Thursday, September 30, 2010

Melbourne Bike Share

I thought I would share my thoughts on this scheme, slightly off topic, but this is a blog that is partly about Melbourne so I guess it fits. Here is the bike I borrowed the other day with my vegies from the Vic Market securely stowed in the front, that little basket is better than it looks.

When I heard about Melbourne Bike Share starting up I was pretty excited as I really like riding around Melbourne, but since having my bike stolen I haven't been able to. I could buy a new bike but I have absolutely zero room inside to store it and I am reluctant to store one outside again after the last theft. Plus the block of flats I live often receives grumpy body corporate letters from lawyers stating that we are not allowed to keep anything in 'common areas', despite the fact that the area surrounding the flats is basically concrete and a few tidily stored bikes would hardly be a problem... but that is a separate issue.
My point is that I am probably an ideal candidate for this bike share stuff. I live close enough to a couple of bike stations, about a 5 minute walk. I don't have my own bike and much of what I do, uni, meeting friends, shopping, is located near other bike racks.

I am still getting my head around which routes to take, which roads have bike lanes, where the bike lanes suddenly vanish, and so on. So far I have been using it to ride to Melbourne Uni where I work/study, I usually walk so this cuts my travel time from about 35-40 mins to 15-20 mins, which is great. There really is no way for me to get to uni on a tram or bus that would be quicker than walking, so riding is ideal. I have also used it to ride to the Vic Market, and that took about 10 minutes instead of 25, and from Melbourne Uni into the city, which took about the same time as a tram but was a lot more fun.

I have some days when I ride in and then have other things on in the evening and don't ride home, so the flexibility of not worrying about how to get my own bike home works well. The little basket with an elastic works quite well as long as your bag is sturdy/big enough, the other day my bag was a pretty empty and almost too small to secure - but they basically work well. As you can see in my picture I secured my market shopping nicely. The seats are easy enough to move up and down, though I have noticed some bikes getting a bit stiff, or being completely stuck - so double check it can be adjusted before you hire it. They are quite easy to ride, they are the style where you can sit up straight, which is my preference. I'm not concerned about riding fast and there are not too many hills, and certainly no really difficult ones, on the routes I take. They are quite heavy and noticeably less maneuverable compared to most other bikes I have ridden, but for short trips they are fine. I am a bit concerned about riding at night, they do have a light but it seems very weak? Also it would be good if they had a bell on them (unless I have missed it).Also it would be useful to be able to get a small fold up map of where all the stations are.

I took out an annual subscription so hiring the bike is pretty easy, I just stick my key in and it beeps and releases the bike. Then you give it a good shove into the stand when it is returned and it beeps again. I had one issue the other week where a bike I returned locked in but for some reason didn't register as returned and my key was blocked, however, the bike share people sorted it out and were very helpful so that was great.

There has been a lot of talk about this scheme, and mostly about what is wrong with it, and there are some things wrong. I also feel that it has been marketed very badly, I keep thinking of opportunities for them to promote it, yet I have seen virtually no promotion of it.

More stations - I guess this is something that is dependent on it growing in popularity but it does seem to me that the area covered is a bit limited. There are some places in the city with several stations within metres of each other, whereas other areas are completely missed. I think the area covered is only about 5 square kilometres, which isn't much. Also many stations are located along tram lines. For me the motivator in subscribing was the ride to uni, the route is badly served by public transport as nothing goes there directly, I would have to catch a tram in the opposite direction and then catch another tram, or walk halfway and catch a bus. Things that take longer than walking. I feel that more stations that allowed people to take routes across Melbourne that don't have direct tram or bus lines would be really sensible. I would love to see some in Fitzroy, some in South Yarra near the Domain Rd shops, some in Richmond, even Prahran - and these are just the places I tend to frequent, I'm sure other people would like to see them in other suburbs. It seems to me at the moment some stations are positioned in places that councils or tourist marketers (is that a phrase??) like to think everyone wants to be in Melbourne (i.e. Docklands, Southbank etc), rather than where many people are actually going. Also getting between inner city suburbs in Melbourne on PT can be a bit of a joke, especially on weekends, I often end up walking rather than waiting for trams. A bike would be a great way of getting round this.

