'Roads were not built for cars' is a 'mine' of information and one that all politicians (especially in Australia) should have access to, and even more especially if their portfolio involves roads and the moving of folk around on them.
I went to the House of Commons last week to hear Carlton Reid (@carltonreid) give a presentation on his book to a select (oui, c'est moi!) group of individuals, politicians, and bureaucrats.
Listening to Carlton's preso, it turns out that people using bicycles back-in-the-day did a considerable amount of leg-work getting roads improved for bicycle and other vehicle use. This then had a flow on effect for the nascent motoring industry which ultimately benefited hugely from the earlier cyclists' lobbying.
It also turns out that many of the early car models can be distinctly traced back to the bicycle - yes the car came from the bicycle, from actual bicycle components ... like bicycle pneumatic tyres for starters ... not from motor bikes but from good old-fashioned bicycles!
(... and I'm so taking my brompton to my Parliament House the next time I have a meeting with an aussie pollie ... and no I won't be leaving it outside, constable! ... look bicycles in a House of Commons committee room ... it's conceivable!)
It was so good to meet Carlton, and to hear him chatting on the fascinating history of bicycles and 'bicycling' politicians and 'bicycling' car developers, and how closely aligned the technologies for cycling and motoring are.
I loved the idea that amidst nation-running and car-developing at the end of the 19th century, politicians and car-developers were riding their bicycles everywhere to get this stuff done.
And I was most heartened to hear that according to Professor Goodwin we're at Peak Car, and that the notion the 'car is king' is basically history.
(Ahem, apart from the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Australian politicians haven't had that memo yet!!!)
... and that Helsinki has a 25 year plan for making their city car-free!
As always it was brilliant going to London, and equally brilliant meeting and listening to Carlton, and meeting the many other cycling peeps in the audience whom I've got to know in my tweeting and blogging capacity ...
As always it was brilliant hiring a Boris bike and finding (?!) my way from Kings Cross to Westminster ...
... and it was magically brilliant to hire another one and be guided from Westminster by David Dansky (@fixedfun) on the loveliest off-the-beaten-track-middle-of-the-city ride past Covent Garden and Lincoln's Inn Fields, along Leather Lane and all the way up Amwell Street (bloody hell!!!) and then all the way down to float past Percy Circus back to Kings Cross station for my train back to Newark ... making sure, of course, we left plenty of time for a couple of vinos at a great pub in Wicklow Street whilst we sat outside on a balmy November night watching cyclists galore flying past ... of course!
Roads definitely weren't built for cars ... that's patently obvious ... so do yourself a favour, and grab a copy of Carlton's book, and read up on the history of bicycling, roads and motoring!!!
(and I'm looking mostly at you, NSW politicians, time to get with it, and Carlton can help you!)
BUT there are clouds on the horizon, and we're going to lose the inner west as we know it if we don't start hollering from the rooftops that we're not going to put up with the cynical shit this government is sneakily planning for us.
For all our sakes, everybody, we've got to fight this one, we've got to take to the streets, and we've got to grab back our roads and our homes.
Newtown's 'King-Street-near-Wilson-Street' bus stop was no more.
This is a 'behind the news' story taking a look at the removal of bus stops in the inner west albeit in the name of transport improvement.
To some Newtown residents and businesses, this initiative coupled to the extension of clearway hours and removal of parking spaces has raised the question whether the NSW government and Transport for NSW are creating an alternative Parramatta Road through the Inner West in their desperate quest to reduce Sydney’s chronic traffic congestion.
Not that old 'congestion' chestnut!
The political assumption that buses cause congestion by stopping at bus stops has provided the Minister for Transport* with a platform to increase bus services and, with a deft sleight of hand, to remove bus stops. Transport statistics published in the dailies point to increased services resulting in increased satisfaction but if truth be told satisfaction is decreasing as rapidly as Inner West bus stops.
Stop a Newtown resident today and you will be routinely regaled with horror stories of their bus-catching reality.
Claire Marshall, a film-maker and resident of Newtown, is not impressed with the new transport improvement plan and said:
"There were three of us this particular Friday night on a 'trackwork-no-trains' weekend, so we decided to bus to Surry Hills. We were waiting around 8:30pm at the bus stop on King Street near Brown Street and we could see this bus coming along King Street indicating that it was about to pull in but because there was another bus at the stop already, the bus we were hoping to catch suddenly drove off without letting anybody off or on - we had to wait another 25 minutes before another bus turned up - it was so annoying."
