to mine. Aside from the fact that everyone seems to have an idea of what Melbourne (or indeed, other cities) should be doing, planners themselves are forbidden from doing what they do best: namely, plan. If the same professional disregard was afforded to medical practitioners, our health would be even more woeful than what our bursting bellies and belts already tell us it is. Similarly, if we neglected the advice from scientists regarding climate change…oh wait, I live in Australia. Bad example. Move on. The point here is that – for the most part – we respect people in positions that we know nothing about, even when we claim we do, and let them get on with their job, safe in the knowledge that they have studied and worked in a field for longer than us and therefore are infinitely better equipped to solve problem X, or at least better placed to discuss it.

Not so with planning. Planning has become the most forlorn child in the career classroom. Always relegated to the back of class, it sits there dressed in forever beige, bruised and bereft, despondent and desperate, eyeing it’s more fashionable friends of design and architecture, vying for teachers attention. But what is so desperate about this pitiful image is that planning could be incredible if it was allowed to be. Brimming with brilliance and bright ideas planning it has been beaten into submission but that does not mean its ideas are any less fantastic, any less valid.

What seems to happen in planning is that people enter the profession and find themselves not only not being brave, but not allowing to be. A friend of mine recently joined a large planning firm where he had to find fault with a perfectly good submission for a medium rise development. I asked him if he had sold out. His embarrassed, awkward smile spoke louder than any words that followed. Sadly, he has become that child at the back of the class.

It’s not up to us, as planners, to make planning ‘cool’ again as the article implores us to. It’s up to politicians and better forms of governance to allow us to do our job. Planning is already cool. Planning has the ability to get you to work on time, or not. It enables you to ride a bike to school, or not. It ensures you have green space near you, or not. It provides security, safety, better amenity. Or not. But what planning has become is a diluted, impoverished version of itself. People, you’re not seeing what its potential actually is.

I can’t help but wonder what the world would look like in if planners were actually encouraged and allowed to do their job. It would save people from having to tweak the edges and muck about with quick fixes. A recent post on Planetizen entitled ‘How to Crowdfund a Bike Lane’, is an excellent example of this. Heralded as a positive outcome, I can’t help but ask ‘What have we become that we virtually have to hand around the hat and take donations for built infrastructure to make our cities safe and the sort of places we want them to be? Why have we failed so much and ignored solid advice about how to plan place and space?’ I’m all for participatory planning and a keen advocate for it, but planning like this is just, well, sad.

Again, tirelessly, I say: if things were working and everything was awesome and the environment and our physical health was optimal I’d say ‘As you were – keep prohibiting us from proper planning’. Sadly, we’re not in such an enviable position. But we could be if you just let us get on with our job.

Still in doubt? Then ask yourself this: why would planners want to make the world worse? After all, we live here too.

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

A Meter Might Matter but Markings are Massive

The current campaign by the Amy Gillett Foundation as discussed previously on this blog is A Meter Matters. And – not surprisingly – I have an opinion about it. By way of explanation, let me share an anecdote.

Several years ago, I attended a furniture making course which culminated in us students producing a hall stand. I realised fairly on in the piece that although I enjoyed working with wood, I perhaps didn’t possess the technical aptitude to produce a fine piece of furniture worthy of a Sotherby’s auction. However, after sanding all the bits and pieces, drilling holes for my dowels and laying it out on the floor for assembly, I was good to go. Or so I thought. I hastily put glue in the holes and messed about with the legs of the table, a mid level shelf type thing and dowels which seemed to be everywhere. In short, the assembly process was going less than smoothly.

I called over my teacher, who was thankfully a lovely, kind man who started to pull bits off and stick them back together where they should be. It was such a monumental mess at this point however that two other students had to be called upon to help out. Everything seemed to be covered in glue. Whilst looking at the commotion in front of me I started to laugh with clear embarrassment and said “My God! It’s a complete disaster!”

My lovely teacher, whilst bent over my wooden ‘sculpture’ and trying desperately to secure a sash clamp, looked up at me and said the words I’ll never forget. With sincerity and kindness he said “You’re giving it a go”. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Not the platitudes of ‘It’ll be fine!’, or ‘It’s going to be amazing!’, or ‘You’ve found your calling!’.

