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  • Has the Amy Gillett Foundation outlived its use by date?

    (2) June 1, 2020

    The Amy Gillett Foundation released its big coronavirus related campaign to get more bike lanes built in Australia yesterday. A lot of businesses signed on to the campaign, which shows just how many hard-working people support the foundation and its mission. But the AGF is starved of cash, undemocratic, and is now duplicating others’ work. It’s time for the foundation to close down and for its members to work with the rest of the cycling community towards its laudable goals.

    The AGF was started in response to the tragic death of track cyclist Amy Gillett in Germany in 2005. The organisation has a scholarship designed to support competitive female cyclists and also a program of research and advocacy to improve bicycle safety on our roads.

    One of the AGF’s strengths has always been its ability to use connections with the sports cycling world to garner support from corporate and conservative sections of our community. In a space dominated by left wing organisations, this was their unique advantage. They spearheaded the “A Metre Matters” campaign – which led to one metre passing laws in almost every state. These laws were often introduced by conservative governments, no doubt with the help of Liberal party heavyweight and ex-AGF board member Mark Texter.

    There has always been a diversity of groups supporting cycling advocacy in Australia. Each group has its own perspective, and they can work together towards a common goal. But diversity only succeeds if these groups can work together.

    With the “A meter matters” campaign largely complete, the AGF is struggling to figure out where it fits in with other organisations. Their latest advocacy campaign focuses on the right topics, but shows that it can’t work well with others.

    The campaign is a great idea – to get businesses to support temporary bicycle infrastructure in our cities. But they have largely duplicated the work already done by Cycling Works Australia and Bicycle Network. Cycling Works have put a massive amount of work into their business campaign, and other advocacy groups like Bicycle NSW and We Ride Australia respected and supported that work. Bicycle Network already has a fully-fledged campaign lobbying specifically for temporary lanes for coronavirus. The AGF has duplicated these efforts which makes advocacy look fragmented and makes it harder to get things done.

    The AGF also differentiated itself in the past with its focus on research. But there are limits to how much research can help. The benefits of cycling have been clearly established in hundreds of research papers. We do not need more research to know how to build safe bike lanes. The AGF’s latest project “Bike Spot 2.0” is a duplication of a very similar project that was completed only a few years ago. Repeating these projects over and over again is a good way to get grant funding, but the link to actual safety improvements is tenuous. The more organisations such as the AGF rely on government funding of this type to cover costs, the greater their desire will be to please governments instead of achieving real change.

    Because The AGF is not member based, it is less democratic than other cycling advocacy organisations and therefore does not respond well to changes in community views. For instance, the AGF were involved in negotiations with the NSW government that led to some of the highest cycling fines anywhere in the world. The AGF maintains its defence of mandatory helmet laws despite their association with discriminatory police practices towards children in low socioeconomic suburbs and their net health cost to the community. And they continue with their “share the road” campaign despite international evidence that this strategy is ineffective at changing driver behaviour.

    The AGF lost $180,000 last financial year, on total revenues that were down 15%. Annual reports for earlier years are not available, because the AGF’s website sends users to dead links and errors. The financial crunch has not just hampered their ability to run a functioning website, but it has also led The AGF to make decisions that put their independence into question, such as moving from their St Kilda Road office to desks at the ARRB group – a largely government funded organisation.

    Cycling advocacy is becoming a crowded field, and the damage done by having too many organisations is growing. Profits from events like the “Amy Grand Fondo” help to fund cycling organisations, and they now operate in a far more competitive space than 15 years ago where multiple charities and fun runs compete for attendance. The coronavirus crisis is only going to worsen the crunch for mass event rides, making it harder for them to subsidise advocacy. There are benefits to scale, and it no longer makes sense for Bicycle Network and the AGF to operate in this market.

    There is no reason for the AGF to continue to exist. The research functions would be more respected if branded by universities rather than lobbying organisations. The rides would be much more efficient if run by Bicycle Network. Federal cycling advocacy can be run by We Ride, and state advocacy would be more unified and co-ordinated if run by the various democratic organisations such as Bicycle Network and Bicycle NSW. The Amy Gillett scholarship can be awarded by Cycling Australia.

    The AGF’s employees, volunteers and supporters should continue their hard work to support cycling safety. But they will be much more effective at achieving change if the foundation ends and they work together with the rest of the cycling community.

