When I moved to Brisbane, QLD, from Victoria BC, Canada. I was disgusted by the way I was treated as a cyclist. We here at Speed Hero find all forms of transportation fun.
The problem with Australian roads is they are not pedestrian or Cyclist friendly and it stems from one single problem. No left turns on a red light.
Many places in the world allow drivers to make a turn during a red light. In countries where cars drive on the right, making a right turn at a red light, is a quick simple merge. In countries that drive on the left hand side of the road, making a left turn at a red light, is again, a simple quick merge.
Why is this a problem? All intersections in Australia with a light, must have a sensor in the ground, or traffic light timing, to consider, drivers heading straight, left or right. Say you have a Very busy, 4 or even 6 lane road, intersected with a low volume, 2 lane road. Every time someone approaches that intersection from the low volume 2 lane road, the light must change to stop the high volume road, to accommodate the vehicle(s) on the low volume road. This causes a resistance of flow to the greater amount of vehicles. Constantly having to stop large groups of cars, to allow one maybe two vehicles to enter traffic, even if it’s a simple left turn!
How does this have such a big impact in Australia? Simply put, Australia has installed many round-a-bouts to increase the flow of traffic. Round-a-bouts have some unique problems, for cars and trucks, but especially for cyclists and pedestrians.
Round-a-bouts are great for average size vehicles, a regular car, or pickup truck (ute). However, for oversize vehicles, they can much more difficult to navigate. Transport trucks and other oversize vehicles often take up much of the entire round-a-bout to make their turn. It is known that drivers of regular size cars often do not consider this and do not offer over sized vehicles enough room to maneuver. This can result in collisions which are often very serious to the health of the drivers operating the regular size vehicles, but it can also cause great reductions in the speed of flow. This affects Australia greatly due to the low volume of the country, and wide distances between locations, their trucking is very Westernized, with huge trucks to move large loads over great distances to reduce costs.
How does this affect the pedestrian or cyclist? Australia’s abundance and overuse of round-a-bouts has resulted in a lack of safety for those walking or riding. Regular traffic rarely gives much respect to a cyclist, even if the Cars are only inhabited by a single occupant. A round-a-bout never stops moving entirely, it’s solely based on the respect of right-of-way. Cyclists are often not given the right of way even if it is theirs. Additionally round-a-bouts are seen by many drivers as a challenge, many try to pass through them as straight and quickly as possible, as it is truly a blockage in what normally would just be a straight road. They are often seen as a nuisance to their projected path of travel. This is an anger, or distaste that is increased, in our ever so heightened state of anger while driving. Cyclists will often be struck, or drivers will be too impatient to wait for them, making passing through a round-a-bout dangerous and unnerving. The time spent in one cycling has an increasing factor of risk. A simple left turn, will be quick and the safest option, but traveling straight, or making a right turn results in crossing the path of many vehicles. Some round-a-bouts having fountains, or other objects in the middle that wouldn’t shadow the size of a vehicle, but rather dwarf the obviousness of a cyclists presence.
Desire lines are a modern design trait, included in many universities, high foot traffic businesses, and other areas with many people walking. A desire line is a naturally occurring foot path, like the ones you see in grass. Round-a-bouts are not conducive to a walkers desire line. People don’t wish to walk a further distance than they need to. Often in areas were a round-a-bout is recently installed, you’ll find pedestrians confused and partially stranded on round-a-bout islands trying to figure a way off. They end up there as they try to travel the the straightest line across an intersection. As a pedestrian, a round-a-bout in a place where an intersection once was, has a few new problems. Your walking distance has increased dramatically. You now much travel a very large arch to achieve what was once a very short and direct distance. Secondarily, where vehicles once used to come to a complete stop are endlessly flowing traffic. This means that traffic will often feel like they generally have the right of way most of the time, over a pedestrian. The time to cross a round-a-bout has become much longer due to the distance, and the unscheduled wait times to cross, with drastically greater increase in risk for a pedestrian!!! This has a strong affect on the attractiveness of walking over driving. It offers now more disadvantage to walking.
Allowing drivers to turn left at red lights in Australia, could have a dramatic affect on round design and usage. Improving traffic flow. Reducing the average travel time of short drives. Reducing the size of intersections. Reducing the usage, and cost of sensors at lighted intersections. While promoting cycling and walking within Australia.
Overall Australia was a terrible place to cycle and caused me the most amount of distress I’ve ever had while cycling of any other place I’ve visited in the world.