Those bike lanes again

It's been a couple of months since I last blogged about Sydney's bike lane traffic light problem. As I hinted in the last series of blogs, I've largely stopped using the Sydney Cycleways, due mainly to the appalling performance of the detection loops, but also due to some other factors, not all of which apply to all riders, among them being

  • it often takes longer to get from A to B via cyleway than by using the road (due mainly to very short, unreliable light sequences, but also due to the next item)
  • It's almost impossible to overtake slower riders, because the lanes are just over two bikes wide, travelling both ways. And slow riders do use them.
  • Pedestrians seem to think they're a walkway, or a place to leave shopping trolleys - this is rife on the Bourke Street lanes especially.
  • Taxi drivers and tradies seem to think they're a convenient drop-off spot, especially when it's raining. I've had a confrontation in teeming rain, in Pyrmont, about this
  • Choosing a route that takes the cycleways can often add distance, and time, which can be avoided by taking the roads instead.
  • Junctions are often counter-intuitive and confusing, as at Kent and King in the city, and at the Harbour Bridge end of Kent Street, making routefinding somewhat discouraging

The last blog was in March. It's now June and nothing has changed. The SMH has reported again (re-using the video I shot with Amanda Hoh back in March), and as usual the comments area is full of idiots who either haven't read the story or who have read the story and just enjoy looking stupid in public*.

The upshot is that the problems with the lights still aren't fixed, no public awareness campaign has been run, no new markings or signs have been added to alert riders to the existence of the sensors and many riders still believe that the lights don't work, so jump the reds or join the pedestrian traffic or, as noted in the story, stand around for four phases of the lights until another rider turns up and triggers the sensor.

But at least the RMS have completed their study.

Well whoop-de-fucking-do

Forgive my cynicism, but a lot of riders already knew what the RMS has taken months to figure out. A lot of riders also know what they'll be consulting with the City of Sydney about on the topic of how to fix the problems, and a lot of riders have been pushing to get things fixed for months on end.

I understand that there's a process, but people are being fined, people are breaking laws, people are getting frustrated and people are getting out of the lanes and into the road, where dumbshit drivers gape open-mouthed as they near-miss the guys on the bikes. I appreciate that processes have to be followed, but there are simple, cheap measures that can be taken today to ease the problems, and so far there's no hint of change. Not even a lick of paint on the Union Street lanes saying "position bikes here".

That said, there has been other coverage than just the light problem. The spectre of dooring incidents has been making the news, with the increase in door-zone lanes in suburban councils such as Leichhardt, as has the mooted possiblity of a bike lane on Pyrmont Bridge, a move which I oppose, again for several reasons, the primary of which might take a little explaining.

You see, I think a bike lane on Pyrmont bridge will increase the probability of accidents.


Well, it's like this. Most cyclists will be able to tell you that the primary means of accident avoidance is not braking in a straight line, but actually all about direction changes. How a cyclist avoids trouble is to look ahead and pick a line which allows them to avoid trouble, using the brakes to modulate their speed. Essentially, riders weave around dangers. On Pyrmont Bridge this means riders moving well below their maximum speed, fingertips on brake levers, weaving side to side to take the area with the least foot traffic, and braking only when it's absolutely necessary. When the unexpected happens, the rider swerves. The rider doesn't brake in a straight line as a car might.

This results, occasionally, in nervous pedestrians making inflated and hysterical claims of "near miss", but in remarkably few actual accidents. I've never had to come to a halt on the bridge for anything more serious than stopping at the kiosk for coffee.

However a bike lane, if implemented, will restrict riders into a straight line, probably not much over the width of the bike itself, which is a problem, though it may not seem like it at first glance.

In order to make the lane obvious to riders and pedestrians alike, there will need to be some kind of surface feature to divide the footpath from the cycle lane. Merely painting the lane will result in pedestrians walking into the lanes and cyclists riding out. So what will most likely be installed is a kerb or fence to divide the lanes. A fence all the way will be unworkable, so in that case there'll at least be crossing areas, perhaps with a give way rule, perhaps not. But most likely, I think, is that a kerb or raised riding zone will be installed, with no fence.

