Friday, 13 June 2014

Australia, start counting to three

The bicycle can be used for sport, or transport. During the past 40 years Australia’s concept of the bicycle has shifted so much the majority of people now just consider it a piece of sporting equipment. We like to think of ourselves as a sporting nation, and we know you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to participate in sport. Therefore, millions of us own bikes.

Photo: Elfa storage system

The amount of time we actually use them can vary dramatically. Some enthusiastic people will get out on their bikes a few times a week and clock-up hundreds of kilometres riding around the streets in the early morning. At the other end of the scale, it is typical for families with young children to own bikes and ride them around their local park occasionally. Perhaps for an hour or two, every couple of weeks, but only when the weather is suitable. It’s good exercise and good ‘family time’. Sometimes they won’t bother with the bikes and just kick a ball around instead.

It can be a hassle dealing with bikes, especially if you don’t have a good park nearby. Loading bikes into the car and driving to a park can feel like a mission.

We carry bikes in cars because most of us don’t feel safe riding on busy roads. This is also the reason the majority of us stop riding bikes as we get older, and once the kids have grown up.

Australians who are older than forty will probably remember riding a bike to school - it’s what we did back then. But now, a lot of us drive our kids to school. Things have changed.

What happened?

Lot’s of things are different. We don’t accept death on the roads as much as we did in the 1970s. The road toll back then was huge. It’s much better now. We have all become very safety conscious. And there are more cars now. Lots more. And traffic is bad.

That’s interesting: it’s safer to drive now, but the roads are busier.  Since the 1970s in Australia, it has become safer in a car but not on a bike.

There are multiple issues involved, but one of the key factors during the past forty years of safety and transport efficiency advancements, has been that Australia has continued to build a road network that facilitates movement of people in motor vehicles and on foot, but not on a bicycle.

Basically, the Australian road space has two parts: a carriageway for motor traffic, and a path on the side for pedestrians. People on bicycles are expected to either share with motor traffic or share with pedestrians. The conflict problems are obvious.

City of Adelaide, South Australia
Floreat, Western Australia
Osborne Park, Western Australia

Mixing people on foot and on bicycles is not ideal but can function OK if the area is not crowded and speeds are slow. However, it is bizarre that during a period of significant safety advancement in Australia, people sitting on a skeletal combination of steel and rubber are expected to share the part where there are moving motor vehicles. A bicycle is not a protective shield, it‘s just somewhere to sit.

While Australia (and the UK and North America) continued with this problematic two-mode network, the Netherlands adopted a three-mode network. It’s simple really. Instead of leaving bikes behind, they took them on the same safety journey.

Groningen, The Netherlands 
Assen, The Netherlands
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This has enabled the Netherlands to maintain bicycles as a common transport device. The social consequences of adopting this three-mode principal has been dramatic.


Dutch children are able to have independent mobility. In the early years they are accompanied by their parents to school as they develop their riding skills, then by the time they are eight or nine, they are able to travel by themselves.

School traffic - Assen, The Netherlands
School traffic - Assen, The Netherlands
School traffic - Assen, The Netherlands
Teenage girl travelling to sport after school, Groningen, The Netherlands

Meanwhile in Australia, the majority of our children have restricted mobility. They must wait to be taken places by car. Being a parent in Australia also means being a taxi driver.

Most people living in Perth are aware how much easier it is to drive during school holidays. In 1970, 16% of Australian children were taken to school by car, now it's about 63%. The figures vary between each state but the trend is clear (Heart Foundation report 5.6 MB PDF).

Stirling Highway, Claremont Western Australia - 8:10 am during school term


The three-mode system also allows older people to have independent mobility without the stress of driving. Wide bicycle paths that form a connected network, separated from motor vehicles, allow the Dutch seniors to get out and about. They are not sitting at home waiting for a weekly visit from their adult children. They can do their own shopping and are able to have a more active social life than Australians.

