Saturday, August 18, 2012

MOST LIVABLE CITIY?

shared danger or delight?

ON PEDESTRIANS, CYCLISTS, PARKS AND PARKED CARS
In parallel with the enthusiasm for more open discussion on town planning and design matters glimpsed in the Brisbane City Council for a short period in 2002, the following comments and observations were jotted down and forwarded to the organisers of the two forums held at that time. There appeared to be some hope for change, for improvement, and a wilingess to listen to and to discuss and consider criticism – see also http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html  and  http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/town-planning-concerns.html  Things turned out differently. The communication, like the others noted here, was ignored. It was never responded to. No more forums were held. A few improvements have been made in some cycle paths but the critique remains as valid today, (August 2012), as when it was first made in 2002. Such is life.

car parking or cycle path?

There are a series of issues that have attracted my attention over the years that can be seen to coincide because of the alignment of various concerns by happenstance.

While walking across the Victoria Bridge the other evening, I was intrigued by the white line that was marked down the centre of the path on the western edge of the bridge. I usually walk down the eastern edge, and have always been concerned with the rude arrogance of the cyclists who ignore the signs placed on this path by the BCC telling cyclists to dismount and walk.

In all the times I have strolled along this walkway, I have never seen a cyclist dismount. Often I have experienced cyclists speeding past me, seemingly playing the game of tip and run. It is a game that gives instant alarm to the individual who is suddenly brushed by silent speed that disappears before any response can be given by way of appropriate curse or inappropriate threat. The BCC seems to have a talent for erecting signs that hope to promote the right thing, but is apparently careless about the enforcement of their intent. This does not make the city very ‘liveable’ or ‘livable’.

Well, on another occasion when I was walking along the other walkway on the west, I pondered on the purpose of the white line on this side. I know that Brisbane has a history - probably unique in the world - of directing pedestrian traffic with the same clues as those used for vehicular traffic. Brisbane's CBD once had footpaths that were paved with segmental red pavers that had a built-in dotted white line that seemed to suggest that pedestrians had to maintain the rule of the road - to keep left. Remnants of this era of unfortunate paving still exist. I often wondered if one had to signal when planning to overtake on these routes.

So my first guess was that the intention of this white line on the bridge was to mark the centre that one had to keep to one side of, because bikes were allowed passage on this western edge of the bridge. Then I recalled that there was a white line marked on the riverside 'runway' boardwalk in front of the Art Gallery. Here it is made clear that cyclists have to keep to one side - the widest - and pedestrians have to stay on the other - the tight, narrow, riverside portion. The symbols clearly mark this intention, and most users generally comply with it because it seems safe and sensible.

So I thought that the white bridge line on the western edge could mean that the cyclists had to keep to one side and pedestrians to the other. But then I saw the symbols! The cyclist symbol is painted on the centreline of the centre line, directly in line with the pedestrian diagram. Just what could this mean? My observation of how the path was being used by pedestrians indicated that there was no clear route being maintained, and the fast, dangerous weaving of the cyclists proved that there was no intention of either group keeping to one side of this line or the other. Indeed, the cyclists, in spite of the 'Give Way to Pedestrians' signs, seemed to take control of the whole width of the walkway in their game of miss the pedestrian - if possible - and at very high speed.

So it was that I resolved that the clear purpose of the line was for all pedestrians to walk along it so that the cyclists could choose to pedal on either side or weave between the individuals as personal whims or chance might demand.

Now I have only recently noted in some suburban areas that there are new line markings for cyclists. I know that the intention is for cyclists because the symbol has been painted, once again, on the centreline of this line. But what is the message? Does the line mark a cycle path on the edge of the lane used by the vehicular traffic? Possibly. But the line encloses the area used by parked cars. There seems to be no effort to stop the cars parking in what seems to be a possible cycle path of reasonable width. It reads like this because it is difficult to understand why a cycleway that was far too narrow would be marked at all? So what really is the intention? Is it a both or either-or? Is it a parking lane or a cycle path? It appears to be both!

One wonders who is responsible if a cyclist runs into a parked car? What happens if a parked car has its door opened? This regular and necessary occurrence creates a circumstance where it is obvious that the whole of what might be envisaged as a possible cycle path is closed off, if it has not already been so blocked by the vehicle in the first place. Both with and without parked cars, this 'lane' narrows down in places where it is barely wide enough for the pedals of a bike to fit the width – look at those on the Victoria Bridge roadway and at Highgate Hill. So I have resolved that the only way one can interpret this line is in a way similar to that on the bridge - but here it is for the cyclist to follow.

