How local democracy works

Rebel Yarns

I presented a petition of 781 signatures at a Brighton & Hove Council committee meeting this week. I was asking the council to carry out a public review of a road junction near my home where there have been 5 serious injury accidents in the last five years, most recently, the horrific crash that happened there this July.

If you like that sort of thing, you can see the webcast of the meeting on the council’s website – the link should go to the relevant bit of the meeting. But in any case, here’s the speech I made:

I won’t read out the wording of the petition – you have it in front of you – but I’d like to give you some more information about the people who’ve signed it and why.

Hundreds of the signatures were collected at local businesses, notably the chemist right on the junction. These…

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Jealous of London

Not long after moving to Brighton from London, 15 or so years back, I had a phone chat with an erstwhile comrade on wheels from the Hackney chapter of the London Cycling Campaign. It was all jolly Brighton-is-so-great-good-luck-must-visit ish until I mentioned one of the things I liked best about the city. From more or less where I lived, an traffic free cycle track took me most of the way into the centre, and the seafront track (Brighton’s East/West superhighway) gave a car free route to Hove and beyond. A frosty silence ensued, borne of the view prevalent in Hackney LCC then and since, that separated cycle lanes or tracks were basically wrong.

Living in London which at that time offered no real choice – either mix it with the motors or don’t cycle much or far – I had accepted that as the cyclists immutable lot. Coming to Brighton, even with its measly provision of direct, separated and useful routes, was still a complete breath of fresh air, and I have watched the network grow over the years – its not great, still lots of room to improve, but leaving London – in cycling terms – I never looked back. Until now that is.

Love London – Go Dutch.

The LCC flagship campaigns to influence the mayoralty have ushered in such changes. Where not so long ago my cycling social media time-lines were full of despair from the capital, in the last month they have stated to bloom with positivity and happiness. Why? The advent of the Cycle Super Highways.

On top of this, London also has the Mini Holland programme which is looking at innovative ways to transform London boroughs to make them “as cycle-friendly as their Dutch equivalents.” Started by former London Mayor Boris Johnson, with £100 million for four schemes, this has been picked up by his successor Sadiq Khan, who plans to extend it to all of the 32 London Boroughs wishing to take part.

Brighton is such a fine place of splendid people and things, and its manifold attractions are yet to wear thin, but if there was one thing I could wish it, as a human scale place to be, it would be a touch of what London is now getting (along with other cities and towns in the UK and around the world) – a high quality, separated network of cycle lanes across the city, to make cycling the default choice for most local journeys, and accessible to everyone regardless of age, experience or ability.

Bike Lanes are a Climate Issue

This post isn’t about cycling as sport, or about leisure rides, club rides, Sunday rides, charity rides…. or any sort of ride where the point and purpose of it is the ride. They all play their part, but not what this is about.

It’s not for “keen cyclists”, special clothes not required, don’t know how to fix a bike? – that’s what bike shops are for. There is no need for speed.

The important thing is  people riding their bikes just to get around – to go to the shops, work, the pub – normal everyday stuff. This is the change needed for a better world.

Why doesn’t this happen already?

Around 27% of commuter trips in the Netherlands are made by bike compared to around 2% in the UK. Its tempting to point to NL and say “well they have no hills” or somesuch, but these levels are comparable to UK cycling levels in the mid 20th century, and our hills haven’t changed since then. The big change has been the rise of the private car.

Here is the Albion parking arrangements from the olden days.  Count the bikes.

albion.jpg large

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain have produced a key policy piece Design principles for mass cycling. The introduction:

The conditions required for mass cycling are well known: people are likely to choose cycling for their journey if they believe their route will be safe, comfortable and convenient.

In practice, this means providing cycling facilities that are separate from walking and driving facilities, and it means designing our urban and rural environments so that cycling is an obvious choice, minimising interactions with motor traffic, wherever people choose to cycle. The focus should be on providing attractive and safe conditions, rather than attempting to mitigate hostile conditions through training, or education, or changes to insurance law.

Reducing the impact of our transport systems – and particularly reducing the impact of private car use – is a crucial part of the work to avoid climate catastrophe. Campaigning for improved conditions, infrastructure and facilities to promote everyday cycling is essential action and part of our shift toward a sustainable and low carbon society.

What needs to happen next

UK cycling facilities have generally been extremely poor, with energy expended on creating facilities which are inconvenient, disjointed and sometimes downright bizarre. Because of this – until now – investment in cycle facilities has not appeared to be matched by a substantial increase in cycling, leading some to claim that such facilities are not wanted or needed.

Until  now…..

Lower Thames St

Here is Lower Thames Street in London being upgraded to form part of the new East West Cycle Superhighway and below is a bit further west on the Embankment that has been completed

East-West Cycle Superhighway on Victoria Embankment

It seems that at last we are starting to see high profile examples of cycling infrastructure which actually works – which provides safe, comfortable, direct routes which can be used by anyone wishing to cycle – from 8-80 and covering a wide range of skills and abilities, and will encourage more people to use their bikes for more journeys.

It is all looking rosy? Not for Brighton & Hove (yet). Although our last council administration was very supportive of cycling, and gave us the Lewes Road improvements, the North Laine cycle contraflow scheme, the Edward Street cycle Lanes and the proposals for Valley Gardens, the only scheme which offers more than just paint is on the Old Shoreham Road and the protected lane down Grand Avenue to the seafront. Much more needs to be done.

Brighton's Old Shoreham Road: the cycle-ways to the future? | CTC

Our current administration has made promising noises – last November our council voted to become a Space for Cycling City, but we don’t yet know how this statement will translate into real improvements. We need to support a movement in the city to ensure that we start to see high quality, Dutch standard protected cycle infrastructure on our streets, as the only proven way of getting people onto bikes in sufficient number to make a difference. because bike lanes are a climate issue.

Mind the gap (pt 2)

2014-12-19 10.58.39

Getting from the seafront to the Level might be OK in a couple of years, but getting beyond that and onto the mandatory segregated route beyond the Vogue Gyratory is another thing altogether. The separated off-road track which runs along the Valley Gardens and up to the Level vanishes at the start of Lewes Road to be replaced by a narrow advisory lane.

Blocked by parked cars, blocked by buses at stops (including the particularly problematic ‘bendy buses’) and running the gauntlet of vehicles crossing from and into side streets with scant regard for folk in the bike lane, it really is a challenging route. And there appear no plans to improve it.

Since the improvement works to Lewes Road north of the Vogue which have provided wide, smooth and separated cycle lanes, cycle usage of the corridor has increased by 14% (300 extra bike trips per day) and seen a drop in private motor traffic by 13%, which may seem impressive, but the test will be whether this rate if increase persists year on year in the absence of further improvements.  When this section opened I could use it to cycle to Stanmer Park with my son for the fist time – actually he could have made the trip on his own…but only north of the Gyratory. Along the Lewes Road  before it, we still had to get off and push.

For as long as the decent existing and planned stretch between the seafront and Falmer is marred by this section along Lewes Road, the whole route will continue to under perform. If a substantial  and critical section is felt to be unsafe, stressful, challenging to use then the whole route will remain the terrain of the quick and the brave. If the cycle lane is so poorly presented as to offer no priority or protection, people will take to the pavement for safeties  sake.

Its not about ‘under-confident’ cyclists, or about training. Its not about helmets, hi-viz or even lights. People having all of those things by the spadeful will not make any difference to the harm which can be caused through contact with a motor vehicle. Will not make any difference to the perception of danger. Will not encourage anyone not currently cycling, not happy to cycle with danger to take up a bike.

So council people – if you a reading this. North and South is great but we need the bit in the middle too.

 

Mind the gap

The thing about having usable protected cycle tracks and lanes is that they are great in themselves and very welcome, but if they don’t join up with other helpful and protected cycle tracks or lanes, their impact is limited at best.

We have a good and helpful seafront track, crossing the city boundaries east to west, and we have a decent and fairly new protected(ish) north south lane, connecting Brighton with Falmer, but east to west and south to north, never the twain shall meet…

If the key ingredient of a city fit for cycling is that it enables anyone who wishes to cycle as part of their daily life to do so, then connectedness is critical, and anyone heading from the seafront to Falmer will not find it (yet) as the most direct route goes around the Aquarium Roundabout and along a three lane highway with no protection before joining the awkward and convoluted track around Victoria Gardens to the Level.

The good news is that the council has a plan – back in February the council was awarded £8 mil of Local Growth Fund money to redesign this stretch, with the overall aim being to connect the gardens (now little more than a series of traffic islands) as a high quality linear park which will rationalise vehicle movements and link the gardens more closely to the city centre and Pavilion Estate. More info on the overall plan can be found here and the plans for cycling – currently  direct and protected lanes along the east side of the gardens and  segregated tracks along the west is below.

vg layout

Additional funding has also been identified to extend the improvements down to the Aquarium Roundabout

At the moment the project is on hold, as the new council administration elected in March had pledged to review all transport schemes initiated by the previous council, but it is expected to be shortly back on track, although what changes might be made to the original plans need to be kept in view, to ensure that this scheme lives up to its promise of properly filling the gap.

 

Seafront Cycle Track

The seafront cycle track runs from Black Rock to the east and Hove Lagoon to the west and is mostly a segregated off road cycle track which runs adjacent to the footway and is distinguished by reddish tarmac. (Mostly because a short stretch from Black Rock forms a protected cycle lane running between the footway and the parked cars). According to the Argus in 2009 – in a typically  mocking and dismissive piece – it then supported 2000 trips per day. Having sat by it and watched over 100 cyclists pass in just 5 mins, the numbers have increased in the last 6 years. The reasons it is good:

  • Car free
  • Direct
  • Flat
  • Useful
  • Sea views

It works for people commuting or making other everyday trips across town, as well as for people out for leisure rides and family days. Its not so good for people who want to ride very fast as the general congestion and mixing with pedestrians will limit this, and if fast is the main aim of the ride, it is probably best done elsewhere.

Its not a perfect route – the stretch between the piers can get very congested with happy trippers traipsing across the path, and it does get a bit narrow in places, with the occasional signpost in the middle of the track. I could be generally improved by adding protection from/for pedestrians crossing onto it at key points  – replacing  the current pedestrian crossing points with zebras might also help here. The section where the route diverts onto the prom, around the King Alfred Leisure Centre and back again, could be improved by continuing the route along Victoria Terrace as a protected bi-directional lane between the pavement and the parked cars (as has be done on Grand Ave), but all in all its our east west cycle superhighway and it works fairly well

As well as a good route for cross city trips, it is also part of the Nation Cycle Network Route 2 “A long distance cycle route which, when complete, will link Dover in Kent with St. Austell in Cornwall via the south coast of England.”