Segregated infrastructure or none at all?
You know how frustrating it is when you can see that someone needs help, you know the kind of help that they need and they also see that there are problems and can even identify most of the symptoms, but, even though in periodic moments of clarity when they start taking steps to heal themselves, they simply cannot come to terms with the solutions and completely chicken out, returning to their destructive behaviour?
Sounds a bit like a problem with addiction, doesn’t it? Well, Adelaide is just another car-junkie that can’t really admit that it has a problem. Oh sure, it talks about needing to change, to adapt, to control its behaviour in order to ensure a balanced approach to the future, but, really, what seems more accurate is that it’s doing what it can to maintain and facilitate it’s addiction without having to make too many concessions to ensure that those concerned about it remain forever hopeful about its future, though eternally frustrated at its progress.
One of the breakthrough moments for residents of Adelaide who enjoy getting around under their own power was when the Frome Road cycleway was officially opened two years ago. Cyclists rejoiced at the stretch of segregated space for people who don’t need to drive to get where they are going. All 650 meters of it. The amount of controversy that surrounds it to this day boggles the mind.
One thing is clear, however, and that is that segregated cycle paths are the absolute best thing for encouraging cycling by making sure cyclists stay safe.
Segregation or bust
There are, to be sure, other things that can make cycling more attractive, such as drastically lowering speed limits or installing traffic-calming road furniture, for example. An potential game changer would be adopting presumed liability for motorists (and for cyclists if involved with pedestrians), but this is Australia, and if you think trying to get, and keep, segregated cycleways is difficult… On the other hand, though much is made of presumed liability, even that has it’s difficulties and downsides, and seems to me to simply be a stronger version of safe passing laws, which everyone knows have varying degrees of success, to say the least.
It seems to me that everything that attempts to suggest that cycling is welcome here without setting aside real space for cycling and putting real space between people using bikes and people using cars is merely an insincere and misleading attempt to convince us that they/we/you really support cycling.
Look around. Painted cycle lanes? In the gutter? Only active during 7:30-9am? Barely the width of your handlebars? Putting you directly in the perfect position to be car-doored? Ending wherever there isn’t room for it (wherever the road narrows, intersections, etc), which is precisely where it’s needed most?
In some instances they can encourage dangerous behaviour as they excuse motorists for thinking that “as long as I stay on my side of the white line, I’m all good”. No further consideration has to be made. 60kph, 80kph, three inches from the person on a bike in their bike lane? “What? They shouldn’t be so close to my lane. This is my space, that’s their space (until I want to stop or park in it…). Stay where you belong.”
I’m not saying that that’s how most people think, but that’s really one of two messages that narrow, poorly placed painted bike lanes send. The other message that it sends to people is that cyclists are legitimate road users (it’s not like the law says that already, or anything) because, look, they have their own space. Sometimes. You could say that. However, what I hear much, much more from people is, “get in your bike lane!!!”, or “keep to the f!@king left!”. Basically, you don’t belong here, so get in your little box and stay there.
Overall, as something that changes the way people think – and therefore behave – on the roads, I don’t see the painted bike lane as being all that effective.
People drift into them all the time, park in them, and “load” in them. I don’t think they’re really winning the battle for hearts and minds. What needs to happen for that to occur is to disarm the enemy. We have to get them out of their cars. Their bubbles that protect them from seeing roads and public spaces as anything other than places that move cars around.
Segregated cycling infrastructure is the best and possibly only way to achieve that on any significant scale. Where are our elderly cycling? Well, if at all, it’s not on public roads. Why don’t you let your kids cycle to school? Why don’t you? I can answer that for you: because you don’t feel welcome. You haven’t been invited in, and you’re not the type of person to invite yourself over for dinner to someone else’s house. Besides, you don’t like their cooking. Not that you’ve given it a chance, but you probably wouldn’t. And you might offend them just showing up like that, or, more likely, they might run you over with their car. No thanks. I’ll stay home.
Again, I’m not saying that things aren’t improving, that people aren’t making an effort, or that there aren’t already some good facilities to cycle on. I’ve been noticing that, slowly but surely, there are more people joining me on my daily commute. Adelaide has some nice paths leading out to various suburbs and the paths in the park lands and along the river are pretty nice, but as far as urban cycling goes, the kind that really makes a difference to a city, one doesn’t feel like the city has embraced it. Still, efforts are being made, it’s just that it’s hard to notice when so much of the focus is on how catering to cycling is basically an attack on the rights of regular citizens, and in response, the government considers removing or watering-down some of the best-laid plans to move this city into the future (or even catch up with the present).
A painted, non-segregated cycle lane could be effective if it is held to a certain standard: wide, clear, and well-enforced. Please tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m not of the opinion that this is true of the vast majority of bike lanes around Adelaide, or most other cities, for that matter.
So, what do you think? Are painted cycle lanes worth the (minimal) effort? Do they make a real difference to the many who cycle and the many more who might, but don’t? Are we better off with nothing at all in some instances, or do you feel like they actually do a pretty good job?
Header image: source