Marketing - Why does the website not link correctly to twitter or facebook? Both icons simply prompt you to promote the Bike Share website via your own twitter/facebook account. I actually had no idea they had a twitter account until a friend tweeted at them. Not only is it silly not to link directly to their own accounts, but icons that automatically 'promote' something via your own facebook/twitter account without explaining that this is what they will do are frustrating and a bit sneaky.

Why is Melb Bike Share not involved with 'Ride to Work Day'? [UPDATE - I just noticed that on their website they are affiliated w RTWD, but I can't really find out how exactly] Surely they could give out some free day passes to people who register with Ride to Work but don't have their own bike. I think they need to get people on the bikes as much as possible, even just for one trip, to break the ice. There are quite a lot of racks at Melbourne Uni, so I wonder why they don't promote it more with the students, who could even use them for getting across campus. I have had to trek between Tin Alley and the Law School in the past, and it is a good 10-15 minute walk.

I also feel they should take on the bad press, maybe have a blog on their website where the post media coverage, both good and bad and actually respond to the bad, how they are tackling it etc.

Cost - I think the annual subscription that I took out is very reasonable, $50 for a year. The daily and weekly rates are also pretty good, they are aimed at short trips and I think this is fine. However, I think one huge barrier for daily and even weekly users is the ridiculously high security deposit of $300. I read somewhere that this is not refunded till the next working day, and I could imagine even longer if used over the weekend depending on your own bank. As someone who does not use a credit card I simply don't have this in my debit account to be put aside. I know people who wouldn't have this space on their credit cards. Or imagine a family wanting to use them, you could end up having to put down $1200+ in security deposits! Or you might be a tourist on a budget, or worried that if there was an error and you have left Melbourne it might be tricky to get your money back. A definite deterrent. This actually put me off using the scheme until I was ready to take out an annual subscription. I understand the need for a security deposit for the bikes but the other schemes I have looked up, like the one in London, simply take credit/or debit card details and charge you after it is clear the bike has not been returned. So if you use the scheme correctly then you only have to lay out the actual cost for daily/weekly rental and other usage costs you incur.

Helmets - I know this is the big thing in most discussions. I do feel though that talk about the scheme has been a bit hijacked by people who want to ditch helmet laws, and as most of these seem like super keen bikers, with their own bikes, are they really worried about the scheme? I do I get the problem, honestly I do. Especially for tourists the need to have a helmet will be a huge barrier, who travels with a helmet? Who would want to buy one just for the day? But it seems the government won't shift so rather than everyone getting up in arms about it I would prefer to see how Melb Bike Share, the RACV, the city council and whoever else is involved will try and find a work around it. They at least need some rental helmets, if not at all stations maybe at the more touristy locations like Fed Square. Also what about those dinky fold up ones they had in The Age a while back? Those would be perfect. 

Personally the helmet thing is not a huge barrier for me. I had a few bad falls as a teen and my preference is always to wear a helmet. Also, for me the helmet is not the only thing I have to consider, I need to make sure I wear the right shoes, have a bag that can go in the basket or won't fall off as I ride, not wear the wrong kind of skirt and so on. But, still there will be times when I will think 'damn if I only I didn't need a helmet, I would jump on a bike', specially for the trips that are down very safe streets.

Has anyone else used it? Any other opinions?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open Gardens, Eltham

I haven't been to an open garden in ages. I love them, I love poking around other people's gardens, usually feeling envious because I don't have a garden (although I did hear an auctioneer yesterday describing my nearby Fitzroy gardens as Melbourne's answer to Central Park or the Luxembourg Gardens, slightly hyperbolic but having them nearby does sometimes feel like having a huge backyard that someone else looks after).

Now I am tempted to visit more of them. I am a bit transport challenged on account of not having a car but I noticed there is one in Domain Rd, South Yarra next weekend so I might schlep to that. You can find a short list of upcoming gardens on the website -
I do find ti odd that the only full list is in the book, which you have to buy. Considering we pay to go into the gardens I feel this is a bit unnecessary. I wonder if it is a deliberate decision to try and sell the book or whether they just haven't thought to have a full online list. Also I would prefer to be able to buy (maybe at a cheaper price) a pdf of the book, as it is essentially useless after the season has finished.

