Tuesday, September 29, 2015
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.