August 12, 2013
There’s nothing as disappointing as cycling infrastructure – often expensive or space-consuming – that’s not being used by cyclists.
Firstly, it confounds the non-cycling population, especially if people on bikes are riding next to the infrastructure. “What’s the point,” the non-cyclist may ponder, “spending my taxes on stuff that just gets ignored?”
The same unused facilities can be even more frustrating for those who are cyclists, because in many cases there is a reason the bike amenities aren’t being used. Often, they’re just not user-friendly, or are so poorly designed they’re downright dangerous.
I’ve compiled a shortlist of key fails for cycling infrastructure. If you get around a bit on a bicycle, it’s likely you will have seen some, if not all, of the following classes of shonky construction. And if you don’t cycle much, maybe these explanations will help you see things through the eyes of a two-wheeler.
Bike lanes in “door zones”
I’m repeating myself a bit here, because I’ve written on the door zone of death before. But this problem cannot be overstated – running a line of white paint next to a line of parked cars is asking cyclists to risk injury and death. And when cyclists wisely stay out of a door-zone lane, motorists often see this behaviour as selfish and illegal. But councils just keep building them.
The disappearing bike lane
So, you’re riding along in a nicely demarcated lane, with no doors liable to be flung open in your path. Then the road narrows, or you reach a pinch point, or there is a zone for parking. Without warning, the lane disappears and you’re squeezed into a lane of fast-moving cars. Rather than protect cyclists when road conditions change, many bike lanes simply sacrifice the safety of cyclists first.
Stairways (not to heaven)
It’s true that some people cycle for exercise. Others cycle simply to get around. But no one should have to take part in a cyclo-cross unless they sign up for one. In Australia’s most famous example, thousands of cyclists push their bikes up several flights of stairs every day to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Ongoing campaigns for a better solution have come to nought. Imagine if motorists had to get out and push their cars through the toll gates?
Shared use of scarce space
Mostly, cyclists and pedestrians can get along, and why shouldn’t they? In the event of a collision, both are at risk of being hurt. But things get tricky in commuter zones that are packed with people using both forms of locomotion. Often, these areas have been designated as “shared use” as an easy, cheap alternative to proper infrastructure. When things go wrong, pedestrians and cyclists spend their energy arguing with each other. Instead, we should rather unite to demand better facilities.
Obstacles and obstructions
Examples would include poles in the middle of a path, bus shelters you have to squeeze around, temporary signage that blocks the way, “rumble strips” designed to slow you down even though it’s a bicycle-only lane, and minuscule ramps that feed on and off footpaths. Fine for trundling along while shepherding a three-year-old on training wheels; not so great if you’re actually trying to get somewhere.
If it takes twice as long to use the dedicated cycle path, confident cyclists are just going to use the street. There have been ongoing frustrations with the cycle ways in Sydney (conceived by the city council but designed and built by the Roads and Maritime Services), which often leave riders stranded at the lights. Or how about the five minutes it can take a law-abiding cyclist to cross this intersection?
It’s great that more cycling infrastructure is being built – such as the new dedicated lane over Melbourne’s Princes Bridge. Catering for bicycles is a sensible and cost-effective thing to do that will serve us well in the future. As Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pointed out recently, a cyclists who commutes 20 minutes to and from work saves the economy $21 a day.
Going by car, meanwhile, does nothing but cost the economy, and the few hundred dollars spent on annual registration (excluding CTP or TAC insurance) hardly offsets the billions spent on road construction and maintenance every year.
But it’s a pity when money is wasted on ill-conceived bicycle facilities. A little consultation with local cycling groups could go a long way towards creating infrastructure we are all keen to use.
Do you battle with bad infrastructure in your area? Have you ever campaigned for improvements?