"And another time," she continued, "I was let off the bus right in the middle of King Street because the bus I was on couldn’t pull over to the bus stop due to another bus being there already. So the next thing I know I’m amongst all the moving-now-stopped cars trying to drive along King Street, and I then have to jump through the parked cars to make my way to the pavement - I can't see how the buses have been improved, nor can I see how useable this all is to the elderly and less mobile."
According to a Roads & Maritime Services media release, the inner west Bus Priority programme is being rolled out to improve the reliability and speed of bus services along main inner west bus corridors. It is fully funded by the New South Wales government to the tune of $150,000, and promises to reduce traffic congestion.
Of course it does.
But none of the government's projections has allayed the disquiet that Carmel Tebbutt MP, the member for Marrickville, is currently experiencing with regards to the bus stop removals. When the changes were first proposed she conducted a letterbox campaign urging residents to express their views.
"I am very concerned that the closure of some bus stops and the relocation of others will cause difficulty for residents in the Inner West, particularly residents with mobility issues or with children.
"I made a submission and representations to the Minister for Transport in an effort to have the proposals changed, and while some changes were made by Transport for NSW as a result of consultation, it is unfortunate that the Government has pushed ahead with the bulk of the removals and mergers of bus stops, which will have an adverse effect on many residents using buses in the Inner West."
It is starting to dawn on Newtown residents that there are significant differences between bus services and bus stops. Political logic goes along the lines that bus stops hinder bus services and need to be minimised if not eliminated, then once everything is cleared out of the way and sped up bus services can be announced as improved and reliable, echoing the eternal take on hospital efficiency without medical staff.
(YouTube: The empty hospital)
Mr Vu Nguyen works at the Discount Day & Night Pharmacy on King Street near the 'I-have-a-dream' mural in Newtown, and he said he was surprised that the bus stop outside the pharmacy was removed.
"It was very easy for buses to pull in here because there were never any parked cars. Buses could pull in behind each other, and it was very safe for passengers to get on and off without ever stepping onto the road. Now, where the bus stop has been moved to, passengers have to step onto the road because the buses often can't pull into the pavements.
"This was a very good location for a bus stop because of the existing road set-up, and the bench outside the shop - in fact many people still wait here and can do so for quite awhile - we are often stepping outside to tell them that the bus stop is no longer here and has moved up further along King Street."
Jenny Leong, the Greens candidate for the new seat of Newtown thinks that while it is true some relocations were necessary for safety reasons such as moving the Butlin Avenue/City Road stop further down towards the Seymour Centre and away from the traffic lights, the main aim of government and transit authorities ought to be to increase public transport services and make it easier for people to take public transport including buses.
Agreeing with Greens MP and NSW spokesperson for Transport, Dr Mehreen Faruqi who recently said that 'removing bus stops is just another barrier to public transport,' Ms Leong went on to say:
"Removing bus stops all together and increasing the distance between stops is at best a distraction from the real public transport issues facing our communities and at worst a significant inconvenience and access issue for those who are elderly, have challenges with mobility or who are catching public transport with young families or to do their shopping.
"We should be increasing the accessibility of bus services in Sydney - especially given the inaccessibility at many local train stations - rather than making it harder for people to use buses to go about their daily lives.
"Safety for bike riders and pedestrians is a big concern on busy roads like King Street and we need to be sure that the decisions being made in relation to roads and cars are taking into consideration these safety and accessibility concerns."
The economic benefits of walking, cycling and active transport are a constant theme throughout Australian cities, and governments at all levels proclaim to fully support them as a strategy to counter many negative health issues facing our communities. As a consequence international experts in urban planning and design are endlessly invited to our shores to give policy makers and leaders their expert opinion on how to improve the moving of people around Australian metropolis.
(Screen capture: Inner West Courier, Oct 14 2014, p10)
Brent Toderian, a former chief planner of Vancouver who shared his 'blueprint for future-proofing Sydney' at the City of Sydney’s presentation 'A Tale of Three Cities' last month, said in a twitter conversation:
"I support express bus routes - when they are combined with more frequent stop routes, to provide choice."
Many Sydney residents would support this view but many inner west residents recognise that there is a disconnect between Transport for NSW’s stated position on bus services and bus stops.
(Screen capture: Sydney Morning Herald, December 2013)
Bus services and bus stops do not seem to be politically compatible, and as one commentator quipped in the comments section on a Sydney Morning Herald article:
(Screen capture: SMH comments section, December 2013)
'What a great idea … why don’t they get rid of all bus stops … this way within five years we could end up with an incredibly efficient and amazingly economical bus service always running on time.'
Sarah O’Connor, a disability transition to retirement project coordinator and Stanmore resident, was most unimpressed on a recent night out with a friend in Ultimo.
