Thursday, May 24, 2018

Essex County Council ignored experts’ advice and wasted taxpayers’ money says Colchester Cycling Campaign

Part of the Cymbeline Way cycle route



by Will Bramhill


(based on a press release that resulted in this story in the Colchester Gazette)


Transport professionals’ safety advice was ignored when Essex County Council moved a key cycle/pedestrian crossing in Colchester, official papers have revealed.

The cost of the work in Cymbeline Way, the western section of the Avenue of Remembrance, nearly doubled to £500,000 as the project developed.

Today Colchester Cycling Campaign criticised the council for putting lives at risk and wasting taxpayers’ money.

The crossing, then used by 660 people daily, was moved just 200 metres along the road. Construction was carried out in 2015-6. It was a standalone scheme that was followed months later by dualling work on Colne Bank Avenue.

The cycling campaign was given a sheaf of papers after it made a request under the freedom of information law. It had been trying to discover if the council was planning a study to see if the change had put off cyclists and pedestrians from using the route and whether it had relieved jams.

The campaign was told that Essex “has no plans” for a new report.

When news of the scheme broke in early 2015, almost 100 complaints flooded in, including from Colchester Institute, St Helena School and ability/disability group Fair Access to Colchester. These were logged but apparently ignored when the decision was made.

The papers seen by the cycling activists include notes by Ringway Jacobs, the council’s highways experts. These reveal:
  • the council thought moving the crossing would help the reliability of park-and-ride buses — but RJ said it wouldn’t
  • cyclists and pedestrians would be put in greater danger
  • any benefit for drivers would be negligible
  • the scheme worked against cycling strategies and disrupted a key commuter link
  • the new location would make the road network feel unsafe, and
  • extending the 40mph limit was against the Essex speed management strategy.
The red route shows the old route using the Cymbeline Way crossing. ECC considered dispensing with the crossing completely and rerouting cyclists via the blue or yellow route, all of which "increased danger", said council officers. Despite their warnings, Essex still went ahead with moving the crossing off the desire line. The work cost £500,000

RJ recommended that the council put the scheme on hold “as opposed to implementing a scheme that has no justification and is potentially unsafe and contrary to policy”. It added: “The design team do not see the benefit of the current proposals. We see significant risks to public safety and public health, particularly with regard to children.”

Essex’s own safety experts also came out against the scheme. The specialists’ report flagged up increased danger. The expert auditors made nine recommendations, all of which said the crossing should not be moved.


Another study, made under the Equality Act, pointed out that moving the crossing would have an adverse effect “especially for the elderly and disabled”.

Essex’s senior officer in charge of the works supported his colleagues’ findings.

Despite this evidence, the council went ahead. The highways chief at the time was Conservative councillor Rodney Bass. He is no longer a member of the council but still acts as an adviser to the council leader on constitutional issues.

Colchester Cycling Campaign said: “This may be historical but it is a sorry saga which shows the attitude of the council at the time.

“As the complaints flooded in, it was increasingly clear that this change was nonsensical. We said it, 100 other objectors said it, yet this work still went ahead.

“We would like to see the council admit its mistake — when the A133 is dualled it should reinstate the crossing in its original position.

“This points to how Essex needs to adopt a process for greater engagement and more community involvement when developing schemes.”

The campaign added with regard to the value of the Cymbeline Way scheme: “£500,000 is a drop in the ocean In terms of council spending, but it is still equivalent to 330 homes’ council tax for the year. When so many people are struggling to make ends meet, Essex should be spending its money more wisely.”


Picture courtesy of Sustrans.org.uk

Essex still ‘weak’ on cycling commitment

Colchester Cycling Campaign says it has still to be convinced that Essex is serious about providing for everyday cyclists — those cycling to school, work, shops and for leisure.

It says the county council remains weak despite the huge national emphasis on active transport — building walking and cycling into a daily routine to maintain good health.

The campaigning group also flagged up the importance of making sustainable travel an option for people moving into new homes, especially the garden villages.

Members recently attended an Essex cycling design conference held in Colchester. The campaign said: “We have seen so many false dawns over nearly 30 years. We'd love to be proved wrong but most of this was lip service yet again.