But, one wonders, in a city that likes to try to be cycle-friendly and allows cyclists to do anything and everything - no helmets; no lights; no speed limit; no stopping at lights; on both footpaths and roads as the impulse takes; on either side of the road at the cyclists convenience; etc. - what happens if a vehicle in a lane running parallel to a new cycle line wants to turn right or left? Who gives way to whom? What are the rules? How can one easily see a speeding cyclist with head down, bottom up? With no laws for the cyclist that anyone seems interested in enforcing, who takes responsibility for giving way? - and for any collision? We seem to have a city with all signs and no rules: chaos city rather than 'most liv(e)able' - whatever this jargon cum ‘verbal logo’ really means.

But what is the true purpose of these white cycle lines? They make marks with such authority that they suggest total control. But when they cross an intersection at ninety degrees to the run, they fade into dotted lines without explanation - is it still a cycle zone or not? - and when they come to a major intersection that, e.g. has traffic lights, the indecision and lack of commitment is clear. The lines just stop in the middle of nowhere, often becoming an extra lane for vehicular rearrangement. What is the cyclist supposed to do here? At what risk is the cyclist placed with this ambivalence? Does anyone care? Has anyone resolved the logic or rationale of this seemingly futile effort to make Brisbane boast another grand statistic - cycle city of the world?

Just what is going on with this marking? – marketing? Is the game to see just how much length Brisbane can claim to have in marked cycle lines so as to create the brag that it is the most liveable cycle city? - whatever this means? Surely rules for cycle path usage, with separate, safe width and intelligible continuity are the most important things a Council can provide for cyclists if dedicated routes are to make movement through the city easy, pleasant and safe for all. If Council is to find itself legally exposed by a simple location of a bollard, apparently not seen by the head down–bum up fast cyclist, and chooses to settle this reported collision with a large cash payment, one can only be surprised to find Council leaving itself open to claims arising from what can be seen as unwise or ill-considered road marking. It must be remembered that markings are directions structured by the marker, and if the marks are inadequate in any way, then, it seems, the Council is legally exposed.

And this is no fantasy. That there must be a concern expressed about this configuration is made clear by the very conflict that is inherent in the arrangement. Simple safety requirements demand that any obvious point of danger must be removed. A Council with any Workplace, Health and Safety office should be aware of this ordinary obligation. But it appears as though the BCC is happy with this 'new' marking - why else go ahead and install it? That a zone for cyclists can be marked and then given over to parked cars or just be allowed to disappear without warning or any other alternative, and even varied to give dramatic changes in width, is of concern. What does the Australian Standard say about this? And if there is no Standard, why not use a European Standard as a reference? Council seems rigorous in other matters where it removes offending objects that have caused problems, in spite of their necessity for other reasons.

The BCC knows the problems of dual use of cycle paths - for pedestrians and cyclists - and should be aware of the problems it opens itself to by providing for dual use parking/cycle zones? It knows of accidents - some fatal - on routes under its management presently shared by legs and wheels, but even these paths still remain poorly lighted, poorly regimented and poorly managed or enforced. They are just left in an ad hoc state of development and repair to be used as folk think fit - at their own risk, as it were. If only this were possible.

One wonders: why create problems? The BCC has a history of apparent carelessness. I have raised on other occasions the problem of cars parking on the footpaths in suburban areas, making pedestrians move on to the road. The response received to this matter was that it was safer for the cars! It is much like the response received to suggestions to slow the speeding traffic in our street - that these strategies will not meet with driver approval. But isn't that just the point? At present, the drivers and the Council both seem to approve of speeding, (or should one say ‘reluctant to respond’?), so everything is OK! - ?

If Council really wants to have a good city, then a genuine commitment must be made to every action taken. Real commitment must be given to the coherence and quality of all decisions and their relationship, implementation and outcome. It is not good enough to resolve problems by constant removal. Take for example, the pedestrian crossing at the low part of Gladstone Road. Why has this crossing been removed? It seems that it might have become a legal problem, so it has been erased - that is the stripes and the signs have been obliterated. Yet pedestrians still have to battle the speedy rush; and all the ramped kerbs and rails that once marked the pedestrian crossing have been left in tact to suggest it still is the place to cross! The message suggests that the pedestrians must risk their own lives without having any rights conferred on them by white lines and signs, let alone just good lighting This circumstance seems the opposite of the new cycle path strategy that seems to create problems with their installation – an odd reversal! But then we do not yet count pedestrian crossings or boast about their role in this great city.

To run a city by removing troubles for BCC convenience will leave only a dead skeleton stripped of its wonder. For a city to become great, a rich coherence of commitment must be entertained and maintained in every detail, no matter how apparently insignificant these might appear. This involves BCC risk. Failures can only demoralise citizens, just as they dematerialise the city. There must be consistency and continued effort to achieve ambitions - assuming that the ambitions exist at all. The risk is that the words of being the 'most livable' ring only as a hollow phrase that mocks the reality.

Why can a Council not give residents a clear statement of its intentions? Take our street, for instance (at the risk of using a personal matter once again). Over the years I have raised the matters of parking and speeding - to no effect. Some parking signs were erected, but having them enforced is an impossible matter. (These have now - in 2012- been removed!) No one seems to care. The police did not even know that Villa Street was zoned for ‘SERVICE VEHICLES ONLY – NO TRUCKS.’ No one cares that truck after truck uses this and Frederick Street, a thoroughfare that links to the 'NO TRUCKS' zone. The most recent action was taken by another resident who raised the problem and invited Councillors and State representatives to attend a meeting in the backyard of a residence in Frederick Street. While all promises were given for immediate action, very little - let's be honest: nothing - has come from the seemingly very reluctant action that was eventually implemented. A traffic counter was put across the road during a TAFE recess - when it is the TAFE vehicles that cause most of the problem! I have had no feedback at all from this event or any other information about Council's thinking on this racy thoroughfare. I had to bluntly raise the matter at election time in order to get a response from the local Councillor who said there had been no response – which I guessed.

The puzzle was that Council representatives at this backyard meeting, if I recall correctly, argued that a 40kph zone could not be created in the street; and that traffic could not be slowed by chicanes. Certainly, it was made clear that the BCC would not close off one end of the street! No commitment? Yet, in streets, both nearby and in other suburbs, that seem to be in circumstances that will never be used by the traffic numbers that we experience, and in circumstances where the streets are twice the width of our street, astonishing floriated mazes with threatening, bold blocks, rude humps and brilliantly coloured textures and stripes appear with speed signs varying from 20kph to 40kph, even when these speed limits are denied as possibilities - ?

That Frederick Street feeds into a 40kph restricted truck zone (SERVICE VEHICLES ONLY - NO TRUCKS) is ignored. The logic of it appears to be missed by the traffic planners. Why? And one wonders: who knows who to have a street calmed? A Councillor's mother? Brother? A Councillor?!! That Frederick Street is part of the rat race from Dutton Park to Chardons Corner (note: now partly modified) should be no surprise to BCC. It has been told often enough! That Frederick Street is an unusual street in that it narrows down dramatically and steeply from a wide thoroughfare to a narrow lane should be known to the BCC. That there is no shortage of nearby main roads to use should again be not unknown to the BCC. The area is fringed by Ipswich Road, Venner Road, School Road and Fairfield Road. Yet the BCC takes no action to direct the main flow of traffic that seems to prefer the challenge of a twisting run through narrow lanes to the hassle of the stop-start traffic lights (seven) on the main arterial system. Why? Liveable? Does Council know the impact of the traffic in the street? (Basic speed bumps have now been installed, August 2012, but these seem to deter only the meek and weak and appear to have created a challenge for the bold and brazen).

And it takes no action to stop or limit the vehicular movement from Venner Road that uses Frederick Street to shortcut into Villa Street - that calmed 40kph narrow lane that is signed for service vehicles only - no trucks! Why? And what happens? The trucks all run directly up to the small roundabout and face the challenge of turning on this thin strip of bitumen, often leaving more tyre marks on the raised centre of the roundabout than on the street. And the police could not care less about this, or the speeding traffic, in the same way as the BCC seems to ignore the stupidity of the circumstance. Why even bother to put signs up? Is it the cycle path mentality again? – PR statistics or plans to be published in the local newspaper?

These circumstances generate a frustration that is continually arising from the other matters - hence the coincidence mentioned at the beginning: the ignored signs on Victoria bridge; the cars parking on the footpath; the silly marking of the cycle arrangements; the ignoring of the need to care for pedestrians as well as cyclists and other vehicles - as long, apparently, as it is all convenient for the BCC. No city can grow and mature to become a beautiful and cared-for place when such flouting neglect is allowed to prosper.

Only recently I noticed that the access to the roundabout on Ekibin Road that once allowed traffic to drive straight though and avoid the roundabout, has been blocked off. I remember writing to Council some years ago when this was installed. I pointed out that this was a dangerous arrangement that should be modified. As a user I had noticed the problems. The response I got from Council was that the Traffic Engineers said that everything was satisfactory. The recent closure proves otherwise. The action to close this off was years too late. Council must understand just how frustrating this liveable city strategy can be if it responds to matters in this apparently mindless and arrogant way.

Brisbane boasts a most liveable circumstance. I suggest otherwise. Ease and liveability arise when the stress of silly conflict is removed by the happy resolution of control and commitment that make space for a sharing and safe environment in which irrational conflict is eliminated by design that is stimulated by a vision. One might suggest that a city without an architect is a city without a vision and a city out of control. Sheer convenience should never become a guideline for city growth, for this is a downhill slide into the hell of carelessness. This simply means, e.g., that the rules for park use must be enforced: dog waste removed; dogs on leashes; park barriers to keep vehicles out maintained. Yet parks become areas to lease out for sports and recreation, for dogs to run free and for louts to roar in.

