Following on from part 2.
I am ambivalent about the current fashion for renewing sad streets with bike lanes and Bike Friendly Business District (BFBD) certification. It’s a new trend but already so cynical, built around landowners’ interests rather than cyclists’. If we got in the habit of justifying investment in bike infrastructure on the grounds that it rejuvenates boarded up streets, then cycle track planning would stray from what should be its primary focus: keeping bike riders safe. The hidden aim of bike planning would be to herd us, like any shoppers, into areas that would not quite be ready to lose their car driving customers for the sake of a few more coming by bike. They would want drivers and cyclists—but which gets the most hurt when there’s an accident? My current case study project, Launceston Tasmania, has an example that throws the issues into clear focus.
Council planners see an opportunity to make Holbrook Street a bicycle artery, linking an existing off-road bike track from the University, to the city. Along with these works the city would build a new pedestrian bridge. The plan would certainly rejuvenate this flailing area, and perhaps attract a few hipster cafes selling Sugino cranks in glass cabinets. But it would also drain funds that could more effectively be invested if our aim is to get a wider cross section of the community using bikes for their transportation. The growth of hipster bike culture is not impacted as clearly by investment in safe cycling infrastructure, as is the uptake of cycling by potentially larger, more risk adverse groups, such as mothers, their children, and seniors.
Do I want my 13 year old son riding down Holbrook Street, trusting car driving patrons of the auto mechanic shops lining that street to see him when they come to an intersection? I would trust a Dutch driver to see him, but not a driver whose only experience is that roads are for cars.
I would rather my son use the existing off-road route (marked green on the bike map to the left) that runs mainly on buffer land flanking the East Tamar Highway, than trust his life to drivers chasing deals on cheap mufflers in the vicinity of that red dotted line along Holbrook.
As a bike culture vulture myself, I am personally disappointed that my rationality and paternal concern for mothers and children means I won’t be lending my support to an urban renewal project to revitalise one of this city’s grittiest streets. I was so excited about the potential of Holbrook that I spent a few hours imagining it being almost completely car free, even taking a moment to map all the sites fronting that street.
Holbrook Street could be the germ of bicycle oriented development in Launceston, if that bridge were developed, and if business owners were amenable to restrictions on car access in the hope they would attract bike riding patrons. Since both are big “ifs”, why be distracted? Cyclists already have safe passage from the University campus to the North, to the City, via a route that passes a site with the potential to relocate half the city’s population to flat lands with new forms of low energy housing.
That’s my reasoning for disregarding council’s proposal to make a bike route along Holbrook (the dotted green line above). If the planned bridge and road works ever did go ahead, I wouldn’t complain. But neither would I be distracted from the more urgent project of shifting this city’s population from the hill tops and urban periphery, to flat bike friendly areas close to the city’s other amenities.