“One councillor there urged people ‘to just get on their bikes’ — but people avoid cycling because they don’t feel safe. Mums, dads and children switching from cars will need segregated infrastructure, joined-up routes and area-wide 20mph limits before they get on a bike.”

CCC promised to continue to monitor the county council. “We’re not going away. We will continue criticising their car-orientated schemes until they start acting on the real solutions to congestion in a meaningful way.

“We’re still looking into Ipswich Road/Harwich Road, and our next project is Brook Street and whether this has been value for money.”




Picture courtesy Colchester Gazette


 Essex should target the ‘car cloggers’ says campaign

Many people think Colchester Cycling Campaign wants “absolutely everyone to get on bikes” but the campaign says: “This is a mistake — we want a town that works.”

It asked: “What proportion of journeys in Holland are by bike? The answer is a quarter … and a half are still by car. The bikes are used for the short journeys that we in Britain use cars for.

“Our roads are full of ‘car cloggers’ doing journeys of four miles or less. Can we start following Europe? Yes we can but we have to take constructive steps to build cycling infrastructure and be in it for the long haul.

“To our mind Essex has wasted millions over the past five years by chasing its exhaust pipe. London and now Norwich are outpacing us. With a little vision, Colchester could have been well ahead. In fact Norwich has put in the scheme we should have had on Lexden Road.”

The campaign pointed to the £7m works on the A133 at the Harwich Road and Ipswich Road junctions.

It said: “Essex is still trying to discourage cycling here, despite there being key desire lines. They haven’t done the ‘origin and destination’ studies to see how many of these drivers are ‘cloggers’.

“Instead they are providing for more drivers and this will just lead to further traffic jams as the town expands: people still won’t have an option to go by bike. The Cymbeline Way issue and the A133 roundabouts are symptomatic of the county’s high-handed attitude.”

Thursday, May 03, 2018

A visit to Bradford

On a recent visit to see family in Bradford, I had a good look at one of Britain's latest cycle superhighway schemes and the connecting Shipley Greenway

The Shipley Greenway is wider than many similar paths in Colchester

Hollins Road in Bradford (April 2018)
Part of the new cycle superhighway running through an industrial estate
This new route will connect with the Shipley Greenway, as pictured above
 
It is interesting to see a different approach taken by another local authority and supporting agencies such as city connect to improve the lot of cyclists. The Shipley Greenway is very similar to the Lower Castle Park / Wivenhoe Trails and the Hollins Road industrial area has a lot in common with Hawkins Road and The Hythe. What Bradford Council, City Connect and Sustrans have done on the Shipley Greenway is create a new and widened 3-4metre shared-use path which makes a big difference to the usual standard of around 2m to 2.5m. The connecting section running through to Bradford city centre is getting its own dedicated (approx. 3m wide) bidirectional cycle superhighway costing £2.5m.

The shared-use path by the River Colne in Colchester
which creates conflict between users due to its narrow width

A similar investment in Colchester could see parts of the Lower Castle Park & Wivenhoe Trials widened to 4m and a dedicated bidirectional cycle superhighway built along Hawkins Road in the Hythe linking everything together. £2.5m isn't a massive amount of money for an infrastructure project which could benefit so many people.

Hawkins Road in Colchester, ripe for a cycle superhighway!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Why free hospital car parking will lead to NHS misery

Colchester General Hospital, picture courtesy of Google

Will Bramhill writes: This post is not CCC-approved. It is my personal view. Since I sent the letter to Will Quince, however, several CCCers have contacted me to say they share my opinion.

Many years of being transport activists have, perhaps, given us a different perspective to those who rely solely on the car.

Note that I use the figure of £1,000 a year per car parking space. Multiply that for a hospital with a 600-space car park and that will mean £600,000 less for cancer services each year, Multiply that nationally and the effect on the NHS budget could be horrendous.

-----------------------------

Letter to Will Quince, MP for Colchester

Dear Will

I am writing in my personal capacity to ask you to **oppose** Robert Halfon’s motion in the House of Commons this Thursday calling for free hospital car parking in England.

Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust has a strong and fully transparent policy in place that is available on its website and/or by phone.

Regular visitors can use discount parking permits, parking is free for cancer patients and blue badge holders. People in receipt of a range of benefits can claim refunds plus a mileage allowance.

