Under the Safe Active Streets program some streets in Perth and its neighbouring municipalities are truly changing. The Government of Western Australia is investing AU$3 million (€2.02/£1.77) in this program. A large part of the money goes to demonstration bicycle boulevards. In my recent trip to Australia I visited three projects in this program. Two bicycle boulevards with other delegates from the Safe Active Streets workshop and one cycleway update with local resident and blogger Tim Burns. With all the attention Velo-City 2017 demanded you didn’t get to read this post about Perth up to now, but I managed to finally write it!
In March 2015 two road design specialists from the Netherlands visited Perth for a workshop. Concrete ideas were put to paper for the demonstration projects. When I visited in March 2017 the projects were well underway and large parts were already finished. It was clear a lot of money and effort went into the projects. The bicycle boulevards, the equivalent of a Dutch cycle street or Fietsstraat, reminded me of cycle streets I know in Nijmegen (even though I saw many differences too). That was not surprising when I found out one of the Dutch experts was from the Nijmegen region. The Western Australian Department of Transport wants to make cycling possible for people who would not cycle without these provisions. “Bike Boulevard users are not fast cyclists; they are mums, dads, children, senior citizens and others making short trips on bikes to schools, the train station or shops.” I was told that most of the residents on the streets were pleased with the design. Children were seen playing in locations where you would not have seen them previously. An impressive amount of work had gone into the project and I was pleased with a lot of what I saw on the street, but not all. First of all the streets felt wider than they should. I was not too sure about the design of the pinch-points either. Since people cycling also need to use the road narrowing it can be unpleasant at best, dangerous at worst. I was also a bit surprised about how one of the cycle streets was connected to a cycle track in the side street. That connection from Railway Parade to May Street in Bayswater seems unnecessarily complicated. On top of that the materials that were used (such as plastic bollards) don’t seem to be durable enough. It is good that this is a demonstration project. Mistakes are a learning opportunity. When the Dutch had such demonstration projects in Tilburg and The Hague in the late 1970s most was learned from the things that didn’t go right at first. I did not see all Dutch recommendations back on the street. That the speed is down to 30km/h is very good, but “slow motorised traffic down with bike friendly traffic calming”, “restrict motorised traffic movements at key intersections to reduce traffic volumes” and that the design “may require some mid-block cul-de-sacs to reduce motorised traffic” were some of the recommendations I didn’t see in the designs yet.
The local press wrote very enthusiasticly about one of the new bicycle boulevards in Mount Hawthorn: “Shakespeare Street may be the envy of cyclists the world over.” That is quite something to say. Local blogger Tim Burns was a bit more careful in his post. His main points of concern are similar to mine: the pinch-points are not bicycle friendly and there don’t seem to be any traffic calming measures. But he was pleased to see that the learning progression is indeed taking place: “I have already noticed some of the design problems in Shakespeare Street have been adjusted at the second bike boulevard project which is currently under construction in Bayswater. The Western Australian Department of Transport are taking an open-minded approach to the improvements to our street network for bike riders and have been encouraging feedback.”
Not everybody is pleased about the Active Travel Streets. On June 23rd, a local “driver and walker” wrote a comment on the Facebook page of the City of Bayswater: “This is a complete disaster and waste of money. I’m a regular driver and walker on May Street and it makes no sense at all what they’ve done. In some parts it’s even dangerous and I’ve seen several near misses already. Complete madness and another example of bureaucratic numpties having no idea and a big budget.”
Some adjustments of the pinch-point design and further education of the locals seems in order.
As part of a private tour of Perth and surroundings I was shown a third project of the Active Streets Program; the upgrade of the 2.5 kilometre Robertson Road Cycleway in the city of Joondalup.
This upgrade, finished last December, improves access to the Greenwood Train station and some local schools. This part of the city is a 1980s residential area with a lot of cul-de-sacs. However, a lot of those connect to a straight and very direct cycleway. This cycleway was widened and got a new coat of smooth red asphalt. At most locations a new separate footpath was also built. The landscaping was altered here and there to increase social safety and LED lighting was installed for that same reason. To enhance comfort drinking fountains, seating furniture and other amenities were placed. Greenwood Station has spaces available to park 132 bicycles and this station apparently has the highest amount of people arriving by bike of all the train stations in Perth. It has now become even more convenient for residents to take the bike to the station and to continue their journey to Perth by train.
I was very pleased with how the cycleway upgrade looked. It is good that Perth doesn’t only look at “bicycle boulevards”. The vast network of PSPs, as they are locally known (Principal Shared Paths) should also not be forgotten. These paths for walking and cycling run next to motorways, railways and sometimes waterways. They lead people to meaningful destinations in a direct route. Giving attention to missing links in that network and upgrading existing routes that need maintenance may not be as sexy as working on innovative Active Travel Streets, but it is equally important in my opinion. I found cycling in Perth very easy, also compared to other places in Australia. Some busy streets are better avoided, but all in all the cycling climate (including a seemingly more relaxed attitude to the many people who choose not to obey Australia’s mandatory helmet laws) is really very nice. Improvements are always necessary and welcome and it is good to see that they are taking place.
My video portrait of Perth.