Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Engineering collissions part II

As part of my ride today, I decided to revisit the Iron Cove Bridge in order to take some snaps of the location where pedestrian meets bicycle, sometimes with terrible results.

Of all the rides that I do, this is one of the few where I need to dismount and carry my bike up a set of stairs. The other location is the northern end of the Harbour Bridge. Note that up the top of the stairs, someone has thoughtfully installed a sign that says "watch for bikes". Fat lot of use that is, because most pedestrians spend 95% of their time looking at their feet when they walk and climb stairs. Very, very few ever bother to lift their head and look upwards. It's even worse when they are wearing a cap with the visor pulled down low, which obscures even more of their "upward" looking vision. I bet I am the only person to have seen that sign since it was installed. Bio-mechanics and all that ensure that it is outside the normal line of vision.

When you get to the top of the stairs, the bridge is on your right (note the fairly narrow path which is totally unfenced from the heavy road traffic) and Balmain/Rozelle is on your left. The solid concrete walls of the bridge ensure that you have no visibility to the right until you step out onto the path. If a cyclist is coming over the bridge towards you, you have no hope of seeing them until you are standing in front of them - never a good place to be.

This is the view looking up the footpath towards Rozelle/Balmain. Note how much wider it is than the path over the bridge - it funnels in very rapidly to a much narrower path just as you hit the bridge. You can see here how the path curves up to the left, and how the shrubbery on the left can obscure visibility - it's been trimmed back recently, because it normally pokes out a lot more, interfering with sight lines. The wide path encourages the unwary to put their foot down and hoon down through this section.

I walked up the hill a short distance and took this photo looking back at the bridge. Note the incredibly well maintained wooden fence on the right! Where the fence ends is where people pop out when they have climbed the stairs, and that is where the pedestrian in my previous story was knocked down. The dots of spray paint from the investigators are still there, but to my amazement, they were right over on the edge of the road. I thought they'd be on the left, near the stairs. I guess the pedestrians came up the stairs and walked straight across the path to the far edge without looking to their left, which put them right in the path of a bike coming down the hill. If they did that, they're insane.

I went even further up the hill, and then rolled down it to see how fast a bike could go without effort. I hit 30km/h without even a nudge on the pedals, and I didn't go all the way up the hill. It would be really easy to hit 45 or more if you gave the cranks a few turns on the way down the hill. That is also insane - no sensible person goes over the Iron Cove Bridge footpath at over 20km/h. It's a really slow and annoying speed to be going, but it's safe.

I wonder what the crash investigators found, because I found that even when rolling down at 30 km/h, I had plenty of time to brake when I came around the blind bend. Either the cyclist was going mentally fast, or they had the attitude of "you will get out of my way, because I will hit you", or the pedestrians did the "two-step of panic".

The "two-step of panic" is where you are approaching two or more pedestrians, from the front or behind, and they are filling the path from side to side. As you get closer, they finally figure out that they need to make a gap for the approaching bike, so they scatter in all directions.

What usually happens is that the person on the right goes left, and the person on the left goes right, and the person in the middle goes left then right and then left again. In other words, they go from walking forward in a predictable manner where there might be enough of a gap for you to get through to a brainless mob of flapping morons that go this way then that in an completely unpredictable manner, and in so doing so, wipe out whatever gap was there for you to go through.

I have seen another cyclist refer to this as the "inner-west intelligence test", with the comment that many pedestrians fail it completely.

That aside, this really is an engineered crash zone.


Anonymous said...

I have jogged up these stairs and across this bridge many times and what strikes me about your photos is the lack of pedestrian, peddle, pram or pooch traffic. Go back and take your photos on a sunny weekend. There will be a dozen pedestrians, 6 cyclists, 3 prams (the mum's club walking side by side) and several pooches all trying to take this corner at the same time.