Our hospital’s parking policy and fees are open, transparent and fair.

It could be said that Colchester provides a model for others to follow.

The debate over hospital car parking has become ever more emotive. Part of this is the poor coverage of the issue by the BBC, which makes annual FoI requests to fill its bulletins at a quiet time of year.

This year news reports spoke of hospitals “making” a set sum from parking. This implies profit but it is not. It is turnover.

When hospital budgets are already under strain, it is unfair to push the NHS into subsidising drivers at the expense of its core medical services. Patients generally — however they get to the hospital — are likely to suffer to help those who choose/have to drive.

As mentioned previously, Colchester offers free and discounted parking for those with cancer or in need. Other forms of transport are available for the able-bodied and include park and ride, bus, train and bus/foot, and bicycle. These also involve fares which, following the logic of those campaigning for free hospital parking, could be termed “a tax on the sick” too, especially for those who, for various reasons, do not have access to a car.

The cost of providing car parking at a hospital has been put at £1,000 per space per year (Parking Review, but I cannot find the direct reference). Money raised from parking fees goes into the general NHS pot but costs to be offset will include parking attendants, security and general office staff time relating to parking, equipment maintenance, tarmac repairs, line marking, grounds maintenance, power costs, lighting maintenance, signage and wayfinding costs.

Mr Halfon’s case is also peculiar given that debate over the future of the NHS includes the possibility of a move towards charging for GP appointments in the same way as people pay for dental check-ups.

For all of the reasons above, I find it strange that both Macmillan and CLIC Sargent are supporting free hospital car parking. I will be writing to them to ask them to change their stance, using the arguments given here.

Finally, I find it bizarre that hospital should be asked to financially support a form of transport that leads to the early deaths of at least 100 people a year in your constituency, as well as many thousands injured because of the predominance of the car in society. It is akin to asking the NHS  30 years ago to offer free cigarettes.

Please, Will, vote against Mr Halfon!

Best wishes,

Will

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Old-style 'car is king' thinking collides with modern active travel on the A133

The double roundabouts at the Ipswich Road junction are set to be replaced by a fast, single roundabout. We argue that this will stop cyclists making north-south trips and do very little for congestion.


Over the past several years, we have been enthralled by the saga of the A133 Avenue of Remembrance in Colchester.

For those who don't know the road, the Avenue of Remembrance stretches 5.95km from Greenstead roundabout in the east to Spring Lane roundabout in Lexden in the west. It was built in 1933 and is flanked by about 100 lime and cherry trees dedicated to fallen soldiers and the great and the good of the town. It is made up of four named roads: St Andrew's Avenue, Cowdray Avenue, Colne Bank Avenue and Cymbeline Way.

Essex County Council's aim is to dual it along its length. To date, money has stopped them, so they have been doing it piecemeal since 1990, with the first section being the Mason Road/LeisureWorld/McDonald's junction in Cowdray Avenue.

In 2016 they added dual lanes in the Colne Bank section and now their attention has turned to the short section of St Andrew's Avenue between the Ipswich Road and Harwich Road roundabouts.

The problem with all this is that the schemes were mostly drawn up during Essex's long and determined "Mr Toad" period where it was blind to anything but motor traffic. This phase began in the 1920s and, we hope, is about to croak.

The final "brekekekek coax coax" is proving to be long and drawn out, however.

ECC has no money of its own for major schemes and is dependent on cash from grants, mostly from the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, a government-created Quango in which local businessmen decide on transport policy.

We've run in Selep before. It suffers from a lack of funding itself and is also inexperienced in funding transport schemes. The result is that it wastes taxpayers' money.

We took its sponsored scheme for a dangerous cyclepath in Mile End Road to the Local Government Ombudsman and won — Essex was guilty of maladministration causing injustice.

St Andrew's Avenue looking west towards the Ipswich Road junction.
Now ECC is forging ahead with Ipswich Road/Harwich Road. It doesn't want to turn down Selep money but, we believe, it has reached into its bottom drawer and pulled out drawings for the junctions whose origins appear to date back ten years or more.

Since then, of course, events have moved on. Colchester is the fastest-growing town in England. As well as extensive new housing in Chesterwell, Severalls and elsewhere it is poised to build new garden communities, bringing in thousands more people.

