Taken for a ride | AltMedia

Joan Henson writes Taken for a ride in AltMedia. My quotes below, the full interview below that.

Sydney lags internationally for cycling

University of Sydney Professor David Levinson has researched how the distance between commuters and stations can be shrunk by installing strategic station entry points, thus expanding commuter catchments.

As bicycle speeds can be three to four times that of walking, “many more people are in range of the station via bike.”

For safe accessibility, cyclists need entry points in low-speed residential streets and protected cycleways on high-speed roads.

In addition to better station accessibility, he says that Sydney “sorely lacks a protected bike lane network.”

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in five Australians hospitalised for a transport-related injury from 2015-16 was a cyclist.

In early May, it was reported that the rate of injury for other road users declined from 1990-00 to 2015-16 by 1.3 per cent per year.

Over the same period there was an increase of 1.5 per cent per year transport-related injuries for cyclists, until the last six years, where the average increased to 4.4 per cent per year.

Levinson says that far fewer people cycle in Sydney than in places with better cycling infrastructure like Canberra, Portland and Minneapolis in the United States, or “most places in Europe or China,” and that changes in road rules and infrastructure could make walking and cycling more attractive alternatives.

Andrew Chuter, President of Friends of Erskineville, says that his group has started canvassing the community about building a southern entrance to Erskineville station, inspired by Redfern Station developments.

The new Ashmore Estate development, which will house about 6000 residents, presents challenges for accessing the station via walking and cycling.

“That estate accesses Erskineville Station by walking up a hill to the top of the station, and then comes back down to the platform,” he says.

“It really doesn’t make sense… to come back down to the platform.”

The City of Sydney’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 target aims for 10 per cent of all trips to the city to be made by bicycle.

In early May NSW Public Spaces Minister Rob Stokes told the Sydney Morning Herald that he was “very aware that Sydney is not a cycle-friendly city”, and wanted to work with councils and the Transport Minister to make improvements.

The full interview is below:

I watched your Tuesday Friends of Erskineville talk where you spoke about the extended catchment area that would be provided to commuters at various Sydney railway stations by building an extra entry (bringing commuters closer to stations and potential workplaces).

  • In your estimation, briefly, which Sydney stations could most benefit from better bicycle accessibility and whyI imagine there might be some overlap with the study you referenced at the Tuesday talk, but also unique problem areas, such as connecting to cycleways and making wider concourse entry/exit areas?

I think all stations could benefit from better bicycle accessibility, including both bicycle access routes and bike storage at stations. Bicycles expand the catchment area significantly beyond the walk catchment. Bike speeds are about 3 to 4 times as fast as walking, so in the same 5 or 10 minutes, many more people are in range of the station via bike. The issue is not just bike access to stations on safe facilities (low-speed residential streets and protected bikeways on higher speed roads), but bike access to everywhere. Sydney sorely lacks a protected-bike lane network. People say no one bikes in Sydney, and while not true of course, far fewer people bike here than in good cities for bicycling like Canberra in Australia, Portland and Minneapolis in the United States, or most places in Europe or China. Is the lack of facilities due to the lack of bicyclists, or is the lack of bicyclists due to the lack of facilities? I think at this point the latter is true. Sydney’s roads have been given over to maximising automobile throughput at the expense of all other modes, and this is socially counterproductive. The new Metro was an excellent opportunity to connect to local neighborhoods with protected bike lanes. I don’t think this opportunity was fully taken advantage of (yet). It is much easier to do this in the Western suburbs, where the rights-of-way are wider (enabling protected bike lanes to be installed with less pain), and the distances longer, making the region even more amenable to bicycling than walking.

  • Have you done similar catchment studies related to bicycle accessibility? 

Not as such. The logic is the same though, bikes are just faster so the territory is wider. If we assume bike speeds are 3 times faster than walking, and bikes can go everywhere people on foot can, then the 15-minute walk access catchment is the 5-minute bicycle catchment.

  • How could Redfern station and Macdonaldtown cycling accessibility be improved? 

Part of the issue at both stations is that the railway tracks act as a barrier to north-south crossing. One (or more) pedestrian/bike crossing between would be useful. There are plans for this, but they haven’t been implemented. As the new south/west entrance at Redfern is planned, this helps shorten distances, but it should be designed to accommodate crossings for both modes (without bikes having to dismount), and the entrance should provide bicycle storage for bike-to-train travelers.

