The people who follow me on Twitter already know that I returned from Australia earlier this week. I went there with my mother to visit some of our relatives. When it became known that I would be in Australia, Paul van Bellen of Gazelle Bicycles Australia asked me if I would be willing to do a presentation “for the Australian fans”. When I said “yes” I had no idea what kind of event it would eventually become. BIKESydney organized it and on the Facebook page for the event over 80 people confirmed they would be coming. A venue was found in the Surry Hills Library. Paul Martin from Brisbane was prepared to come all the way to Sydney especially for this occasion, to tell about his experiences on a now legendary cycle trip through the Netherlands in 2011. (This trip by 30 Australians was featured in a blog and I had made a short video about it too.) The event was subsequently named a ‘Bike Seminar’ to increase the pressure I already felt, I am sure.
On the morning of the 29th of September we got to the Surry Hills library to find there was a power outage after a fire in a substation. This not only meant that we couldn’t do our presentations there without the computer and projector working, but we couldn’t even stay in the building at all. Security threw us out because that was against health and safety regulations. David Borella of BIKESydney did everything he could to get a new venue at a moment’s notice.
It was fortunate that Fiona Campbell, manager Cycling Strategy of the city of Sydney had come to the seminar. She was able to arrange a room in Sydney’s Town Hall where the event could take place only hours after the originally planned time. So we packed up the balloons, the Dutch flags, the leaflets and the folders, all of which I had brought from the Netherlands and moved with most of the remaining audience to the new location.
Paul Martin’s presentation was excellent! He was able to compare the situation in the Netherlands with Australia much better than I could, because I am of course not so familiar with the Australian situation as someone living there.
In my presentation I tried to give a quick overview of how the Dutch got to their current policies and what other societies could copy and what some already do copy. People responded very enthusiastic to my presentation. Which was a relief, because this is not something I do very often and I actually should get more practice to become more confident. Making videos and writing a blog is really very different from being in front of an audience. Interestingly enough, my mother, by far the most critical member of the audience, was more impressed by how I did the question and answer session than the actual presentation.
All in all the event was a success I think. And it was made possible with the help of many people, some of whom I already mentioned and all of whom did this in their own time and at their own expenses. A big thank you to all of you!
The presentations were filmed. But I do not know if, how and when these images will be made public. When I do know, I will make sure you’ll hear about it.
Cycling in Sydney
I spent 5 days in Sydney so I also had some time to look around. It has become sort of a tradition that I make videos of places I visit during my holidays and I did this in Sydney too.
A video showing what struck me in Sydney.
The first thing you notice as an outsider is the sound, or better the noise of motor traffic. Not only because there is so much motor traffic but also because it drives so fast. It also seemed to me that all that traffic couldn’t have a business in the city centre. When I rented a car a few days later to go to the Blue Mountains (west of Sydney) this was confirmed. The navigator sent me right through the centre of Sydney. No wonder it is so busy there if even traffic that has a destination very far away from it goes right through it. So a lot can be won by diverting traffic away from there.
It is strange that I would think there is so much motor traffic because in reality 92% of all traffic in the centre is on foot (figure by the city of Sydney). Yet everything is designed for that motor traffic: even the smallest side streets and driveways cut right through side-walks forcing pedestrians to go up and down big curbs. The pedestrian majority also gets very short green times. I timed green lights at 7 seconds (even though that was not in the centre but in Darlinghurst). The red time was of course much much longer!
Because of all this it is no wonder people flock to where there is less motor traffic. Darling Harbour, the Rocks and Circular Quay are magnets for people walking. That the city of Sydney plans to pedestrianize part of the main shopping areas in George Street and surroundings, seems to me like a very good idea that will improve the livability of the city centre.
Many more people were riding bicycles without wearing helmets than I had expected. I was told Sydney doesn’t really enforce the mandatory helmet laws and the fine is relatively low.
I saw very different types of bicycle infrastructure. I cringed when I saw people cycling in the combined bus/bike lanes in the incredibly busy Oxford Street. A bus/bike lane gives you bus/bike conflicts and they are extremely dangerous because of the difference in size/mass and speed. In William Street I saw narrow cycle lanes and people choosing to ride on the sidewalks instead. All in all not a very inviting environment to cycling. At several bigger junctions in the city I saw two solutions for cyclists. Brave and fast cyclists choose to ride through the junction. Other people could leave the roadway via a lowered curb to ride on the sidewalk and cross the junction at the pedestrian crossing. Whereby the cyclists have to give pedestrians priority. This isn’t a good solution for either of these road users. A dual system is never a good idea, it decreases the predictability of behaviour. If cycling infrastructure is not good enough to be used by all people cycling it is simply not good enough.
But I also saw the latest developments in cycling infrastructure in Sydney and that was very good. I was very pleasantly surprised by Bourke Street which is a fine example of an Australian adaptation of the world’s best practice that got all the details right! The cycle way in Bourke Street is not only good for people cycling. Pedestrians also benefit from the raised junctions with side streets and the fact that you walk further away from motor traffic. I was told the property prices in this street went up considerably after the cycle way was built. It is always very good when a city can point to a very successful piece of infrastructure to convince people who are sceptical about separated cycling infrastructure. According to the lord mayor of Sydney cycling has doubled – and sometimes trebled – in just a few years, where there are separated cycle ways,
The cycle way in Kent Street was a bit different in especially the junction design. I think that junction design is still a bit behind the world’s best practice. There are plans for a better accessible city centre in Sydney (the Sydney City Centre Access Strategy) and the plan for a network of separated cycle ways looks promising. I really hope the junction design, especially where cycle ways cross, gets some more attention. It is too bad that the plans for a new cycle network involve taking out a good cycle path on College Street. Apparently because it is “not connected”. That seems odd and you could of course also have chosen to connect it…
All in all I saw a Sydney that has changed considerably since I visited it last in 2008. And it was a change in the right direction. I hope this continues so the environment for cycling improves. Something that is very needed as cycling is in decline in most of Australia.
After Sydney I also visited Brisbane where I did also ride a bicycle myself. There will be a blog post about that on a later date.