Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Essex up to its old anti-cycling tricks
What's the difference between three seconds and nineteen? Wake up at the back! What's that? Sixteen?
Yes, you're right, but it's also the difference between a good council (Colchester when it was highways authority in the 1980s) and one that pays lip service to the idea of being cycle-friendly (the car-orientated politicos and officers of Essex in the 2010s).
That 16 seconds is the extra time it takes for cyclists to get a green light at East Bay, Colchester -- on Route 51 of the National Cycle Network -- after Essex replaced the traffic lights and a nearby mini-roundabout.
Over in Denmark, Holland and Germany, traffic engineers are implementing "green waves" so cyclists can complete their journeys across town efficiently and in comfort.
The idea is that once you hit a green, it will be go, go, go at all the other lights on your route so long as you're riding at 12mph. By and large such plans don't inconvenience drivers ... it is the classic carrot rather than a stick.
Here in Colchester, East Bay was the one junction where cyclists could press a button and have the lights change instantly. If you started counting and got to "three" you thought you were hard done by, or you realised someone else had triggered the crossing in the 60 seconds before you arrived.
Then Essex hit the jackpot. It won a wedge of cash from the Department for Transport, the distribution of which was carried out by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, in reality a Quango of businessmen (who like cars) and politicians (most of whom can't say no to people who like cars) which refuses to accept that the public exists.
The rationale was to improve the town prior to the explosion in new homes expected before 2040. The result, however, has been a hotchpotch of schemes that has included Mile End Road, moving the Cymbeline Way crossing ... and the little matter of widening Colne Bank Avenue, St Andrew's Avenue and Cowdray Avenue to squeeze in, you've guessed it, more cars.
Back at East Bay, cyclists press the button and have to count to n-n-n-nineteen. On the way to work and school; whatever the weather, and all the time while chewing on diesel particulates next to one of the worst pollution hotspots in south-east England.
And does it help drivers? Response from motorists suggests not. They say the jams are still pretty much the same.
Is there a safety reason for the longer wait? Well, Essex will try to spin a story about how drivers have to see you waiting before the lights change, which is a nonsense: most drivers can't even see the lights when a cyclist presses the button.
In the meantime, the Bike Committee's attention is turning to the Cowdray Avenue works and whether we can expect Dutch-style roundabouts at the junctions with Ipswich Road and Harwich Road.
Don't hold your breath, though.
Rodney Bass, one of Essex's transport chiefs, was asked recently by CCC's Paul Avison if he thought Essex was doing enough to double its pathetic cycling levels, as promised in the county's spanking new Cycling Strategy. "Probably not," he said, and moved on. To talk to someone about cars, we presume.