Thursday, December 24, 2015

Another day, another road tragedy






By Will Bramhill, CCC planning officer

It's Christmas Eve, and roughly one year since the terrible bin lorry crash in Glasgow.

I've done the cleaning and my wife is well on with the cooking, and it's all systems go for a happy family Christmas.

Sadly, it won't be a happy day for everyone, but then today — and tomorrow — is just like any other day with regard to tragedies on the roads.

The report above (see screenshot) is on breaking news on the BBC website: a car has crashed into a cafe in Westerham, Kent. One person is dead and five are injured.

Without knowing the cause for this particular crash, it is worrying that such incidents are so common.

While we put huge resources into fighting terrorism, there is a drip-drip-drip of road casualties that still results in 1,700-plus deaths a year and many more life-changing injuries.

The government trumpets the fact that the death toll is down but this is largely because car occupants are hugely more protected — too many victims are pedestrians, cyclists and bystanders. It is still a fact that 80 classrooms1 of UK children are killed or have life-changing injuries on our roads each year.

This crash may have been deliberate/accidental. It could have been the result of a medical condition, age (infirmity or inexperience), inattention (perhaps phone, radio, satnav) or inappropriate speed (not necessarily the speed limit). Whatever the cause, families’ lives will have been shattered.

As a matter of priority, the government should introduce Vision Zero policies to reduce road collisions to an absolute minimum.

Measures should include:

:: area-wide 20mph limits where people live;
:: a vast increase in the penalties for “minor” road offences (speeding, inattention, car condition);
:: compulsory five-year tests for all drivers (three chances to pass before a ban, but  your insurer notified about each fail); 
:: better liaison between doctors, patients and DVLA about fitness to drive, and
:: strict liability (making every collision between a motor vehicle and a cyclist/pedestrian, or a cyclist and pedestrian, roughly equivalent to a rear-end shunt between two cars — ie, the driver causing the most damage — heavier vehicle, greater speed — is automatically responsible unless they can prove the other party was reckless).

As usual, though, the government will follow what is known as FM Cornford’s Wedge: “You should not act justly now for fear of raising expectations that you may act still more justly in future — expectations which you are afraid you will not have the courage to satisfy.”

Or it may even follow Cornford’s rule of inaction that every public action that is not customary “either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time”.

Colchester Cycling Campaign invited senior councillors from Essex County Council to attend the UK Vision Zero launch, but one had a prior booking (at the time, three months ahead — and no offer to send a substitute), and the other two didn't even reply.

Meanwhile, the road carnage continues and the government uses the threat from terrorism to try to strangle the few freedoms (here and here) we have.






1 1 Based on 2012 figures; 30 children in a classroom

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mile End Road: ten reasons why a cycle path should not be built





Posted by Will Bramhill, September 29, 2015

Update: December 24: We understand that ECC is conducting a radical redesign of this scheme.

Twelve years ago, Mile End Road, Colchester, was bypassed by the Northern Approaches Road, taking traffic from Sudbury to Colchester. Since then, it's been relatively quiet — down from 15,000 cars a day to probably no more than 3,000.


Many cyclists from Mile End, Boxted and Great Horkesley are happy using it to get to the railway station and into Colchester.

Yet, from nowhere, Essex County Council has decided it needs a cycle path, and they're set to spend the best part of half a million pounds on the project. You can read about it here. The man leading the county's highways department is councillor Rodney Bass — who is happy prescibing solutions for cyclists but refuses to ride a bike.

Let's be clear: we are in favour of cycle facilities but we want high quality infrastructure where it's needed. We haven't asked for this one because there are better — and cheaper — solutions.

In CCC's view, a 20mph limit should be put on Mile End Road, Nayland Road and Mill Road West (all the roads made quieter by the Northern Approaches Road). This would be accompanied by middle-of-road planters and 20mph roundels, as in Whiteladies Road in Bristol. Essex will bleat that they can't have 20mph on a bus route because it's "against policy". But whose policy? Theirs. Other councils allow it.

