Monday, 7 October 2013

How to use an Australian roundabout

Bicycle riders are quite rare in Kalgoorlie. Recently, while I was walking around the town I spotted one and felt compelled to take a photograph.  A bit weird I know, I guess the impulse is comparable to an ornithologist seeing a rare bird.

By the time I got to the corner he had given up trying to enter the roundabout on his bicycle.  He had dismounted and resorted to crossing as a pedestrian.  The traffic was moving quite fast and he had to wait quite a while.  As a pedestrian he had no rights and it is very difficult to judge when a motorist is going to exit the roundabout because they usually do not use their turn indicators.

Growing frustrated, he took off on foot to an easier place to cross.

After crossing he resorted to illegally riding along the footpath.

And finally got to the bookshop which was only a few metres from his original position.

This person is an adult male who I expect would have a reasonable sense of self confidence in most situations.  He also, obviously, has a sense of self preservation and recognises that an Australian roundabout is not a safe place on a bicycle. 

There is a small percentage of the population that have the confidence and skill to dodge motor vehicles but the majority of people do not. This man represents the majority. Most of the people without the confidence simply do not ride. I congratulate him for his efforts and wonder how long he will tolerate the difficulty of riding around the city before he resorts to driving a car.

Our state and local governments should not keep building roundabouts with the current design while hypocritically telling us how much they are doing for sustainable transport.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

The view is better from a bike

This week I spotted a lake on my way to visit the Subiaco council to discuss crosswalks. It is hidden behind a hedge. You can see it if you are riding a bicycle but would completely miss it from the seat of a car.

The view from a bicycle

The view from a car

Monday, 9 September 2013

The stupid roundabouts in Kalgoorlie

You may know I dislike roundabouts. I have written about them previously.  The City of Kalgoorlie has a unique dangerous version for anyone on a bicycle.  At first glance there seems to be a convenient bicycle lane on the approach to the intersections.

Don't be fooled, it is really just an odd type of drain with traffic island.  It is designed to force motor vehicles into a narrow lane as they enter the roundabout.  Across the top of the drain is a steel plate with sharp edges.

The plate is a continuation of the footpath, it is used instead of having ramps. The streets are very wide and these steel plates are positioned directly across the desire line when riding.

This is not just a one-off, these things are everywhere. Sometimes they are positioned on the exit from a roundabout, sometimes on the entry. Almost always, exactly where we would want to ride.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Why does Canberra have more crosswalks than Perth?

Today is Federal election day in Australia. A good day to compare Perth with Canberra.  
A big building with a flag
I recently made a trip to the national capital as a parent / helper with my daughter’s school class.  Our government provides some financial assistance for children who visit the capital on school excursions. There is a quite a business in providing support for touring school groups in Canberra. The city has nearly 130,000 school children visit each year. I have to admit Canberra had not been high on my list of cities to visit. My only previous experience was as a small child so this trip felt like the first time. All I could remember was wide streets and lots of space, however I really enjoyed the week and realised that apart from its obvious political significance it has some great museums and art galleries. 

Model of Canberra
It was also interesting to get some understanding of the city layout. Canberra did not evolve over time, it was purpose-built as a national capital in the early part of last century. Basically built from nothing, the location was a compromise between the rival cities of Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest at the time. Before 1900, Canberra was just grazing land, now it is our eighth largest city and has a population of around 360,000.

The city was designed after the invention of the car and my first impressions are that it is still a city for cars. There seems to be a lot of tunnels, flyovers and big sweeping roundabouts. Lots of double lane roads. Is it my imagination or is Canberra trying to hide its car dependence? Shouldn't Parkes Way really be called Parkes Freeway? It seems like a freeway. Shouldn’t Belconnen Way be called Belconnen Highway? Also, who named the big road heading south Tuggeranong “Parkway”? In most Australian cites, eleven kilometres of multiple-lane road with a speed limit of 100 km/h and grade separated interchanges would be called a “Freeway”.

