Does your city have short bike paths linking destinations that planners thought were important, or long major bike paths, that people all over town are aware of? The former are based on false prophesies—the clip below shows just just how random bike movements are. Long bike routes, that cross a city, or even just border a city (like the one along the lake in Chicago), are not prophesies. They are facts. Long, safe, speedy and well known bike routes, act like funnels, that catch bicycle traffic and help it get moving, the way bikes like to move. Human powered vehicles aren’t so fond of starting and stopping, as cars seem to be. From what I can observe, most cyclists will choose clear routes like these, over travelling as the crow flies, if the clear bicycle route saves them mixing with cars, and having to stop every two blocks. This is because most regular cyclists, in time, grow to like the cycling itself. We want to get from A to B, sure, but in car dominated cities, we don’t mind if that means going past C, getting into a pedalling rhythm, and maybe even smelling some roses.
So our cities need long bike routes. Rail trails, waterfronts, quiet back streets, campuses, and parklands, provide these. A few years ago, I sat down with Tom Marshall, an architecture student who began The University of Newcastle Bike Users Group (NUBUG), and helped him marked up a map with the safe route I had been using myself, between my home in the city, and our University, out in the burbs. Then, representing the hundreds of NUBUG members he had enlisted (but really, representing me, mainly), Tom brought his map to the attention of powers that be, and before I knew it, my little route was the “R6, City to University Bike Route.” (Anyone with another version of how this route came to be, is welcome to start their own blog).
Click for interactive version of map
Enter Bernard Hocking, a genuine “activist” in the best sense of the word, who doesn’t want to leave this mortal coil without making things better. Bernie and I met just as we were entering our Dutch bike phases. He’s since bought a hallway full of Gazelles, and we have each made our grand tours to the holy lands of Holland and Denmark.
Bernie is a veteran political lobbyist. That’s an unpaid vocation, that is essential nonetheless to working democracies. The dialectical mill that new ideas go through, before they are put into effect, requires the lobbyist’s voice to be heard, for the same reason that criminals need a good lawyer. We trust judgements when both sides have been argued.
“My” little R6 bike route, has the misfortune of crossing an arterial road, that currently, doesn’t have traffic lights. And in the eyes of the car borne masses, rushing out of the city at peak hour, cyclists asking for light there, are worse than murderers. It is one thing for their fellow drivers to slow the flow, by entering at traffic lights put there for cars. But to be stopped by a cyclist, by lights built for cyclists!! Yes, they would have us thrown into gaol. Which is why we need people like Bernie, to put our case forward.
He set up a peaceful protest, collected 700+ signatures, met with politicians, worked the media, and got us our traffic lights. The popularity of a bike route is proportionate to its safe length. The R6, until now, has comprised of medium length stretches. Now it has one stretch of around 7km, all reasonable safe (if you go through the TAFE). My hunch is it will soon have enough gravity, that those industrial sites in the background of the photo below, might be redeveloped to also include some affordable housing, for cyclists.