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Cycling

Apr 6, 2017

If it's not OK to walk it, why is it OK to cycle it?

A simple but shocking image showing how infrastructure purportedly provided for the benefit of cyclists, expects them to ride in situations they feel are dangerous

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East Parade, East Perth (source: @Perthbiker)

“If you wouldn’t walk on it”, asks @Perthbiker in reference to East Parade, East Perth, “why expect people to ride on it?” The pedestrian in the exhibit is photoshopped, but @Perthbiker’s given us a powerful illustration of how inured city managers are to the risks associated with mixing bicycles with fast-moving cars and trucks.

The image shows up the gross inadequacy of much of what passes in Australian cities as safe cycling infrastructure. That sort of design solution is box-ticking at its ugliest. It’s what happens when the key objective is to be seen to do something – anything – without regard to whether or not it achieves the claimed objective of providing cyclists with an option they feel is safe. It’s the design equivalent of greenwashing.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an extreme case. There are plenty of examples of bicycle lanes shoe-horned between traffic lanes in potentially dangerous situations. Here’s one in Clifton Hill, Melbourne, that I negotiated with trepidation everyweek night for years. Here’s one at St kilda Junction, Melbourne. Then there are the numerous examples of bike lanes disappearing or rendered inoperative by cars having permission to park on them.

I don’t know if the evidence shows cycling casualties are higher in these suspect designs. I suspect they’re not because all but the most skilled cyclists avoid them; the rest are repelled by the extremely low level of psychological safety. I can imagine the average prospective cyclist saying: “you must be kidding if you think that’s good enough to get me cycling”. The next cohort of potential riders waiting in the wings wouldn’t countenance driving a car without seatbelts, air bags, and a panoply of active safety technology, so of course they’re going to be repulsed by a lot of what gets passed off as safe cycling infrastructure.

The warrant for increasing the share of travel in Australian cities made by bicycle is strong and well-established. Yet it’s shocking that so much infrastructure purportedly provided for the benefit of cyclists, expects them to ride in situations they feel are dangerous. Hopefully the power of @Perthbiker’s image will get some action.

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13 thoughts on “If it’s not OK to walk it, why is it OK to cycle it?

  1. Itsumishi

    Good article Alan. Despite what some commentators have said about the specifics surrounding the particular intersection; I think the image powerfully demonstrates the inadequacy of a massive proportion (probably even the majority) of Australian cycling infrastructure: i.e., cyclists are expected to ride amongst fast-moving vehicular traffic, with no physical separation.

    I also agree with your sentiment in other articles that on-road cycling can be reasonably safe, where other vehicles are slowed down; however this doesn’t just mean sign-posting a slower-speed, but rather physical traffic calming measures.

    On major roads however, the only real solution is physical separation. Anything less is a half measure (which admittedly is still better than no measure).

  2. Rob

    Whilst I don’t defend this design, this is an extremely selective shot which does not adequately reflect the level of both on- and off-road cycling infrastructure in Perth, which is in my view the best of all the capital cities.

    Google map link

    The intersection in the exhibit is on the approach to the Graham Farmer Freeway interchange. Whilst this image of the pram is very graphic, the ‘problem’ is not quite as grave as it may seem. You’ll notice that there are shared paths on both sides of East Parade at this point; there are grade separated routes a couple of 100m either side of the interchange itself allowing cyclists to cross the freeway, and for those following the route directly south to East Perth, there is a shared path with signalised crossings on all arms of the interchange. Zooming out shows these routes connecting a wide network of off-street shared paths that would be the envy of the east coast capitals. Therefore there *are* multiple safer ways to cycle (or push a pram) along this road and navigate this busy interchange.

    My guess therefore is this cycle lane layout has been provided for the more confident cyclists who do not want to negotiate multiple sets of signals or underpasses, and would continue to take the direct route in any circumstance. This layout at least provides this group some protection.

    This situation of multiple route options for different cycling needs is however is not the case in either of your Victorian exhibits at Clifton Hill or St Kilda Junction whereby the *only* legal route through those intersections is by using those highly intimidating cycling lanes.

    The Clifton Hill one in particular does not even have a parallel footpath that could be used on either side of the overpass, necessitating pedestrians to walk through the back streets of Clifton Hill and through the station subway. This is the location far more deserving of the photoshopping of a woman walking a pram rather than a using a highly selective location in one of the most cycling-friendly cities in Australia.

    1. Engineer and cyclist

      Well said Rob. It is a very “selective” & deliberately emotive fake image & this article does more damage than good for the advancement of utility cycling & provision of cycling infrastructure in Australia.