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  • Melbourne’s First Protected Intersection

    (8) May 6, 2020

    There’s been a lot of talk on Facebook and Twitter about a new protected intersection currently being installed on Albert Street in East Melbourne. The protected intersection was funded through the $100m TAC Safer Cycling and Pedestrian fund, promised by the Andrews government before the 2014 election. Many of the projects on the list have been delayed significantly, and there is concern some of the money has been diverted to non-cycling related projects, so it’s fantastic to see something finally being built!

    The bike lanes are not finished yet. There’s green paint to go in, and the signals and lighting are not finished. But you can ride it now.

    Some on social media are concerned that this design deviates from the classic “Dutch” intersection design, and NACTO guidelines. They worry that it could be more dangerous than what was there before, particularly on the downhill approach along Albert Street heading east. One commentator on a cycling Facebook group went as far as to say:

    (This is a) Hazardous design & taking away bicycle riders rights to give left turning cars priority. As an engineer who has built bikeways for over a decade and has 38yrs of commuter cycling I say that design is hazardous & probably a disgusting attempt to keep bicycle riders subservient to motorists.

    These are serious charges. Concerns about this new design fall into three distinct categories:

    1. The ‘banana’ humps are difficult to see, and cyclists might run into them.
    2. The tight angle of the intersection forces cyclists to slow down too much, and is generally awkward.
    3. By forcing cyclists to deviate left, the intersection gives left turning vehicles priority over cyclists.

    While these concerns are genuine and earnest, we think that on balance they are mistaken. We think it’s a good design which Melbourne cyclists can be proud of.

    We’ll go through each of these concerns individually. But first it is worth dispelling one myth. We have met with some of the people who designed the intersection, and can confirm that they are not part of a conspiracy to make bikes subservient to cars. The designers are mostly cyclists, who are earnestly trying to improve the safety and comfort of cyclists in Melbourne. Unlike most projects in Melbourne where cyclists are simply an afterthought, this project was focused from start to finish on improving bike safety. The project involved the removal of a peak hour vehicle turn lane at a major Melbourne intersection – something that would have bee simply unheard of only a few years ago.

    Why make an intersection protected?

    The unavoidable problem with all intersections is that some vehicles want to turn left, and some cyclists want to travel straight ahead. Without banning left turns or separating with signals, no grade intersection can completely remove this problem. It can only be managed. Protected intersections improve safety in two ways:

    1. Vehicles have a slow speed on the approach to the left turn conflict point, and
    2. Cars and bikes face each other at a 90 degree angle at the conflict point.

    Because everybody is going slowly in a protected intersection, and everyone is facing each other, the risk of a crash is greatly decreased.

    So how does Albert Street match up? For cars, the width of the entrance into Lansdowne Street has been decreased from 10m wide to 6m. That will make the left turn into Landsdowne street much tighter for cars, forcing them to slow down.

    Once cars have slowed down to turn left, they will be facing cyclists at a 90 degree angle. This will mean that cyclists and car drivers can look each other in the eye.

    Based on these criteria, the Albert street protected intersection is a big success.

    The intersection will slow cyclists down – and that’s a good thing

    The downhill section of Albert Street is a death trap. Cyclists travelling at 40km/h go head to head with left turning cars every day. Experienced cyclists might feel that they can manage this risk well, but conditions such as this are unlikely to encourage more people onto their bikes.

    The Dutch have the advantage of relatively flat roads which help to keep average cyclist speed between 13 and 20 km/h.

    There is no safe way to design this intersection that does not involve all vehicles (including cyclists) slowing down.

    The good news is that while you will be going slower through this intersection, the overall length of your trip will not be longer. City of Melbourne have introduced a ‘green wave’ on Albert Street – so the average cyclist will get to Richmond faster than before.

    And while this intersection design forces you to slow down, some of the complaints about overestimate just how tight it is. The intersection has only just been resurfaced, and so you can see that much of the “kerb” is completely flat with the road:

    It is actually quite comfortable for cyclists to round the intersection at a moderate speed without aggressive turns. Far from being a slalom, most people take the intersection with only a single turn out and a single turn back in.

    Why did they change the design from Dutch/NACTO standards?

    There’s a lot of frustration about VicRoads ‘reinventing the wheel’ here and not just using Dutch guidelines. But the changes were made for good reasons.