"I went to the new Central Park on Broadway and got off the bus right near UTS, crossing over the road to meet my friend. I'd travelled in from Stanmore, and when our night was over I waited at the bus stop on the same side as Central Park opposite UTS. I thought it was pretty weird that buses kept passing me by and then I noticed a 'bus-stop-closed' sign positioned on the spot where the timetable normally is. I was pretty annoyed, and I walked towards Central Station thinking I'd be able to catch a bus at the next bus stop. But it too was closed so I ended up walking all the way to Central Station and catching a train.
"It's so weird that the buses bring you in and drop you off but on the opposite side to the dropping off place they’re not taking you home.
"And then a couple of weeks later same thing happened again, only this time when I came out of Central Park I turned left away from Central Station remembering the closed bus stops. Well would you believe it, the next bus stop was closed along that way - that technically makes three in a row - so frustrating.
"I mean you switch to Opal and that's a complete circus on the buses, and then there are all these closures, and very little signage - it makes no sense, and Broadway is such a busy thoroughfare, and we choose to go out there because it's so accessible (or used to be) - it just beggars belief."
(Image: Sarah O’Connor)
The car is still 'King' in Australia but elsewhere in the world the car's role in city landscapes is being demoted. That the New York Times is 'killing off its automobiles section' reflects the shift away from urban car-dependency, and equally revealing (as noted by acclaimed urban planner, Jeff Speck in his excellent book 'Walkable City') for over a decade major infrastructure projects in the UK have no longer been able to claim congestion as the main driver - it would seem that old congestion chestnut has long since been discarded by our global counterparts.
But Transport for NSW has not received any of those memos.
Instead it is stuck in a vortex of recommendations handed to them by traffic engineers commissioned by traffic engineers to write traffic studies so that traffic engineers can conduct traffic-engineering business that they, traffic engineers recommended needed doing in the traffic studies.
Trapped in a 'traffic Groundhog Day,' the government's plan to remove bus stops and extend clearways to facilitate the large volume of mainly single-occupant private vehicles is only going to make congestion worse. Already inner west residents are concerned that the unique inner west café and shopping culture has been impacted by bus stop removal and loss of parking which used to provide a protective buffer for pedestrians and cyclists using King Street and Enmore Road.
The cascading effect of rapid bus routes not stopping to pick up or drop off passengers will continue to negate the workable mass transit, pedestrian friendly and active transport streets that worked in perfect symbiosis with the inner west’s vibrant business culture before Transport for NSW’s Transport Improvement Plan - it will also diminish opportunities for elderly and less mobile residents to share the inner west streets and spaces as they have done to-date.
The disconnect between bus services and bus stop removals has left Newtown residents wondering whether the state government's pandering to a limousine approach to public transit will mean that they will only get to observe buses flying through the inner west without any opportunity to use them.
Newtown residents are also speculating that it won't be long before Transport for NSW's much vaunted rapid bus service will be gridlocked once the 'Parramatta-Roadization' of King Street and Enmore Road is complete.
Everyone knows that bus stop removals are not transport improvement but a political precursor to prepare the Inner West for the next chapter in our congestion saga … WestConnex
(Screen capture: twitter account Minister for Roads @duncsoffice)
… but that's another story and it's probably going to get very ugly.
In the meantime, Newtown intends to reclaim the bus stops.
*The following questions were put to the Minister for Transport and Transport for NSW:
1. How do removing bus stops improve bus services?
2. How are the elderly expected to cope with the increased distances between the 'new' (ie without the old) bus stops?
3. How are the disabled expected to cope with the increased distances between the 'new' (ie without the old) bus stops?
4. How is it safe to deposit passengers in actual driving lanes along King Street now that buses cannot always pull over close to the pavement?
5. Removing car spaces and increasing clearways has removed a buffer and protection gained for bicyclists and pedestrians from parked cars - how do should governments and transport planners address this worrying trend?
… but no responses came back from either the Minister for Transport or Transport for NSW, however my request to write a submission regarding WestConnex despite the submission deadline having passed is being considered by Transport for NSW.
Sometimes the magic is just right there in front of you ... and it nearly always involves a bike! I'm doing a few 'bike-about' stories and I'm hoping you'll come along for the ride ...
There was a fresh chiselled sheen to the Sydney daylight that morning, the sort of high definition type but without the over-exposure so evident in my excitement.
My country chum was coming to town, and we’d both been looking forward to this for quite some time.