Tuggeranong Parkway, no park here

And if you hide the parking areas behind hedges, does it feel like you have less cars?

Hiding the cars

...still hiding
Our schedule for the week was very busy. I had no opportunity for bicycle riding but I did notice a lot of on-road bicycle lanes while driving around. Canberra does have a lot of space, it seems a shame that more effort is not made to provide separated infrastructure. This freshly painted example on Wentworth Avenue is interesting. If you look at the same spot on Google maps it shows the road is the same width in 2008 but without the sign and painted line. 

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra 2013

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra 2008 (from Google Streetview)
I bet after this effort, a couple of bureaucrats congratulated themselves for ticking-the-box for "provision of sustainable transport options" then went to lunch. 

I suppose it is a slight improvement but this is a 60 km/h road. My teenage daughter does not use bicycle lanes like this. Instead of just adding a sign and some paint, the ACT government could have made an actual improvement by separating bicycles and motorised traffic. There is ample space available.

Wentworth Avenue, Canberra from above.

This blog post is turning into a ramble. If you want to read more about Canberra's transport issues try these: "Fifty Years of Transport Planning in Canberra" Mees, 2012 (PDF 229kb) and Transport Policy at the Crossroads, Mees & Groenhart 2012 (PDF 418 kb)

Now onto the subject shown in the title: Why does Canberra have more crosswalks than Perth? Pedestrian crosswalks are a rare item in Perth. Why is that? Is walking less important in Perth?

Here is a comparison: the districts of Manuka in Canberra and Subiaco in Perth. Both areas have things in common: shops, restaurants and a major sports ground. Manuka appears to be a fashionable area and Subiaco, although in decline, is still one of the preferred places to live and visit in Perth.  Manuka's retail and restaurant area has eight pedestrian crosswalks, all within a few blocks. Subiaco has one.

Manuka, ACT.  Crosswalks shown with green squares.

Subiaco, Western Australia.  One crosswalk.
I visited Manuka on a Friday night. Every restaurant and bar was buzzing with activity. The footpaths were not busy but it was a chilly three degrees. It was a great pleasure to find so many crosswalks.

Manuka (Google Streetview)

Subiaco has places where pedestrians can attempt to cross the road but these are not crosswalks. There are no zebra stripes and drivers of motor vehicles have right-of-way at all times.  It does get confusing, the road design implies a pedestrian crossing so the City of Subiaco has tried to fix the problem with extra signs to remind pedestrians they have no rights.

Subiaco. Pedestrians have to wait.
Signs remind pedestrians they are less important.

However, there are no signs for motorists. They are often confused and sometimes stop for pedestrians.

Traffic might stop, if you have a walking frame it helps.

These next two photographs sum up the situation in Subiaco. Stand and wait while people in big cars cruise past. Then, when you make your move, be on guard and move fast.

Rokeby Road Subiaco today.
On guard Rokeby Road Subiaco.
Why do we accept such poor conditions in Western Australia?

Update Monday 9 September: Subiaco's only crosswalk is currently unusable.
One becomes none

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Comparing Perth and Melbourne for pedestrians

On a recent trip to Melbourne I was impressed by how much easier it is to be a pedestrian in that city. What makes it better? One of the main advantages is it takes less time to cross a road. This is achieved by using the parallel crossing system at traffic lights. Put simply, pedestrians are allowed to cross a road in the same direction as motor traffic, at the same time. This means for every phase of traffic control there is an option for pedestrians to move. Motorists wanting to turn must wait until all pedestrians have crossed the road before making their move.

In Perth, at most busy intersections, pedestrians have to wait until we get our own special time to cross. All motor traffic is stopped, then pedestrians can go in any direction. This exclusive system for pedestrians is safe but it also means much longer waiting times. Pedestrians have to wait while motor traffic goes north-south, then east-west, then sometimes there is an extra turning sequence before everything stops and the pedestrians get a turn.