When I come up here I would have just jogged from Callan Park and tend to run up the stairs to maintain my pace. But having been doing this for years, I am very aware of the potential congestion up top and the need to slow down. I walk across the bridge as due to wind and traffic I don't want to end up under a bus and I also enjoy the view.

The appealing Bay Run is shared by cyclists out-zooming cars, pram clubs walking three abreast, children learning to tricycle, walkers/joggers with their caps down and ipods up and dog walkers cris-crossing between trees. Three councils border it and the walk/cycle/left/right/clockwise or anti path markings are just a suggestion to which no leisurely user need be bound. I have often overtaken pram walkers via the suggested cycle lane (yes I check for cyclists first).

All in all it's a dangerous mix but how do you police the way people exercise? Well you shouldn't lest bay-users become discouraged, stay home instead and we become an obese community. Most people on the bay are regulars and should be aware of others at the few narrow spots - cyclists need to slow down and not just ring their bells with arrogant assumption (I have a deaf girlfriend who does the bay) and the pram and triathalon clubs need to single file.

I must admit a frisson of delight at sharing a common stomping ground with you.

Saphire McBoo

Pedro said...

Jeez, easy answer to the problem. Put a bloody spring loaded gate there on the downhill run to force cyclists to get off and open it or throw their bike over the top if they can't be bothered to open it.

The day some fool said that wheeled vehicles "share" footpaths in the inner city, was the day the crashes started.

Kaboom said...

BOAB, I've come to the conclusion that most cyclists are just crazy fuckers.

I was recently returning from an overnight camp at the Noosa North Shore along the beach, 4 hours past an unusually high tide.

The sand was unexpectedly soft, and still water-logged at high + 4 hrs. Needless to say, my 4WD Prius was "tracking" in tyre tracks laid previously by larger, Gaia-unfriendly behemoths.

When one's 4WD Prius is "tracking" a previous tyre path, it becomes an almost Herculean task to get out of that compressed sand path, and start to create your own path through "virgin" wet, soft sand.

Herculean, and dangerous. You can start to steer towards the ocean (left side heading South) but you can turn and turn the steering wheel to full lock before you realise that you are still continuing down the Path of Least Resistance, the existing tyre track. Going straight ahead with wheels full-lock to the left is embarassing, to say the least.

It is not advisable, in these conditions, to stop or slow down, because losing one's momentum makes the extrication that much more difficult. Trying to get out of the previosly compressed tyre track, will most likely lead you into really soft sand, almost like quicksand.

Now, to get back to the cyclists.

I would be happy to ride my MTB on low-tide hard sand, probably on 20PSI rather than 45 PSI.

However, the salt water would probably have a deleterious effect upon every component that was not 316 stailess or Kevlar.

Here I am in the 4WD Prius, "tracking" in compressed tyre-tracks, when I am confronted by three cyclists (touring bikes) being PUSHED along the sea-side track. I am doing no more than 40 km/h, but my chances of stopping or changing direction are severely compromised by the soft sand.

Two of the pedestrian bike-pushers actually noticed my impending arrival into their temporal zone.

They got out of the way. Pushed their bikes on the soft sand. Out of the track I was inescapably committed to.

The third cyclist was brave.

He continued to stare me down (at a closing speed of 40 km/h, wheels full lock to the right, then to the left, then to the right, to try to avoid him, and get out of the tyre track).

The fucker wasn't going to move, PUSHING his bike in his right-hand tyre track, which was my left-hand track.

I COULDN'T move, being stuck in the tyre track, trying to keep up velocity in soft sand.

After turning full lock right, then left, then right again to no avail (I was actually going too slowly for steering to have any discernable input into direction) I had no choice but to brake hard, fish-tail, select low range, accelerate hard to the right to drive around the stupid cunt.

Afterwards I thought - he was exactly the sort of cyclist who would ride up the middle of a freeway, just to aggravate.

It did make my day, however, when my colleague who was behind me said "did you see that stupid fucker on the bike? I almost ran over the fucking thing when he jumped out of the way!"

Karma. All is good.