Roads

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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Why I Run Red Lights On My Bike

Good little article here on why this person chooses to run red lights, whilst on their bike. I might not agree with all of it, but I do believe that the easiest, fastest and cheapest way that cycling can change in Australia at the moment is to allow cyclists to turn left on red lights, when safe to do so, in the same way that vehicles do in Sydney. Sitting at a looooong set of lights just to get permission to go around the corner infuriates me, but I do it, begrudgingly and forgive those who don’t.

Thought Catalog

Recently, a cyclist in San Francisco was convicted of manslaughter for striking and killing a pedestrian. According to witnesses, before the cyclist, Chris Bucchere, struck the pedestrian, he ran a stop sign and several lights, including the one at the intersection in which he struck and killed the elderly man (Bucchere stated previously that the light was still yellow).

The details of this case leave me feeling conflicted. While this case is indeed a tragedy, and I feel terrible for the family of the man who was killed, I also can’t help but feel for Bucchere. His story could be mine. After all, I too am a cyclist, and I also run red lights. I am not ashamed of this, because it is one of the most common, generally harmless traffic violations that a cyclist can commit. The problem arises from the fact that non-cyclists don’t understand what they’re seeing…

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Trains of Thought

invite to opening of railway

Well, this is how it used to be.

The above is a – admittedly fuzzy – photo of an invitation to the opening of the first electric railway in England, addressed to the Prince of Wales which I snapped at a recent trip to the excellent Transport Museum in London. So much is demonstrated in this little invitation, from the late 20th Century.

We used to celebrate public transport and its advances, and impacts. Something such as this was not merely a publicity exercise for the press to report on the following day. It was a moment for genuine, national pride. A moment to reflect on the glories of modern technology with a view to making the world better for as many people as possible (albeit within an acknowledged class system – both in English society and on trains). But they were noble, they were brave, they were genuine leaders. And this was before the Planning profession had really been ‘invented’ and a Royal Commission into the plight of the poor was imminent in London, due the stark living conditions of its population. Amidst all of this, they still invested in public transport.

Fast forward 125 years to modern day Melbourne, Australia. The current debate over the building of the East West Link (let’s just call it a huge freeway, because that’s what it is) steadily rages with no sign of abating. It is estimated that it will cost anywhere between 4 and 15 BILLION DOLLARS to build. It’s a tunnel that few want, with most believing that the money could be better spent elsewhere, namely on public transport. Needless to say, I agree.

But where did our pride go in building infrastructure for people rather than profit? Did it really disappear with Thatcher when Neoliberalism gripped Britain and then the world? And if so, why did Australia follow suit so swiftly? Were we really that self conscious that we just had to do anything that came from the UK? Did miners strikes, economic downturns and  a subsequent recession really seem that appealing to us, Down Under dwellers?

I can’t help but wonder about those men (and let’s face it, they were) who instigated the building of England’s first electric railway. They were brave men, proud men, nation building in every sense of the expression. What would they say if they knew that same railway service had been sliced, diced and left for dead by the Government that funded it and handed what was left of its near mortal remains to a private company?

We need that pride again. We need that vision. We need that collective idea of the world we want. We need to cut our ties of ways that have not proven to be a success. Build a road and see it filled in an average of 3 months. Build public transport infrastructure and you have, well, over a century of contented commuters. Is this train of thought really so hard?

Horny Drivers

(I don’t have a graphic for this post, so the title had to draw you in)

Riding home on this chilly Melbourne night, I had a car behind me that I could just feel wanted me out of the way. I was on one of the back streets of Richmond which has diligently placed bike lanes on certain roads. Yes, on the roads. In the middle of the road there is a bike sign painted, with those curious arrow type signs which basically means you can ride there.

Now, I get it. The City of Yarra (where Richmond is) is trying to find a safe way for cyclists from the city to get a safe passage, but the problem is that car drivers don’t realise this until they are behind a cyclist and possibly getting annoyed that they are a) taking the whole lane b) so much slower than they are c) existing. 

