Monday, 11 April 2016

City Soapbox - Day 5

The final of City Soapbox speaker series - Day 5

Rachel Pemberton
City of Fremantle councillor
"Cycleways to Create Communities"

Saturday, 2 April 2016

City Soapbox - Day 4

Continuing the City Soapbox speaker series - Day 4:

Oliver Laing
PhD candidate researching transport behaviour, culture and policy
"Cycling policy and why people in Perth think it's normal to drive 700m to the shops"

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

City Soapbox - Day 3

Continuing the City Soapbox speaker series - Day 3:

Andrew Wilkinson
Transport Economist and author of the Perth Cycle Ring
"The economic case for investing in safe bike infrastructure (but bring more than a can of paint)".

Saturday, 19 March 2016

City Soapbox - Day 2

Continuing the City Soapbox speaker series - Day 2: 

Heinrich Benz
Former CEO Bicycle Transport Alliance
"Cycling's dirty secret, what the rise of urban biking is really all about"

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

City Soapbox - Day 1

City Soapbox is a series of free lunchtime talks being held in Perth as part of Bike Week. Organised by the University of Western Australia Bicycle Club and held at the new Museum of Perth. The series features five different speakers over five days.

The theme "How bicycles can make our communities stronger, safer and more successful" will be approached from various viewpoints. Speakers will include transport planners, academics and local politicians.

Each talk runs for around thirty minutes and is followed by a short question-and-answer session.

Here is a video of day one: 

Matt Buckels
Transport planner and City of Vincent councillor
Bicycle transport and why councils can't afford to ignore it

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Museum Street opportunity

The City of Perth is digging up Museum Street, Northbridge. It's a short connection about 100 metres long between Aberdeen and Francis Streets. The work is a complete rebuild which includes new trees, lighting and realigning kerbs. Information is available on the city website.

It will be an improvement for pedestrians and create another space for the students from the adjoining colleges to sit during breaks. For people riding bicycles it is an incredibly poor design. Why is the City of Perth still excluding bicycles from planning decisions?

This is the artist impression of the completed works. The car lane is narrow and one-way. Any bicycle traffic is suppose to use a 'shared path' on the right. You can't see it? It's meant to be somewhere among all those people, trees and furniture.

Museum Street proposal
Confident people on bicycles will take-the-lane in front of cars when travelling north rather than tediously meandering through pedestrians and furniture. For those travelling south I would not be surprised to see riders sprinting along the street illegally if there are no cars coming. Bad design encourages antisocial behaviour.

Here is the 'before' street plan.

Here is one layer of the 'after' plan showing the proposed widened footpath on the left. It is achieved by removing one vehicle lane and eight parking bays. The footpath will be designated a 'shared path' which means you can ride on it but pedestrians have priority.

What the image above does not show are the new trees and furniture. Once those obstructions are added the sub-standard shared-path becomes almost useless.

A more correct image of the proposal would show the bicycle riders who will be forced to push past people sitting and talking. They will have no choice. This 'place activation' will suffer from bad design that does not respect everyone's needs.

My corrected version

Even without the trees and furniture, a shared path in this position is a poor design option. A person riding along the existing bicycle lane on Aberdeen Street needing to turn into Museum Street will not easily recognise the change to a shared path. Bicycle paths should be continuous and intuitive.

Museum Street is located in the middle of the Central Institute of Technology. Similar to a university, it's a modern open-style campus with seven buildings grouped around Aberdeen and Museum Street. There is a high percentage of teenage students, and considering the lack of quality paths, there are quite a lot of bicycles used for transport.

CIT Building 6, 19 Aberdeen Street

CIT Building 1, 25 Aberdeen Street

Immediately to the south of the campus is the State Library, Western Australian Art Gallery and Western Australian Museum, State Theatre and Perth Railway Station. Museum Street is an important access route between the campus and all those other facilities.

The idea to improve the amenity of the street has merit. The old street layout was very wide and unwelcoming. However, it did allow access for a person riding a bicycle in either direction, there were no pinch-points and it was relatively safe because of the extra width.

