Cycling

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?

 

Park it here! Oh, on second thoughts…

IMG_3646

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.

Screen shot 2015-01-16 at 2.42.02 PM

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…

View original post 1,051 more words

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:

IMG_3629

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.

Doing it with the Danes

Copenhagen: a city that, you know, gets it.

Copenhagen: a city that, you know, gets it.

Facilitate (verb)
From the 1610s, “make easy, render less difficult,” from French faciliter “to render easy,” from stem of Latin facilis “easy” (see facile). Related: Facilitated; facilitates; facilitating. (from online etymology dictionary).

I start this little post with that tiny history on the word of facilitate as it is such a simple word but encapsulates so much about what a city or built environment could (and maybe should) do for its citizens. Depending on how a city is designed, how equitable it is, how healthy, how ‘smart’, how pleasurable, affordable etc. it will enable a citizen to be their best or not. The city, in this sense, facilitates good citizenry.

In Denmark (a place that should be the benchmark of how places should operate, in my opinion), this is evidenced in a myriad of ways, but most notably through policy implementation. Policies on health for example, don’t merely operate in a vacuum as they might in, oh I don’t know… Australia, where they are seen as isolated. They are incorporated into the city itself and the machinations of how that city operates. In doing so, the city becomes a space for policy to manifest, raising otherwise turgid documents from merely aspirational quotes, ideas and stats that no one will ever read.

In a practical sense, an example can be found through looking at the current policy on men’s health in Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey published in 2009 (which can be seen here), 68% of males over 15 years of age reported doing no exercise or having low exercise levels (supporting facts and figures can be seen here). Obviously, this is sub optimal and the government of the day instigated numerous policies to address such  pressing – and depressing – health concerns. So far, so good.

One of these policies was the Healthy Communities initiative, whereby local Councils and local organisations received funding to implement exercise, nutritional and behaviour change programs in the hope that such stark statistics would change, for the better. Along with Diabetes Australia, the Heart Foundation and others, one such organisation was Cycling Australia (CA) in conjunction with the Amy Gillett Foundation. It was explained that what CA’s role would be on the government website and for clarity, it is worthy of reading it in its entirety:

Cycling Australia (with the Amy Gillett Foundation) – AustCycle – AustCycle aims to equip people with the skills and confidence to cycle regularly through the provision of cycle training. The types of training courses range from beginner programs through to skills for riding in more challenging situations, including coping with traffic and riding safely in groups. AustCycle training courses are designed to teach participants of all ability levels how to ride in on-road and off-road environments and can be targeted for new cyclists or people who have ridden before and wish to increase their activity and bicycle use. Programs can cater for between three to eight students per Teacher depending on the skill, confidence and attitudes of participants.

The program uses a train-the-trainer model to train people to become accredited AustCycle Teachers who then deliver cycling training to the community through their own businesses or for an accredited AustCycle Provider (e.g., cycling school). AustCycle Providers are independent licensees able to run training courses that their Teachers are accredited to deliver. AustCycle Providers are usually small businesses, but can also include community groups, cycling clubs and local councils.

The AustCycle Teacher training course includes elements on nutrition, achieving a healthy weight through exercise and developing programs for individuals and groups to address healthy weight and fitness objectives.

For more information, visit the AustCycle website.

Now this brings me nicely to my point of this post. Whilst such programs may encourage some people to ride a bike more often, it is unlikely that such initiatives will have long lasting positive health implications on a large cohort if the built environment does not encourage (or facilitate) people to ride their bike. It seems to me that health programs and health promotion in general in Australia goes for the quick fix when it comes to cycling. It is far more effective to build separated bike lanes if you genuinely want your health policies to have desired, long term health outcomes, but it is also far more politically contentious. In annual reports it is easier to say ‘We funded all these organisations to come up with ideas as to how to reduce the inactive lifestyle of most males in Australia’, than it is to say ‘ We have put a lot of people offside by building better infrastructure for cycling, and we probably won’t see any evidence of how this will improve health outcomes for at least 3 more election cycles’.

Unless we have political will to genuinely change the paradigm as it currently stands however, we are simply throwing good money after bad. We know what we need to do. Currently, the built form of a city (and largely suburbia, too), does not facilitate riding a bike with ease and a tension therefore exists between policy, practical implementation and long term behaviour change and I would argue that it is this trifecta of ingredients that is needed for a citizen to be healthy. Unless the built form of a city changes to encourage cycling and make it easy, facilitating positive health outcomes for citizens is stymied by the city itself.

This whole post can be reduced to six little words: let’s just do what Denmark does.

 

 

Mangoes From Forced Go Slows

Tan, before I met her

Tan, before I met her

Riding along on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I found myself behind this woman, Tan. She had a weighty looking backpack and three bags of shopping on each side of her handlebars. Subsequently, she was a tad slow. But I didn’t mind – it was quite a nice change to just cruise along and, well, ride slowly.

When we got to a set of lights, I looked down to notice her back tyre was incredibly low. I asked her if she would like me to put some air in it (seriously, my bike pump? If I’m on my bike, it’s right there with me), and she was almost overwhelmed with appreciation. I got out my handy pump and was astonished that she hadn’t already gotten a nasty flat, her tyres were so low. She told me that she doesn’t own a car (the same as me) and that she only ever rides her bike or runs to places she needs to be. Runs! I told her – rightfully – that she is awesome.