But then I thought ‘Hang on a minute. I have no proof that the person driving the car behind me is thinking those things. That’s just my own prejudiced notions. What if they are actually a bike rider themselves? What if they secretly harbour convictions of green politics or just think the world could be a a tad better? Or, perhaps most dramatically, what if they don’t want me to feel under pressure?’

And then I started thinking about how that driver might let me know this. The only ability a driver has to inform the world of anything is by honking their horn which generally means “Your wrong”, “Your too slow”, ‘Your not paying attention”, “Go” etc. But what if there was another horn (or ability for a car to make a noise at any rate) that signified “It’s cool – take your time”, “You go first”, “I see you, and will wait for you to pass” or somesuch. How less frantic, how much more cordial, how bloody lovely.

And how much a pipe dream.

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.

 

 

 

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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Among Other Things, Size Really Does Matter

Image

Last year I attended a great little Conference at the University of Melbourne. It was, predictably, on planning and the built environment. The guy who introduced the Conference imbued enthusiasm and opened with a story of someone who was trying to see a new idea to her Manager. He told how she had numerous knock backs from him and he provided with a seemingly endless degree of evidence as to why change shouldn’t occur. Frustrated, she asked him, “We have been doing the same thing in this company for decades and let’s ask ourselves, ‘How’s that working for us?'”. It was a brilliant question and a fantastic introduction. Given that the Conference was the Festival of Ideas, it wasn’t a bad opening as the audience was going to be pretty receptive.

It appears to me that the same can be said for so much in the built environment, especially in the proportion of space given to cars and lack of space to pedestrians and cyclists in urban environments. I recently watched a lecture by Jan Gehl (if he was in a band I would be termed a groupie, no doubt), and he states that the more asphalt that you lay down the more cars that you will have. The congestion will be improved for an estimated time of three months, but after that you will have more traffic on even wider streets. Who wants to live like that? Sadly, it is what is happening in China at a catastrophic speed.

Of course the size of things here actually have an impact as well. Whilst I couldn’t find a great deal of stats on car sizes for Australia, I did track down a little article from a UK newspaper and let’s face it – we know this is happening all over the developed world. In short, cars are getting bigger and without whacking down more asphalt, their place on traditional roads (and in car parking spaces) becomes increasingly problematic – and that’s as a driver. Try being a pedestrian or a cyclist around a 4×4. It’s basically a scary experience. It is strange as the reason cited as to why people drive 4×4’s is due to safety. They say it makes them feel safe. But at what risk to others who are not behind the wheel of one of these massive vehicles?

I live in a fairly affluent suburb. it is less than 8km’s from the centre of the City of Melbourne and yes I know I am lucky. But I don’t need a car. I don’t feel I need to drive everywhere. A couple of residents’ down from me is an old creche/kindergarten and a bajillion (yes, it’s a lot) amount of children get dropped off here every morning by their Mums and occasionally by their Dads and I would say 70% of them exit from SUV’s or 4×4’s. These kids aren’t being driven across ‘tricky terrain’ or through flooded rivers to get there and yet the parents of these children believe that a vehicle that is completely disproportionate in every sense (not just size, but power and ‘features’) is the most appropriate transportation choice. Just because I don’t need to drive, I am not saying that these parents shouldn’t either but really – do they need something that big?

There is actually a website called www.4x4prejudice.org that has the most outstanding strap line I have ever read. It states: “People Cause Accidents…. Not Vehicles.” 

Priceless.

My point is, if we weren’t getting obese and feeling depressed and isolated and everyone wanted to chat with their neighbour or walk  with their friend or sit in the park or just ‘go for a stroll’ because they wanted to, because where they lived made them want to do that, then sure – drive what you want to drive and drive where you want to drive it. The issue is however – the two actually are mutually exclusive. No one wants to walk or bike next to a parade of big cars. We gave too much land to cars and built our worlds around them. We got it wrong, and that’s OK, but let’s be brave and admit it.

Things need to change and they can and slowly they are. If you still wonder whether or not they need to, look at what we’re doing and ask yourself, “And how’s that working for us?”.