bikes

Park it here! Oh, on second thoughts…

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Bikes not allowed. Upside down wheelchairs however, are permitted.

The poor old City of Melbourne Council, scratching about to make improvements for cyclists where it can, albeit in a transport system that puts cycling on the lowest rung of the transport ladder.

One of the best ways to encourage cycling is to have public transport that encourages it. An example might be taking your bike on a bus or train as part of your journey. Another initiative that has proven positive is secure parking for bikes at train stations, or large transport hubs, ostensibly encouraging people to cycle to the station and then move onto public transport rather than drive to the station. Both responses (bikes on PT or secure parking for bikes at stations) have proven successful according to evidence that has informed Melbourne’s Bicycle Plan, 2012.

Yesterday, at South Yarra station though, I saw on the platform the above photo, indicating that I was not permitted to take my bike on the train in the first carriage. There are several things wrong with this. Firstly, there was no indication as to where I could put my bike on the train; secondly that it’s long been my belief that the first carriage is where cyclists are meant to put their bike (the first carriage usually being the most empty and therefore less disruptive for other passengers); thirdly that there is no parking at all at South Yarra station for bikes (even though 170 people ride there every day and then catch the train – imagine if they were all driving cars!); and lastly, if the argument that is provided is true and that the first carriage is now reserved for those in wheelchairs, do you not think they could have put the wheelchair signs around the right way, i.e. facing the person in the wheelchair waiting to get on the train? And anyway, is the demand for wheelchair space on the first carriage so overwhelming that bikes can’t fit in there as well? I’ve not seen such evidence.

The ‘Parkiteer’ (park it here) secure bike parking cages in Victoria have proven to be successful, even though you have to pay for it. Advertised as free*, if you squint you can see the asterisk next to the last ‘e’. In order to use the Parkiteer cage, you need to register and put down a $50 deposit after which point you will be posted an access card (which may take over a week to arrive). Compare that system to the all swinging, all dancing bike parking in Utrecht. It’s completely indoors and there’s no need to register to use it. Oh, and it’s free. Even with the restrictions posed by Parkiteer parking however, the cages have proven to be so successful that Bicycle Network are no longer issuing access cards for the cages at certain stations, as they are at capacity.

Sorry? What?

Let’s unpack this a little and take Hoppers Crossing station as an example, as this is one of the stations where the Parkiteer bike cage is completely full. My outrage, in short, is this: there are 566 car parking spaces next to the station. This aerial view puts it in proper perspective. Given that by removing one car space you can provide parking for up to 20 bikes, doesn’t it seem like a no brainer to do this? Further, given that each car park costs approximately $500 to operate per annum, is this really the best value for money (and that figure doesn’t even include the negative externalities such as noise pollution, environmental degradation associated health costs and so on)?

Again, in short, how serious are we?

If we really wanted to encourage cycling we would retrofit train carriages to allow (not merely allow, but actively encourage) people to use their bikes as part of their journey. We would find spaces for people to park their bikes at stations for those not wishing to travel with them, and not merely say ‘Sorry, the bike parking facilities are full, you’ll have to put your name on a waiting list’ (this is indeed currently the case). We wouldn’t make people faff about with registrations and deposits to use Parkiteer cages, it would be free and open to all. Again, it would be a demonstration of intent, of genuinely encouraging people to ride. I’m not naive enough to think that everyone is going to stop driving and ride a bike to the station, nor do I believe that everyone would be in a position to do that. But many would if it was made easier (of course having a more fully integrated PT service so that people didn’t actually have to drive to the station would be the stuff of dreams but, currently in Victoria, it may remain a flight of fancy for some time yet).

The outcry over full car parks around train stations is always a political football around election time, and Victoria saw this at the tail end of last year, especially with the Liberal Government’s promises to build more car parks, blind to the lunacy in such policies. I’m incredibly pleased they didn’t get in so that they won’t be able to see their absurd imaginings come to life.

The tagline of this blog is ‘It can be better’. One of the ways it can be better is to encourage people to ride more and make it easy for those who already do. Based on the evidence above, this is sadly not the case.

This post can be put in a visual sense by looking at the Parkiteer information on Bicycle Network’s website (notice the dates of the news items too). Oh the hilarity – it’s enough to make you weep.

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Books as Furniture and Bikes as Fashion

What was once a god bothering bike is bothersome no more

What was once a god bothering Billboard Bike is bothersome no more

Brilliant author, Nicholson Baker, wrote a fascinating essay for New Yorker entitled Books as Furniture. Focussing on the use of books in mail order catalogues, Baker argues books are used as signifiers of a lifestyle, intelligence or value system that certain catalogues attempt to exemplify in their products. People are increasingly doing this with bikes.

