Tue, 04 Mar 2008

Bike counting // at 09:30

Ugh, why did I volunteer for this? I admit it, I was hoping that BV's offer would put me on North road so I could see first hand just how few people really use the useless "bicycle lane". “Volunteer to take part in a bicycle commuter survey, tell us where you live and work and we'll place you somewhere nearby”. I volunteered, I specified Oakleigh and Clayton — 5km apart — they put me down on the Nepean highway 10km away in Moorabbin in the opposite direction!

So, a free orange tee-shirt in size extra-bed-sheet large and a $50 donation to the bicycle user group of my choice. That's what I get for standing on the corner of Nepean highway and South road for two hours being deafened by truckages. Below follows a very unscientific summary of two hours of my life from 7:00 to 9:00a.m. this morning:

One cyclist said hello, but she's a friend and she recognised me.

One commodore, 6:55am, P-plates, three lads, front passenger screamed C*#NT! while rear passenger spat out the window — I retired to higher ground in case they returned.

There is no coffee, bakery or toilets nearby.

Bicycle Victoria supplies nice neat sheets showing four roads and Left/right/straight for each of those four roads — 12 combinations to tick for each rider.

Melbourne supplies cyclists who ride up the footpath, the wrong way up feeder lanes, or diagonally across arbitrary combinations of pedestrian crossing and road — this makes ticking the tick boxes more interesting and open to interpretation.

In every given 15 minute period I saw more motorists illegally on the phone than I saw in cyclists.

128 cyclists in 2 hours, 1 recumbent, no penny farthings, 1 cyclist ran a red light, 7 had no helmets, 31 either arrived or left the intersection riding on the footpath.

...and surprise surprise, the most popular direction was the 41 people going straight north heading for the city.

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Wed, 19 Jul 2006

Cycle Commute: Richmond to Clayton // at 01:25

Richmond to Monash University, and home again. Here are some of the hi-lights and low-lights of my daily ride to and from work.

Despite a personal dislike for “cycle paths” and most other cycle-specific infrastructure, most of my commute does use one of Melbourne's bike paths... except that they aren't really bike paths.

Every off-road bicycle path in Melbourne is really a shared-use pedestrian footway, where pedestrians have right of way over cyclists, and there is no legal enforcement of the keep left requirement, or any of the other rules and regulations, which appear to be little more than local council suggestions.

So why do I use the Gardiners creek path? Mostly because it is the quickest and most direct route. It would be even quicker if the designers of the path hadn't been besotted with bridges, and made the path cross back and forth over the creek at every opportunity. On the plus side, there's a wealth of wildlife to be seen — mostly birds — and its generally much quieter than the road.

The majority of commuters are those that live in the suburbs and work in the city, so each day I pass a fairly constant group of riders heading in the opposite direction. Sometimes we nod to each other, but I've no idea who any of them are. Every couple of weeks a friend of mine hurtles past in a blur heading home — we've never quite collided head on, but there's been a few close calls!

Leaving home, an illegal short-cut across 50m of footpath between Park street and Yarra Boulevard, then right along Yarra Boulevard, ignoring the narrow, winding, bumpy and unmaintained Yarra bike path. Minor hazards to avoid here are the speeding motorists, and the rapidly opening doors from those who use the road as their daily car-park.

[*] After following Yarra Boulevard to where the Gardiners creek path joins the Yarra path, there's a tight left-hand turn and climb up onto the cycle-path bridge, then along one of Melbourne's cycle path engineering marvels — the suspended cycle path. Rather than build the track alongside the creek, millions of dollars were spent on constructing a suspended track that hangs down underneath the Monash freeway. Why do this rather than along the public land next to the creek? There is a private school bordering the public land, I've been told that they pressured the government into disallowing the cycle track next to their property...