Museum Street, via Google Streetview

It is difficult to understand how a local government can undertake these expensive street works and virtually ignore the movement of bicycles. The City of Perth likes to brag about how much money they spend on bicycle riding in the city but they obviously still do not understand the basics of what is required. If the City of Perth is genuine about improving bicycle riding infrastructure, each time a street is dug up best practice should be applied to the new works. Most times it will not cost any more, it is just a matter of adjusting the priorities and applying good design.

It is disappointing when we wait for years for improvements to streets, but it is worse when it finally happens and our money is being spent the wrong way.

A summary and a solution

The 'before' version of Museum Street prioritised motor vehicles. It was tolerable for bicycle riding and pedestrians. It was not a destination.

With the City of Perth's enhancement Museum Street will become a destination. Pedestrians will have an improved experience. Motor vehicle access will be reduced a little. However, bicycle riding will be obstructed. This imbalance should be corrected. 

Most of the construction work has been finished at Museum Street but there is still a simple solution available. Motor vehicle access should be prohibited and that lane changed into a bi-directional bicycle path. This could be done by adding a single bollard at each end of the street. Motor vehicles do not need to be driven on this street. The car parking spaces are not required either, there are 614 bays underneath the library just 100m away.

With a bicycle-friendly enhancement of Museum Street it will become a better destination. There will be no noise and fumes from vehicles. People trying to enjoy the space will not be hindered by riders needing to use the footpath. Pedestrians will also have a better experience. People on bicycles will be to be able to move safely and easily along the street in both directions. Motor vehicle drivers will hardly notice any difference. This is what it would look like. Call the City of Perth and ask for the change.

The bicycle-friendly version. Easy.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Beauty vs Function

This is how we do it in Perth when we have a blank canvas. This street in Ellenbrook is brand new, a greenfield development. It has been constructed before any buildings in a relatively flat sandy area. Any established trees or bushes were cleared away to ensure there were no obstacles to hinder the design yet we have something disappointingly mediocre.

The Parkway, Ellenbrook

I expect the developers and local council will be congratulating themselves for building something that ticks-all-the-boxes and will look beautiful as well. The bicycle lane box has been ticked. There are footpaths on both sides of the street and lots of trees that will eventually form a canopy.

There is already a park at the end of the street with expensive landscaping and art pieces.

Unfortunately a lot of attention has been given to beauty and not function. The bicycle lane will be OK for the small percentage of people riding bicycles now but it is not good enough to encourage any new people to ride for transport.

This street has been built with Australia's prevailing two-mode system instead of three. There was an obvious opportunity to provide a separated bicycle track away from motor vehicles. The community could have had paths two-metres wide on each side of the street, between the car parking and the footpath. Instead, the developers have constructed an unprotected 1.2 metre wide bicycle lane in the door zone on a 50 km/h street. 

There is also a continuous median strip that will prevent drivers giving people on bicycles any extra room when they pass. This median is a good safety measure for drivers. It eliminates the risk of a head on collision between motor vehicles but it also increases the risk to people on bicycles. The gap between motor vehicles and bicycles will vary depending on the width of the vehicle. If a truck with a low body is passing, the best we can hope for is a gap of around 700 mm. Any truck with a high body will need to be kept away from the trees in the centre which results in the truck drivers needing to use part of the bicycle lane and that 700mm gets reduced to nothing.

When a carriageway is wide there is a tendency for motorists to drive fast. The speed limit for this street is 50 km/h yet the width between kerbs on this street is 4.5 metres. That's the sort of traffic lane you will find on a 110 km/h outback highway. In theory, the 4.5 metres is divided into 1.2 for bicycles and 3.3 for motor vehicles but in practice this does not work. It is only paint, and everybody knows it. 

Without any physical separation of lanes, the drivers of large trucks will protect their vehicles and move into the bicycle lane. Most car drivers will travel in a more central 'default' position between the kerbs if they do not see a person on a bicycle. You can see proof in the photograph below showing the line of oil drips from vehicles that has already formed. This line is not in the centre of the motor vehicle lane, it is further to the left showing how drivers travel closer to the bicycle lane.

It is also annoying to see sharp and high kerbs confining the bicycle lane particularly when there is a much more forgiving angled semi-mountable kerb on the median. With a height of 130mm this kerb is a hazard to be avoided. To state the obvious for the benefit of any non-riders, if you hit this kerb with your pedal there is a good chance you will be sent tumbling sideways onto the road. This design effectively narrows the width of the lane. Most experienced bicycle riders will wisely position themselves away from the hazard, as illustrated below.

In summary, this is a street design that requires bicycle riders to move to the right, away from the car doors and the high sharp kerb. Car drivers, encouraged by the width, will probably be travelling faster than 50 km/h with their cars very close to the bicycle lane. Large trucks will be travelling in the bicycle lane.

Of course, if they see a person on a bicycle, the truck drivers can slow down and not attempt to pass. The car drivers also have plenty of room to move over to the right where they belong but this only works if the drivers are all paying attention. If they do not notice the person on the bicycle they are on a collision course.

In the early 1990s Ellenbrook was all rural land. The whole community is quite new. During the past twenty years it has been growing and the developers have been trying to create a walkable, and perhaps bike-able, community but it is not working. Even though Ellenbrook has won multiple awards for planing and development it is still dominated by car travel.

Ninety-four percent of people use a car to travel to work, only 5% use public transport. If there are any people riding a bicycle to work they would be a fraction of the remaining 1%.

Ellenbrook is 27 km from Perth's city centre and around 17 km from the closest major work centres of Midland and Malaga. Within the Ellenbrook development there are seven villages, according to Roberts Day Pty Ltd "each neighbourhood has its own centre that can be reached on foot within a maximum of 10 minutes from any home".

From what I can see, most people are also using a car for all their local trips as well. The busiest place is the local shopping centre, the car park is full most of the time and there are very few people arriving on foot or by bicycle.

The City of Swan, Ellenbrook's local government, recently commissioned research from the community which was published as Ellenbrook Place Plan 2010-2013 (3.7MB pdf). The 'transport' section has some typical requests from residents: a 'Park and Ride' facility so they can drive to the local bus terminal from their homes, a high-frequency bus to loop around the villages, plus a school bus service. There were also complaints about car traffic congestion around the schools. Further evidence this is not a community that's walking or riding bicycles.

The researchers received no requests for protected bicycle lanes. Not surprising really, the average person has no knowledge of such things. When they see freshly painted bicycle lanes around town and all the fancy paving, garden beds and street furniture, they will arrive at the conclusion their community has good streets. Ask the same people if they let their child ride a bike to school and the response will be "Oh's not safe!". The superficial beauty hides the reality of mediocre transport planning.

One of the biggest obstacles to progress of bicycle transport in Australia is there are no really good examples of whole districts with good infrastructure. We have the odd bit of protected bicycle lane here and there. There are a few good bicycle tracks running beside train lines and rivers but there is no example of a community with a good network of connected, safe paths that allow all people to get to where they want to go.

If we had a whole community, perhaps 20,000+ people, with good bicycle infrastructure it could be used as a reference for measuring the shift back to bicycle use. Engineers from other local government areas could visit to see 'how it's done'. Word would get out and eventually the general public would start to envy the people who live in that place where children can get to school by themselves and parents are not 'taxi drivers'.

Greenfield developments need to 'raise the bar' and provide separated bicycle paths. The standards for Perth's streets that were developed in the mid-1990s are out of date. It's now 2015, the world's moved on. Our aspirations have gone beyond bicycle lanes in door-zones.

Operational policy first released in 1996

At Ellenbrook and any other new developments around Australia, there should be no excuse for continuing to build streets that function badly for some users. It does not require any additional money or time but it will require a change in thinking.