      I am a long term “fast & fearless” commuter cyclist ex-Sydney and a road engineer who builds bikeways in the situation of conflicting demands for road space, money and politics. I also have young kids & a wife too scared to ride on-road so I understand this issue from many view points including the “interested but concerned” potential riders who are currently too scared to ride in most areas. Society & engineers also need to provide for pedestrians and impaired path users such as mobility scooter users, not just the 1% of traffic who are cyclists.

      Is that bike lane ideal cycling infrastructure – no. But for those of us who are confident on-road users it’s certainly improves safety over not having bike lanes at all & it provides a faster route than pushing cyclists off onto off-road paths where usually we are forced to stop at all the side streets and red pedestrian signals while the parallel cars still get a green light. I did a trial once along a 12km major road with 10 slip lane & traffic signal intersections. I timed riding on-road then off-road on the shared path. Even though I rode mostly at the same speed, except past the pedestrians and dogs, the off-road path took me 20% longer because I had to stop at most side streets for red pedestrian signals while I would have had a green vehicle signal if I had been on-road. Off-road was the one where I almost got hit by a speeding car looking the other way on the slip lane and I got a puncture because the path had more rubbish on it than the relatively clean roadway. Some research shows that off-road is not always safer because of the intersection problems.

      The “8-80 years old” less confident people can use the off-road paths while the bike lanes increase awareness & safety for those of us who want the speed of on-road riding. I ride through such intersections all the time & I have never had a problem or incident with such bike lanes. It has been intersections where no bike lane has been provided that I’ve usually had problems and often that’s been on the departure side with problems of left turning cars coming in a speed, failing to look for & give way to me. For that departure side situation we need reduced vehicle speeds and signalisation or 70 degree approach lanes that force drivers to look properly and slow down instead of charge in at merging speed.

      Does Australia need fully separated “Dutch” & “Copenhagen” style bikeways? In some inner city areas – yes. But we are no-where near the levels of cycling nor have suitable political favour to justify or be able to build them in most parts of Australia. With the current anti-cycling attitudes of some motorists, most transport authority management staff and politicians, fully separate bikeways dangerously further encourage some selfish motorists & road authorities to believe bicycles should be forced off-road. I see this all the time in my work where engineers who personally dislike cyclists don’t install bike lanes then justify it in the name of safety (as Alan espouses here), saving space and money but often don’t even install pathways either.

      In most of Australia including most suburban areas of capital cities where there are not high pedestrian numbers on paths, cycling & society are better served with a combination of both shared off-road paths catering for less confident users, pedestrians and mobility scooter users with on-road bike lanes to raise driver awareness that cyclists do have a right to be on the road and provide space so that motorists can easily pass cyclists with reduced conflict & whinging about “bikes holding up traffic”. For the confident commuter cyclists such on-road lanes allow us to get past queues of cars at traffic signals easier & safer without being accused of undertaking cars only to get in their way again on the departure which is a common (but usually false) congested area complaint from motorists.

      Many cities world wide & engineers (including myself) have done research into bike lane provision and the numbers show that bike lanes do increase safety and cycling numbers significantly. St Kilda bike lane data that used to be on the Bike Vic website showed it well even though there were still many issues with those lanes & that’s an area where Copenhagen lanes should be done.

      Alan, instead of using fake images to criticise us engineers & faster on-road cyclists for the gains we are able to make for cycling and raising driver awareness, why don’t you advocate for reduced speed limits in urban areas as that is a far cheaper and more effective way to grow cycling than criticising infrastructure you don’t personally like for your riding style.

      1. Alan Davies

        Alan, instead of using fake images to criticise us engineers & faster on-road cyclists for the gains we are able to make for cycling and raising driver awareness, why don’t you advocate for reduced speed limits in urban areas…

        I hold politicians responsible for poor infrastructure, not engineers and certainly not faster cyclists. I do support lower speed limits for vehicles. I’ve also said many times that the future of urban cycling is on roads rather than off-road paths.