Another option would be to put a bus gate in Mill Road West, in effect turning the area into a giant cul-de-sac. This would stop rat-running (which still occurs, especially when the A12 is blocked) and reduce danger outside Myland primary school. Reducing speed and reducing traffic levels is the best way to encourage cycling and walking.

So what's wrong with Essex's cycle path proposals?

1 This is a cycle path, not a cycle route. This path has a clear start and finish, before and after which riders have to use the 30mph road; the path doesn't "go" anywhere but it does encourage some cyclists to ride on the footway. Where cycle facilities are needed — around the Essex Hall gyratory — riders are ignored.

2 This is a shared-use path not a segregated bike facility. Essex's current cycling strategy says such facilities should be a "last resort", but it seems that they're ignoring their own words of wisdom. It is also unclear whether the paths will be widened.

3 The southern end of Mile End Road is a whopping great hill. Cyclists will reach 20-25mph downhill on a path shared with pedestrians. Hitting an older pedestrian at that sort of speed is quite likely to result in a fatality.

4 Some cyclists already use the footway, but they are in a minority. They are mainly schoolchildren of an age where they should already have received Bikeability training — the course designed to help them cope with low-trafficked roads, exactly like Mile End Road.

5 Footway cyclists are always in danger from cars coming out of driveways (and drivers inevitably reverse, which is against the Highway Code). This scheme will increase that danger by making some cyclists feel safer than they actually are. There are more than a hundred driveways along this cycle path, and there are also four junctions, at which cyclists will not have the right of way.

6 ECC says no car parking spaces will be lost, meaning that the shared use path will have cars parked beside it. This puts bike riders at greater risk of "dooring". CCC has seen the results of this: one supporter has a wide scar from his throat to his crotch. A properly designed facility would mitigate against this risk.

7 The path is contorted. For some reason the path starts on the western side of the road and, midway, crosses to the east. This means that for any given journey, riders using the path will have to cross the road twice, putting themselves in danger. Cyclists who already use the footway are unlikely to do cross and will stay on the footway.

8 If a cycle facility is put in place, drivers will expect cyclists to use it. But all the faults listed above means that many riders will stick to the road. This will lead to further antagonism between cyclists and drivers.

9 One comment at one meeting came from a senior Colchester planning officer. He urged us to accept this scheme because of future development in the north of the town. At present, the schemes for new homes rule out any access on to Mile End Road. The planning officer concerned said this might not be the case when people moved on to the new estate and started pressing to take short cuts. Surely, though, we should be planning to succeed, not planning to fail? A cycle path will make opening up Mile End Road more likely rather than less.

10 Essex County Council's partner in the scheme is Ringway Jacobs, which undertakes all the design and physical work for ECC. RJ does not, however, appear to have taken into account the points we've made above. This calls into question their ability to create high-quality cycle infrastructure. Personally speaking, if I were building a cycle facility, I would be very careful to look at a company's previous schemes.

Please, if you are going to the consultation meeting tonight (Sept 29) or considering commenting on this plan, urge your councillor to rip up these drawings and put in 20mph now.

Postnote: the cycling campaign recently responded to Mile End councillors Martin Goss and Dom Graham who asked for a top five of cycling schemes for the area. One of these was a segregated route from the north exit of the railway station around to Mile End Road. Where such a route finished on Mile End Road would be a matter of debate, but we take the point of some correspondents that they would feel safer with a separate provision for cyclists riding uphill.







Tuesday, August 25, 2015

£2m for cycling ... but that isn't all good. In fact some of it could be very, very bad




Posted by Will Bramhill, August 25, 2015

More than £2 million for cycling schemes, says a headline in the Essex County Standard. On the face of it that has to be good, but the local cycling group isn't cheering ... yet.

The package is a curate's egg: good in parts, and the danger is that the bad bits could be very, very bad.

The best scheme is the one across northern High Woods to connect Turner Road with the Highwoods estate and the Gilberd secondary school. This has been long requested by the campaign and local councillors. We hope the money will stretch to a proper 4m-wide machine-rolled asphalt surface and stud-style lighting.