Electric assist bicycle, The Netherlands 
Supermarket parking area, Assen, The Netherlands


The other group of people who are able to use this third network are those with disabilities. Smooth, continuous paths designed for bicycles are also ideal for wheel chairs and other motorised mobility aids.

Assen, The Netherlands
Amsterdam-Noord, The Netherlands
Couple holding hands, Groningen, The Netherlands

At the Velo-City Global 2014 conference in Adelaide, it was heartening to hear Manfred Neun, the President of the European Cyclist Federation, declare the organisation will be pursuing access to bicycle riding and infrastructure on an international level and this would include the United Nations. He stressed: "Active mobility is a basic human need, and must be a human right".


The photographs above feature the Netherlands because I took them during a recent study tour. Of course, other European countries also adopted the three-mode principle. Denmark is a prominent example, in particular the city of Copenhagan. Now other enlightened cities around the world are progressively installing separated infrastructure because they acknowledge the importance of providing an option of bicycle riding for all people. As Steven Fleming wrote after the conference:
"Velo-City has shown there is no further need to argue the case for separated bike infrastructure. There is a global consensus, held now as well by all major players on the Australian bike scene. Separation is key to making cycling mainstream. It has been proven in car crazy cities from New York to Saville."
This report from the USA Protected Bike Lanes Means Business provides some useful facts and figures for any sceptics you might encounter (2.5 MB PDF).

The current policies in Australia are not working. The National Cycling Strategy 2011-2016 had the objective to double the participation of people bicycling riding during those five years. The interim statistics for 2013 actually show a drop in participation after two years!

This change needs to start at the top. The Austroads standards need to be rewritten, again. Reading Cycling Aspects of Austroads Guides (2014) is depressing. The majority of the specifications, which deal mostly with on-road bike lanes, only suit the 5% of people who are already riding. The other 56% of the population who have bikes in the shed will not use their bikes for transport unless there is a dramatic change to the urban environment. At best, they will ride a few times a year, on a sunny Sunday in a park somewhere. 

The majority of people will simply not ride a bike next to motor vehicles travelling at 50 or 60 km/h. I frequently see examples of Australian 'best practise' bicycle facilities go unused. It is a waste of money and resources.


This on-road bicycle lane next to Shenton College does not get used. The students riding bikes prefer the safer option of being on the footpath even though they're at risk of being 'doored' by the other children arriving by car.  Shenton College has 1200 students and only around 5% travel by bike.

School traffic, Shenton College, Western Australia

This on-road bicycle lane on the new section of Great Eastern Highway was made with a width of 1.8m, has top quality green paint at intersections and detailed road markings but it is rare to see anyone using it.

Great Eastern Highway, Redcliffe, Western Australia

It is more common to see people using the footpath. The speed limit on this section of the highway is 60 km/h. These types of lanes are not used by all of the existing 5% of riders, so there is little hope the other 95% of people will use them.

Great Eastern Highway, Redcliffe, Western Australia

This road in Midland was completely redone a few years ago as part of the railway Workshops redevelopment. It has generous proportions, expensive landscaping and an on-road bike lane that most parents would not allow their children to use.

Centennial Place, Midland, Western Australia


What is worse than the basic Austroads standards is when those standards are not even applied. There are multiple examples of roads being realigned and neighbourhood streets being upgraded without any provision for riding bicycles.

This issue is not about Australia having enough space or money. It's about changing our thinking from two modes to three. Adelaide's North Terrace is an example of a street with plenty of space, a beautiful expensive footpath, yet no safe or legal provision for people on bicycles. 

North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia

Newcastle Street in Western Australia had a full makeover a few years ago. Fancy paving, new kerbs and landscaping that included trees planted down the centre of the road. This central island in the road provides a refuge for pedestrians but has narrowed the carriageway so there is no room to pass a person on a bicycle. The speed limit here is 50 km/h.

Newcastle Street, Northbridge, Western Australia


The towns that I visited in the Netherlands were not all beautiful. The amount of money spent on materials and landscaping in the streets did not appear to be any more than what we spend in Australia. Perhaps even less, some of the streets are quite shabby by Perth standards but they function in a way that is fairer for all people.