        1. Engineer and cyclist

          Alan, your other articles are reasonable although not entirely accurate in the case of the cycling history & lycra louts as others have pointed out.
          My points are 1/ that the photo (as @Perthbiker modified it and misleadingly excluded the off-road shared paths) you used and your commentary is completely off the mark. 2/ You are incorrectly criticising engineers & managers, some of whom are trying to help cycling. 3/ Just because that bike lane is not what you want to ride on doesn’t mean it’s “box ticking at its ugliest” and “unsafe”. The fact is that it does help those of who do ride on-road, shows cyclists have a right to be on our roads and improves safety for confident riders.
          Don’t just blame the politicians as the engineers who fail to provide for bikes are often more to blame. Most politicians don’t have a clue and can’t get their departments to do anything properly. The engineers & department managers who don’t cycle & often hate cyclists (which is a large & powerful proportion of the engineers I know) or just want to be seen as heroes by saving a few cents by removing bike lanes and shared paths from designs are the real culprits. They set the standards and policies with very little input from weak politicians. It depends on the council or department but in many cases the engineers do what projects they like with little input from or without even telling politicians.
          “Yes Minister” & “Utopia” are so close to the truth that it’s depressing. Anyone who wants to work for a government department should watch those shows first to see if they could put up with the BS before accepting a job there. Where I work used to have decent managers & I got a lot of stuff done for cycling and pedestrians. But now it’s been taken over by glory seeking bullying management who are doing a few things that help cycling and walking but mostly they ……(I’d better not say!)….., and don’t care about providing real “public service” unless there is benefit for themselves.
          But getting back to the topic – your article is unfairly and ignorantly criticising a green bike lane with an emotive photo that excludes the shared paths that exist parallel to that photo. For the other locations you nominated, are there alternative off-road or quieter road routes that could be used instead? I can see that footpaths are available and the St Kilda Rd path looks about 2m wide. You should lobby the Vic & NSW governments to adopt the Australian Road Rule that allows footpath cycling by all age groups and have proven to be relatively safe in all other states of Australia with fewer crashes between pedestrians and cyclists off-road than there are on-road!
          That said, I do agree that St Kilda Road should have car parking removed and protected bike lanes built on both sides as that location would be justified by the number of people on bicycles that would use it.
          Even if there are not off-road alternatives, remember that we can’t completely rebuild cities to suit cycling instantly. Even Holland and Copenhagen took decades to change their roads and they are still upgrading them. Lobby for positive change instead of critising something many cyclists do like and is providing incremental positive change to Australia’s road culture and safety.

          1. Itsumishi

            instead of using fake images to criticise us engineers & faster on-road cyclists for the gains we are able to make for cycling
            2/ You are incorrectly criticising engineers & managers
            Uhh…
            Don’t just blame the politicians as the engineers who fail to provide for bikes are often more to blame. Most politicians don’t have a clue and can’t get their departments to do anything properly. The engineers & department managers who don’t cycle & often hate cyclists (which is a large & powerful proportion of the engineers I know) or just want to be seen as heroes by saving a few cents by removing bike lanes and shared paths from designs are the real culprits…

  3. Alex

    Hi Alan – as someone who cycles St Kilda Road most days, going city bound through St Kilda Junction (the other way) is even worse!

    Cheers
    Alex

    1. Saugoof

      Yes, that one is made even worse by cars trying to pass you on the right, then scramble to cross in front of you to get into the left lane to Kingsway.

  4. Saugoof

    I often think that the people who design bike paths in Australia are definitely not the same people who actually use them. It’s amazing how they always manage to disappear right at the most dangerous point, have gaps at the most inconvenient spots, are built in a way that makes it inviting for pedestrians to walk into them without checking for traffic or for drivers to park in it, or often times are just paths that go from nowhere to nowhere.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful they’re there at all and there are some fantastic ones around too, but there is lots and lots of room for improvement.

  5. foo

    I thought this was out of a vicroads manual!

  6. John S

    As your article states, Australian bicycle infrastructure design is often appalling. A Danish road safety expert, Jesper Solund, was recently in Melbourne. I met with him and he was shocked and dismayed. What is considered good, safe bicycle infrastructure in Australia would never be built in Denmark as it is inherently unsafe.

  7. Oz (Horst) Kayak

    SAFELY SEPARATING PEDESTRIAN, CYCLING & MOTORISED TRAFFIC
    Correspondence received by advocacy groups such as the Town and Country Association (TCPA) and the Transforming Transport for Everyone Alliance members (TT4E) indicates the mixing of traffic modes with speeds between 3 km/hr and 60 plus km/hr in the same space is a no brainer. It is a cause of significant stress and anxiety to all those competing to travel through the same space.
    Urban space managers responsible for safe travel need to address the concerns of roadway users more sensitively to avoid court action.
    The photo-shopped example from Perth dramatises the issue very well. We all know there are many more examples that are similar.
    As here many more visually dramatic sites throughout Australia: Is it worthwhile to run a photographic competition to collect the images on a single web site to highlight the existing conflicting traffic safety issues?

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