Ipswich Road bike route is being revamped too. This is also good but we are hoping Essex County Council will talk to us before starting work; like all things cycling, the devil will be in the detail. Facts are still sketchy but it would appear that this has taken the place of a scheme for a shared footway down Mile End Road, which CCC had criticised as being unnecessary and dangerous (20mph and further traffic limitation would be far better).

The new bridge across the Colne at Leisure World is going ahead. Again, this is good: the current bridge is too narrow for shared use, and it is always hard to predict the actions of children playing pooh sticks, feeding the ducks or watching the fish. What we have to mention, though is that this bridge should have been fully funded from an eight-year-old planning agreement. We won't go into details, but someone, somewhere, drastically underestimated the cost.

There's also something about bike routes in Stanway and West Colchester (well done to the councillors concerned!) but so far details are sketchy.

And then we run out of good bits.

A cycle path along Colne Bank Avenue. What could this be for? Well, the whisper is that this will replace the bike path along the northern section of Westway, sometimes called Station Way, which provides a direct route from the station to Cymbeline Way and on to the Hilly Fields bike route, the 4,000-student Colchester Institute and the 1,500-pupil St Helena School, as well as a host of local employers, not least Colchester Borough Council at Rowan House. This was hinted at 12 months ago when ECC decided to try to axe the Cymbeline Way crossing; in the end, the outcry was so great that the crossing won a reprieve, although it is being moved 400m to a less convenient and more dangerous position, and ECC was adamant that this was just a pilot scheme. Now, we could be seeing the real agenda: getting cyclists put of the way to widen Colne Bank Avenue and possibly Westway north to four car lanes. What's more ECC's proposed diversion is circuitous and involves far more dangerous road crossings. We want to see more about the scheme before we decide whether to condemn it, but if it involves the use of the tunnels beneath Westway, some land acquisition will be necessary to make it a viable scheme. (UPDATE: a senior council officer has said that losing the Westway cycle route "is not the preferred approach" and is checking with colleagues; we'd be very happy if this whisper was wrong.)

At this point we should make clear that we recognise that Colchester is a growing town and that more homes will inevitably mean more journeys. However what the town lacks is high quality alternatives to the car. Bus priority is sadly lacking despite a new bus lane at North Station (why no northbound bus lane?); why no control over North Station Road south? Or Butt Road? Cycling facilities should be direct and convenient, with high subjective safety and suitable for everyone aged 8-80, from a racing cyclist out trading to grandma off to play bowls. Until such a network is in place, people will continue to use the car for unsuitable short journeys, which will discourage people from walking and cycling. What's more, extra capacity in itself will encourage more traffic, which will filter down into the towns substandard roads, such as Brook Street and Hythe Hill … meaning that extra road space is largely a waste of time and money (we’ve seen this time and again, but the lesson has still to be learnt).

While on the topic of cars first, Lexden Road may be about to provide another example of ECC's skewed transport vision. The council is putting in a bus lane that the bus experts say is of little value (it hasn't even talked to the main bus operator yet). It is also taking out cycling lanes to make space rather than constricting car flow (just as happened at North Station). Eastbound riders will share with buses (would you like your 8-year-old doing this?) while westbound riders will share the footway with pedestrians. This is shared use gone mad: shared use may work on the Wivenhoe Trail and the path near the Riverside estate, but when you start talking about commuters rather than leisure cyclists, and huge footfall, then the idea just doesn't work. Already bus users, the disabled and ordinary pedestrians are up in arms about shared use near the station. And rightly so. What dumbo thinks it is a good idea to put cyclists and pedestrians together on the busiest footway next to a railway station that handles 36,000 commuter journeys daily? Probably the same person who judges it a good idea to put cyclists on the main footway leading to five major senior schools, as is the case on Lexden Road. A pointless scheme.