Bicycle path traffic light crossing, Assen, The Netherlands

The money for roads in Australia is already available, the issue is how we spend it. 

Once we stop thinking about the bicycle as just a piece sporting equipment and remember our history of using it for transport, we can stop having the pointless debates about a minority group called "cyclists" and get on with providing transport options for the majority of people.

In Western Australia, only 1.3% of people ride a bike to work or school, yet there is at least one working bike in 61% of households. Obviously most people, even when they own a bike, do not want to travel to work, school or the shops wearing Lycra and a helmet, in single-file next to fast moving motor vehicles. That's the main option available right now.

Australia, it's time to stop taking baby steps with infrastructure and treat the bicycle with the respect it deserves, as an efficient transport option for all people. Our aim should be to provide protected or separated bicycle lanes where ever possible.

I want our children to be able to ride home from school, relaxed, chatting with a friend, on a path that is wide, safe and separated from motor vehicles.

Groningen, The Netherlands

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Perth's Worst Pedestrian Crossing?

You have to go out and walk the streets to get a full understanding of the city. Last week, without planning, I discovered what must be Perth's worst crossing for pedestrians.  It may be Australia's worst! I challenge you to find any traffic intersection that takes longer than 6 minutes 30 seconds to cross.

Great Eastern Highway / Hardy Road Belmont

This is the corner of Great Eastern Highway and Hardy Road in Belmont. To cross from the motel to the BP Service Station and convenience store across the road, the traffic lights have been designed to prevent you taking the direct route. You have to cross five roads instead of one. This is 23 traffic lanes, including the two slip lanes and two bicycle lanes.

It is quicker to drive the 100m to this store.
Green is the desire line. Red shows the required route.

The most difficult part is trying to cross the highway. After waiting and finally getting the 'green man' symbol, you only have six seconds before it changes to red and starts flashing. I was not even one- quarter of the distance across before this started happening. I still had eight lanes ahead of me!

We are meant to continue walking and finish the crossing. I had a few seconds of panic and almost turned back. It is very intimidating to walk in front of four or five vehicles when you think they are about to get a green light any second. The drivers, hidden behind the dark tinting and reflections on windscreens, become anonymous. There is no opportunity for eye contact.

I'm reasonably fit, and I did make it to the other side before the lights changed for the cars, but I had no way of knowing if I would make it across safely.

A long way to cross

Instead of having the aggressive flashing 'red-man' signal it would be much more useful to have a countdown timer to give an explanation about how much time is left to cross the road. It would be particularly useful on major roads where the crossing distances are long. Countdown timers are used in many places around the world, including South Australia and Queensland but not in Perth. It appears our department of Main Roads are "considering a trial".

Countdown timers would ease the fear of crossing but they will not reduce the time it takes to go from the motel to the store caused by the circuitous route.

This section of Great Eastern Highway recently had an "upgrade".  $280 million was spent to add two more traffic lanes, plus bus lanes, on-road bicycle lanes (rarely used), slip lanes and wider, faster turning for side streets. The length is 4.2 km and it cuts through the suburbs of Rivervale and Belmont.

Great Eastern Highway 2014

It is interesting to look at Google images showing the highway before the changes. The dropped kerb and cut-away through the centre island indicate a direct crossing between the motel and the BP store was previously available. It appears this option for pedestrians has been removed to accommodate the two new slip lanes that allow faster turning for motor vehicles.

Google Street View 2009

The proposed benefits to the community for the widening of Great Eastern Highway included providing "facilities for pedestrians and cyclists with greater access and connectivity". 

This sales spin would be done to placate any opposition during the development phase of this style of road building. It is obvious Great Eastern Highway has been changed to facilitate moving a huge number of motor vehicles as efficiently as possible, with only token consideration for the communities on each side of the highway.