The parallel crossing system works in Melbourne because people driving vehicles give-way to pedestrians when turning. In Australia, traffic laws can vary slightly from state to state but this rule is the same for Perth and Melbourne. We have a problem that most Perth drivers are ignorant of this law and the Western Australian Police do very little to enforce it. 

A Melbourne taxi driver waits patiently to turn

Here is a comparison. This first video shows an intersection in the Melbourne district of South Yarra. There are pedestrian crossing options about every 35 seconds. The longest wait for a pedestrian is 1 minute 10 seconds. Notice how the driver of the small black car waits for the pedestrian. That is not likely to happen in Perth.

This next video shows a similar intersection in the Perth district of Mount Lawley. Both South Yarra and Mount Lawley are busy areas with a mixture of residential and commercial activity just a few kilometres from the central business district of each capital city. In Mount Lawley there is no pedestrian crossing option that runs parallel with the traffic. This means no short waiting times, whatever direction you want to travel. All pedestrians have to wait for the exclusive pedestrian-only phase which means a wait of up to 1 minute 50 seconds. 

People in Perth often wait three times longer to cross the road than people in Melbourne.

You might think at least with Perth's exclusive pedestrian phase a diagonal crossing can be made in one trip thus avoiding the extra waiting time, however this only works if you are a quick walker and get a lucky break by not having to wait too long before the pedestrian phase. Older people and those with children are not likely to attempt a diagonal crossing in Perth. There is not enough time to make the crossing before the lights change and you are at risk of being killed or injured.

The older man with the walking frame at the start of the Mount Lawley video takes 25 seconds to cross the road. This is barely enough time to cross at the shortest point, he would not attempt a diagonal crossing in one go. For this person a diagonal crossing at these Mount Lawley traffic lights would have to be done in two parts and would take somewhere between 2 minutes 20 seconds if he got lucky, but it is more likely to be longer and take up to 4 minutes 30 seconds with most of the time spent standing watching cars go past.

In Melbourne's South Yarra, this same two-part crossing, done to reach an opposite corner would only take him 60 seconds!  A 25 second walk, a 10 second wait and then another 25 second walk.

It gets worse. Have a look at our central business district. This next video shows the intersection of St Georges Terrace and Milligan Street Perth. This is the oil and gas end of town. On one corner is the 40-storey QV1 tower and on another is the 29-story Woodside Plaza building. They have about 100,000 square metres of lettable floor space between them. On the opposite corners are a park and a boutique hotel plus there are other multi-storey towers nearby. This combination should result in a lot of pedestrian activity but it is relatively quiet down on the street. Perhaps it is because it can take up to 2 minutes 20 seconds just to cross the road.

This intersection has an extra phase of motor vehicle flow so the pedestrian-only phase takes longer to come around. The wait is so long some people ignore the rules and cross against the 'Don't Walk' sign. You can see a woman in black doing this at around 1' 35".

The pedestrian-only phase with diagonal crossing has different names around the world. It is sometimes called a "pedestrian scramble" or a "Barnes dance".  This Wikipedia page gives some further reading. Contrary to my observations here, there seems to be a general view that these pedestrian-only phases are an advantage to pedestrians. Providing amenity and safety over the dominance of motor vehicles. As with roundabouts, which I have written about previously, there are a number of ways to interpret and execute traffic control systems. The version of the pedestrian scramble we have in Perth is safe but the long waiting times followed by very short crossing times dissuade people from walking.

The following scramble intersection in Toronto has a different execution. They have the pedestrian-only scramble at every third phase but also allow pedestrians to cross in parallel with the motor traffic during the other phases.

The Sustainable Transport Coalition of Western Australia produced a paper in 2003 about the introduction of parallel phase pedestrian crossings in Western Australia. It is still available to download from their website. They expressed concern about the safety of pedestrians and complained about the poor implementation of the system by the Western Australian state government's department of Main Roads. It seems that not a great deal has changed in the past ten years.

