Having given what two random sycophants told me was “the best presentation of Velo City” I sense it is me, Dr Behooving, to whom the cycling world looks for a truly authoritative report on the international bike planning community’s visit to car-land, Australia. Here is what you missed if you weren’t there, or if like the first keynote, you were left feeling as though quite a lot was lost in translation.
If you are one of the many Australian traffic engineers who travelled at your rate-payers’ expense to stare moon-eyed for 4 days at slides of separated cycle tracks and intersection treatments that defy every principle you have held dear, it is time you made a decision. Are you going to be remembered as someone who helped make cities more healthy and happy, or as someone who stood in the way? Myself and hundreds of others who travelled to Velo City are working our arses off, committing dozens of unpaid hours each week, risking ridicule and loss of employment, all to leave a positive legacy. Where do you fit in that scheme?
Velo City has shown me that there is no further need to argue the case for separated bike infrastructure. There is a global consensus, held now as well by all major players on the Australian bike scene. Separation is key to making cycling mainstream. It has been proven in car-crazy cities from New York to Saville. Anyone who denies this, or finds excuses to look away, only need look to climate change skeptics of the early 2000s to see where their careers will wind up. In ten years time they will be last in line for promotion, and first in line for redundancy.
The bad news from the conference is that delegates from all over the world are heading home with safari tales. Next week they’ll be telling of escaping barely alive from a backward nation that still mixes cyclists with cars. If they embellished their tales with crocodiles in Rundle Street Mall, some might believe them. My advice to remaining Europeans in search of stories of bravery, is that 2014 is a great year to visit Australia. If you leave your visit much longer you may find a lot of cities have softened. (Of course there will always be my town in Tasmania, where our local members of council are committed to keeping all the streets deadly, for tourists.)
While I encourage you all to make pariahs of phoney officials and politicians for leaving your streets as they were in the 70s, I would urge you not to fixate so much on reclaiming the street from GM and Shell, that you lose sight of the importance of trails along waterways and through parks. All over the world, these remain central to bike transportation. I rode along the river in Adelaide with Sjors van Duren, who has engineered inter-city bicycle highways in his region of Nijmegen. He said it would be a shame if Australians forgot the importance of these as arterial routes. I said the sexier issue for progressive types in Australia are the on-street capillaries. We agreed that cities need both.
Sjors and I were following the river on our way back from a cracking great party at one of those zulu “bike kitchens” in the industrial wastelands of Adelaide, the kind of district that I have been urging cyclists to claim as cycle-space with car-free co-op housing. The next day I spoke at the Australian Institute of Urban Studies, and I mentioned that district. Sure enough, it is being redeveloped, and the progressive planners from the institute have already been calling for a car-free approach. But as has been happening all over the world, even in Europe, the developers argued that buyers weren’t ready. Bullshit.
Progressive planners need to team up with crowdsource property development platforms like Citiniche, likeminded community groups—and me of course—to help consortiums of real people, with real needs, build car-free co-ops on former industrial land.
Which leads me to the best presentation of Velo City, my own. Here is a picture. High hair. Tight pants. Historical slides. Pretty darned slick.