The people responsible for this should take a walk with their mothers, and try and cross the road.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Perth Airport parking and travel options

I have an interstate trip soon. I will be travelling by plane for most of the way, but I started thinking about how to get from home to the airport. If travelling for work, I often leave before six in the morning and normally drive a car, then leave it at the airport. Starting early rules out most public transport options, and when someone else is paying for the parking, the car ends up being the easy option. However, on this trip I will be leaving in the middle of the day and I will be paying all the bills. 

Perth Airport Domestic Terminals T3 & T4

Lately, I have been making an effort to consider all transport options, for all journeys, and not do things simply by habit.

With Perth's limited bicycle paths, the bike is not always the best choice. But that does not mean the car is always the next best. I've managed to do a few 15 to 20km journeys across the Perth metro area using combinations such as walk-bus-train-walk with total travel times similar to car. And without the stress of having to drive. 

Here are the choices for travelling to Perth Airport:


Sorry, not until at least 2018, or maybe a few years later.  There are some more roads to be built first.
Tonkin Highway interchange


In a city of two million people, that doesn't have an airport train and loves big wide roads, you would expect a good shuttle-bus from Perth Airport to the city. A service designed for passengers with a lot of luggage. There is a shuttle-bus, however, it is almost useless. On weekdays it only runs once per hour, and stops completely for four hours in the middle of the day! Unbelievable, but here is the timetable. This privately run service charges $15 for the 30 minute journey from the city. I would still have to get to the city by some other means. It is interesting to contrast this dismal service with Melbourne Airport's Skybus which has a frequency of every 10 minutes except for the wee hours of the morning.

A better option is the standard Western Australian government bus service Transperth. They have buses that travel to the airport at a cost of $3.57 (each way) using a Smartrider card. Travel time 1 hour and 10 minutes including a short walk at each end.


Possible, it's about 16 km and would take about an hour. With a combination of using PSP shared-paths and recreational paths I would be separated from motor vehicles for about 80% of the time.
What about parking? There is nothing on the Perth Airport website about bicycles, so I called the airport to check. One of the "customer experience team" told me she thought there were some racks near the Qantas terminal, she was not sure if they are undercover because she hasn't actually seen them. She suggested I call Qantas. After putting down the telephone I realised finding a number for someone on the ground at the T4 terminal is not so easy. It was getting too hard. I left the bicycle idea for a few days, then, when driving near the airport for work, curiosity got me and I took a side trip to investigate what was available. After asking three different people I found them: six bicycle racks in a corridor, just to the right of the Qantas departure section of the T4 terminal building.

T4 Terminal bicycle parking

These vertical racks are not ideal. Most bikes with mud guards would not be able to flip on their end like this. They seem to be a design after-thought, the corridor appears to lead into administration offices. The positive aspects: they are very close to where you need to be if flying Qantas, they are undercover, and there is no charge.

T4 - Qantas departure area


15 km and 25 minutes plus waiting time. About $45 each way.


15 km and about 35 minutes travel time including the walk from the car park. There are 19,000 car parking bays at Perth Airport. This is obviously how we are expected to travel. For my five days away it would cost $93 for the cheapest option and if I prefer, I could choose more secure undercover parking and that would cost $215. The car parks are often nearly full, particularly around the domestic terminals. Someone is making a lot of money with this. If 80% of the bays earn about $20 per day, that would equal a turnover of $304,000 per day. Or about $111 million per year. Who owns the land around the airport? Is it the people of Western Australia? Yes, but the control and income has been transferred to a private company with a 99 year lease, Perth Airport Pty Ltd.


It will probably be the Transperth buses. The bike is a close second. I would have to park with two wheels on the ground. There are only six racks, and due to the awkward design, I am not sure my locks would be able to reach the bar if the racks were full with other bikes. The lack of security is also a factor.


It's obvious Perth Airport needs some better bicycle parking. The airport handles about 11 million passengers each year. A lot of the trips are made by FIFO workers who usually just have carry-on baggage. There are about 6000 people working there. I was told the few staff who ride take their bikes 'air-side' for added security. The T1 and T2 terminals are having a make-over, maybe there will be some better facilities built on that side. I will probably investigate this further when time permits.