After I pumped up her tyres I asked if I could take her photo for this blog and she was delighted to, and told me her name is Tan.

Tan, after I met her

Tan, after I met her

Then, digging through her shopping bags, she produced the most beautiful mango and insisted that I take it as a token of thanks. After much protestation from me, I succumbed, thinking that sometimes you need to accept an invitation with the grace which it is offered. I put it in my bag, she had pumped tyres, I got given a mango, we bid fond farewells and got on our respective ways.

Tan's mango, now mine

Tan’s mango, now mine

This all sounds like a nice story really, doesn’t it? And it is. But it serves to demonstrate so much, so simply. The fact Tan rode slowly forced me to slow down and actually enjoy the journey – something I don’t do enough of. The fact we were going at such a glacial pace meant that I noticed how low her tyres were. The fact she was going so slowly made me presume (and yes, it was a presumption) that she would be receptive to the offer of help. The fact that after I’d pumped up her tyres made her want to demonstrate a kindness to me, and so offered me a mango.

Of course, this was dependant on a myriad of variables which could be explored endlessly, but there is no point because the simple message behind the above events, the one huge fact that cannot be ignored or questioned is quite plainly this: that interaction would not have happened if we’d been in cars instead of on bikes.

 

 

 

When is a Bike Lane, not a Bike Lane?

Not

This is not a bike lane

If it looks like a bike lane and feels like a bike lane, is it not a bike lane? It is not a question merely for Magritte.

For those who haven’t seen it, there is a YouTube video that is doing the rounds at the moment of a woman who was ‘doored’ here in Melbourne. In just over 48 hours, the clip has had in excess of 34, 000 views. That’s a lot of people interested in dooring (or they just want to watch someone being knocked from their bike endlessly). A woman is knocked to the ground by a man opening the door of a taxi, to exit the vehicle, into the path of the cyclist. The passenger of the taxi is accompanied by two other men.

The incident has fuelled a great deal of discussion not necessarily due to the accident, but what followed. The cyclist asked for the details of the passengers, claiming that they had doored her and that it is illegal to do this in a bike lane. Whilst dooring is illegal, what the cyclist was riding on  – and here’s the corker – wasn’t a bike path.

What the cyclist was riding in, was a sliver of a lane that had a solid white line running along it, with a width of about 50 cm or so and cyclists use this ‘lane’ (let’s call it what it is – the gutter) to ride on, next to stationary cars waiting for the lights to change. However, legally, a bike lane is only a bike lane if it is at least 1.2m wide in a 40 km/h zone or at least 1.5m wide in a 60 km/h zone and all lanes (regardless of size) must be signposted with ‘Start of Bike Lane’ and ‘End of Bike Lane’. This certainly isn’t the case with the narrow lane that the cyclist was riding on and, like many others who cycle in the city, she was perhaps lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it actually was a bike lane. Given that these gutter lanes very often have a stencil of a bike on it, any reasonable person could be forgiven for believing that they actually are lanes for cyclists.

However, the cyclist was right to track them down and get their details because it is a $352 on-the-spot fine for opening a car door in the direct path of a cyclist and at $1408 maximum court penalty. Sadly, the passengers aggravate an already tricky situation by antagonising the woman, with one man saying that “cyclists on the road disgust me”. No apology was offered by any of the taxi passengers.

So, in short, the incident that is captured in a three minute video sparks a great deal of debate. When is a bike lane, actually a bike lane and how can a cyclist, driver and pedestrian know the difference? How do we educate road users to look out for bikes, whether they are on a bike path that adheres to the – very prescriptive – measurements or not? How do we tone down the inflated aggression that cyclists and drivers have to one another? Some argue that the cyclist was actually moving too fast given the restricted space she had. Maybe further education is needed for cyclists themselves?

We can’t all cycle around with cameras on our heads and load up YouTube vids in the hope that something will happen (well, I don’t want it to come to that). But we do need to seriously think about these issues and tackle them. I know that the City of Melbourne is embarking on a shared space campaign called ‘Share our Streets’, and hopefully that will go some way to addressing shared space problems and this is to be commended (as a side note, I actually suggested at a Bike Futures meeting this week that the campaign shouldn’t use the word ‘street’ as there are plenty of places where cyclists share the space with pedestrians and drivers – not just on streets, but I digress).

The bottom line is this: not only infrastructure but education and laws needs to keep up with the popularity of cycling. Another option might be to overthrow the 1.2m and 1.5m rules. Who came up with such arbitrary figures? If they don’t work for the city they are in, let’s try something new. The status quo isn’t working and so let’s change it. Let’s be brave.

No one will die if we try it, but people might die if we don’t.

Seven Year Olds and Seagulls

girl

Cycling along the other day, I caught this delightful little pic (yeah, I know it’s little). It’s of a young girl, maybe 6 or 7 years of age who was just skipping, running and generally being active with the seagulls on a hill. Her parents/guardians were on top of the hill, however they’re out of this frame. It was a beautiful day and I thought to myself: that little girl feels good. She’s in the city and she’s feeling good. She obviously feels safe, and from what I can tell she is doing something that is fun whist being active.

For her, this city is working.

Imagine if that’s what we did: designed cities for seven year olds and seagulls.

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.

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?”.