With eight adult children between us, plus an additional two new grandchildren in her cache, we’ve been dissecting our lives minutely over kitchen tables for many years, but for this brief moment called ‘today’ we were going to transcend every ‘one’ and ‘thing’ to revel in this sassy city ... as ourselves.
Quickly walking across Newtown Station’s new grey flagstones, I watched my dear friend glide upwards from the platform below as she stepped onto the brink of our adventure - I was about to take her by the bicycle basket and show her the streets of Sydney, in a magical carpet sort of way.
Berets and beanies firmly planted on our heads, we crossed the melee of King Street, walked through the little piazza near the Neighbourhood Centre marked by one of Newtown’s dog statues (for the uninitiated Newtown ♥ dogs), and made our way to Black Star Pastry & Cafe in Australia Street where I’d left two Dutch step-through bicycles under the watchful eyes of a couple of stool-ensconced gateau-lovers.
The bicycle baskets were already packed with picnic goodies gathered earlier, as well as a couple of woollen picnic blankets, a chilled bottle of Verdelho from wine-growing buddies at Denman’s Pyramid Hill, and of course a couple of mandatory ‘Naked Ninjas’ from Black Star Pastry (yes, I had come across an extremely rare moment when Black Star’s usual ‘snaking-out-the-door-and-round-the-corner queue’ was non-existent!).
Purses now added to the baskets, bungyed and finally secured, we set off along Australia Street past the Australia Street Infants School turning right over the zebra crossing (yes, of course we pushed our bikes over it) into Camperdown Memorial Rest Park. This perfect picnic park, our lunch spot, had been a cemetery until the 1940s when the 1948 Camperdown Cemetery Act provided part of it could be resumed and converted into today’s beating heart of Newtown.
There we positioned ourselves on the western rise of the northern side of the park so that we could look down into the grassy bowl and watch Newtown ‘keeping it weird’ as only Newtown can. Of course if we’d been there for a sunset we would have positioned ourselves on the eastern side of that northern grassy bowl for dress circle picnic rug spots to Newtown’s celestial version of ‘Vivid.’
Lolling there in the sun, savouring Sicilian olives and spicy gingerbread men, we soaked up the warmth and the chatter and all the inner west bonhomie before hopping back on our bikes ready for our 24km ride of which so far we had completed 350 metres in the minute it had taken us from Black Star Pastry to the park!
Side by side we ambled through the park heading east, wending a back-street way until Carillon Avenue and Sydney University where twentieth century buildings and twenty-first century students combined to set a surreal academic back-lot scene to our ‘rat-run’ through the university, across Parramatta Road and finally into Glebe Point Road.
We were airborne; our journey had begun.
Flying down Glebe Point Road to Rozelle Bay was as though we’d been given tickets to a free pair of wings, capable of uplifting spirits and bodies so that we could soar like eagles aloft. The cool fresh wind opened up our eyes and our noses and our ears, tuning our senses so that we were ready to dart and dive, and to react to this particular life journey as it happened.
The magic of that moment had us swaying to Sydney’s eclectic rhythm of life, and it caught us in a cobweb of memories from younger days when we used to use our bicycles to explore and play and learn, chasing and travelling through the laneways and gullies of life. Now on bikes together, we were jump-starting soul-batteries that had been left idling.
From this free-wheeling viewpoint we had the impression that we were at the pinnacle of opportunity, and that the junction of Rozelle Bay and Glebe Point Road, shimmering on the ever-drawing closer horizon, was the edge of unexplored space.
Coming into land, we gently taxied around the foreshore of Black Wattle Bay taking in the intricate view of Sydney’s harbour bridges. With Anzac Bridge, the longest span cable-stayed bridge in Australia, commandeering the foreground, and Sydney Harbour Bridge, a steel through arch bridge, bookending the background, these grand bridges left little Glebe Island Bridge, a swing bridge now surplus to requirement, dwarfed and warehoused cut loose from its former existence.
Joining bitumen again after the Boathouse, we turned into the Sydney Fish Markets. Apart from a few tables of ibises, nobody else seemed to be noshing on fish and chips and we were able to navigate our way through the environs of the markets unhindered, re-emerging at the far end of the car-parks underneath the city side of Anzac Bridge where we readied ourselves for the next stanza of our magical whirl around Sydney’s bays, wharves, theatres, cafes and karma.
At Cafe Morso on Jones Bay wharf, we breathed in diamond studded water views whilst sipping dark velvety coffee before continuing to Darling Harbour where the normal frenzied activity was unusually absent, and the habitual crowd along Cockle Bay Wharf was full of easy smiles and salutations. Winging it somewhat, it turned out Barangaroo Foreshore was open so we were able to continue right through eventually exiting left into Towns Place and then left again onto Hickson Road.*
Now with a new runway, we were flying again, past theatres, more wharves, the roundabout with Jimmie Durham’s salutary Still Life with Stone and Car, before shimmying under the Harbour Bridge and melting into Dawes Point Park for a boardwalk drift around oodles of harbour brides, the Rocks and the Overseas Passenger Terminal all the while keeping an eye out for bicycle-trapping ‘tramlines’ en route.
Approaching Circular Quay, the biggest and fluffiest of harbour brides (Sydney Opera House) loomed large, and charming yellow and green ferries bustled about in front giving an impression of busy bridesmaids getting things ready for the never-ending bridal party that Sydney perennially hosts.
And just like wedding guests, once we were received on our bride’s forecourt, we parked our bikes, grabbed a glass of bubbly from the Playhouse Bar and sat outside to soak up the action of Sydney’s veritable maritime marketplace - bliss.
Bubbly finished and back in the saddle, we climbed Macquarie Street with the steady solid rhythm that Dutch bikes provide.
The State Library, Parliament House, the Eye Hospital, Hyde Park Barracks, all were but buildings in the journeys of our legs as we progressively gained ground and finally benefited from a skerrick of momentum and a handy green bicycle traffic light that conveniently led into Hyde Park North for a quick spin around the Archibald Fountain before leaving the park by the College Street ‘side door.’
College Street’s separate bicycle lane funnelled us past St Mary’s Cathedral and the Australian Museum until we eventually ended up at the start of Oxford Street. A brief little hill climb followed to Taylor Square where we took our chances with surprise under-pavement fountains outside Kinselas before rolling into Bourke Street’s separate cycleway, and the Beresford Hotel for another little bubbly.
Rejoining Bourke Street cycleway, our bicycles assumed trusty time-machine personas as they transported us back and forth between the decades while we pedalled through the peeling faded terraces and the waxy frangipane trees of Surry Hills, before finally turning right into Redfern. We flew past Redfern Police Station, immediately turning left after the Railway Station opposite The Block, the indigenous seat of Sydney tucked in front of the city’s skyline now ablaze with furrowed clouds and daubs of fuchsia.
By the time we reached Wilson Street, the main arterial road for inner west cyclists, we were in formation as we flew past Carriageworks, corkscrewed roundabouts, barrel-rolled up the counter flow section, looped-the-loop at the Erskineville Road intersection before nose-diving at pedestrian crossings on King Street and landing at the front door of Zanzibar Newtown.
Our final ‘sortie’ up three flights of stairs to the best rooftop garden in the city, we did on foot, and then with margaritas in our hands and Newtown rooftops at our feet, we revelled in the same edge-of-world feeling we’d experienced earlier as we’d travelled around one of the world’s most beautiful cities on a magical carpet made of two wheels.
Black Star Pastry - Rozelle Bay 5km (approx 20 mins)
Rozelle Bay - Sydney Opera House 11km (approx 45 mins)
Sydney Opera House - Zanzibar 8km (approx 40 mins
Basic map of route (google maps got the better of me here so you'll see there are a couple of 'back-tracks' marked that we didn't actually do!)
We used my Gazelle and Electra bicycles but it is possible to hire equally lovely bikes (suitable for picnicking) at:
Town Bike Pitstop
156 Abercrombie Street
Redfern NSW 2016
Telephone 02 9699 0096
$20 half day hire
$35 full day hire
$55 two day hire
$100 full week hire
... with credit card and photo ID
Each bike comes with a padlock & a helmet
* Foreshore Walk:
According to the grapevine, the foreshore route we took is now closed until March 2015 but the public can still access and leave the harbour’s edge through an opening on Hickson Road. The full 2km foreshore walk around the edge of the Barangaroo site will be open from mid-2015 and apparently people will be able to enjoy an uninterrupted 14km foreshore walk from Woolloomooloo to Anzac Bridge.
If you need further information, I’m here (!) and on twitter too (@freedomcycliste)
Seriously once we start despatching troops to kill and be killed, Occupation Health and Safety (OH&S) is exposed for the smoke and mirrors exercise that it is.
After all, how can deliberately sending the nation's citizens to war and deliberately putting them in the way of harm fit with the normal safety-paranoid parameters of a nation that holds bicycle helmet law so dear to its heart?
In my opinion, the wanton killing of others & our own is dangerous and ought to be a crime ...
... not the 'not-wearing-a-bicycle-helmet' when sitting on a bicycle.
Shame on you, Australian politicians, and just remember ... you do not send our children to their potential deaths and destruction in my name.