So how does all this relate to A Meter Matters? I feel as though the AMY Gillett Foundation is not really doing anything earth shattering or anything fantastic – they are merely giving it a go. If I’m completely honest, I even think their campaign is a bit lame. Isn’t it a bit easy to say ‘A meter matters, so give cyclists a meter between your car and their bike’, and then for everyone to say ‘Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s try to do that’. How exactly will it be policed? It is currently illegal to ‘door’ someone (open a car door from a parked car into the path of a cyclist), however I don’t hear people coming into work saying “Sorry I’m late, I got charged with dooring and the paperwork took ages to fill out”. I never hear anyone talking about it. Ever.

My point is that markings on the road make infinite more difference than a theory. A physical sign that says to cars ‘ you can’t go here – this is not your driving space’ will have far more impact than a driver thinking ‘sheesh, I must remember to give this cyclist a meter because…well…it matters’.

One of the reasons cited for not putting more bike lane markings on roads is that the bike lane has to be a space wide enough to accommodate cyclists riding two abreast. Who on earth thought up that idea and why on earth does it continue? How often do cyclists (and remember, the focus of this blog is on the everyday cyclist) ride two abreast? If you’re commuting to work, school or university the answer is clearly virtually never.

There are plenty of examples where bike lanes have been made a lot skinnier to accommodate their location (over the Yarra bridge between Chapel and Church Streets for example, along with much of Nicholson street between Johnston and Victoria Streets in Richmond. Why can’t so many others (if not all others) have this as well?

So, back to Amy and their campaign. I know I’m being cynical. And this too is the point of this entry. I want infrastructure change to keep up with the progress and popularity of cycling and it simply isn’t. When I attended the Bike Futures conference last year, it was a theme that came up tirelessly – us cyclists have to be thankful for the miniscule, incremental changes that happen for our betterment so that we can then prove to drivers and politicians that the world didn’t end when they made these changes so they feel confident in making more changes. But goodness, it’s sometimes really painful to witness this glacial speed. I’m hoping that the Amy campaign is yet another step in making decision makers feel confident in making changes for the better for cyclists.

As it turns out, I contracted meningitis before my woodworking course ended so I never got to thank my teacher for his kind words or deeds (as he actually finished it for me). My wonderful father collected the hall stand, I lovingly oiled it and it now sits in my bedroom, proudly.

It reminds me of the importance of giving it a go. And – annoyingly – patience.

The Bermuda Triangle of Bike Lanes

Part of the commute that the author of this blog does almost daily is along a pretty dangerous, busy stretch of road with cars, trucks and motorbikes whizzing all about. It’s not safe, it’s not inviting and, frankly, I’m probably a bit mad to do it. But I do it because I have to get to work and even amidst the cacophony of engines, I’d rather be on a bike than on any other mode of transport to get there.

What would make it easier is of course a dedicated bike lane. The City of Boroondara Bicycle Users’ Group has a good explanation of the various types of bike lanes used in Melbourne and sadly the one I’m stuck with is the last one on the list – the Wide Kerbside Lane (WKL). This is the most “That’ll do” bike lane that a Council could provide anyone and is little more than 3 or 4 lines of paint on a road, at seemingly randomly interspersed places, along with a silhouette of a bike. They can only be used during ‘Clearway’ times of cars and are so pointless, they are not even legally considered a bicycle lane.

What I think is altogether more delicious however, is when even the ‘informal’ bike lane (as WKB’s can sometimes be referred to as) are completely removed altogether. Some photo’s taken two days ago illustrate my point:

Image

Where exactly is the cyclist meant to go? And yes, they’re cobblestones. As you can see, the brave, two wheeled warrior cycles ahead regardless, but the cars have to be reduced from two lanes down to one and-a-bit-when-there’s-a-cyclist-there. You may wonder why the biker continues on such a perilous path, and with good reason. The answer is simple – one of the best off road bike paths lays just ahead of this stretch of road. Pity no considerations was thought of as to how the hell to get there.

Image

I particularly like this one as it demonstrates the opposite of the above. What you see here is a bike lane miraculously appearing from nowhere (well, from the kerb actually), and it is assumed that the rider will feel invited to ride here. What lies ahead? Oh, just another section of the river with the really good off road bike path. This is in a completely different Council but with, sadly, the same apparent disregard for cyclists’ wellbeing on their roads.

The following two could almost be called ‘Bike Lanes of Christmas Past’ for their woeful upkeep and sorrowful state:

ImageImage

Do either of these images make you want to get on your bike and ride it here? Me neither. Sadly, all the images above are all major parts of roads that form my daily commute. The attitude of the disappearing cyclist is at odds with all other infrastructure and demonstrates a complete lack of care or concern for bikers.

Ouch.