Four years of blogging about bikes in Newcastle

IMG_1277It’s been four years since I started this blog and I’m evaluating whether things have changed much in Newcastle to make it more bike friendly.
There are now green bike lanes in some streets and I recall the first time I rode in one of them and how it made me feel much safer. They are used in the lead up to traffic lights and act both as a bike box and a way of better enabling filtering through the traffic to gain a position at the front of the traffic queue. These are both good things.

Spring riders in action. Photo credit Peter McNaughton

Vintage Spring riders in action. Photo credit Peter McNaughton

I’ve also organised three vintage rides which have helped to promote cycling in the city, as well as being good fun. Vintage bike owners always like the chance to showcase their bikes and many thanks to the City of Newcastle for funding them. I’d really looks forward to being able to attend a tweed ride but never thought that I would be the organiser of them.


Girl with dog in her rear basket

What I am most interested in though is seeing more bike around the streets and this is something that is much harder to quantify. I think there are more bikes, even though bike counts organised by NCM do not show this. When I am out I unconsciously count the bikes I see and while I used to count up to a dozen on a ride during peak commuting times, I now count twenty or more, once I reach a count of twenty I stop counting …

Family riding at Bar Beach

Family riding at Bar Beach

What I am sure of is that the number of people riding fancy street bikes, old ten speeds or other vintage bikes has increased. This is heartening as it indicates that there are more people just pootling around on their bike because its  convenient. I also see more upmarket bikes than were ever around before. Also, more cargo bikes. Every year after Xmas there is an increase in the number of shiny new bikes, which has to be a good sign. I no longer get told that my speedwell is a nice bike by random strangers on the street and I take this as a sign that it is no longer unique, there are now so many nice bikes out there.

glebe rd path
There has been progress made in the creation of separated bike lanes and shared paths in Adamstown and in Tighes Hill. They are not fully separated but are an improvement over bike pictures in the car door lane. There are also lights for both bike crossings at Kotara and at Throsby Creek, and the bike paths along  the foreshore have been linked to the Throsby Creek path. At Merewether Beach, a properly separated lane has been installed and infrastructure all along the beachfronts have improved cycling there.

Family riding at Merewether Beach

Family riding at Merewether Beach

Looking to the future, the biggest unanswered question is what will happen with Hunter Street and the inner city. This is still the biggest black spot in Newcastle cycling and with the rail line being made inoperable recently, everyone is watching to find out how the rail corridor will be used. A separated bike lane on Hunter Street would be just as good, but that seems to be an obviously needed improvement that does not get made, even though its revitalisation is supposedly high on the agenda of the council and, perhaps, the state government.
There are other improvements that I know of but have not ridden such as at Wallsend and Carrington.

Photo credit; Grant Donnelly

Photo credit; Grant Donnelly

Westfield Kotara has installed a bike parts vending machine, a nice touch to encourage riders.

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Problems in Newcastle’s cycling network: Union Street


Union street is an important part of the cycling network in Newcastle. It provides a direct link from Hunter Street to The Junction and Merewether and has several important arterial roads crossing it, (for example: King Street, Glebe Road and Parkway Avenue). It also goes past the No 1 Sportsground which can be utilised by cyclists to access Hamilton, Adamstown and Broadmeadow. Union Street is mainly quite wide and also has a lot of suburban residential streets crossing it or terminating at it.
Unfortunately, cycling infrastructure along Union Street is inconsistent, making it a formidable route for cyclists, which is a wasted resource as its width and location give it the potential to be a central part of the cycling network.
The above photo shows the eastern bound side of Union Street. The section allocated to cyclists is very narrow and in the car door lane. On the other side of the street, there is a very wide area for cyclists, about 4-5 metres. Merely changing the line markings on this section of road would make a world of difference to cycling here.
Further towards The Junction is a section where cyclists are directed to ride on the footpath, but then this seems to just peter out and by the time The Junction is reached, it is apparent that cyclists are not catered for at all.image
Closer to Hunter Street, Union Street narrows and in the block between Laman Street and King Street it becomes quite hectic with many parked cars and denser traffic. At this point I prefer to turn into Laman Street and head into Newcastle via Auckland Street and Civic Park.

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Problems in Newcastle’s cycling network: Dumaresq Street


The eastbound side of Dumaresq Street in Broadmeadow is a dangerous area to cycle. This is exacerbated by the fact that it is part of the designated route connecting Fernleigh track with Newcastle.
The cycling lane is far too narrow and runs close to parked cars. The cars alongside this lane have little room to move due to the totally vertical edging of the nature strip that extends along the centre of the street. This edging has recently been reconstructed, leaving little doubt that it is not intended to be moved to allow more room for cyclists. So if a dooring incident takes place, a car is not going to have room to move to avoid a swerving cyclist. Added to this, the street is straight and flat, encouraging drivers to drive faster. (The speed limit is 50k along this strip.)
I usually ride along there even though I am aware of the dangers. There is a parallel street nearby but it has an uphill section and is more difficult to enter from the western end. I find that most drivers along Dumaresq Street are polite and wait for an opportune moment to pass safely, which is reassuring.
By contrast, the westbound side of Dumaresq street is perfectly safe to ride along as it is not legal to park there, though occasionally some do. The bike lane is well marked and wide and provides an opportunity to cycle fast in a safe environment. It is a pity about the poor conditions on only one side as this street is very well shaded and this provides a pleasant cycling experience.
I am going to be focussing on some of Newcastle’s problem cycling spots over the next few weeks and would welcome any input into this is terms of either suggested improvements to the problems or areas to focus on and analyse.