  • Do you see problems with the Transport for NSW’s Redfern station overpass model? What about its likability to the currently in-construction Wilson st cycleway and never-made Lawson st cycleway?

The plan is still a schematic. I think it should be wide-enough to accomodate separated bike lanes.

Lawson Street, which I use daily, is a separate matter, and needs a major redesign, far too much space is given over to cars for parking, and not enough for people on foot to move when Sydney University is in session. A shared space design, with many fewer parking spaces, and slower speed limits, might be appropriate here. But again the problem from a transport perspective is the tracks act as a barrier, so too many people are channeled onto a small road. The new entrance at Redfern would reduce pedestrian demand on Lawson significantly.

  • Does Sydney have a problem synchronising cycling infrastructure with roads and railways? How in particular? Should changes be made and what are the priorities in your view? Is there a disconnect between state government and Sydney City Council cycling prioritiesAnd does that confuse future infrastructure planning investments and commuters? If so, how?NSW Public Spaces Minister, Rob Stokes, recently said that the road network is shaped in a way that is not friendly to bicycle riders. The state has been reluctant to approve plans to link up cycleways in the inner city. There is no east-west cycleway in the CBD, links at King, Castlereagh, Chalmers and Liverpool streets lack state funding and approval.

Australia has given far more power to the State government, and less to local government, than most places in the United States, where I am most familiar. Given that governance structure, it is not surprising that NSW privileges the longer distance trips over shorter distance. Imagine local governments (or even a new metropolitan-level government) had more powers over local streets, they would be more responsive to local demands, and less to demands from people who would be considered non-residents (non-voters). You may periodically wind up with a sympathetic state government for bicycle issues, but structurally, it is not embedded in the system. Local governments, of whatever party, will support local travel rather than through travel.

  • What led you to found the Walk Sydney group? What feedback have you received?

Brigid Kelly was the main organiser of WalkSydney. I and others helped. There was no one advocating for pedestrians in Sydney, and so pedestrians get the short end of policies. I saw this especially with traffic signal timings. While Sydney is walkable from a land use perspective, there are lots of adjacent activities and interesting things to see. The footpaths are decaying, and the delays for those on foot so that cars don’t have to stop are appalling. The road rules favour cars rather than pedestrians in a way that is strange.

I was previously involved in establishing and chairing the streets.mn group in Minnesota, which provided a forum for discussion of transport and land use issues, and grew to be a pretty successful website and community that influenced public perception of transport and land use questions. Minneapolis has become much more progressive on these issues since we started talking in a coherent way about them.

I think Sydney needs something similar, that brings together intelligent people discussing the transport and land use problems here in a civilised forum. There are lots of small advocacy groups, but no strong voice, and no one looking systematically at the problem multi-modally.

  • What are the most pressing safety concerns for you for cyclists on Sydney transport networks?

Crash and fatality rates in Australia are higher for cyclists than many other countries. We need to ask why. And then we need consider whether the putative safety solutions with heavy fines are important  to improve safety or just ’safety theatre’. It’s not like we can’t learn from other countries that have a much safer environment, and import their strategies. Some of this is driver education and behaviour and enforcement, but most of this is road rules (which are especially hostile to pedestrians here and give drivers an expanded perception of their privilege) and infrastructure (protected bike lanes, wombat crossings for pedestrians and cyclists), things that can be directly affected by pubic decisions.

  • Where do you see thefuture of transport alternatives in Sydney, like cycling, walking and new alternatives like shared electric scooters, Lime Bikes (after failure of share-bike predecessors)?

I think walking remains the most important of the set you gave, followed by bicycles and e-bikes. I see more privately owned e-scooters/e-skateboards around. Dockless Bike share (and scooter share) did not work here the first time around. The issues are in part for the shared bikes/e-bikes/e-scooters etc. are that people who are using them are traveling faster than walking, so shouldn’t be on footpaths generally, but not as fast as cars (or feel unsafe doing so) so don’t want to use streets. Thus, without a comfortable place to use the device, prospective users aren’t going to rent bikes (or scooters). So this gets back to infrastructure. The companies are doing what companies should do, explore the market. But as they have learned, the market environment here unfortunately isn’t ready for them.