People for Ecologically Sustainable Transport

Category: PEST

Alan Parker obituary: Sprocket Man fought for cyclists’ rights on the road

Alan Parker at Sorrento in 2012. Photo: Daryl Gordon

The Age: Alan Parker obituary: Sprocket Man fought for cyclists’ rights on the road (12 May 2016)



30-3-1936 – 28-3-2016

Much of Alan Parker’s childhood was spent during World War II in Coventry, England, (where the family home was bombed) and in Birmingham, where street games included collecting shrapnel, and where he learned the art of frugality – how to feed a family by growing fruit and vegetables in the back garden. He retained a strong interest in Churchill and the war throughout his life.

Alan’s father, Arthur, was an engineering design draughtsman and his mother Dora worked in nursing and millinery in addition to “mothering”. His younger brother Graham, like Alan, followed his father into engineering drafting.

Alan was very close to his maternal grandmother who had lived though WWI and was sympathetic to Alan’s anti- war activities. Alan’s education was in Birmingham, his secondary education at the Moseley Junior College of Arts and Crafts.

Alan completed a trade and mechanical engineering drafting apprenticeship and the Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical Engineering.

He was fiercely proud of the role of English Midlands engineering firms in the industrial history of Britain and disappointed when, living in Australia, his qualifications were not fully understood.

As a teenager, Alan spent time reading and exploring ideas, including those of Bertrand Russell and Mahatma Gandhi who influenced his later anti-war activities. He was also a keen long-distance runner, a member of the junior Midland Harriers, and an admirer of athletics coach Percy Cerutty.

He was excited when, in the 1970s and living in Australia, he acquired a weekender in Sorrento in Victoria, close to the sand dunes where Cerutty had trained athletes.

A road accident in Scotland in 1957 put an end to Alan’s running activities but he continued to enjoy hill walking and cycling. During his convalescence in North Wales he met Evelyn Jones, a teacher, whom he married in 1958. Their daughter Sheila was born in 1961.

They moved to the Scottish new town of East Kilbride where Alan continued working in engineering. Alan joined two groups that campaigned against the presence of US Polaris submarines in Scotland, using non-violent techniques including demonstrations, sit-ins and fasts at naval bases.

During this period Alan spent six weeks in Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow after refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the court to deal with what he saw as an issue of morality after his arrest during a demonstration.

While in prison Joan Baez sang in Glasgow and dedicated a song to Alan and two others demonstrators in Barlinnie – hence Alan’s life-long love of the music of Joan Baez.

In 1964 Alan resigned from a plant planning position at Honeywell Controls because of pressure on him to refrain from promoting the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament while at work.

Alan and family returned to England in 1964 but two years later Alan and Eve separated and he returned to Scotland. In Glasgow he met Doreen Cormack, a librarian. In 1967 Alan travelled to Shiraz in Iran to join Doreen who had been appointed to a position in the university library there. A year later they returned to Scotland where they married.

In late 1970 Alan and Doreen travelled to Australia, arriving in Western Australia where they lived for a year and Alan enjoyed bushwalking, swimming and drafting.

In 1971 Alan and Doreen moved to Melbourne where Alan continued to do drafting and to enjoy the beach and bushwalking. After a few years Alan had to stop bushwalking because of worsening osteoarthritis in the hips.

He started to use a bicycle and developed an interest in urban planning and alternative transport, promoting improved pedestrian facilities with the Town and Country Planning Association and town planner Robert McAlpine.

The Bicycle Institute of Victoria was co-founded by Brian Dixon, Victorian Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation, Keith Dunstan, journalist, and by Alan Parker in 1974. The BIV’s activities included lobbying politicians and planners, producing the newsletter Pedal Power and organising a Victorian bike ride. Alan was honorary research officer for 12 years and president for two years.

Alan also held other positions including vice president of the Bicycle Federation of Australia, membership of the State Government Bicycle Planning Committee, Acting President of the Town and Country Planning Association and a founder of West Of the Maribyrnong Bicycle Activists and of People for Ecologically Sustainable Transport.

He was an active member of the Public Transport Users’ Association and carried out planning work on the Geelong and other bike plans and on bike paths. He stood as a candidate at various levels of government for the self-styled Public Transport Party, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats.

Alan promoted the “human rights” of cyclists as road users by a variety of methods including production of the pamphlet Safe Cycling and an Australian version of the comic book Sprocket Man.

He had several hundred journal articles published promoting cycling as a means of transport and as a feeder to the train and bus network – and wrote numerous letters to The Age.

There were also many submissions to government enquiries – and participation in campaigns and demonstrations.

Alan was passionate about what he did, determined to succeed and extremely hard-working. Mostly, he was an unpaid volunteer, with the occasional paid contract appointment.

In the 1980s the Bicycle Institute of Victoria became the Bicycle Institute (now the Bicycle Network) and Alan withdrew from that organisation, broadening his focus to the relationship of sustainable transport to other environmental issues such as greenhouse emissions and peak oil.

Despite ongoing health problems Alan pursued a number of other interests including house renovations, garden landscaping, growing fruit trees and vegetables and jam-making.

He enjoyed bus trips, taking a folding bike for short rides in the country; hosting visitors to backyard barbecues; and overseas travel. He published an article on use of the bicycle for people with osteoarthritis and devised a seat for gardening for people with disabilities which utilised a bicycle saddle.

In the year 2000 Alan was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. In 2006 Alan and Doreen moved to live full time at their weekender in Sorrento.

Alan suffered a cardiac arrest in 2009 but continued to work from home at a reduced pace.

Alan was awarded the Australia Eureka Day Medal by the Anarchist Media Institute in 2007, the Victorian Town and Country Planning Association Barrett Medal for a notable contribution to planning in 2014 and the Order of Australia Medal for services to cycling in 2012.

Alan died of a heart attack in the Craigcare nursing home in Mount Martha.

He is survived by his wife Doreen, daughter Sheila and brother Graham.

Doreen Parker was Alan Parker’s wife from 1968.

Bicycles: sustainable transport needs city infrastructure

Online Opinion: Bicycles: sustainable transport needs city infrastructure. By Alan Parker – posted Wednesday, 30 May 2012

For 30 years I was an advocate for bicycle Infrastructure. For 10 years I was an advocate for electric bicycles. I did this for aged people like me, who are falling to bits, have dodgy hearts and hips and find it painful to walk. I got my OAM ‘gong’ due to referees who knew what I had achieved. As two of them told me, I was ‘gong worthy’ because I was a rat bag who made things happen. Now, with an OAM after my name, it makes advocacy easier.

My bicycle advocacy started in the1970’s in the era of the Board of Works, and the Country Roads Board. These predecessors of VicRoads wanted to bury the Melbourne Bikeplan, after its approval by the Hamer government, as did VicRoads in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2012 the Premier wants to bury Hamer’s initiative by dumping the generous bikeway funding promised in 2011 by Transport Minister Mulder.

The cutback of funding for Victorian Bike plans and those in other states is because of the entrenched negative attitudes of Australian road planners and engineers. This negative attitude arises because the rights of access in British common law have been ignored. In the U.K. separate footpaths and bicycle paths were part of new bridges and still are; see the Forth Road Bridge and the Severn Estuary Bridge. In Melbourne there was no separate provision for cyclists on the Westgate and Bolte bridges. In the Netherlands planners had positive and bicycle friendly attitudes. Engineers who planned and built bikeways, are part a bicycle culture, which we did not have. I did my own bicycle planning study tour of the Netherlands to study how to develop a bicycle friendly culture in Australia.

Apart from collecting English language versions of Dutch reports and riding the bikeways in 12 cities, I discussed the lack of a “bicyclist culture” in Australia with several planners and research librarians. One of them said to me, “I can show you the solution to your problem from that window”. We then looked out over the parking area where there were 250 bicycles in undercover racks and just a few cars. She said, “…perhaps your problem in Australia is simple, most of our traffic and road engineers ride bikes to work and yours do not”. I heard these words 13 years ago and passed them on to VicRoads’ engineers and one CEO who were not amused.

What VicRoads should have done

If only VicRoads had sent their engineers to the Netherlands 20 years ago to see the many options for using rail line and road reserves, access paths along canals and rivers, and parks to create continuous bikeways. If only they had ridden bicycles along residential streets, which have a 30 km/hour speed limit and bike lanes on roads with a mandatory 50 km/hour speed limit, they would have made small land acquisitions to create short cuts in the residential street network to link up other bicycle routes. They would have seen freeways which are designed to be integrated with the national bikeway network; indeed, freeways and major road bridges with separate bikeways and walkways.

Think about it: when medical researchers find better ways of keeping people alive they learn from other countries by going there to see and study. What do Australian road engineers do? They sit on their butts driving motor vehicles and fail to learn about world’s best practice driving  What a pleasure it would have been for VicRoads’ engineers to experience world’s best practice by riding bikes in the Netherlands in and around their delightful cities. And at night enjoying themselves by drinking in the many boutique Dutch and Belgium beers in car-free city squares surrounded by ancient buildings.

VicRoads never had a commitment to create a Dutch style in safety issues and world’s best safety practice as in the Netherlands. Proceedings of Australia Walk  featured bike lanes on main roads and  ignored Melbourne’s 7,500 km residential street network. Vicroads did not understand how the Dutch make great use of their residential streets with a 30-km speed limit. Sadly for cyclists VicRoads had the obsolete idea that bikeways were not a vital part of the road system and ignored the role of residential streets as bikeways.

VicRoads refused to accept that a bicycle arterial network had to be of finer mesh than the main road network to create short cuts for cyclists and pedestrians for their shorter trips. They never understood that we wanted best road system practice as in the Netherlands. We did not want unsafe bike lanes on main roads and/or residential streets that are not safe for children and which  require lower speed limits.

VicRoads rejected the idea of a fine mesh bicycle network because cyclists would need many more safe mid-block main road crossings such as button actuated lights and centre of the road refuges along all the proposed bicycle routes. It required that all residential streets should have 40 km/hr speed limits like they had in U.S. residential  areas. They derided our proposals and were not prepared to formalise in their advanced planning (the State Bicycle Committee) view of the need for a fine mesh arterial bicycle network.


In my five years on the SBC, with a VicRoads member on that Committee, how could I not know about VicRoads anti-cyclist policies? I resigned twice from the SBC and worked with the media to overturn decisions trashing bicycle budgets: the reason that Melbourne bicycle routes are incomplete and not as safe as they could be. Today our bicycle Infrastructure is 30 years behind where it should be. Another problem with VicRoads and its predecessors was the formal and informal links to the car and roads lobby; hence my nick name for VicRoads is the “corruptocracy”.

My articles as Research Officer of Bicycle Victoria and Vice President of the Town and Country Planning Association (VIC) show the unsustainable planning and transport trends in Australian cities. My articles adopting European safety standards for electric bicycles, especially for people with ageing problems, will hopefully be accepted; dare I say it, electric bicycles are now used by half a million elderly people in the Netherlands today

© 2022 Alan Parker OAM

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