Thursday, May 11, 2017

Black Spots

I have lived in Darwin since 1997 and have always been astounded by the hazardous conditions on Bagot Rd. It shocked me when I first saw people attempting to cross the road to get to bus stops at night, poor street lighting, nowhere safe to cross, high speeds! I couldn’t believe it!

For the past 17 year I've been living in the Northern Suburbs and for 9 years I have commuted by bike to work in Parap. As a cyclist I am exposed to dangerous road conditions every morning so while at the Sea Breeze Festival last Saturday I took some time to chat with a few people to find out their opinions on those particular safety on Bagot Rd. 

Bagot Rd on a regular week day. (please ignore out of sequence vehicular movement)
Most of the people I spoke to would be considered responsible and respectable citizens but their responses were far from what I would expect, I was utterly shocked by the level of apathy I encountered toward matters of public safety. 

The two issues I raised for discussion were: 
  • Appropriate Cyclist infrastructure an planning
When describing my dilemma as a commuter and the complete absence of a bicycle lane or path for the extent of Bagot Rd I have been regularly reminded by sometimes irritated road users I have spoken to that Bicycles should NOT be on Bagot Rd! I do not necessarily agree with them on that point but would think that, given their opinion they would be supportive of the creation of bicycle infrastructure that would separate bicycles from the traffic. It astounded me that although they were annoyed by the presence of bicycles on Bagot Rd, they were not at all supportive of any kind of infrastructure or alterations to the road to facilitate bicycles! This made absolutely no sense to me, except that they held some kind of belligerent prejudice against cyclists. 

The only indication Bagot Rd has a shared path is at the new bus stops where the path has been widened

After Bus stops there's a white line dividing the footpath into two very narrow lanes followed by footpath only
I proceeded to suggest that it may be possible to remove the risk to cyclists and hazard to vehicles if the Government were to approach the RAAF base and negotiate access to the vacant land under the power-lines which run paralleled to Bagot Rd but fall technically within Commonwealth RAAF boundary. I thought this suggestion made pretty good sense considering the proximity to Bagot Rd, the fact that it is not being used for another purpose and that the RAAF are currently in the process of completely re-designing their entire estate. Surely negotiations are already have taken place?! Wouldn't someone think it within their job description to argue the case for Darwin Residents? Sadly nobody I spoke to seemed at all interested in the idea of reducing the risk in any way other than insisting to Bicycles simply stay off the road! 

View from footbridge showing ample land behind RAAF fence.

There is quite a wide parcel of land between the new RAAF housing development and Bagot Rd which could serve as a safe bicycle path for Darwin residents, yet it seems even mentioning the use of that land is Taboo!
I had no luck trying to raise this issue via Bicycle NT but have recently raised it with Darwin's new bicycle advocacy group Bicycle Network. I hope at the very least they can understand that it is somewhat negligent to describe the Bagot Rd Footpath as a shared cycle path and mark it as such on Council and NT Government Maps. As a regular commuter on Bagot Rd I can say with confidence, any cyclist who expects to have right of way along that path is in for a nasty surprise.
At the Sea Breeze I had a chat with some folks from PLAN NT and was saddened by the response I got there, the New Minister for Infrastructure seemed not to be aware of the problems cyclists face along that road.
  •   Safe pedestrian crossings and infrastructure

Cross ahead if you can!

I found the answers to my questions about pedestrian crossings on Bagot Rd even more distressing. I won’t go into too much detail except to describe the road. It’s a couple of km long, it is 6 lanes wide (3 in either direction), there is a footpath on one side and the other side (inbound) has absolutely nowhere for people to walk or even stand except for the actual bus stops. The verge has a sloping garden bed which pushes people toward the road. To get to and from the bus stops public transport users must cross three lanes of traffic, then wait precariously in the island between inbound and outbound traffic for an opportunity to cross three lanes traveling in the opposite direction, with a 70 – 80km speed limit and absolutely no controlled crossings or additional lighting at night! 

There are no pedestrian lights, there isn’t even a zebra crossing! Women with children, old people, people with disabilities get off the buss and are left standing right on the edge of a very busy road with no safe place to cross! To make it worse, Bagot Community is right at the fastest section of the road! Bagot is an aboriginal community, it is very difficult to see a dark skinned person crossing an unregulated road at night! (Everyone I spoke to was quite happy to agree on this point!)
So when I suggested that something should be done to improve the crossings for pedestrians and to create a safer space on the inbound side of Bagot Rd I was met with snorts of contempt! I couldn’t fricking believe it! Basically, and thank you Darwinites for your honesty, people didn’t see the point in making any improvements to the road or infrastructure (especially if it affected the speed they could drive down Bagot Rd) because,( and I’m conveying the implied meaning of their combined answers, this is not a direct quote but it could have been!) it’s not our fault the people are black and can’t be seen!  

Ironically this road safety mural on one bus stop suggests people use a pedestrian crossing...

So from my limited interactions with the public during the Sea Breeze and other conversations I’ve had regarding this topic the people appear to be unanimous.
 Cyclists and pedestrians are the problem; cyclists are at fault because they shouldn’t be on the road at all and fucked if we’re going to build them a bike path.
Pedestrians are at fault because they are, poor, slow moving and predominantly black! If there is an accident at night it is there fault because no one can see them and any attempt to improve conditions so people can be seen and have time to cross the road safely would just be a waste of money because they would still be black and apparently that is the core of the problem!

All the people I spoke to were of Caucasoid appearance, all, from what I could tell, drove cars. Each was quite keen to elaborate on their basic opinion in an attempt to educate me about the facts of life and justify their appraisal of the worthiness of cyclist and human beings who need to cross busy roads. Both groups it appears are unworthy of any effort whatsoever to improve public amenity or infrastructure.

(If I’ve mentioned you in this article and you feel you’ve been misjudged or misrepresented I will gladly continue the conversation with you and am happy to see where I have been wrong)

No comments: