Traffic Engineers are not cyclists – prove me wrong!

As I cycle around this city in my daily round, attempting not to be hit by cars and trucks, other cyclists and not run over dog-walkers’ erratic dogs, I wonder about the flat surfaces we have at our disposal for our bikes to roll on (unless, of course, we go actively seeking muddy, bumpy tracks to bash our mountain/cyclocross bikes along), and people and vehicles we share them with, and how these people choose or are forced to think and behave by what they are doing when I encounter them.  A lot of the time I am on roads with cars and trucks and buses and 4WDs (the last, in the city, should be banned and forced to be garaged in the very outer suburbs – sez me):

Oh yes, bogan utes as well.

As well as having to dodge people with malicious intent (well, at least uncaring enough to make it look as though they’re malicious) including the brain-dead, vicious, unthinking morons who drive vehicles such as those above, you have to deal with people who really aren’t aware enough of their surroundings to be entrusted with a tonne and a bit of metal moving at 60+ km/h, and that’s most of us drivers, some of the time –  a small, dangerous minority: some of us, most of the time.  At the same time, the average driver is having to deal with road situations that are not easy to decipher, which are under the constant stress of having to take more and more traffic, and each individual in the traffic mix having to deal with greater levels of conflicting stimuli than the human brain can safely and comfortably handle for 100% of the time they are behind the wheel. Then cyclists are thrown in the mix, and quite honestly, for them, it’s like them swimming near schools of predatory fish. Most of the time you are watchfully co-existent with them, then CHOMP, suddenly one will take a bite out of you. It’s just what they do, they can’t help it, it’s in their nature.

So, in order for us slow-swimming minnows to not have to be on edge and constant, mentally-draining alert for being chomped all the time, under prompting from concerned cyclists and their representative bodies making representation to local and state governments, traffic engineering takes place. Perhaps a lane demarked alongside a lane of motor traffic with a bike symbol in it, perhaps a development of this (‘Copenhagen’ lanes). Perhaps more emphatic – the provision of a completely separate track – the average shared path or bike path to one side of a road or, less effectively, a watercourse.  Or the conversion of a rail bed to a rail trail for a different sort of, but still direct, point-to-point route.

The problem (or the linked series of problems) is that those who research, design and implement solutions for the vulnerability of cyclists within increasingly frenetic ordinary road situations, are not themselves cyclists, in the main, or if they are, their voices are drowned out by those of their colleagues who see road transport as legitimately being of the motorised variety. So instead of a “different but equal” approach to constructing specific road surfaces for bikes, as you often have in the more bike-friendly European cities, or making spaces that acknowledge bikes are actually going to be in there with the rest  of the vehicles, it is a view of “odd, difficult but vociferous (so we’d better do something just to shut them up)”, the “something” often approaching ‘token/barely adequate (under sufferance)’ in its ability to address the problems that cyclists encounter in what road planners are touting as ‘normal’ traffic conditions. Whilst creekside paths are pleasant meanders on fine days with the kids, as commuter routes they are largely tedious and stupid. These winding byways are seriously seen as major arteries in the “Principal Bicycle Network” (PBN) that is meant to be the framework of a serious bike commuter strategy for Melbourne. It’s a little risible, when you compare it to other cycling cities around the globe.

Organisations such as Bicycle Victoria attempt to advocate solutions for bike travel amongst and besides motor traffic, and certain segments of local government can also be seen advocating the (political, environmental, social) wisdom of cycling. The state and national governments seem largely to be beholden to more powerful interests, with the grudging exception of VicRoads, or the Ministry for Motor Transport, as they are known to non-car users. Status quo is a powerful thing, and there is evidence of decades of bikes being seen (at the incitement of VicRoads, motoring organisations, multinational car companies and petrol-head culture in general) as Aboriginies once were: an anachronism that should be allowed to die out (or be scared or killed off) under the superior force and morality of Modern Fossil Fuel-Powered Western Industrial Society, or maybe just suffered to exist, cringingly, at the margins. It changes slowly, and haltingly – even when the increasing evidence for contrary action is slapping the status quo sharply in the face.

