A history of the R6 bike route in Newcastle

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.

p.s. we have one major black spot remaining.

About Steven

I'm on a mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, urban designers and fellow academics, who see the potential for bicycles to change cities and buildings. My PhD is in architectural history and my interdisciplinary research spans art theory, philosophy and cultural studies. I teach architectural history and theory and design studio at The University of Tasmania, Australia, and formerly worked as an architect designing large public housing projects in Singapore. My favourite bikes are a titanium racing bike I use for racing, a Velorbis retro commuter for riding to cafes and work, a single speed ultra light Brompton that I take with me when I travel on planes, a 29er hard tail mountain bike that I get lost on in remote places, an old track bike that scares me, a 1984 Colnago Super with all original campagnolo components that is plugged into a virtual realm that I train in, and a Dutch-made Bakfiets, that could easily replace half of the bikes I just mentioned.
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3 Responses to A history of the R6 bike route in Newcastle

  1. barefoot says:

    I assume local governments have targets and KPIs for total length of bikepath installed.

    I think it would be more beneficial to measure bike route performance, as… bear with me… the sum of squared-lengths of continuous bike path.

    That is, two isolated 2km lengths of path would count for 4+4 = 8km^2, and a single 4km length of path would count for 16km^2. A continuous 7km route would count for 49km^2.

    As you have noted, it’s far more useful to have long bike routes than to have lots of disjointed segments of bike path. This metric gives non-linear credit for building the longest possible routes.

    Another quirk in this little plan relates to maintenance. If any part of a bike route falls below a defined standard, then the route is considered to be broken into two separate sections… with a corresponding reduction in total square-sum bike route score. That would help avoid the problem where existing bike routes are allowed to deteriorate while new (short disconnected) routes are built to bolster KPIs.

  2. barefoot says:

    Oh, and for what it’s worth… your R6 route above, I would categorise that as two distinct routes separated by a substandard road crossing. A 4km route and a 3km route, giving a total of 16 + 9 = 25 km^2.

    If they were to improve the road crossing, they could immediately make the jump to a 7^2 = 49km^2 route. One road crossing might be the easiest 24km^2 of bike route credits they ever build.

  3. Pingback: New cycling infrastructure along Throsby Creek | Bicycles in Newcastle

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