It would be interesting to compare the pedestrian death statistics between the two cities. Even though Perth's pedestrians have to wait longer, do the exclusive pedestrian phases make walking safer than Melbourne's parallel system?  The only figures I could find compare the whole states: Victoria and Western Australia. Victoria has a higher population but once the figures are adjusted for that, on average, there is not a lot of difference. Western Australia has slightly more deaths. I got the figures from the BITRE Road Deaths Australia 2011 Statistical Summary (3.6 MB PDF).

The death statistics do not tell the full story about vulnerable road users in Australia. Lowering the number of deaths of pedestrians or cyclists means nothing if there are less people participating in those modes of transport. Governments should not congratulate themselves on achieving a lower road toll if they continue to create road environments that discourage walking and bicycling.

Intersections with traffic lights in Perth and the rest of Western Australia can be confusing. There are a range of different systems in place at various locations. The pedestrian-only scramble is not done at every intersection. There are some traffic lights with 'Walk' and 'Don't Walk' symbols and others with nothing. The intersections without the scramble phase are hazardous because of the risk of being killed or injured from turning vehicles.

However, expanding the use of pedestrian-only scramble phases at traffic lights is not the solution to better pedestrian amenity and safety. The major issue that needs to be addressed in Western Australia is the non-compliance by motorists of the law:


If motorists obeyed this law it would make life in Perth so much better. Intersections with traffic lights are the minority:  at the many thousands of intersections without traffic lights, pedestrians are also put at risk from motorists making illegal turns while they are crossing the road.  

Enforcing this law will probably not make a huge difference to the road toll.  The people who walk around Perth generally do not put themselves at risk. They are mostly cautious and vigilant of the two-tonnes of metal that are thrown around corners without warning. It is not very pleasant to always be on guard, to remember to watch over your shoulder every time you cross a minor street or driveway. Therefore, many people (too many) simply do not walk, it's not pleasant, it's too stressful and it takes too long. 

Town of Cambridge sign

The catalyst for change will not come from the state government Office of Road Safety. They measure their success on lower injuries and fewer deaths. This needs to be a whole of government approach. Less aggressive motorists and a better environment for walking will have benefits for tourism, health and the economy. Some traffic engineers also think those parallel walk lights at intersections are better for congestion as well.

If our state government would finally recognise the problem then act to educate the public and simply enforce the law, our quality of life could be improved immensely.

Pedestrians weave through cars in West Perth

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Positive things

It has been a while since I last posted. Work was very busy for several months but I am getting some balance back. I thought I would share a few positive things. Here is a photo of the shared path through Subiaco during a recent morning commute. It reminds me how good it can be to travel by bicycle. This section is away from the noise of motor vehicles, is not used by pedestrians very much and is a short cut through a park.

Shared path Subiaco

I spotted this new bike rack in Leederville this week. Instead of taking up valuable pedestrian space this rack is made by taking over a car parking bay.  A very solid design, I think bicycles will be well protected inside this.

Newcastle Street Leederville

Newcastle Street Leederville
The City of Vincent have been doing some good things lately. Apart from the bicycle rack they are also doing a trial of extending cafe space into the road. This area has taken over two car parking bays. I think it is a great improvement. The Town of Claremont could learn a lot from this, successful urban areas are not made by providing endless car parking. 

Oxford Street

There was also a couple of interesting press releases this week.  The West Australian newspaper had articles on the City of Fremantle's plans to increase spending on infrastructure and also the proposal to make new laws to ensure motor vehicle drivers allow a safe distance when passing a person on a bicycle. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

Perth Stadium bicycle travel zone

I have written about the transport issues for the proposed Perth Stadium recently, here and here.

Since that time, I have learnt some news from the Perth Stadium people.  The new bridge between East Perth and Burswood will be ten metres wide and cyclists will be permitted to ride across. There are not any other details available at this stage because the bridge has not yet been designed. At ten metres wide, it seems that pedestrians and cyclists could have there own space and conflict could be avoided.

