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Bicycle (and tram) transport as a preferred option to car travel.

by Dave Riley

I wrote here yesterday a little homily on buses versus trams. Trams are special transport creatures with a hell of a lot going for them
A tram, tramcar, trolley, trolley car, or streetcar is a railborne vehicle, lighter than a train, designed for the transport of passengers (and/or, very occasionally, freight) within, close to, or between villages, towns and/or cities, primarily on streets.
They do tick a lot of boxes. The major objection people throw at trams is that they "hold up traffic". The good people, at the Melbourne based Public Transport Users Association nonetheless have an answer for that furphy with a snappy quote from a political conservative:
The basic traffic problem is moving people, or goods, and not, as commonly and erroneously supposed, moving vehicles.... [A] traffic count taken by the Town and Country Planning Board in 1947 showed that in the heaviest half-hour of the peak Swanston Street trams carried 5,472 southbound passengers over Princes Bridge on one track, while in the same half-hour two lanes of motor cars and taxis carried 727 people, including the drivers.... It is therefore apparent that public transport is by far the most economical user of street space when considered in relation to the number of passengers for which it caters.
---Major-General Robert Risson, Journal of the Institute of Transport (Australian section), August 1955.
What blasphemy is this! Consider the sort of thinking logic that Risson is asking us to embrace; then follow that in your imagination as to what it would mean if applied as a standard suburb by suburb template.

It's not so strange.

When I was growing up in suburban Highett the closest railway station was Sandringham which was the end of the rail line --and still is. It's a 30 minute train journey from the Melbourne CBD. But that public transport network had been extended to Black Rock and Beaumaris via a tram line which ran from Sandringham station to Beaumaris.

Of course that tram line was pulled up or asphalted over and buses were bought in to replace it, even though they traversed the exact same route. So by the time I required school journeys, I had to travel by bus.

So trams are cool.

Bicycle transit

Bill Brandt
Great Britain (England) 20th century
Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow, c. 1937

That's' perhaps not my final word on trams. I do love em so and living in Brisbane is akin to being exiled because the trams are extinct here.

So I make do with the generally abysmal public transport system -- mainly bus engineered -- here in South East Queensland.

I had the good sense to locate myself within five minutes of a railway station where two train lines converge so we draw on the timetable of both feeder lines. If the impulse takes me, I can access the city by catching an express.

And I can do that with my bicycle. (Actually I push a scooter, but let's not split hairs and instead let's refer to "bicycle" as a generic two wheeled human powered vehicle. )

CityTrain isn't kind to bicycles because it limits commuter access and bans them from from peak hour/primary flow travel which in effect sabotages the core logic of bicycles as a commuter option.

The hostility to bicycle travel among petrol headers is amazingly strident. For instance, the Cycling Promotion Fund refers to the current debate in Victoria about new regulations for cyclists as another example of "an us and them argument."

In a response in the March 7th edition of The Age, Ron Moodie tries to recover the high ground:
It is worth looking at northern European countries for practical inspiration. In the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark — much colder countries than Australia — over 10% of local trips (the level goes up to 27% in the Netherlands) are made by bicycle, compared with 1% in Australia. Several decades ago, these countries decided to put pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users at the top of the priority list rather than car drivers. This helps develop more walkable, more cycle-able and more liveable cities. They invest in extensive networks of protected lanes for cyclists, they have reduced traffic speed significantly in residential neighbourhoods (72% of Berlin's roads are 30km/h or less). These countries provide safe, secure and extensive bicycle parking, encourage carrying bicycles on trains and buses, and they have car-free zones and special bike streets in the central parts of their cities. In other words, they make healthy and environmentally friendly choices — easy choices.
I guess my major interest here is to consider how much of a transport option the humble bicycle is.

During 2007 more bicycles were purchased in Australia than were motor cars. National sales topped 1.4million and bikes outsold cars for the 8th consecutive year. So you'd think that maybe something very green is afoot. But while bikes are back in vogue they are tending to be harnessed as relaxation and exercise tools -- something you'd transport to the local park on your car roof rack before riding.

When you actually get out there and experience the raw bicycle transit lifestyle on our roads you may start to wonder where the other few million bikes are. Then you are sure to realize that the road and traffic conditions bicyclists are asked to survive are not conducive to peddle power commuting.Obviously with those sales figures the country is awash with cogs and chains and peddles and such, but usage is being handicapped by god traffic.

The problem is that unless the traffic monster is aggressively dealt with there isn't much of a future for bikes on roads. But bicycle travel can be promoted as a cornerstone of the sort of urban environment we should foster. If it's fit for bicycles then it's fit for all of us. Bikes can be a threshold of the planned urban ecology we may think we need. And whether people decide to get on their bikes or not flows from that.

Promoting bicycle travel as a transport means -- such as for a standard commute -- is handicapped by its hippie connotations as though, that's' only for eccentrics like me. The same brutal logic has to come into play and people will only switch to riding their bikes if there are tangible and logical reasons to do so and the constraints are lifted.
One such constraint is the enforced wearing of helmets. People will not use bikes to commute if they have to wear a helmet to their place of business.It ruins your hair for one thing. Helmets demand crew cuts.But to travel in traffic without a helmet is placing the noggin at risk.Or is it? Research relating the efficay of helmets in preventing death and injury is not conclusive at all. However, after helmets were made compulsory, there was a fall in head injuries to cyclists of around 40%.
In effect, the main constraint on bicycle travel is fear of death or injury. But let's get real about this. In 2002, 46 cyclists died on Australian roads. compared to 295 pedestrians out of ....(at carnage levels) a total of 1731 deaths across the national road network. As John Pucher from Rutgers University, has concluded, cyclist and pedestrian fatality rates are much lower in countries and cities where cycling and walking account for a high rate of total trips.

While I don't make light of the tension involved in running the left margin of a road between parked cars on one side and a semi trailer bearing down on your right shoulder -- I'm saying that bike travel is a viable transport option even today under current traffic anarchy conditions.

It also seems to me that current research on obesity and transport usage suggests that the humble bike has a lot going for it as the axis of any campaign against obesity and Type II Diabetes.

So when not getting on a tram -- you know that perhaps there is a bicycle seat with your name on it.

1 Com:

Dave Bath | March 09, 2008

Another reason why trams are better than buses is that trams don't lurch side to side as much - meaning that you only need to brace yourself along one axis, which is much better for children, little old ladies, and people with sports injuries!

Besides, you'll always know if you are on a tram route, while you've no guarantee with a bus that the route hasn't been changed since the bus stop sign was planted (or that the driver hasn't taken a short cut to make up time).

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