Under Glennferrie road, a commonly flooded underpass, then up and around the badly-cambered spiral ramp, over the creek and a right turn to follow the cycle track across the sports oval. This section of the track is used by a large number of students from Melbourne University's Hawthorn campus, and from their behaviour, the majority of them are incapable of reading the English-language signs stating “Keep Left”

[*]

Leaving the students, I continue on around past the velodrome, then follow the track along the creek, under Toorak road, the most common site of flooding, then follow the path all the way to East Malvern train station, first through the wasteland near the Coles Myer head office, then the parks and reserves of Glen Iris. Two major and one minor roads to go under, Burke road, High street, and Great Valley parade, the latter two both having steep windy ramps to get down to creek level and under the roadway. [*]

The last kilometre or so of this is around the public golf course, thankfully separated by a 3m high chain-mesh fence, designed to protect the general public from random golf-balls. Unfortunately, the users of the golf course have chosen to cut large holes in the fence to expedite crossing from one green to another, and the occasional stray ball hurtles through, along with golfers who step out in front of cyclists.

Across the foot-bridge over the Monash freeway, glancing down to read the amusing “Slow Down” painted on the way up the steepest part of the bridge, then follow the track around to the left. I try to remember to hold my breath while crossing the first park, since there's been a sewage leak there for as long as I can remember. Then continue along behind the houses to the crossing over Waverley road.

[*] The pedestrian crossing at Waverley road is a good place to catch my breath, since there's usually a delay of almost a minute between pushing the button and the lights starting to change... then there's the 15 seconds while I watch for motorists driving through the orange and then red lights, before finally I can continue on my way!

The path continues through the narrow park between the freeway sound-abatement fence and the back of the houses towards Warrigal road, here I'm within half a suburb of the Chadstone shopping centre, so the likelihood of meeting abandoned shopping trolleys is high. It also seems to be some sort of epicentre for migratory plastic bags — every bush is festooned with them.

Up and over Warrigal road, then along back streets to the crossing with Atkinson street in Oakleigh — why bother going up and down kerbs onto the bike track when there's perfectly good quiet streets to use? Back onto the track for the block or so to the Oakleigh Recreation Centre, then back onto the roads to wend my way around the car yards and tyre vendors' premises to get to Ferntree Gully road. Anything and everything goes here, there are cars facing both ways parked on both sides of the street and I might meet anything from a fork-lift to a semi-trailer, but it still seems easier than attempting to use the track that crosses all their driveways!

Now for my daily hill-climb training. Ferntree Gully road heads straight up to a crossing with Huntingdale road, a pause at the lights, then coast down and a second climb up to Clayton road. There's usually no problems with traffic, other than the noise, the only excitement comes at the right-hand turn into Clayton road. Depending on the phase of the lights, traffic, and personal whim, I'll either cross the three lanes to the right-turn lane, or perform a hook turn from the left.

Clayton road can be a intimidating. A widely ignored 60km/hr speed limit, two narrow lanes in each direction, and a lot of passing traffic doesn't particularly recommend it, the alternative is to continue along to the lightly-trafficed Gardiners road, which has a 50km/hr speed limit, one wide lane, and use the cycle lane along the left. Unfortunately, or typically, the cycle lane ends half a block from the intersection with Bayview avenue, and traffic turning into the University squeezes cyclists off the road well before the corner. Riding down Clayton road to turn left into Bayview gives a clear run straight to the University gate.

Last noteworthy obstacle of the day is the large roundabout inside the gate. A right-hand turn around this can be accomplished with varying degrees of ease depending on the number, and skill-level, of the students and staff attempting to overtake me, and on the one or two each year who manage to drive the wrong way up the one way roads.

Returning home is almost the reverse of the morning ride, with a few exceptions. Leaving the University I head up the cycle lane in Gardiner road to turn left into Ferntree Gully road. I usually cut the left turn out by detouring through the Bunnings car-park, since there's a squeeze point at the traffic lights, where naturally the cycle lane disappears. The cycle lane is also a clearway, so there shouldn't be anyone parked in it, but it also goes past a pub, so there usually are cars parked in it.

[*] Along Ferntree Gully road almost to the junction with Dandenong road, this is the fastest section of the day's riding, I think I've hit around 65km/hr down one section. A right turn into a side road, then an illegal shortcut along the paths through Brickmaker's park — at least I think its illegal, there are so many bits of path and track around there that I'm not sure what is bike path and what is footpath. The two hi-lights of the park are the old brick-making equipment, and the stream through the centre — it's been turned into a kids' activity centre with water-wheels and movable gates, definitely worth investigating!