It is difficult to see how Brisbane's boast makes sense when even the most obvious connection is ignored. For years, the old arch remnant of the Victoria Bridge has stood directly opposite the new cross-river connection, almost at the same level. I notice the tension every time I walk or drive past. Yet apparently no effort has ever been made to link the two so that residents and visitors might be able to know more of our history - or just enjoy the elevated retreat that this place could provide. I am referring to the simple idea of connecting the Victoria Bridge walkway to the stair landing of the old Victoria Bridge stone arch on the south side of the river. Go and look.

Brisbane will become an enjoyable city that is a pleasure to participate in once the little things start being attended to. Big ideas just too often remain big ideas. Small things can start making tiny places in our city that can be loved. A link between the new and the old bridge part should be made as a start. It should be a joyously detailed beautiful link that will encourage folk to visit this old place that should be revamped to accommodate them with polite ease, delicacy and delight. No one, (well very few), goes there now because one has to detour circuitously down off the bridge and then walk up a high flight of starkly rude, steel stairs. Cities are remembered for their little places and little details. Once this link is made, another portion of Brisbane should be addressed and made wonderful. Yes, to create another link in the maze of beauty.

The work must be carefully considered so that all options are maximised. The great opportunity offered by Brisbane's bikeways is being lost. Those that try to thread through the city and suburbs are too specialised. The possibility of a golden thread of life weaving through our city - for pedestrians, landscape, bikes, all beautifully and safely shaped and lighted - is ignored in favour of cheap distance. This seems to be the same driving force shaping the cycle lines. The new cycle link to the south is too much like a mini-freeway that recalls the very worst development Brisbane has ever allowed - the building of the freeway between the city and the river. Yes, even here, there must be an attempt to make this terrible zone more, yes, ‘liveable’.

Concerted action is needed now. A new, redirected commitment should be made to making permanent places beautiful in a remarkable way. Every opportunity should be grasped so that eventually these little things will connect to make a better whole. Charades and counting will not make our city better. It might address political issues, but liveability is more than politics - or it should be. It relates to the everyday experience of people - their loves, hopes, dreams and ideals - and helps them survive. Without these little things, we are left exposed to the mad race of irrational whims – lines and signs that mean nothing when outcomes are studied. They are like the’ illegal’ mobile phone use by drivers: things on which to hang argument when something goes wrong. Cities should be places on which one can hang dreams.

Spence Jamieson

not Brisbane, but typical of the irrational nonsense in cycle path design

 P.S.
On the BCC’s talent for signs that mean nothing, I now note that the Gladstone Road non-crossing has been identified in a new luminous yellow declaring the traffic island a ‘pedestrian refuge’. No legal strength is given to the pedestrian who is still asked to take all risks and personal responsibility for negotiating this busy road.
New signs seem to be being invented. A similar red luminous sign has been used to note that a portion of road at the back of Tallebudgera has numerous exits from residences along it. The danger of the increasing ad hoc invention of road signage is that it will all lose meaning. Of course, this may have no impact at all if the signs are ignored.

a typical cycle path termination, to begin again somewhere else

 P.P.S.
After the evening of 18th July 2002, I pondered on my favourite portion of Brisbane. If I was to be asked, I think I would name the juxtaposition between the bridge and the arch. It is truly a centre for stress, indicative of those that remain irrationally rampant throughout the city. I see this location as the symbol of the broad spectrum of accumulated tensions that can be so easily resolved through careful concern and concerted action - now. There may be some hope with the Centre for Subtropical Design?


No, in August 2012, it seems not to be so. The optimism created by the BCC with its’ ‘subtropical’ initiative faded away into oblivion. It was apparently not as ‘livable’ as the city itself was supposed to be. It has only recently been declared in the media that Melbourne is now the world’s most livable city! It all seems to be such a fickle categorisation that looks similar to ‘CAR OF THE YEAR’ branding, allowing promotional material to be boosted with a stamp that usually says something like ‘AS SEEN ON TV’ or, on wine, as another example: ‘GOLD MEDAL WORLD FAIR 1896’ – as if this was relevant to a 2012 vintage. We need to separate hype from reality and start constructing our dreams out of matter more substantial, and with greater substance.


For more on signs and intent, see  http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/street-character.html  The signs that defined the speed and declared the road as a ‘NO THRU ROAD’ were removed once Council – the Gold Coast City Council – had been asked to enforce them! Councils seem to be good at this type of response. The Brisbane City Council likes to remove anything that can be vandalised rather than maintain these things, in spite of their civic quality – see  http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/subtropical-urban-design-forum.html  A major artwork was removed from the new mall because Council gave up repairing it. Apparently the artist refused Council’s request for the glass to be changed to stainless steel, so the whole piece was demolished.

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