Over the weekend I attended Australia’s first micromobility conference. The sessions were organised into themes reflecting the challenges Australia faces in transitioning its transport network and urban planning – from car and highway dominated streets to a safer, lower emission and more pleasant city permitting cycling, walking and other journeys.
While I work as a software engineer in a non-urbanist role, I do a lot of volunteering surveying cycling infrastructure data for OpenStreetMap, work on side projects about transit and urban planning, and generally advocate for better public spaces and cycling infrastructure.
It was brilliant to be in a room filled with like minded people from all walks of life – transport planners from councils, consultants working in active transport, entrepreneurs sharing their challenges, and advocates from local and overseas organisations.
This is a collection of interesting observations I had throughout the two day conference; some of which surprised me and others I’ve been aware of for some time. There were two conference “tracks” so I likely missed a lot in these initial thoughts. I hope you find them interesting too!
Please let me know if you have any corrections/thoughts/comments about these observations or the conference topics. I’m on Mastodon at @[email protected] (and on the bird site at @jakecoppinger for now), you can reach me at [email protected], and you can sign up to this blog via email or RSS.
Melbourne is having good results with shared e-scooters so far
Melbourne was burned from the very public issues of the shared oBike trial that ended in 2018. Bicycles were routinely vandalised, cluttered sidewalks and generally weren’t managed well. It’s understandable that the council is so cautious to proceed with electric scooters. The trial has some strict limitations, such as a 20km/h limit and no footpath riding.
The preliminary evidence is that uptake and community acceptance are both going well. Damon Rao (Senior Transport Planner at the City of Melbourne) stressed regular communication with local organisations and services is essential for good outcomes. He highlighted geofencing (with a fast communication line to the mobility providers) has been an essential tool; from preventing people riding into freeway tunnels to stopping burnouts on astroturf!
Implementing cycleways is a lot cheaper if you don’t move the kerb
Fiona Campbell (Cycling Strategy Manager at the City of Sydney) highlighted that separated cycleway designs where the kerb is extended are costly – because stormwater drainage also needs to be renovated. In contrast, if the cycleway uses an existing “road” and a “dashed” concrete divider is implemented, no expensive drainage infrastructure needs to be updated.
This can negatively impact rideability if debris accumulated in the cycleway, but it depends on the individual characteristics of the road.
Traffic light changes often slow down cycleway implementation considerably
Multiple speakers highlighted that when street projects require changes to traffic signal, getting approval from Transport for NSW can take a long time – measured in years. It makes sense that they are critical infrastructure, but anecdotally I heard the team that approves changes is small and has a long backlog. I’m looking forward to learning more about this.
RACV Insurance is funding a bike navigation app
RidePlan, a phone app for bicycle navigation, is developed by Intelematics which is owned by RACV. Historically the equivalent organisation in NSW, NRMA Insurance, has been anti-bike and contacted when a media organisation is looking for a view representing motorists when urban changes are proposed.
The culture of Transport for NSW (TfNSW) has come a long way…
…but it still wants to add more elevated motorway ramps through the Sydney CBD! According to the City of Sydney council it will increase inner city traffic and prioritise vehicle movements, and remove pedestrian crossings at traffic lights.
The Transport for NSW Future Planning Strategy states:
We will focus on getting more out of our existing investments, by reallocating road space to more efficient modes of transport like buses, walking, cycling and micromobility devices.
To ensure strategic cycling routes safely connect key destinations, road space may be reallocated to provide physically separated cycling facilities meeting the requirements of Transport’s Cycleway Design Toolbox, particularly where traffic speeds are greater than 30km/h.
BicycleNSW has written a great summary on what’s in it for micromobility.
Micromobility isn’t well defined
One speaker excluded non-electric bikes as a form of micromobility – this certainly drew some disagreement but as most of the desired outcomes are shared I don’t see this as a major issue (yet).
It doesn’t make sense to subsidise electric cars, but not bikes and electric micromobility options
To meet sustainability goals, many jurisdictions in Australia and New Zealand offer federal or state subsidies for electric cars in the form of discounted stamp duty or tax incentives (alongside the more hidden car subsidies). Subsidising micromobility options might provide a much larger cost-benefit per public dollar spent.
The City of Melbourne is a big fan of Gehl Architects
I got this impression from reading Gehl’s work as there are a number of case studies and descriptions of collaboration with the City of Melbourne, and this is definitely the case. I think Melbourne is much better for it.
Sydney also seems to contract the firm from time to time; for example the City of Sydney city north public domain plan showcases the 2015 Martin Place urban design study from Gehl Architects. There are echos of Gehl reports elsewhere through Sydney – the pedestrianised George Street linking the town squares for example.
Everyone can get behind traffic calming next to schools
Adding modal filters or other interventions to decrease car speeds next to schools usually receive high levels of support from the community as well as transport planners focused on car throughput.
Everyone seemed to have Quad Lock phone cases!
I’m not sure why this is – I assume because they have really good bicycle mounts.
In summary, the conference gives the impression (which I believe is accurate) that Australia’s infrastructure and policy has a long way to go, but there are a considerable number of policy professionals and interested businesses that are doing their best to make it happen.