City of Boroondara

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?

 

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.

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:

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 11.43.37 PM
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?

Bikes and Parking (could that be a less interesting title?)

Yesterday’s post looked at pedestrian and bike movements when cyclists and pedestrians are forced into the same space and I made mention of the City of Melbourne’s (CoM) Bike Strategy. The most recent edition (2012 – 2016) is an excellent document and is in stark contrast to the woeful City of Boroondara’s (CoB) Bike Strategy (which, strangely, seems to have completely disappeared from their website). I bring up CoB as it is the Council in which the author of this blog resides. They move at an entirely glacial pace with regard to anything to do with biking and very much focus on the ‘recreational’ cyclist – those who want a rail trail or alike. However, if you want to ride to work, you’re pretty doomed as there is no safe option. See the previous entry, entitled ‘I Just Want a Route’ for more of a rant on this. However, I digress.

Whilst the CoM’s Bike Strategy focuses on built infrastructure (which I enthusiastically applaud), there is a severe need for more bike parking now, as the stats below (taken from the CoM’s Bike Strategy) demonstrate:statsAnd my own little wanderings also prove:

overcrowding in CoMovercrowding 2

On the days when these were taken, the one on the left was a Friday afternoon, at about 5.30pm, and given the glorious weather, there were understandably a lot of people riding that day. Similarly, the weather was looking pretty good on the day the second shot was taken, however this was snapped at 3pm – in the middle of the day. With more bikes, comes more biking (hurrah!) but that leads to more need for bike parking (kind of ‘hurrah’) and that leads to finding more money for that parking (boo). However, the money that cyclists save cities in the long run (not to mention health benefits) is a small price tag indeed.

As the God who is Jan Gehl states in Cities for People:

“…in terms of parking, there is plenty of space for ten bicycles in one ordinary parking slot. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic saves space and makes a positive contribution to green accounts by reducing particle pollution and carbon emissions.” p.105

There is no need for the jury to retire on this one – build better cycling infrastructure but then make sure you provide the bits and bobs that go along with the increased popularity that it will have.