“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim” is a useful maxim to apply to motor transport. In the quest to move people and goods around efficiently and effectively (or maybe just to keep them occupied? Perhaps Magnus Mills in The Scheme for Full Employment had it right), massive, expensive, polluting and space-hungry road projects are imagined as being needed to increase transport capacity every 10 years or so, but traffic and the congestion attendant on it continue to grow in parallel with increased car sales. You get supposedly liberal and city-savvy (and inner-suburb dwelling!) commentators such as Shaun Carney coming up with a “Like it or Lump it” apologia (and the justified replies that it generated) that they should know better than to advocate.  It is now estimated that 40% or Melbourne’s land area is devoted to motor traffic, and the city spreads to the reach of the motorised commute across valuable farm land and creates ‘car-sized suburbs’ with little opportunity for fostering ad hoc, ‘over the back fence’ social connection, which has glued together social groups for millenia. Bike traffic engineering sits here, in small gaps allowed it by the free/tollway-building impetus, a path alongside a major road project engineered for the different demands of motorised transport – not direct between place and place (if there are actually any places besides shopping centre and each person’s home any more, in the outer suburbs), not even pleasant, with the roar and backwash of truck traffic removing any sense of safety.

So, in my little backyard, is a whacking great big road project, with a bike lane tacked to the side: the Dynon Port Rail Link Project.

This is a double road bridge over a projected rail line realignment and duplication into the dock area alongside Footscray Rd, with an elevated T junction carrying B-Double trucks thrown in for good measure. “Tacked on” is how the path feels – it is built on the outbound bridge, and separated by a dividing wall from the road traffic, not integrated into both inbound and outbound lanes. The majority of it is sensible engineering, but there are some significant bits (pictured above – thanks to BV for pics) that show that the road engineers still don’t get cycling, or the fact that one day it will need to be a lot more than a small afterthought in transport policy (“if you build it, they will come”), and it’s these unthought-about and unrealised bits that cause chaos and concern by those who expect a straightforward ride from a brand-new, purpose-designed path.

The relevant person from Bicycle Victoria sent me this link to their relevant web page on which there are some pretty good points illustrating the above. They’re right, I just don’t get it. A sharp right angle turn at the bottom of the bridge ramp, and a potentially homicidal crossing of a busy slip lane are glaring faults in what is ostensibly a model project. Which begs the question – which is more important: the well-being of 700-and-something cyclists travelling each day to and from the city along the major artery available, or trucks having to slow down a fraction, delaying ever so slightly their monumental quest to fill yet more corners of the world with plastic Chinese junk packed in big metal boxes? I sympathise with the Blue Wedges campaigners regarding the Port Phillip Bay Channel deepening project – pushing a doctrinaire pro-trade/business line via ‘business at all costs’ really is just about an ultimately trivial GNP/Balance of Payments paperchase flying in the face of encroaching reality and trumping the liveability of where we actually live. The opportunity is there to create something really good – for us, for the planet, but it is stymied/crippled at the last moment in the details by careless, bureaucratic malevolence/incompetence (at a distance, they’re impossible to separate). I don’t deny the necessity of trade, nor that the port is an important part of Melbourne, but the almost fascist zeal that is being applied to its operation is not thinking at all far into the future. In 50 years, there will be a whole lot more bikes, and a whole lot fewer (and a whole lot slower, and smaller) diesel-powered ships (a lot more with sails, I’ll guess) and trucks making use of these billions of dollars of infrastructure. But not if the current pack of road designers have their way – they’ll hold out ’til the last litre of petroleum has been burnt before they admit that they’re barking up an overstressed and dying tree. Why do I, once in a while, get the feeling I’m a character in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax? (I liked the book better). Maybe (and I’m going off into my own private little hyperbole here, a little) the irritation we feel in being literally marginalized and pooh-poohed, in instances such as this and many more, is a result of some frustrated road engineer’s petty professional Parthian shot. Bitter and twisted that fossil fuel did in fact not have the power to transport us to Nirvana, he rues the fact that his long-desired SS Commodore will, in fact, lie rusting in perpetuity next to his Subaru Tribeca in his double garage in Narre Warren. Alternatively, he could go out in a blaze of glory, like  John Osborne’s rivals in Nevil Shute’s On The Beach (or Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men )  – with climate change, water resources literally drying up, storm surges filling up beachfront underground garages, and ongoing environmental and social displacement of refugees fleeing to stable democracies, making our times feel eerily like this great book and/or film  – and leave us to ourselves with the job of actually getting on with moving ourselves round effectively.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Traffic Engineers are not cyclists – prove me wrong!

  1. Pingback: Traffic engineers are not cyclists | Commute by Bike

  2. Simon

    I’d like to think that cycling will be one of the first of these long overdue ‘paradigm shifts’, rather than the ’70s Oil Crisis Redux’ some prefer to label it. I’d like to think it because the best medicine for bicycle infrastructure obliviousness is simple – a whole lot more of us. Can’t wait.