    Traditionally with these intersections, the cycle lane stays more or less straight and the ‘turn’ space for cars is inside the intersection.

    Figure: Because the protection in The Netherlands is in the intersection, bikes do not have to deviate from their path.

    Many intersections in The Netherlands do force cyclists to turn away from their desire lines, but the curves tend to be much subtler than what we see on Albert Street, particularly on the North West corner where space is tightest.

    Figure: The bike lane here in The Netherlands deviates away from the intersection. It would be much easier to cycle through Melbourne’s protected intersection at speed than this one. 

    To make a protected intersection, you need to have enough space so that the car has turned left by the time they cross the cyclist’s path. We could have pushed this space in to the centre of the road, which would have meant cyclists would have deviated less. To find this space we could have narrowed the median of Albert Street, but that would have created heritage concerns and involved destroying a tree. We could have reduced the number of traffic lanes, but this project has already taken a turn lane away. We could have narrowed the footpath (something they’re not afraid of doing in the Netherlands), but that’s undesirable for lots of reasons.

    It would have been a better result had the department sacrificed two traffic lanes for the project, but given any safe design will slow cyclists down anyway, the damage done by only removing one traffic lane is not extreme.

    Much has been made of the protected humps being the ‘wrong shape’. In the Netherlands they look like almonds, whereas we have ended up with bananas. But the difference between the two should not be overstated. This design only used bananas to enable more storage space in the intersection for bicycles turning. In fact, when you ignore the mounted portion of the banana it looks very much like an Almond.

    Are the humps dangerous?

    Concerns that the banana humps are dangerous are legitimate. It’s more than possible that a cyclist heading down the hill at a high speed could fail to see the humps and crash into them. There a few reasons to be less concerned about this possibility though:

    1. Faster cyclists also tend to be more regular cyclists, so they will get used to the new design quickly,
    2. This is a popular route, so cyclists will be able to follow the person ahead of them during peak times,
    3. The downhill section faces east, so there are no issues with glare at sunset during the PM peak hour, and
    4. The project includes new street lighting – which is yet to be installed.

    We think that the banana humps should be painted a different colour and/or given a reflective treatment to ensure that cyclists can see them at night. But let’s wait and see what it looks like when the street lighting is installed first.

    Will cars give way to bikes at this intersection?

    Perhaps the most controversial question is who will give way to who at this intersection.

    At regular intersections, bikes must give way to cars which are indicating and already turning left. But there is no clear definition of when a car begins it’s left turn, which made the situation very confusing.

    The installation of bike signals means that legally, drivers must now give way to bikes.

    We don’t think the legal question is too important though – drivers will take their cue from the surroundings.

    One of the challenges in Australia with protected intersections is that we don’t have the design language to tell drivers who has right of way at these conflict points. The Netherlands benefits from a ‘sharks teeth’ road marking which makes it clear who gives way to whom.

    Figure: “sharks teeth” triangles in The Netherlands tell drivers to give way.

    Managing the conflict here in Australia without sharks teeth is tough. Even if we started including them in new roads, it would take years for drivers to learn what they mean.

    One way around this on Moray Street in South Melbourne was to build in a speed hump. That could have been a possibility here, but it would have added complexity to an already novel design. It also would have slowed cyclists more.

    Because this intersection is in a much tighter space than some seen in the Netherlands, there is no room for a zebra crossing across the bike lane. That means that there must be two stop lines at each leg of the intersection (one for right turning bikes, and one for straight through). It’s possible that drivers might see this second stop line and think bikes should give way.

    However, there are good reason to think that drivers will give way to pedestrians. The protected intersection design places cyclists in a similar position as pedestrians, and drivers are used to the idea that they should give way to people at this location in an intersection. This intersection also slows drivers with a very sharp turn, which increases the chance they will give way. And chance that drivers will think cyclists are turning left is not high, since (as seen below) cyclists do not change their angle very much on their way into the intersection.

    When we visited the site today, we found that every car gave way to bikes, even when they entered the intersection before the bikes.

    With green paint across the intersection it will make it even more clear that bikes have priority here. Bikes will also have a head start at the intersection, meaning that they will be able to get ahead of drivers before they begin to turn left.

    It’s impossible to know what will happen in reality, especially over the next six months as everybody gets used to this new intersection design. So let’s wait for the green paint and then see.

