bike paths

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.

Advertisements

The Power of Peer

Admittedly, The Innocent Bikestander has been a little quiet of late. However, this doesn’t mean that the author of this blog has been resting on their laurels and not really doing much. I think about biking and planning way too much and if my Manager actually knew how much time I devote my thoughts to this, I would surely get, well, not fired, but ‘talked to’. I imagine, at any rate. Having said that, can you get into trouble for thinking about something constantly that is completely un-work related, whilst at work? Isn’t that what people do who fall in love? Their thoughts are hardly “on the job”, are they? Anyway, I digress…

This week I spent some time watching cyclists at points where they intersect with pedestrians. Whilst entirely dull to the vast majority of the population, I found it fascinating to view how cyclists’ behaviours changed depending on if they were in a group or cycling by themselves, and there was also a noticeable difference between the way men and women approached these intersections.

The first point I stopped at was on Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD, near City Square – this was at one of the ‘ride over’ tram stops where the cycle path is really an extension of the tram stop platform. My initial observations became compounded the more that I sat there. What tended to happen was that if a lone cyclist approached a slowing tram, they would generally sit behind it, as they are meant to, until the doors closed or there was a perception of no further pedestrians, and then ride off. What was interesting was the behaviour of that initial cyclist was repeated if others had seen it. In short, the person at the front of the pack would essentially dictate how others behind them would behave. If the leader stopped, everyone stopped. If the leader waited until the tram started to move before starting again (which is legally what is meant to occur), so would the others.

However, sadly, what would also happen is that if the leader of that pack broke off and started to ride before the doors of the tram had even closed, the chances were quite good that others would follow suit, and the little biking bubble would start to weave amongst pedestrians trying to board the tram. Not good.

I know myself that it is actually hard to stick to your guns and sit patiently at the rear of a stationery tram when cyclist after cyclist overtakes you. The power of the peer plays out on the bike path just as much as it ever did in the school yard. There is something in this for urban designers and planners, I’m sure, along with behavioural scientists.

And this leads to my second lookout point, St Kilda beach. There is a very good bike path that runs along just about the whole of the bay area in Melbourne and – fortunately – it is extremely well utilised by bikers, dog walkers, joggers, stollers and alike. As I was sitting there, the time was approximately 5:30pm so the majority of cyclists were heading south, in the direction of the arrows. I was sitting where the red circle is, and behind me were showers, drinking fountains, and public toilets. Due to the four sets of lights, this is a main access point for pedestrians arriving at the beach from St Kilda itself, and surrounds.

St Kilda peds and bikesAnyone with half a brain can tell what I’m about to say. The cyclists come streaming (streaming? Screaming would be more accurate) down the cycle path, entering the same space where there are pedestrians and beach-goers ambling about, either approaching the beach, and therefore surveying where to set up a towel, or they’re slowly making their way back to the toilets/showers/drinking station/traffic lights – all of which lay ahead. The point is that pedestrians crossing the bike path have no incentive to look either left or right as regardless of whether they are arriving or leaving the beach, their focus is straight ahead.

Sadly it would appear that the cyclists entering into this shared public space hold little regard (or knowledge) for the necessary changes that are needed in speed and attitude at this juncture, and I repeatedly witnessed cyclists tearing down the bike path and pedestrians oblivious that they were even on a bike path. Whilst I did not witness an accident, I certainly saw pedestrians scared and startled. In my head, that’s just as bad as the narrative of “F***ing cyclists” was no doubt conjured up.

After studying the movement of cyclists in both the city and at the beach, I made other observations. The number of men cycling still outweighs the number of women, vastly. Sadly, the more aggressive riders, and those less likely to stop for pedestrians or trams (or even to slow down) were…you guessed in: men in lycra with what I refer to as ‘loud bikes’ (when they’re just rolling along and not being peddled, you can hear them before you see them, which is strange given that these bikes are lighter than oxygen). This is not a good thing and some serious training or education needs to be done for, dare I say it, MAMIL’s (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). I hasten to add that there were all sorts of people not slowing down on all sorts of bikes, (and yes, some were hipsters) but by far the majority were men on fast bikes.

The City of Melbourne recognises speed as an issue in it’s Bicycle Plan 2007 – 2011 where it states under Clause 56:

“The main issues that may lead to conflict between pedestrians and cyclists are: 56.1 reckless or thoughtless behaviour.  This usually relates to cyclists riding too fast. ”

Both City of Melbourne Bicycle Plans for 2007 – 2011 and 2012 – 2016 can be read here

Again, I think peer education needs to be implemented somewhere along the way for cyclists everywhere.

We can change, we can do it better. One of my further blog posts will be on the psychology of cycling, of which – as you may imagine – I have a lot of thought (er, opinions) on. Happy cycling and don’t scare the peds.

With all the Intimacy of a Lover

The local Government of Victoria is instigating a new initiative for bike paths along Glenferrie Road, in Hawthorn – an almost daily journey for me. Whilst anything to do with improvements to cycling infrastructure is celebrated in my little head, I find no reason to be popping champagne bottles over this proposal.

In short, the plan is to slice half the on road bike lane in half, the half closest to moving traffic, not parked cars, and paint that half green in an effort to stop cyclists being ‘doored’.

One of the complaints that has come from the proposal is that motorists will think cyclists are only entitled to half a bike lane and so may start to park in the other half.

My issue is that cyclists use common sense (most of the time) because, well, they don’t want to die, and so hug the right hand side of the bike lane with all the intimacy of a lover as it is safer to be riding an inch from a moving tram than half a meter from a parked car. Crazy.

A solution instead might be that we get rid of parked cars altogether on Glenferrie Road or move the cars over so that cyclists are riding right up against the pavement rather than a parked car.

Slicing a bike lane in half, painting it and saying ‘that’ll do’ is not sufficient. If this becomes a spring board for genuine improvements in infrastructure then I would like to see those plans before getting too excited.

The full article is here

As I can’t help myself, I had to comment on The Age’s website where the article was. I’m nothing if not full of opinions…

I ride everywhere and I hug the right of the bike path as it is. I don’t need paint on the road to tell me to do this. Seriously, we need more Copenhagen bike lanes. Make it an inconvenience to drive, improve infrastructure for cyclists and more people will ride. NYC has had a 223% increase in cyclists since they built better infrastructure for peole to feel safe when riding. Seriously, build it and they will come.

Commenter: the_innocent_bikestander