The two gardens I visited yesterday were the Adams and Ford gardens. They are adjacent blocks in Eltham. The landscape design of both was mainly the work of Gordon Ford. He bought the land in 1945, it used to be an orchard. Ford used to work with Ellis Stones, who created much of the stone work for the gardens designed by Edna Walling. You can see some aspects that have been derived from Edna Walling's designs but overall the garden has an even softer structure. The stone work is mostly aiming to look natural, or is almost invisible beneath plantings. My first impression of the Ford garden was that it was quite open and almost sparsely planted, you can easily see through to the garden to the neighbouring houses. The short write up did say that a lot of plants, including trees, had been lost over the last few, hot, summers. That said, as we explored the garden I kept discovering new small spaces that were hidden behind the house or behind thicker plantings. The main feature was a large pool of water fed by a small rocky waterfall. Above this I discovered some large stepping stones across a pool, which apparently used to be the only way to reach the house from the street.

Photos of the Ford Garden.

 The lower pool.

A view of the pond from the opposite direction.
The stepping stone entrance.

The Waterfall

 The house, mud brick of course, what else would you expect in Eltham?!

One of the small spaces that I 'discovered'. I can imagine myself drinking tea/gin and tonics here in the sun and reading.

A narrow path, I like a lot of height in a  a garden and paths that are very enclosed so that when you emerge in a new space it feels like a surprise. It makes wandering around a garden seem like more of an adventure and I think this is a god example of how it can be done on a smallish scale.


Head in a pot, maybe to remind the children to behave, or something.

The photos below are of the second garden, which was more-or-less designed by the same person from the late seventies. The house in particular has the look of a certain era about it, but not in a bad, dated way.

This is the more recent swimming pool and rock garden. Pretty impressive and a nice way to have a swimming pool, which actually adds to the look of the garden rather than detracts. Though I bet it would be a pain to clean with all those eucalypts around.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Felice Varini

Some of my students told me about this artist during our classes about optical illusions. I would love to see one 'in the flesh' as I feel a photo can't quite do them justice. Indeed, me and the students had to look for a while to find a photo taken 'off centre', which then allowed us to realise just how ingenious the works are (I'm not sure whether to call them paintings or maybe urban sculptures?). In a photo taken from the right angle where it all slots into place we are liable to not even realise what is going on. It simply looks like a photo that has had flat shapes drawn on top of it, it is only when we shift our point of view away from the ideal viewing point that we realise that a selection of three-dimensional objects have been painted in such a way that they create the illusion of a two-dimensional shape. This goes against what we tend to expect from illusionistic art, or art that employs single viewing points. more usually they give the illusion that a flat surface, like a canvas or a wall, has depth. Perhaps Varini is having fun inverting this expectation. 
    He is also playing with the visual cues (both leared and innate) that we use to detect depth and form.When viewed in a photo and I would imagine from the correct view point it is virtually impossible to not see the two-dimensional shape created by Varini, it is very hard for us to try and tell our brains to instead see a series of three-dimensional forms that have been painted the same colour. Yet as soon as we shift from the point the shape shatters in many small pieces. This 'breaking' of the illusion is also important, an done reason why photos of the work are problematic, if we do not realise the trick the artist has played we may never appreciate his skill.

APAC Nevers No. 1, 1986

Deux cercles via la rectangle, 1994

Rettangoli gialli concentrici senza angoli al suolo, 1997

All images from

This youtube video goes some way to capturing the experience of moving toward and past the ideal viewing point.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Snapshot, Abbotsford

The Retreat Hotel, Abbotsford. Saturday morning in September. I'm not sure what style you would describe it as. It has art deco stylings, the emphasis on strong vertical lines, but my understanding is that it dates to about 1910. It also has a certain arts and Crafts look or maybe English Free Style, especially the curved central tower with its large overhanging eaves, a bit like a mushroom and the very strong window frames.

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