cars

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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Big Red Cars Breed Car Addicted Kids

The Wiggles' Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

The Wiggles’ Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

Ah, The Wiggles. Bless them, with their Big Red Car. I don’t know a great deal about them, aside from their colour identifying polo necks and the fact that they travel about in a Big Red Car, as I am more from a generation of Fraggle Rock, The Amazing Adventures of MorphThe Wombles and Sesame Street, but the latter seems to be ubiquitous no matter what your generation. Anyway, regarding The Wiggles, let’s focus on the car, people, let’s focus on the car.

The above photo is of the The Wiggles’ Big Red Car as it sits outside my local supermarket, hungry for a tired parent to feed it coins, begging for a small behind to settle down onto its plastic seat, pleading for the grip of a tiny hand on its steering wheel, so that it might commence its thirty second jiggle and sway as it entertains an altogether unsuspecting, small passenger; the same little soul that is ‘driving’ this red beast, although not in a legal capacity for some years yet. Driving The Big Red Car for them is, quite literally, their first ‘joy’ ride.

And with it comes what? The idea that this is the goal. This is fun. This is something to aim toward. And, perhaps most terrifying, this is utterly normal. Professor Carolyn Whitzman from The University of Melbourne penned a fantastic chapter in Transforming Urban Transport: The Ethics, Politics and Practices of Sustainable Mobility (edited by Nicholas Low) called ‘Harnessing the Energy of Free Range Children’, noting the connection between transport patterns of children and transport patterns later in life. In short, if you drive your kids to school, the chances are pretty spectacular that your kids are going to drive as soon as they can, they will look at PT options than those not driven to school and are highly unlikely to investigate active transport (namely cycling and walking) as viable transportation options. I would suggest that with The Wiggles showing grown men driving about in The Big Red Car and then having rides where you, as a child, can ‘drive’ around in The Big Red Car, we are perpetuating this lifelong habit.

This is further reinforced by the nursery rhymes that we sing to our children. A very cursory search for transport nursery rhymes  provides a treasure chest of songs about transport and, while I grant you, most are about public transport (there seems to be a virtual obsession with trains, perhaps indicating the time period from which they were written and gained in popularity), not one can be found on riding a bike. That’s a huge oversight, in my book, but also a great opportunity. Along with these missing rhymes, where are the oversized, novelty bikes for children to sit on top of and maybe experience pedalling a stationary bike? Where is the innovation, the alternative?

It would be terrific if we could all live in Copenhagen and have our 8 year olds get their ‘license’ to ride a bike. It would be fantastic to have our children have that same sense of pride and aspiration at being a proficient, confident bike rider. As it stands we are miles away from such a possibility, here in Australia. But if it’s true that we should start as we wish to go on, shouldn’t we be providing our children with a better start (and a better idea of normality) than ‘driving’ a novelty sized car and hearing songs such as Driving in my Car and I Love my Red Car (frighteningly, there is a ‘road version’ of this little ditty on YouTube)?

I know this is utopian in aspiration. Australia’s car industry has fuelled (ha ha! Get it?) perceptions of what mode of transport should reign supreme and I am not naive enough to entirely exclude the role that oil and big business plays in this discussion along with the status quo, the dominant paradigm and all the other stuff I riled against when I was in my 20s (and largely still do, I might add).

I guess I’m always amazed at how ingrained travel by car truly is but when looking at the facts above, it would be curious if it was any other way.

 

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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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

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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?”.

Back in Your Box

Bike boxes. They’re a little weird, I think, and it wasn’t until I attended the Bike Futures Conference last year (part of the conference included a bike tour), that I realised what their purpose was.

The theory is that whilst  cyclists ride along the road single file, once they get to the lights they miraculously, confidently and – some might say strangely – fan out in front of the cars that are waiting behind them. Then, the lights turn green, and they supposedly shuffle back to their single file state of play as they continue on with their journey.

During the bike tour that I did with the conference, the leader of the tour instructed us to “move into the bike box”. I thought this was weird, for several reasons. Firstly, I never really understood what I was meant to do in that big space with the bike sign on it (like the road had been tattooed just for cyclists), that sat in front of the car whilst I waited for the lights to change. I saw the massive bike emblem, so knew that I was within my rights to sit on my bike there, but just wondered why I would. For starters, it not more comfortable to rest one’s foot on a curb than the ground at a set of lights, given that the curb is higher?

Secondly, I didn’t see the point in moving right into the ‘bike box’ only to move left again into the gutter (and I sincerely mean the gutter – have you ridden a bike down Burwood Road lately?). Meanwhile, whilst motorists wait for the nanosecond for cyclists to move from the bike box to the left of the road, they get pissed off, infuriated, aggressive and again start the mantra of “F***ing cyclists” under their agitated, hot breath. Are bike boxes, then, little more than a tokenistic road affectation that appease Councillors, Mayors and wealthy ratepayers but actually do nothing in real terms for cyclists and motorists (or, in short, those who most need to share the road)?

Lastly, I have to say, there is that weird thing where if you are all bunched up together, there’s an awkward moment whereby you have to sort yourself out into supposed speeds of what your fellow cyclist travels at and therefore the most appropriate order. Wouldn’t it just be easier to give us a dedicated bike lane? Social awkwardness, be damned.

I had ridden a bike most days in the previous 8 years since arriving in Melbourne and yet I had no idea how to conduct myself in a bike box, let alone what it’s purpose was, or that the term ‘bike box’ even existed. That is a problem.

The streetswiki on Bike Boxes is actually really fascinating. It states at one point “[bike boxes are] thought to elevate the “status” of bicyclists relative to motor vehicles”. This may be fine in some parts of the world, but for the most part, in Melbourne’s East at least (where I reside and cycle), a cyclist sitting in front of a car is simply going to piss off the driver, and the cyclists’ status is reduced to little more than the grease on the chain.

Fact.

Having said that, the page goes on to say “The City of Copenhagen has concluded that bike boxes are most effective when combined with a brightly colored lane continuing straight through the intersection to help alert right-turning motorists to the fact that bicycle riders may be traveling straight through the intersection along their right side [Jan Gehl]”.

Little of this is done on roads near where I live. In fact, my commute involves pretty much no infrastructure for cyclists at all, until I reach the City of Yarra – a Council area on the other side of the river to where I reside.

Sadly, this is not the side of the river where my rates go. And, er, just a reminder, I live in the City of Boroondara. The only Council without a comprehensive, costed, Bicycle Strategy and yet according to Bicycle Victoria’s Super Tuesday Count for Boroondara it’s…well…this is when a picture paints a thousand words:

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Need I say more? Probably not.
But I’ll close on this – with it being announced today that cycling could save the NHS over 250 million POUNDS a year in health benefits – can we please just get some green paint on the road?