Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Black-spot under construction

Part of Cambridge Street is having a make-over. It is a section about 400m long in the inner-western suburb of West Leederville. This area is controlled by the local government authority, the Town of Cambridge, who state the aim of the project is "to create a pedestrian friendly precinct along Cambridge Street, while retaining it as a traffic route". Unfortunately there is no consideration to accommodate bicycle traffic and the changes will result in more dangerous conditions for riding.

Cambridge Street, West Leederville

The existing road had two lanes in each direction. The centre lanes carrying the majority of traffic and the outside lanes having a mixture of parking bays, loading zones, bus-stops and no-standing zones. These outside lanes were only used for continuously moving traffic in peak-hour periods. I had noticed in these peak times the traffic volume did not seem to justify having two lanes in each direction. The people at the Town of Cambridge must have agreed because their plan is to reduce Cambridge Street to one lane in each direction.

This might appear to be a modern approach: restricting the movement of motorised traffic and allowing more space for other modes of transport. However once the roadworks are complete, motorists will barely notice a change; pedestrians may have some improvement; and bicycle riders will be worse off. This is more of a landscaping exercise than a revision of traffic management. The project is like something from the 1980s.

Site plan

For motorists, the "one-lane" design will have additional right-turn pockets and the left turns will have a radius that allows for fast cornering. This will ensure the usual traffic flow.

Pedestrians will have wider footpaths in some areas and some wider central islands, but the dropped-curb crossing points will be away from the desire lines at several places.

Kimberley Street

Why will the new design be worse for bicycle riding? In practical terms, for the full length of Cambridge Street, the existing outer lane acts as a bike lane where there are no parked cars or vehicles in loading bays. It is not an ideal road, but motor vehicles can pass a bicycle without too much problem. There are plenty of sections where bike riders can move closer to the curb using the outer lane while the motor vehicles stay in the centre lane.

Google view, January 2010

Google view, January 2010

Once the modifications are completed in West Leederville, the new 400 metre-long section of Cambridge Street will have an almost continuous row of central islands and the outer lane will be gone. The carriageway will only be 3.2 metres wide. Bicycle riders need one metre, trucks and buses are 2.5 metres wide. That is 3.5 metres without allowing for a gap. With a carriageway of 3.2 metres, there simply is not enough space for both, and overtaking will not be possible.

Specification from Cycling Aspects of Ausroads Guides

Those people on bicycles who feel brave and are able to deal with aggressive drivers can take-the-lane and hold back the traffic. A bit like a rolling roadblock. The rest will need to get off and walk or avoid the place completely.

This situation is almost ridiculous. I wondered how the Town of Cambridge got to a position where bicycles have been excluded from what is meant to be a revitalised "high street" precinct. If we look back to the Town of Cambridge Bicycle Plan 2009 (PDF link) we might have the answer. It was done by the company Shawmac Pty Ltd who are civil engineers, traffic engineers and risk managers. In reference to Cambridge Street (page 39) it was noted that there were no bicycle facilities provided and the:
"Road environment not conducive to on-road facilities. Off-road facilities not recommended due to land use. Adequate parallel east-west routes provided."
The plan was to ignore Cambridge Street and provide a PSP (principal shared path) beside Railway Parade which is one block to the south and runs parallel. It has not been built yet. If it eventually gets done, it might be useful for commuting bicycle traffic but it will not much help if you want to visit the businesses on Cambridge Street.

In contrast to the Town of Cambridge Bicycle Plan 2009 there is another document that details an alternative option for Cambridge Street. The West Leederville Planning & Urban Design Study Transport Report (PDF 2.3 MB) done in December 2010 by Sinclair Knight Merz Pty Ltd recommended a bicycle route along Cambridge. You can see it shown by the pale blue line on page 81 of the report below.  This report had a more holistic approach and examined the improvements that could be made to the transport network and their potential to benefit the community.

West Leederville Stage 2 Transport Report

You can also read in the note in the box where the Town of Cambridge council has decided not to accept the recommendation of this report and preferred to stay with the earlier 2009 bicycle plan. It appears to be a case of town planning versus traffic engineering. The traffic engineers won.

There are a couple of odd things in the Town of Cambridge Bicycle Plan 2009. After stating there were adequate east-west routes parallel to Cambridge Street, later in the document (page 63), when explaining long term requirements,  Shawmac say the east-west links need improving:
"The major changes required to the existing Town of Cambridge Bike Plan predominately centres on providing stronger east-west links. The current north-south links are reasonably well catered for. Given the nature of the east-west streets throughout the Town, provision of cycle facilities has been restricted by commercial development, pavement width, on-road parking, property access, public utility installations (eg Western Power poles) and verge improvements (eg trees)."
The 2009 plan also includes a record of crash data provided by Main Roads WA. It gives information about all the crashes involving bicycles with motor vehicles in the 22 square kilometres of the Town of Cambridge for the five years leading up to December 2007. Fourteen percent of the crashes were in Cambridge Street.

There is enough room on Cambridge Street to have a protected bicycle lane from West Perth to City Beach. Imagine that. One lane for motor vehicles and one for bikes. All the way.

The discussion about Cambridge Street should be about the merits of a protected lane versus an on-road lane. Not about there being no provision at all.


  1. Now I understand why the cyclist in that Austroads picture looks so grumpy.

  2. Dreadful. Is it too late for a collection of signatures or petition?

  3. I think it would be a hard task to turn this around now. I expect the TOC have contractual obligations with the construction companies. It would not hurt to at least let the TOC know your thoughts so they don't repeat the mistake.

  4. This kind of mentality shits me no end. Traffic engs (and often the council themselves) design for commuting throughput and have little appreciation for just doing things by bike. Cambridge St would be so wonderful with more human-based transport and activity - alive and vibrant. While most aussies laud Melbourne's infra (comparing aussie cities is like looking for the least moldy brown orange and thinking 'woohoo') the same mentality applies - most areas that need human interaction are massive arterial routes, and cyclists are shunted onto nothing streets. A good example is Bridge Rd in Richmond, anytime traffic is heavy, it's barely moving, but it is a pretty sucky bike ride (say with kids). Meanwhile, businesses along here are suffering because it's a people unfriendly environment. Bikes are shunted onto crappy Highett St, or the broken route along Palmer St.