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.