So what we then have is a dead straight line generally free of pedestrians. So riders will take this as a cue to forget about their first avoidance tactic, moving below maximum speed. Instead of pottering across at 15km/h or so**, I'll be able to lock-out my suspension and push my mountain bike up to 30km/h and more. Fit road-bike riders will be able to push well past this to 40+ km/h, if they choose

That's danger #1, increased speed. Then comes danger #2, the fact that when inevitably a pedestrian strays into the demarcated bike area, there is nowhere for the bike to swerve. As we noted earlier, there'll be a kerb or a fence restricting the lateral options which a rider has to avoid trouble. So the only option is to brake, and emergency braking at speed is one of the most dangerous things you can do on a bike.

If you're unprepared, your center of gravity gets thrown forward, the bike unbalances and becomes unsteerable. In some cases, the rear wheel leaves the ground and you're a straight-line missile. In extreme cases, you're over the handlebars. Someone will get hurt.

If you're prepared, if you have enough warning and you're a good rider, you can get your weight backwards on the bike and execute a remarkably short emergency stop, but if caught by surprise, the result is, inevitably, a crash.

And that will be a direct result of being in a bike lane instead of in the open shared zone.

It's a somewhat counter-intuitive, but logically inevitable result of segregating bike traffic into a bike lane. So far, I've heard of no accidents on Pyrmont Bridge worthy of report. I predict, with a degree of confidence, that if a lane goes in, we'll see several pedestrian/rider accidents in the first six months of operation. I'd be happy if we don't, but I think we will. Furthermore, I predict that "pedestrians-rights" commenters will blame the cyclists, even though it will take place inside a bike lane, where pedestrians presumably aren't meant to be. Idiots in the SMH's comment areas are already making noises that pre-empt this reaction.

Quite aside from the increased risk of incident, will come the problems I've cited above for the rest of the Cycleways. Slow riders will be hard to overtake, pedestrians will abuse the lanes, and, as we've seen, NSW Police will treat the lanes as a funnel down which prey will ride, and they'll trap non-helmet wearers, riders who've forgotten their lights and, yes, people who jump non-working traffic signals and give-way signs.

Necessary give-way provisions will mean we have to stop often for pedestrians - which might result in collisions between riders - and the narrowness of the lane will mean we can't merely use the width of the bridge to avoid crossing pedestrians, so at peak times we'll be slowed down back to pre-lane speeds or below, which will discourage use of the route. There are many negatives, for both pedestrians and riders.

I, personally, will be more likely to shoot off down into Darling Harbour itself at the Maritime Museum, past the Harbourside shopping centre, and up into the CBD at or near Bathurst Street, which means another bike in a shared zone - and then the road - instead of on the cycleways, and I'm quite convinced I won't be the only one. I've observed several other riders avoiding the Union Street cycleway as I do, by taking the path around Pyrmont Point, even though it's longer than the Union Street Corridor, so there's no reason to think other riders won't do the same if a lane goes in on Pyrmont Bridge.

So, to sum up the current state of cycleways in Sydney: Well-meaning but confused and poorly implemented in terms of traffic signals. Dogged by the thoughtless in the comments of online news, staked-out regularly by the police and frustrated constantly by pedestrians and drivers who just don't get it. A fantastic idea stymied by incomplete support. But it could be worse. The paths could play a stupid tune every time you ride over them.


* Luckily, there are some reasonable voices there too. 
** The current shared zone speed limit is 10km/h. No-one pretends this is viable, and it's genuinely hard to maintain. Most of us would rather watch where we're going than fix our eyes on our speedometers, anyway.

posted @ Wednesday, June 6, 2012 1:51 PM


Comments on this entry:

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Mn at 6/6/2012 6:14 PM
When you start paying for the construction of bike lanes and the increased costs for motorists for increased traffic congestion due to a few people riding bikes, THEN you have a right to complain.

And don't give me all that BS that you pay taxes, etc.

The overwhelming majority of taxpayers do not use bike lanes - they are subsidizing whining, ungrateful, cyclists.

How about toll lanes for cyclists - and reg fees, Licence plates, insurance, etc.

When you are paying the equivalent of motorists - then you can whine.

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Jason at 6/6/2012 6:27 PM
Rego does not go towards infrastructure. You might want to check your facts before you drool all over my comments area, sparky.

It's general revenue, i.e. the taxes we all pay, that goes towards road infrastructure, including bike lanes.