And then we get to crossings. One of Essex’s car schemes is for new traffic lights to replace the mini roundabout at the northern end of Brook Street. But what effect will it have on other users? For starters, it throws into question the current ped/cycle crossing at East Bay, which is directly on the desire line for cyclists using National Cycle Route 51 between Riverside and the Hythe. We would oppose this scheme wholeheartedly if it endangers the integrity of this route. There are also plans to remove various crossings in the town centre, couched in “weasel words” in the latest council report (for instance, “improving access to Bank Passage for park and ride bus users” rather than “ripping out the main crossing used by old folk from the nearby sheltered home”, and “easing passage for traffic at the eastern end of High Street” rather than “taking out the pedestrian crossing between town and the castle, the main tourist attraction in town”.

As is normal with the current leadership of Essex Highways (whether this is councillor of officer-led we don’t know), there is huge secrecy. CCC was able to ”leak” details of Lexden Road after a chance meeting with a gas engineer doing preliminary works, and we found out that even Sue Lissimore, the Conservative county councillor (same party, same council as the one making the decisions), had been kept in the dark. It also issued orders for work on North Station nearly ten weeks after work had started, despite at least 20 months of requests for consultation on the scheme; cock-up or conspiracy? You decide.

So what is CCC doing about it? Until we are given the fine details, it will be difficult to pass judgment, and ECC is still being secretive. That said, we have opened hailing channels with a couple of senior officers to talk about overarching policy. We hope that this attitude filters down into the nitty-gritty. We are also taking a stand using equality legislation, in that such actions as removing crossings and diverting cycleways should, by law, be given due regard early on in the planning process. We have a letter on this issue pending with ECC.

Finally, CCC has formed a close relationship with Colchester Hospital medics, who know that the current epidemic of obesity and diabetes will bankrupt the NHS within 15-20 years. Already one fifth of the town’s 10 to 11-year-olds are overweight/obese, and obese children will make very obese adults taking up huge amounts of health funding. Cycling is a cheap, efficient, healthy and green form of exercise; we’ve been pointing it out for years  

Will Bramhill, planning officer



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Welcome

This is the first blog of THE BIKE COMMITTEE. We are the most active* members of Colchester Cycling Campaign (CCC), a lobby group in Colchester, Essex, UK.

Individual blogs reflect the personal views of the writers; they may or may not reflect the opinions of others within CCC.

The campaign exists to promote and lobby for everyday cycling — that's using a bike to ride to school, the shops, work and to see friends. This is reflected in our motto: Better Cycling, Better Health, Better Living.

We believe it is essential that the government gives a very strong lead in providing a vastly improved environment for everyday cyclists.

CCC was founded in 1990. In 2009-11 Colchester was an official government cycling town, receiving £4.2 million funding.

What have we achieved? We've increased awareness of cycling in the town and country, and helped to put in place the Wivenhoe Trail, the Garrison Trail and the Highwoods Trail, all medium-distance cycle routes that can be used by commuters. We've secured better cycle parking all over town, in particular at Colchester station.

What type of cycling do we believe in? While most of us ride on the road, we realise that not everyone is happy doing that. This is why we want to see high-quality cycle infrastructure as you see in the Netherlands; such provision can be used by anyone from eight-year-olds going to primary school to road racers in training. We support the work of David Hembrow and Mark Wagenbuur of aviewfromthecyclepath.com and bicycledutch.wordpress.com in drawing attention to best practice in the Netherlands.

What about now? Until the UK's cycle network improves, we urge people to ride safely by following these tips. You may also like to arrange cycle training with the CTC's local cycle champion Richard Monk. We're also supporting the national CTC's Road Justice Campaign and Space 4 Cycling, as well as the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain.

We don't intend to use this blog to discuss the desirability or otherwise of cyclists wearing helmets. It's a complex subject and you can find lots of facts at cyclehelmets.org. The arguments are complex and even with the best brains considering the issues, the debate will go on and on. It's enough to say that we believe the choice of whether to wear a helmet should be left to individual cyclists.

Finally: enjoy your riding and stay safe.


Will Bramhill
(May 19, 2015)


* Individual authors have complete responsibility for what they write: CCC as an organisation, or other members, cannot accept any legal liability.