    NB: I’m with you on the dedicated bike paths, but until we get them I have to say that the dog issue really gets my back up – and not in defense of fellow cyclists. We know there’s a good chance dogs might be on the path, and we know how best to avoid them. The dog, meanwhile, is a dog. A leash may provide some measure of control, but a remote control it ain’t. The onus is on us to moderate our speed – in much the same way the onus is on the motorist to moderate theirs on the asphalt. It slows us down, and it’s annoying, but they are ‘shared’ paths after all. Nothing is more infuriating than a selfish cyclist barreling down a shared path at 30k+, locking up the brakes and hurling abuse at you because your dog picked that exact moment to cross the path and sniff a patch of grass. I doubt that’s you (your point after all, is that shared paths are annoying _because_ of this responsibility), but the common thread is the notion of an ‘erratic dog’ that neatly transfers blame for any incident (actual or narrowly avoided) from the person best equipped to deal with it, to the dumb animal. It’s faulty logic and it achieves/prevents little – like cursing a tram track for being slippery.

  3. BACBikes

    My point is that we shouldn’t have to put up with brain-off dog walkers and their canine equivalents (6am – dog nor walker is barely compos mentis) by not having to share any sort of space with them at all. Dogs are luxuries in the city – a fashion started by that notably frugal and compassionate citoyen Marie Antoinette a coupla centuries ago. If they (you?) desire to frot their (your) playthings whilst they gambol on the lea, as we get on with getting from A to B with as little fuss as possible, then get ye to a park that is not on a commuter route. “Shared” paths, my eye. There should be demarked and enforced space for both sets of users. I have been almost garrotted by leashes, killed by canine speedhumps, and had abuse hurled at me and been assaulted by said brain-off dog-walkers, whilst trying to use what is ostensibly a piece of cycling infrastructure (on the PBN, no less) for what it was meant for – i.e. cycling, whilst dilletantes with four-legged hazards create their very own versions of ‘Gladiators’ obstacle course right in front of me. If there are no other commuter routes than these paltry excuses tootling along besides creeks and rivers, then those with definite purposes, and not those with the manifestation of idle whims for non-conversational sentient companionship, get first dibs.

  4. Simon

    As stated, I understand your point, but the argument that a path clearly marked by a council as ‘shared’ should be solely for cyclists because our use of said path is somehow more legitimate is just the ‘roads are for cars’ argument transposed, right down to the ‘playthings’ sentiment. Surely you can see that? I don’t do/have/participate in X, therefore X is silly, and a waste of time/space/tax payer’s hard earned etc. This is highlighted by your view that dog walking at 6am is a sign of poor judgment – rather than a sign of a dog owner who works 9-late (not me, but clearly not a deranged loon).

    It’s all very ha-ha funny to compare dogs to speed humps, but I seem to remember seeing some stickers on bull-bars earlier today making a similar quip about pedestrians. Simply put – if you are going fast enough to put anyone or anything at risk, you are either going too fast, or not paying attention.

    Drivers have a right to drive, cyclists have a right to cycle, and tootlers have the right to tootle. So groan inwardly, certainly, but such is life. You know? We can’t very well chastise motorists for trying to wish the bicycle out of existence, and then seek to abolish both dogs and walks along the creek for the same reason. The world would be a miserable place without any of these things.

  5. BACBikes

    Dogs, those essential accoutrements to the modern urban environment – rounding up cattle/sheep? Protecting the innocent from marauders? Alerting the tribe to attack by the neighbors? Disposing of vermin? No?

    What about – causing the most noisome substance in the everyday urban environment – dog shit? The majority psychotic and malajusted from being cooped up for most of the hours a day? Mostly poorly trained enough so they act like spoiled children whenever they are out, and allowed to do what the hell they want?

    Sounds like a great combination – spoilt, erratic, incontinent – and proud of it – animals destroying the utility of some of the only space allowed for point-to-point cycling that does not involve jousting with trucks. And that’s just their owners.

  6. Simon

    “Protecting the innocent from marauders?”

    If we count dissuading would-be thieves, then yes, at least once that I (with the aid of neighbours and police) can prove. This, to throw my own bit of trivia into the ring, is what has lead to the virtual genetic extinction of the dingo – shortly after colonisation indigenous tribes grew to favour the barking dogs of the Europeans because they did, in fact, alert the tribe to attack by neighbours.