Rail is expensive and will take several years of planning and construction before it is ready. But what about buses? With the airport's passenger volume at about 11 million, it is around one-third that of Melbourne Airport which handles 30 million. Using this basic one-third ratio, Perth should have an express bus from the airport to the city at least every 30 minutes, preferably more. Why don't we have it? We have a brand-new super-size highway leading to the airport and it even has bus lanes.

Great Fat Eastern Highway

Is it because the airport is controlled by a private company that is not concerned with integrating the transport options with the government-run transport systems? And is it because there is too much money to be made from car parking?

To give some perspective about how much car parking there is at Perth Airport, I did a quick map with the help of Mapfrappe and overlaid the area onto the Perth central city at the same scale. That's a lot of land for car storage.

Perth Airport car parking, compared with Perth city area

Thursday, 8 May 2014


Snorfiets is the Dutch name for a light moped or scooter. Whenever I see that name I think "snorting bike". After my two-week stay in the Netherlands, my conclusion is that snorfiets are at the top of the transport hierarchy. If you ride a scooter, it seems you can do whatever you want, and go wherever you like. They are fast, can travel on the bicycle paths or the road and rules don't apply.

To an outsider it is very strange that the benefits of the excellent bicycle infrastructure are allowed to be eroded by permitting scooters, travelling at up to 60 km/h, to mix with slow moving bicycles.

The rules allowing scooters on the bicycle paths go back to the 1970s when the under-50cc mopeds or scooters lacked power compared to today's machines. They were not really suitable to ride on the road with fast moving traffic and it was seen as a reasonable concession to allow them on the bicycle paths to assist people who were unable to ride a bicycle. 

This is how they looked in the 1970s. A small motorbike with bicycle style pedals, hence the name mo-ped.

This is how they look now. The pedals are gone and they often share the same chassis and components as the 125cc versions.

Unfortunately, the laws have not kept pace with the technical developments and design evolution. It appears that a lot of rev-heads are taking advantage of the current situation.

Officially there are supposed to be two types of scooters with different speed restrictions: 'light' scooters with blue licence plates restricted to a maximum speed of 25 km/h, and 'heavy' scooters with yellow licence plates restricted to a maximum speed of 45 km/h. The scooters are meant to have speed limiters fitted but it is obvious many people disable these.

The cream coloured scooter below has a yellow license plate and the other has blue. They both look the same to me.

The two types are also meant to be restricted to different grades of bicycle path, but in my few days of riding I could not find any difference. I was 'buzzed' at high speed by both yellow and blue-plated scooters in a wide range of locations, sometimes close enough to brush my sleeve.

You can read a more detailed explanation of the rules in this post on the Bicycle Dutch blog.

During the Hembrow Study Tour I stopped to take a photograph of this group using the bicycle path beside a quiet country road near a small village. The road can be seen in the foreground and it had almost no traffic. 

Within a few seconds this person on a yellow-plated scooter buzzed past them using the bicycle path and not the road. I am not sure if this is legal but to me it is wrong.

This next example, below, shows my daughter on a hire bike in Amsterdam. She's facing a scooter coming towards her at about 40 km/h, and she's looking for an escape route. Although it was not close to hitting her, as an inexperienced rider, this situation is intimidating and unpleasant. This can't be good for tourism.

Not all scooter riders are aggressive, some ride in a reasonable manner but almost all of them are noisy. Most of the scooters have two-stroke motors and are louder than modern cars. In Amsterdam the scooters were often the dominate sound in an otherwise quiet city. 

And then there is the smell to consider. These anti-scooter stickers at some the traffic lights provide a solution.

With the current range and availability of electric bicycles I find it surprising the Dutch government allow the situation to continue. 

Don't take this the wrong way, the Netherlands bicycle infrastructure, even with the scooter problem is much better than our current situation in Australia.