January 16th, 2011

Bikes on Dykes

If you've seen Nick Caves's movie, The Proposition, you'll know the back to front way things were done in Australia's colonial days, with orders from English authority unquestioningly followed, no matter how daft those on the ground knew those orders to be. All these years later, we still have England's queen as our head of state, which is kinda daft too in it's way. The most peculiar thing of all, is that Australians, like myself, have actually evolved in the past 200 years to relish all these absurdities. To us, they're just in the air. I'm here in Launceston for the weekend, and am just loving this gridiron plan they have here, dropped from the stars by some celestial planner with no idea there were hills. Unquestioningly, this crazy plan was staked out and enacted.  

So I'm here lamenting the utter impossibility of bicycle transit across most of this town, yet at the same time marveling at the bicycle racing culture, with huge bunch rides heading over the hills to the very English pastoral roads on the weekend—blackberry hedges and colourful crops. There's also a quaint recreational bike riding culture, epitomised by the couple I saw this morning riding a tandem along the top of a dyke. The tops of dykes are leve, as it happens, and because cars have as yet found a use them, they remain available for cyclists. Authorities here have ran strips of asphalt along the tops of their dykes and stencilled them with those tiny silhouettes of bikes and pedestrians. (We would see similarly didactic stencils of cars on our roads, if drivers needed any encouragement).

Ever paranoid that the oil will run out, I look at a city like this, and wonder which areas people will most want to live in as fuel prices rise. Beautiful as those hills are with their views, it would sure take some fuel to drag a car up there every day. Sure, a few intrepid cyclists would happily live up there with only their bikes, but most would resent, either the pedaling, or fuel bills. So I look at a hilly city like this, and figure pressure in the future will be on the flat lands. Moreover, a population giving up cars and wanting to ride, would be attracted to land (above the floor line of course) near those dykes with their cycleways.

It's a shame this city's swimming complex is on a hill top. The museum sets a better example, being some place accessible by people on bikes. Future planning should leave the hill tops for those who can afford to buy petrol, but let new public facilities, and high density housing, go in the valleys.