    Not that security is reason I have dogs – my partner and I inherited them when her mother died. Dogs can live twenty years, and life and landscape can change significantly in that time.

    Since repeating ourselves seems to be the name of the game, once again;

    “Mostly poorly trained enough so they act like spoiled children whenever they are out, and allowed to do what the hell they want?
    Sounds like a great combination – spoilt, erratic, … – and proud of it – [cyclists] destroying the utility of some of the only space allowed for point-to-point [driving] that does not involve jousting with trucks.”

    As dogs are, in fact, in full control of their bowels, I have chosen to omit ‘incontinent’. When they do choose to relieve themselves, the council has thoughtfully provided (they do that now and then) little biodegradable bags. Which is actually irrelevant – that you don’t see the point of dogs is neither here nor there.

    My point is simple. The moment we leave our houses – whether by car, bike, or pogo stick – we all have a duty of care to those around us. To imply that our duty of care is non-binding when concerned with things we don’t personally like is a bit silly. By that logic I should be able to careen into anyone wearing ultra-skinny jeans, or baseball caps 10cm above their ears, or those ridiculous Crocs sandal things.

    The worst bit is the notion that dog walkers should take into consideration a bicycle network (“on the PBN, no less”) of which neither they nor most cyclists have ever heard; a ‘network’ cobbled from odds and ends to foster the illusion of a network.
    Your original point if I’m not mistaken – poorly designed, non-specific infrastructure. I’d consider re-reading the Santayana quote. I’ve pointed out the one thing you’ve said that I believe to be inconsistent, and now you’re turning your argument on its head in order to support your totally meaningless dislike of dogs.

    Just chill and slow down, that’s it.

  7. BACBikes

    The majority of urban dogs (now you’ve outed yourself as a dog owner) have no discernible function apart from keeping their owners a little less psychologically fragile than they might be otherwise . To everyone else, they and their products are a hackneyed talking point at best, a hazard, a menace, an annoyance, bauble or status symbol at worst. I don’t hate dogs. I find myself more and more prejudiced against the selfish, self-absorbed people who ‘own’ them, yet have no real ‘need’ of them, apart from some whim, much like the one that makes the bleached-blond bimbo with a $400 manicure ‘need’ a 4WD. I had charge of both a sheep and a cattle dog when I worked on a farm, and I flatter myself that I worked stock pretty well with Rusty and Tammy. When I see the behaviour that the majority of their city cousins exhibit whilst out and about – and the owners who allow it and foster it – on any properly functioning farm, they’d be taken down the back and shot. That includes habitually running under the wheels of vehicles (if they didn’t get killed doing so – survival of the fittest out there) or worrying animals or people. They’re a luxury – stop your special pleading. If luxuries conflict with necessities (pollution-free, space and resource-efficient transport is now a necessity) then the luxury makes way, is curtailed, or goes. I’m not going to stop saying this because you or anyone disagrees. Dogs are fine – as long as they are well trained, controlled, mentally and physically fit and allowed the space they need – AWAY from transport infrastructure – roads, paths, tracks used by people to get places. That includes shared paths. Walkers are mostly predictable. Co-existence is possible. Dogs are not, hence not.

  8. Simon

    We’ve established I’m not Paris Hilton, and we’ve established you’re not one of those nutballs that goes about stabbing dogs with screwdrivers. By and large, we’re on the same team. Good. What I take exception to is the suggestion that because some dogs are nuts, all dogs should be banned in any place you deem cycling to be more important (anywhere without livestock). I know the dogs and owners you’re talking about, and it’s not my responsibility to teach them any more than it’s your responsibility to round up every cyclist who ever did something stupid in front of a motorist. If I were to say the same thing about cyclists you’d be on the opposite side of the fence, yes?

    “The majority of urban dogs”

    Which reads as ‘I guess your excuse flies, sort of, but everyone else who disagrees with me is an idiot’. As I’ve said, dogs live a long time, and peoples lives change. They move, or neighbourhoods are redeveloped, or any number of things. Along with dogs, we also don’t strictly need TVs – they waste natural resources, people have been known to do without, and they’re not even alive – so let’s do away with those too. You don’t need this blog, so wham, gone! The moment you try and pick at one thread in the materialist fabric of a capitalist nation, the whole thing comes apart.

    My beef, Mark, is that I don’t see why you’re wasting time blaming dogs for a lack of infrastructure, especially when (if you’ve been cycling for any period of time) you’ve no doubt been on the receiving end of the exact same victim-blaming nonsense.

    People like dogs. They also like pointlessly powerful cars, trashy magazines, and voting in idiots who promise lower taxes and deliver by never spending more than absolutely have to (hence the current state of the PBN). And you plan to make the cycling world a better place by… eliminating dogs from the inner suburbs? C’mon.

  9. BACBikes

    I don’t care if you think I’m being arrogant or not. I have never injured or knowingly threatened anyone on my bike, by riding carelessly or carefully. Dogs, and by extension and the people supposedly responsible for them, have done that to me and a significant number of people I know who cycle. We have a purpose in doing what we are doing – dog walkers just walk dog to stop them shitting up the back yard and going completely spare with boredom, so that even their owners start to detest their bored barking and whining and digging and other displacement behaviour. Pretty self-indulgent if you ask me. Likewise car drivers threatening the safety of pedestrians and cyclists – self-absorbed, selfish uncaring behaviour made normal by weight of numbers. I gave my dogs away before I came to the city, knowing full well they would be messy, smelly, complaining basket-cases before 6 months were out in the inner urbs.

    If you want your selfish behaviour to stand up to scrutiny – make sure it injures the fewest people the least amount. Walk your dog on the leash except in designated zones allocated for that purpose, not amongst others vulnerable to your actions. Drive your car carefully around cyclists, and share what that particular surface is for – everyone permitted to be there. Advocate for facilities that cater to your needs without impinging on others’ safety and security and right to free movement. I don’t deliberately ride my bike across open space in front of dog walkers – they should oblige by staying the heck away from me and what any sentient adult should recognise as my projected path.

    Don’t know where you got all that hyperbolic bilge about “unravelling the threads of western civilization”, from some Liberal Party apologia, maybe?. TV: the only damage it does is to the worldviews of the the people who are addicted to it, who then go on to vote for idiots coz that’s what it told them to do – my beef is with selfish dog owners and the political pressure they apply who presume ownership of space just because they can – the length of their leash or the distance of receptivity of their mutt to a call. The dogs themsleves are relatively blameless.

  10. Simon

    I do all that (albeit on these shared paths) and yet slowing down is too much to ask of you, so I should get out of ‘your’ suburb? If you are going fast enough to hit somebody, who can you blame? The fact that it’s happened to you numerous times is just evidence that you haven’t modified your expectations nor your behaviour. Of course it’s going to keep happening to you. I can say it’s never once happened to me while riding, so either we ride very differently, or you live near some kind of doggy madhouse.

    You criticise people in the inner suburbs who let their dogs sit in the yard all day (I agree wholeheartedly), but then you criticise them for walking their dogs anywhere near you, and you criticise everyone else for living in the outer suburbs at all (Narre Warren etc). There really aren’t very many scenarios in which the common joe meets with your approval, are there?

    “selfish dog owners and the political pressure they apply”

    Yeah, I hear the dog walking lobby are real big on Spring St.

    As for apologia (and I’ll think you’ll find the Labour Party and even the Greens are apologists where capitalism is concerned), I find it exasperating that anyone willing to follow the path of logic through a discourse is labeled an apologist whenever that course veers from views held by those around them. Rather than bandying bite-size portions of Latin, perhaps you might want to ask yourself whether there really IS a hole in your argument.

    Respectfully, I don’t think you’re arrogant – I just think you’re irrational. I’ll let it go, but honestly, a little ‘live and let live’ wouldn’t kill you. You’re not Dennis Miller – the florid prose and the scattershot trivia just make you seem kind of, well… over-zealous.

  11. BACBikes

    Oh, hark at mr. moderate, good-citizen balanced-in-his-views uber-rationalist!
    Not all of us want to tootle along at 15km/h just to pander to the whims of people aping the landed gentry of 200 years ago! There’s plenty of holes in your apologia for the comfy dog-walking status quo, but . . . they’re tedious. If you don’t like my writing, sod off somewhere else. You and your dog poo. Yes, get dogs somewhere they belong (out on the plains hunting wildebeeste where they came from would be ideal), get that big ol’ SS Commodore out of that double outer-suburban garage and down to SimsMetal to be turned into house framing for Somalian villages, and turn that big, empty garage into a workshop for actually doing things in, with skills, you know? Spread-out yet congested cities with alienated outer edges = sick, congested people with the same, needing uncritical palliative attention as their emotional bolster, which they can spoil and coddle ’til the cows come home, not that this dog has any idea how to help with that, mind you. Artefacts mirror their owners. Look in the mirror.

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