From the western end of the park, its back along the Gardiners creek track as far as the crossing of Waverley road, then I usually turn left and use the road as far as High street. It seems to take the same amount of time whether I use the bike track and have to ride slowly and zig-zag over the creek, or use Waverley, and then Malvern, roads at a faster pace, but stopping for the traffic lights. Where these roads are wide there's a bicycle lane, naturally this disappears at every intersection or where the road becomes congested — I really don't know why they bother!

The turn from Malvern road into High street is always exciting, with motorists following each other lemming-like through orange and red lights, then invariably being stopped at the traffic light combination of pedestrian crossing, railway crossing, and freeway crossing. Once I've made it through this, a quick left turn into Hope's Rise and I rejoin the Gardiners creek bike track for the remainder of the way home.

Cruising around Yarra Boulevard in the evenings is generally pleasant, its a common trainng ride for some, a recreational ride for others. At the Swan street bridge I often find rock-climbers practicing on the blue-stone boulders that make up the wall — inching their way the length of the underpass, 30cm off the ground.

The last detour that I sometimes make on the way home is to continue for the length of Yarra Boulevard, turning left into Bridge road to stop for an hour at the first corner. Why? The Bridge Hotel is at the end of my street, its a fine place for a beer on a sunny evening!

Hazards

[*] Of course no ride is perfect, mine includes a number of hazards. The most prevalent are pedestrians, with or without dogs, walking, jogging or running, on the left, on the right, or along the centre... The jogger pictured is one of about 40% who keep left, as is legally required, I'm usually too busy swearing, cursing, and swerving to get a photo of the rest of them.

I'm always wary of the requirement to “audibly warn pedestrians of my approach” — too many times I've found that people behave in a completely random manner, and are just as likely to leap from the left of the path across to the right-hand side as they are to keep left. There's also a percentage who just don't care and ignore cyclists anyway, and a smaller percentage who go out of their way to force riders off the path!

Dog owners seem especially self-righteous, it is far more common to see dogs roaming around while the owner casually waves an unused lead, than to see the dogs on the lead — regardless of whether the council signs say its an Off-lead area or not. And the “Clean Up After Your Dog” signs seem to always apply to other people's dogs — yet another unsavoury hazard on the paths.

[*] Less frequent than the pedestrians are the vehicles, council workers who think nothing of driving trucks at 30km/hr along narrow cycle tracks, or parking to completely block the path, motorists who use the bike tracks to park broken-down vehicles, the odd abandoned car, and the occasional motor-cyclist using the bike track as a short-cut between roads.

[*] On the roads there's always the motorists with the mobile phone, or the ones that must overtake and then turn sharply left. Other cyclists are hazardous at times, the main problems I find are at night in the winter on the unlit paths, some have lights so badly adjusted that they dazzle, some have no lights at all, and some have a red-flashing light on the front of their bike! This last lot are scary, with no other light around I think that they are heading in the same direction I am, only slower. Trying to “overtake” results in a near miss and much swearing!

Environmental hazards come last, the design decision to stick a bike track along what is basically a storm-water drain means that parts of the track become impassable after the slightest rain. Lack of drainage and lack of maintenance add to the excitement of using the track — there's always an overhanging branch or encroaching bush to duck around, or cracks, potholes and large pools of standing water to avoid.

Wildlife

One advantage of a ride along the creek and through parkland is seeing the multitude of wildlife, even in the city and suburbs. I'm sure if I stopped for a while I'd see even more. Without including the pet dogs and cats, I think I can remember seeing:

Fish: European Carp, Eel

Reptile: Eastern Long-necked tortoise (Chelodina longicollis), skinks, Red-bellied Black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)

Bird: Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes), Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera), Spotted Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia chinensis), Red-rump Grass Parrot, King Parrot (Alisterus scapularis), Eastern Rosella, Rainbow Lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus), Sulfer-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita), Galah (Cacatua rosiecapilla), Yello-Tailed Black Cockatoo, Gang-Gang Cockatoo (Callocephalon fimbriatum), Cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus) — probably an aviary escapee, Pied Mudlark (Grallina cyanoleuca), Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides), Laughing Kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae), Superb Blue Wren, Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa), Australian Wood Duck (Chenonetta jubata), Australian Shelduck (Tadorna tadornoides), White-faced heron (Egretta novaehollandiae), Nankeen Night heron (Nycticorax caledonicus), Australian White Ibis (Threskiornis molucca), Great Egret (Ardea alba), Little Cormorant, Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra), Dusky Moorhen (Gallinula tenebrosa), Masked Lapwing (Vanellus miles), Willy Wagtail (Rhipidura leucophrys), Noisy Miner, Bell Miner, Silver Gull (Larus novaehollandiae), Australasian Grebe, Little Pied Cormorant (Phalacrocorax melanoleucos), Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena), Pied Currawang (Stepera graculina)

