Buses and cycling are two of the most sustainable modes of transport, and we should be planning for and encouraging both of them if we want to handle a future where we need to produce less green house gases, burn less precious oil, and keep a bit fitter. But over the last few weeks I've been realising, like Heather
, that if infrastructure and planning is done badly they can seriously conflict.
Now I'm back in Melbourne, my regular work commute is a long trip from Strathmore (in Melbourne's mid NW) to Monash Uni's Clayton campus, in the state's middle east.
If i decide to go by public transport, it involves 2 train trips (with an interchange in the CBD), and then a bus from Huntingdale train station the last few Ks to the uni campus itself. The over-crowded peak hour trains and recent unreliability of the schedule due to several trains out of service is something i could write about but ... I'll leave that for another day. What I want to write about is my observations on the issue of bus & cyclist road sharing from the Huntingdale to Monash trip.
Since I last worked at Monash 2 years ago, they have modified the section of the 4-lane each way Wellington Rd that runs from Huntingdale to the monash campus to have a dedicated bus lane painted red. They also built a bike path in the center verge of the road among the trees. Sounds great right?
Wrong. The problem is that the bike path in the central verge is a very tokenistic effort: (a) it only goes part-way from the station to the campus, wherafter it's not really clear what's expected ... riding on the footpath? (b) it crosses several major roads, and the central bike path doesn't seem to have dedicated lights to get over them, and (c) it continually winds in and out the path of small trees - ok for a recreational ride in the country, but not if you want to get to a lecture in 5 minutes ;)
So in reality, the cyclists ride in the bus lane. And you thus get a situation of the bus having to overtake cyclists, and then the reverse happening when the bus stops to pick up/drop off. All in the context of several lanes of fast-moving car traffic alongside. This pisses everyone off: the other day a bus driver pulled up at the lights, opened the front door, and "told off" the 3 cyclists at the lights because "you 3 are holding up 100 people" (yes, the bus was crammed full of students so there could well have been 100 people on board.
As an urban planner, this makes me groan in frustration. It would seem the lesson to be learnt is that half-hearted gestures towards changes to the transport network to favour buses and bikes can easily do as much harm as good. This seems to be the lesson emerging from the 'copenhagen lane' in Sturt St as well. It's not that special bike & bus lanes, slow speed shared zones etc are a bad thing, and they do have huge potential :- but if done by institutions fixated in a car-centric status quo, there's a big chance they'll do an ordinary job, and our default position should be very skeptical of their buzzwords and PR speak.
What can we do if we want to improve the situation? In terms of actual projects, I can now really see the point of the Prospect BUG
's policy of defending bike lanes proposed to be replaced with a 'shared use zone', particularly where there's heavy bus traffic. Yes the current lanes are far from perfect, but if they're to be replaced we need to be damn sure a genuine improvement will result.
Secondly, what I hope to do with my work with my colleagues in the GAMUT
reseach team is to change the institutional path
that results in underfunded, poorly designed public transport and cycling infrastructure in Australia. One day, hopefully we're reach the stage of the likes of Copenhagen's city planning, where planning for cyclist's needs is a core part of government's responsibilities and seen as totally natural as a major focus, not an afterthought.
At least on weekends i can enjoy a better ride along the Moonee ponds creek trail, which takes me all the way in to the CBD on a bike path alongside a re-juvenated creek that was once a drain.