I don’t have to tell you about the increased popularity in cycling, whoever you are. The stats are always amazing, and statements are often heard like “There’s been a bajillion per cent increase in cycling in the last 6 months”, or alike (for more thorough stats though, you may wish to see this for Australia, this for the UK and this for the USA – although the latter really focuses on commuter rides).

Bikes have now become a way of signifying a lifestyle or value system, as Baker noted with regard to books. Bikes are fashionable. They are trendy. They have become more than merely modes of transport. If you own a bike, and where you ride it (to uni, work, only on weekends), you are telling people about your lifestyle. And then there is commentary on the type of bike you own which further tells people about you. Is it a fixie? A mountain? A hybrid? A step through? A carbon fibre, lighter than air number worth enough to make most people weep? Your answer says a great deal, even to those who don’t own a bike.

Advertisers have worked this out. On the excellent Waking up in Geelong blog, Marcus Wong provides a humorous account of the ‘Billboard Bike’ (I might have just coined a phrase! Probably not, but hey) fashion that is, as he puts it, currently plaguing Melbourne’s CBD. Advertising for restaurants, clothing shops, wedding gowns and gold sellers (?!) and god (again, ?!) are now being advertised on bikes in a myriad of ways, the bike then being locked to a post or bike rack nearby to the vendor. Personally, I dislike it as it takes up valuable bike parking (always at a premium in Melbourne), but I do think it’s interesting that businesses have latched on to this, especially those that drape these Billboard Bikes with fake flowers and so on, further enhancing the look of a bike. This is especially the case with ‘vintage’ looks, and particularly ‘vintage’ clothing. If you are selling such wares, it is virtually law to have a step through bike outside the front of your shop laden down with fake flowers and possibly floral inspired flags.

However, it’s not only physical manifestations of bikes that have become a tool for the seller, images of bikes have bled into advertising also.

And this is the point of today’s little missive (but I grant you, that was a lofty intro). Swinburne university in Hawthorn, Melbourne, is actually walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to bike stuff. Here’s an advertisement in the grounds:

Swinburne uni banner with obligatory picture of bike on the left

Swinburne uni banner with obligatory picture of bike on the left

Now, riding along, simply seeing that, I would normally think ‘Another great example of bikes being used to advertise a certain lifestyle. Yawnsville.’ However, riding my deadly treadlie through the uni today to get home, I spied this situation:

Maintenance guy, Joe, before I met him

Maintenance guy, Joe, before I met him

A ‘Fix Your Bike and Pump Your Tyres’ (FYBAPYT – pronounced Fibberpit. I think I just coined a word) pole! As Joe amicably demonstrated, the service doesn’t just pertain to bikes. You could probably take a wheelbarrow down too.

Joe, after I'd met him

Joe, after I’d met him

Joe told me that this was an initiative by Swinburne, not the local Council. I asked if there were others on campus and he pointed up the hill and said ‘Yeah, there’s another one at the end of the walkway on the right’. I thanked him and rode off to discover the next FYBAPYT.

Sure enough, about 100 meters along, there it was:

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Behold! Another FYBAPYT!

Up close and personal, the FYBAPYT is a bike users’ dream, with everything that you could need to, well, Fix Your Bike and Pump Your Tyres:

The tool choices are almost alarming!

The tool choices are almost alarming!

Check out the gauge action

Check out the gauge action!

And what was between the two FYBAPYT stations? This:

Genius! A water refill station, in an obvious, accessible place!

Genius! A water refill station, in an obvious, accessible place!

Seriously, this is great stuff by Swinburne. It’s not just an awkward bubbler with a slightly mouldy, greenish hue around it as is so commonplace at most uni’s, but a clean as a whistle, brand new water station for you to refill your water bottle from a tap on the side or have a drink from the bubbler at the front.

For all my cynicism and criticism that can often fill posts with regard to biking, it’s critical to give credit where it’s due. I feel Swinburne has earned the right to use bikes in their advertising as they are not doing it for a cheap shot and an easy win or seeing it as a flash in the pan fashion that will look good in the uni prospectus. Rather, they have backed up their commitment to cycling, beyond a pretty poster. This stuff takes brave governance and leaders who are happy with a change in the status quo and goodness there should be more of it. I can’t help but wonder how nice the – biking – world would be if all those shops and businesses that use bikes to advertise their wares advocated for better conditions for cyclists.

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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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