Mammal: Water rat, mice, Brush-tail possum, Ring-tailed possum

Pest: Sparrow, Blackbird, Indian Mynah, Mallard, Pigeon, Geese, Goldfinch

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Thu, 08 Jun 2006

Cycle Commute: Oakleigh to Clayton // at 03:36

Possibly the world's shortest bicycle commute.

Oakleigh to Monash University, and home again. Here are some of the hi-lights and low-lights of my daily ride to and from work. The trip only takes about twelve minutes, no where near as interesting as my previous trip to Monash from Richmond!

A quick count and I've calculated that I ride along five roads getting there and an extra two coming home.

Down the side of the house, battle with the padlock on the gate, a glance back at the neighbour's orange tree silhouetted against the sky, then squeeze between the car and the fence to get to the street. Depending on skill and luck, there may be a big gap or they may be a small one! Out onto the street — usually stepping around the people who park half-blocking our drive-way — and hop on the bike.

Mill road is usually quiet, then right-turn into Haughton road at the end. Visibility not so bad, but watch out for the motorists travelling at 80km/hr in the 50 zone, they appear awful quick. Haughton road used to be a major shortcut through the suburb so Monash city council tried to traffic-calm it into unusability. I'm not sure if its had any effect on the number of motorists cutting through, but it seems to have increased their irritation.

A series of little roundabouts at every side street, together with a narrowed road and huge rough blue-stone kerbs mean that if you're riding along here, motorists can't fit past without crossing half across to the other side of the road. That's fine if they do it legally, but half the time they're in too much of a hurry and try to squeeze through when there's oncoming traffic. They simply don't fit, and there's no room to swerve out of the way of the idiots.

Yet more proof that most people have no idea how to behave on the roads is the right turn into Moroney street, forever referred to as Moron-ey street as motorists either stop dead in the road to let me turn across in front of them, or tear across the traffic island and nearly knock me off. The first lot risk being run into from behind by other motorists who foolishly expect them to be obeying the law, the second lot just can't be bothered to turn the steering wheel a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right to follow the lane markings. Every two weeks or so I come along here and the “Keep Left” sign has been flattened, with tyre tracks over the traffic island.

Left into North road, mind the traffic, two lanes heading east as fast as they can get away with. Around the corner and up to the bridge, watch out for anyone turning down the sliplane without indicating, then up and over the railway lines and a great view of the industrial end of Huntingdale and Oakleigh. Look left and you can see straight up the rail lines all the way to the CBD, ahead the sunlight reflects off a hundred factory roofs. Down and off the bridge and once again watch out for motorists who come flying up the sliplane, oblivious to both signs, “Give Way” and “Watch for Cycles”1.

Then its just a straight run along North road, watch for the odd motorist who decides to turn left without indicating, or opens the door to let a passenger off at the lights! There's a proposal to run a cycle path along here down the middle of North road, all the way from Huntingdale station to Monash University. Various cycle groups seem obsessed about it, and in pressuring the City of Monash to build it, nobody seems to have given any thought to how cyclists would get into the middle of the road to get to the path, or in how it would be treated at each of the five or so road crossings!

Hazards

Roundabouts. Roundabouts, roundabouts, roundabouts and more flippen' roundabouts. Monash city council seems to be obsessed with putting baby roundabouts along the streets as a “traffic calming” measure. Only problem is, half half the drivers in the area seem to treat the roundabouts as speed-humps, half of them stop and treat them like t-intersections, and half of them try and either overtake me while going round, or pull out in front of me because they're bigger.

Wildlife

A world of difference to the commute along the creek and through the parks; a squashed fox in the middle of North road.


1. In late December 2007 VicRoads made some major changes to North road, removing the give-way sign and painting a cycle-lane diagonally across the slip-lane; thus requiring cyclists to cross across the front of motorists who drive up the slip-lane at 70km/hr without having to give-way!

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