    Our suggestions for this intersection

    There are other issues this intersection that we have not seen mentioned on social media. We are concerned that the pedestrian desire lines are interrupted, which might lead some pedestrians to walk in the bike lane for part of the intersection. We didn’t witness this at the site visit today, but it’s something to watch for.

    And there have been a few cat eyes placed across the desire line of cyclists. These could be easily moved to a spot where they won’t be run over by cyclists in the wet.

    Figure: A red cat-eye has been placed in an awkward position.

    The bicycle lanterns are a bit far back from the intersection. This could be fixed by rotating them to the other side of the pole.

    Figure: bicycle lanterns are not easily visible from the bicycle stop line.

    When the lanterns go on we’ll be interested to see green times. Some crossings like this turn red well before the main intersection, and if that happens here it will cause problems as many cyclists get confused about which signal they should abide by.

    Thinking more broadly, Lansdowne probably wasn’t the best intersection for this. There are far more left turn conflicts at Gisborne Street. But doing the first one on Gisborne would have involved dealing with Yarra Trams and the Eye and Ear renovations, and so it’s understanding that they decided to pick off an easier target first.

    There is also the issue of cost. If pilot projects set a benchmark for a protected intersection that costs millions of dollars, it will be much more difficult to get many of them built across the city. We need to think about how to achieve the same outcomes with far less infrastructure.

    Conclusion

    Critics of the design raise some good points, but we think it’s premature to draw negative conclusions. When Albert Street’s protected lanes were originally put in they were criticised for ‘hemming in’ vehicular cyclists. It took years for drivers to get used to the new treatment and realise they were not supposed to park in the bike lane. But bicycle numbers on the route increased as those who were too scared to get on a bike were drawn to the extra feeling of protection they provided.

    Since then, Albert street has provided a base off which Melbourne was able to build many more protected lanes – with improvements being made to the designs each time.

    We think that this treatment will spur a similar wave of improvements to infrastructure that will increase cycling in Melbourne, as more nervous cyclists get on the road.

    Before casting judgement, we believe people should wait for this treatment to be finished, the line markings to go in, the lights to be turned on, and for drivers to get used to the design. Then we can begin to have a discussion about what improvements need to be made and how we might do a better job next time.

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  • Exhibition St Protected Lanes

    (4) May 2, 2019

    Belated upate 27/11/2019. On May 19th 2019, Cr Leppert moved “That the Future Melbourne Committee notes the outcome of the study and recommends that Council endorses installation of continuous protected full time bicycle lanes in Exhibition Street in its adoption of the 2019-20 budget.” In priniple there should be no unprotected sections, and the City’s current policy is to run protection up to the stop line, no more skinny lanes at the intersection. The project requires no further Council approval.

    The new lanes are now in design and we expect them to be built during 2020.  Thanks to everyone who made a submission to Council. Over one hundred submissions were received, which helps to fortify Council in their determination to improve conditions for active transport in the City.


    Council will consider recommendations for building protected bike lanes along Exhibition St on Tuesday 7th May 2019.

    Please make a submission in support via https://comdigital.wufoo.com/forms/rly4bj60tdagsg/
    Agenda Item title: Exhibition Street Bicycles Lanes
    Meeting date: 7/5/2019
    Future Melbourne Committee.

    Or by email to com.meetings@melbourne.vic.gov.au

    Print copies of our leaflet to leave on bikes in your work bike cage: https://bikemelbourne.org/wp-content/bikemelbourne.org/uploads/2019/05/exhibirtion_A4.pdf.

    Key deadlines:

    2PM Friday, Recommendation published on Council website at https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/Pages/meetings-finder.aspx?type=22&month=05&year=2019&attach=True

    Now published at https://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-council/committees-meetings/meeting-archive/MeetingAgendaItemAttachments/856/15290/AGENDA%20ITEM%206.5.pdf

    12PM Monday, submissions made after this won’t be included in Councillor Briefing

    10AM Tuesday, final deadline for submissions.

    You can also address the committee meeting, indicate this when you make your submission and your name will be called on the night. If you have experiences on Exhibition St please come and tell your story to the councillors. Your submission can optionally include a powerpoint which will be displayed when you are talking.

    From the report:

    Existing typical Exhibition Street cross section

    Proposed typical mid-block plan

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