New commute

March 11, 2014 at 18:42 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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mowbrayI have a new job. And with the new job comes a new location – I am now riding in pretty much diametrically the opposite direction, heading west to Chatswood, instead of into the city.

Although not especially different in terms of distance (just a few kms more), it couldn’t be more different in terms of route. Previously I could ride into work in the CBD pretty much on separated bike paths / SUPs the whole way. Now I have to negotiate the cycling glory that is Gladesville Bridge before braving the wonders of Mowbray Road.

It’s interesting in a number of ways, and has certainly given me pause for thought about many aspect of cycling in Sydney. I am the only person in my new office who rides to work. In the city, I was one of many. My office in the CBD was right on the Kent St cycleway. Built it and they will come.

2014-03-11 20.35.17Some facts. My new route takes me from Five Dock over Gladesville Bridge, then on to Centennial Avenue and then right onto Mowbray Road. I follow that over the Pac Hwy, and then a few kms further on turn left down some local streets to get to Chatswood. It’s about 13km, and is mostly uphill on the way there – which makes for a good workout in the morning, and a cruisy ride home. That means it’s quicker coming home – 33 minutes as opposed to 38. I fired up Strava again, and this is what it had to say (this was from the ride home).

It certainly made me realise how spoiled I was before. ‘Spoiled’ and ‘Victoria Rd SUP’ and not words that often go together, but for all its faults there is something to be said for getting out of the traffic. Anyone could have ridden my old commute, but that certainly isn’t the case with the new one.

I now have to mix it up with cars. Lots and lots of cars. For motorists the route is very stop-start, with queues at the various traffic lights frequently so long that it takes two or three phases for the cars at the back to get across. My tactics for this vary; on Mowbray Road I filter through the cars, either on the left or down the middle of the two lanes. Heck, I’m not sitting there just because all those idiots chose to take two tonnes of metal to work. Burns Bay Road is a little more tricky, as it’s uphill. This means I end up getting stuck in the jam, and then in turn holding up the cars as the traffic moves and I’m grinding up the hill. I’ve actually taken to riding up the hill on the footpath – just because it’s faster for me, as I don’t have to keep stopping. It’s far from ideal (and slower than riding on the road would be if the road was not busy), but as it is my average speed is pretty much exactly the same as the traffic.

On the faster sections (which is a lot of the ride home) I’m mixing it up with the cars – for much of the time going faster than they are, zipping past on the inside and then filtering at the lights. It’s kind of exhilarating, and not something you do much of in a CoS cycleway. But this is riding for the 1% of lunatics, not normal people. It speaks volumes about cycling culture in Sydney, the safety record for bicycles and just how high the barriers are to making cycling an everyday activity. I also see a little more aggression from motorists, with some close passing and crazy swerving in front of me at traffic queues. It’s not bad, but again it’s something you are insulated from on even a very poor SUP.

My new co-workers are somewhat bemused by my behaviour, and even after three weeks still ask me ‘still riding then?’, as if it is some kind of aberration and I will soon give up. One of the women in my team drives eight kilometres to the office – and it usually takes her about half an hour. On a bad day close to an hour. To me, this behaviour seems much more extraordinary than riding. My allocated parking space outside the building goes empty – which does make me smile somewhat. I’m tempted to get a bike rack installed in it. Built it, and perhaps they will come…

The joy of Vic Road SUP

August 5, 2013 at 19:16 | Posted in bicycles | Leave a comment
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I was prompted to put this piece together when a journalist acquaintance of mine who happens to write a cycling blog in the Sydney Morning Herald asked for examples of terrible cycling infrastructure to illustrate an article he was working on.

Well, the prize for worst infrastructure on my regular routes has to be the Victoria Road SUP (Shared User Path). A few years ago, this arterial road was upgraded at huge expense; an extra traffic lane was added, bus lanes marked, a new bridge built and the whole road upgraded and re-sheeted in smooth asphalt.  It cost many hundreds of millions of dollars.

So what provision was made for bicycles was made as part of this upgrade? Well, apparently the budget ran to a large tin of paint, and a few man-hours putting lines on the footpath. Lets take a look at some of the wonders of this major arterial cycling route.


Here’s the first thing you come to at the White Bay end. (Well, actually it’s not the first, but there are just too many things to include them all.) When they painted the white lines on there, do you think anyone thought to ask, ‘How’s this going to work with a bloody great pole in each lane’? The answer, obviously, was to put a reflective stripe around each pole, to warn cyclists who may have thought that the white lines were in any way a guide as to where to ride.


Having dodged all the poles at eye-level, clearly the RMS think another tack is needed to trap unwary cyclists – like these knee-high hoops. Sometimes a sticker appears on those hoops, documenting when they were first reported as a hazard, and how many times they have been reported since. I applaud the mystery documenter in his or her disheartening work, although can’t help hoping they get a bit more militant and simply take an angle grinder to them.


There are many other examples of poles in the middle of the ‘lanes’, such as this one a bit further up. Note also the high-quality of the surface – full or ruts, bumps and pot-holes.


If you thought you could cycle through those posts, by the way, be aware that it leaves about 2cm knuckle clearance on each side. Unless you have wider bars, in which case the bike will come to a sudden halt.


This is not all that clear to see, as the sun is in the lens, but marked on this pedestrian crossing is a line and some symbols to demarcate the right of the crossing for pedestrians, and the left for cyclists. That left hand side neatly directs riders to a very high curb with no ramp – which were you to unsuspectingly hit would mean you would pitch over the handlebars and straight into the pole that is directly in front of you. No wonder we need mandatory bike helmets in Australia.


Not content with the number of obstacles for cyclists, the RMS recently put in some more poles, including the two holding up this sign. This means that at the very moment you’d like to be on the far left of the path, in order to get the best sight-line into the servo to check for exiting vehicles, you have to go to the right. This means you can’t see cars exiting, and the drivers of those cars can’t see you. The van pulling out in this picture is about where cars pull out to before they stop to look. That’s about where the poles force you to ride.


There’s lots of bus-stops along this route, and they all are a disaster. In some cases the path is routed behind them, which narrows the path down so much it’s hard to walk past someone coming the other way, let alone ride past another cyclist. But this design is even worse; it pretty much guarantees cyclist / pedestrian conflict. I am now quite adept at looking for feet in the gap at the bottom of the advertising hoarding to see if there is anyone in the shelter who is liable to step out as I ride past. The RMS are apparently aware this design is sub-optimal, so have helpfully fixed it by putting a ‘slow’ sign ahead of the problem.


Apparently in a few places the RMS did realise they got it wrong – in this instance a path that directs cyclists straight into a pole. So they have cunningly scrubbed  out the last few metres of the white line. Problem solved!


Here’s the view back up the hill. Yes, you can indeed see four or five smooth traffic lanes. The SUP on the left is virtually invisible, hidden behind a sea of poles and signs. No wonder so many cyclists just (legally) take the bus lane in the mornings. (Its not a 24 hour lane, so in the evening you are mixing it up with more traffic, which is rather less comfortable).


Once you have negotiated all that, in fairness it has to be said the path over the new bridge is really quite good – smooth and wide. But how hard would it have been to have made the whole stretch this good? Well, the answer is ‘very easy’ – simply remove one of the many traffic lanes. At peak time, they crawl along at about 10kph anyway, so a bike lane would be a much faster and more efficient way of moving people along this route.

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