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Where to ride?

Glebe Road

Glebe Road

Today as I was riding to Bar Beach, I found myself in The Junction on Glebe Road.

This is an area where I try to avoid cycling as it is inherently dangerous with car doors and close by traffic travelling at a reasonable speed. I have the choice to either ride on the road or on the footpath: a choice between dangerous and illegal. The footpath is also not without its dangers as cars can reverse from driveways.

Today I chose to ride on the road as there was little traffic.
The road has been newly surfaced and marked with bike pictures in the car door zone. This is not considered best practice now and the pictures are all to be removed from our roads, but in the meantime we have to live with them. The trouble with these bike pictures is that they send a message to cyclists and car drivers alike that it is where the cyclist should ride. But it is not compulsory, as this is not a designated legal bike lane. I ride slightly to the right of the unbroken line, putting me out of the door zone and giving cars the opportunity to pass me safely, provided no oncoming traffic is present. Today was a good day – no cars passed me in this area, but every time I ride here, my heart is a little bit in my mouth …

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LifeCycle: a Lakemac cycling event

Bennett with lights fitted


A few weeks ago I went to LifeCycle, an event hosted by Lakemac council. It was free, and in return for participating and being photographed and filmed, every rider had a set of spoke lights fitted to their bike. We then rode along the beautiful shared path alongside the lake. And we got to keep the lights, along with a set of clipon bike lights. These are a great night time visibility increaser, they look pretty and they also display a message as you ride! All in colourful lights! Mine are blue, but there were different coloured ones and some were rainbow coloured.
I used my Bennett bike for the event as it’s been very under-utilised lately and I wanted to have more motivation to ride it. I still can’t work out what the message is as I ride along, the messages are programmed into the device and we were given a kit to change it.
Using the lights is fun, it gives off lots of light and although it’s slightly distracting at first, I soon got used to it. The lights are activated by a small red button and they are deactivated when the wheels don’t turn for more than about a minute, there is a magnetised sensor on the fork for that purpose.
While this is a great initiative of the council, a lot of resources were put into the event, it was organised by an external PR company, and I believe that a video for a safe cycling campaign is to be made from footage obtained from it. However, increasing the visibility of cyclists on the road at night and telling the public about it is no replacement for safer infrastructure. There was also not much information given out in advance of the event and I know of some people who were put off registering because of this. One thing I have learnt from organising three vintage rides is that the more information given out before an event the better. Cyclists do not want to go to something that is not suited to their fitness level or to the type of bike they take to it and new cyclists are very wary of doing something that may be beyond them in terms of fitness and riding skills generally. Riding in a tight group at night is a scary prospect for many, though it turned out that due to the pace we rode at there were no dangers in this regard. I think more people would have registered and turned up had more info been given beforehand.
It was a fun event however, with music from a live brass band, good speeches and plenty of camaraderie among the cyclists. I ride most of the way with another woman and we had a great chat, this type of connection is what makes events such as this. A boat with cameras followed us along the edge of the Lake and all the way along the bike path, trees had been lit with coloured lights. The ride leader, a manager at Lakemac, took us along at a gentle pace and made a nice speech at the turnaround point. There was also a young rider with his mum who was a fair bit behind and a lot of encouragement was given to him. At the end of the ride he was clapped and cheered across the finish line, while the brass band played a special piece for him, a nice touch.


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Spring riding

Street cyclist
I thought I was going to escape the jerks this spring, as the vast majority of drivers are wonderfully polite, but unfortunately they are around, as I found out this last week.
I had an encounter with a large 4WD on Beaumont Street, where the driver drove loudly past me, only to be caught at the lights a few metres along, with me beside her, politely ringing my bell and smiling at her, just to let her know…
Then yesterday I was riding near Raspberry Gully, about to enter the track from the road, when a van driver, seeing me, cut a corner he was rounding so that he could drive close to me. Then he yelled out “No helmet!” I am not sure why he thought that my not wearing a helmet was more noteworthy than his driving on the wrong side of the road so that he could endanger me, but whatever.
(As I’ve explained on this blog before, I often don’t wear a helmet when it’s hot and when I’m riding mainly off-road. I know it’s against the law, but the reality is that the riding I am doing is extremely low risk. I don’t know why some drivers out there need to make it their own personal law enforcement mission to convert me to helmet wearing by dangerous driving, but obviously some do.)
These two incidents are obviously mild. I was not passed extremely closely and I was not yelled at so loudly that I startled and swerved, which has happened in the past. Neither were the drivers extremely aggressive, just mildly annoying. I understand the frustrations of driving, I personally find it to be one of the most frustrating things I do.

But I don’t vent my frustrations on others.

Does anyone else find that there are more jerks on the roads in Spring?

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Some scenes from Lifecycle at Lake Macquarie

imageimageimageAll images by Gareth Brearley.

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