If you want to accuse me of being a tax dodger, just come out and do it, but you'd be wrong.

and as for "increased traffic congestion due to a few people riding bikes"

You do know that no traffic lanes were lost in the construction of Clover Moore's bike lanes, right? No? Oh, who'd have fucking thought that you'd not have that fact straight either. It was part of the policy pledge underlying the project.

Also, I also own a car, and pay the same as everyone else for it, but I use it less. How does that work, huh?

So, in summary, shut the fuck up unless you have your facts straight.

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Jason at 6/6/2012 6:34 PM
Actually, now I think about it, that's such a perfectly idiotic comment that I'm now wondering if I've been trolled.

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Jason at 6/6/2012 6:37 PM
On the topic of the rego comment, because it's always worth re-iterating

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Bill at 6/7/2012 7:07 PM

Quoting from press releases from Sydney Town Hall sure makes Jason sound like a member of Clover Moore's spin team.

Nobody from Surry Hills would repeat that sort of nonsense because they can see with their own eyes how congestion and collisions have increased.

The "no traffic lanes were lost" business is a complete red herring because the Bourke Street Cycleway wiped out turning lanes and loading zones and generally stuffed up all the road junctions along Bourke Street. Dozens of them.

Clover Moore's Gumby bike lanes are so slow, narrow and dangerous that I still ride on the road, but this is slower than it used to be and really pisses off motorists.

Where do you live and ride, Jason?

# re: Those bike lanes again

Left by Jason at 6/7/2012 8:31 PM
Hey, look, I know it's an internet tradition to comment before reading, but this is getting ridiculous.

1. I don't give a fuck what people in Surry Hills "see with their own eyes". You need to back that up with figures, because if there's another thing I blog about semi-regularly it's that people's perceptions are very often flawed. Numbers. Hard numbers. You'll gain no ground citing people's raw opinions. If the accident figures show an increase in collisions, then I'll be on your side, in that topic, in a heartbeat. I'm not convinced the numbers are there, of course, but because I'm of a skeptical mindset, I'm happy to be convinced with evidence.

2. If you'd read the post, you'd know I'm no fan of the Clover lanes either. I've mentioned in the text that I no longer ride either the Union Street *or* Bourke Street Corridors, and that I think the lanes are a good idea badly implemented. But what I like even less than the Clover Lanes is people who comment counterfactual nonsense, hence my response to the initial commenter, who was, frankly, a nork. What I've posted is actual fact - no traffic lanes were lost. You go on to describe things that weren't traffic lanes, that were lost. Well duh. There's not infinite lateral space along that corridor, something had to go, and the car lobby didn't want it to be traffic lanes. Of course, it all ended up with a strip of tarmac that would become, alternately, a hipster walking track and shopping trolley park. Natch.

It strikes me you've missed the thrust of the post.

3. Oddly enough, I work at Town Hall at the moment. I'm an independent IT contractor currently implementing SharePoint Solutions for CoS, but I can assure you that the cycling unit see more more as a pain in the ass than a spin machine. My constant whining on the topic of bike lane/shared path problems is quite enough for them to deal with.

The majority of my mileage is offroad. I try to get between 50 and 100km of firetrail done every weekend, weather permitting. However I think you're asking about my commute.

I ride several days a week (3 or 4 on average) from Croydon in the Inner West to the CBD, and I vary my route quite often. If you follow my Twitter stream, you'll usually be able to see the routes I take, the times taken, and the annoyances encountered, all logged from MapMyRide or BikeBrain

Before May I did a similar commute from Dulwich Hill. A lot of them are logged on BikeBrain and MMR too.

Every now and again, I ride home from work via a long loop past St Vincent's Hospital and back through Surry Hills (occasionally, but not so much lately, using the Bourke Street lanes) and through Alexandria to Sydney Park, and thence to Tempe and the Cook's River cycleway home. When the weather is not ideal for the mountains, I have a training ride from home down to Kurnell and back, with a loop out to Rookwood to add some kms. Sometimes I head North from the CBD and go North Syd, Lane Cove, Gladesville, Ryde, Rhodes, Homebush, Cooks River Path.

So I do a fair, though not spectacular amount of mileage in a few different areas. It's public knowledge via social media and this blog. You?
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