I do wonder about this piece of infrastructure. It will be in quite a prominent position at the eastern end of the city, the part that most visitors see first. There is potential to make this bridge something wonderful. Not only an important link for bicycle riding and walking, but a stimulating and interesting structure that could add to the culture of our city. There is potential to create a bridge that is both functional and artistic.

The movement of people on game days has been the major focus of the Perth Stadium transport plans, but we need to remember that for the rest of the week, any infrastructure built to accommodate those peak times will become part of Perth's transport network. Hopefully, there would be some significant additions to the bicycle network. Unfortunately, apart from the new bridge, the Perth Stadium planners are not showing much interest in bicycles.

The research to date has determined that bicycle use will be insignificant and as such, it has not been included on any publicly-available documents. I know that bicycle use on game days will be a low percentage of modal share but I am not satisfied that the research has been done correctly. It would be good to find out how the research was conducted and a more detailed explanation of the results.

There was a 'walkability' map shown in the Master Plan document last August. It got me thinking about what a 'bikeability' map might look like. There is nothing available from the Perth Stadium planners, so I thought I would do a quick map myself.

My idea was to show the potential catchment area for people who might travel by bicycle to attend the stadium. The area does not show the catchment for seasoned commuters or the enthusiasts, it shows the much smaller area for people who know how to ride but are not confident in traffic. People who have basic skills and prefer to relax and enjoy the ride.

The first step was to decide on the journey time. For this, I took a guess at 45 minutes from home to stadium. That seemed to be a reasonable period of travel for the total journey in comparison with a the various combinations of the alternatives such as 'drive-walk-train-walk'. At an average speed of 15 kilometres per hour, the furthest point from the stadium would have to be within a radius of 10 kilometres.

The various routes to the stadium would have to be on bicycle paths or shared paths that are separated from motorised traffic. I imagined that riders would probably be OK with travelling for approximately one kilometre through quieter suburban streets to reach the paths.

It is interesting once you examine the position of the stadium. There are a number of good paths that already feed into the Burswood area. Most of Perth's best bicycle infrastructure has been built along routes that have been easy to secure. Routes on public land without too many conflicting interests such as railway reserves and following the banks of the Swan River. The stadium site is in a great position to take advantage of this existing infrastructure. You can see examples of these paths in the photographs below.

Shared path Burswood, 1.5 km from stadium site

Shared path East Perth, 2 km from stadium site

Shared path East Perth, 2 km from stadium site

Shared path Bayswater, 5 km from stadium site

Shared path Perth 7 km from stadium site

Here is how the 'bikeability' map looks. I have shown all the existing separated paths that radiate from the stadium site in red. The shaded blue area is the zone that fits all of the criteria. The people who live or work in the blue zone would be able to reach the stadium by bicycle with a 45 minute ride.

The stadium site is shown with a blue 'S' near the centre of the map. The new bridge will extend the catchment area for bicycle riders in the areas west of the stadium. My rough estimate is the bridge would reduce the distance by one kilometre which will help extend the range of the 45 minute travel zone further into the suburbs of Crawley, Nedlands, Subiaco, Shenton Park and Leederville.

Conversely, if the proposed Elizabeth Quay and Riverside developments restrict the movement of bicycles by severing the paths to the west of stadium, much of the advantage of the new bridge will be lost.

Elizabeth Quay and Riverside are being controlled by the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority and the Perth Stadium is being handled by the Department of Treasury with the Department of Sport and Recreation. All parts of the Western Australian state government. My question is: are they talking to each other?

Riverside development

The map is based on the following:
  • Fully separated cycle paths or bicycle/pedestrian shared paths for 90% of the journey. The remaining 10% quiet streets.
  • A travel time of 45 minutes, door-to-door (house to stadium).
  • An average speed of 15 kilometres per hour.
  • Maximum distance 9 kilometres on a separated path plus up to 1 kilometre on the road.
  • The area around the Perth central business district and Northbridge shows a smaller radius  to allow for walking with bicycles for 500 metres to reach the paths instead of riding on the roads
  • Distance calculations have included the proposed new bridge between Burswood and East Perth.