Our issue is not with the new homes — anyone with a Millennial or Gen Z child knows they need somewhere to live rather than an HMO* — but with the infrastructure.

Over the past ten years the emphasis has switched from car throughput to active travel — the need to reduce pollution and fight obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma.

Something like 80% of car journeys are less than 8km with far too many of those being < 6km, which is an ideal distance to cycle or walk if it is safe and feels safe.

So when ECC's latest scheme emerged, we were horrified. The plans were first published two years ago and we opposed them then.

We didn't get very far. That said, as the Battle of Mile End Road was being investigated by the Ombudsman, the ECC portfolio holder stepped down.

We are far more optimistic about the new people — Ray Gooding and Ian Grundy — who are more approachable and realistic. They seem prepared to look at the wider picture rather than just the view from the steering wheel.

Colchester Cycling Campaign's latest letter about the junction brought forth a redesign. We asked for cycleways segregated from pedestrians, as in Holland and increasingly in London, where they are moving people with exceptional efficiency although the roads are as jammed as ever.

The latest ECC scheme showing the cut down St Andrew's Gardens junction. Click the link below for a larger image.
Essex responded far better than it has in the past. It increased the width of the shared use cycleways. We believe they didn't consider segregated routes because of space constraints caused by the dual carriageway scheme.

A view eastwards with the St Andrew's Garden junction on the left. The latest scheme does away with the slip road and most of the triangular traffic island, which we say is dangerous.
As of December 7, we have thanked ECC for giving us sight of the amended plans.

We have, however, flagged up that a number of critical issues remain. These are:

:: At St Andrew's Gardens turn, the lack of a slip road and the cut-down island means that this junction is likely to be lethal for cyclists, and the lack of subjective safety will limit its use to a minimum. Could we please look at a raised crossing for cyclists with tighter radii on the junction (with overruns for the few HGVs using this road)? There are plenty of examples available and I would recommend talking to Almere Consulting of Newcastle Upon Tyne. These two drawings and a photo to show the type of facility we mean. An alternative would be to signalise the crossing and run it in phase with the puffin crossing, which would eliminate the need for the triangular island. Note that in a well-designed scheme pedestrian guard rails (which narrow the cycle route) will be unnecessary.

A raised crossing like the one we'd like to see across St Andrew's Gardens.

A drawing of the tight geometry needed to make cyclists safe. HT: Linda Cottrell

:: No provision is made
for north-south cycle movements on Ipswich Road North into Ipswich Road South. At present, as a Cyclecraft-trained rider, I may risk the double roundabouts but a three-lane super roundabout? Never! If you have someone in, say, Valentines Drive who works in Brook Street business park, how do YOU want them to get to work? What are the existing school journeys in this area and how are they made? In the current design, cyclists wanting to negotiate this roundabout will be in danger because of the high-speed radii and the long straights with minimum “slowing down” geometry. The maximum junction radius on the roundabout should be 6m with overrun areas for large vehicles. Harwich Road is also a problem, as above. Your officers may point to the current low level of cycle traffic, but this is a symptom of the current situation rather than an excuse for inaction.

:: The greater traffic capacity will undoubtedly lead to greater pollution in East Bay/Brook Street — which road scheme hasn't led to an increase in traffic both on the road and its feeder streets? No attempt is made to mitigate what could be a disastrous decrease in air quality in this key corridor, used by schoolchildren and adjacent to local schools. I would be grateful if you could provide technical details, which we will run past our own traffic volume/pollution experts.

:: The ECC cycling strategy sets targets for increasing cycling. We are well into the forecast period and unless improvements and attractiveness of cycle routes are built into every scheme, the targets will be missed. This scheme in its present form does nothing to promote or encourage modal shift.

:: The retention of the crossing on Cowdray Avenue is welcome but the other crossings, most notably the two-stage puffin, will not encourage pedestrians — they will be more likely to jump in a car for the shortest of trips.

:: From a driving perspective the current layout works well except at peak times. We again ask if a single roundabout is the answer or a "pipeline" scheme pulled from the bottom drawer to show readiness to spend a grant.

In conclusion, we said that the more we consider this scheme and its pitfalls, and set these against the issues posed by the advent of the garden villages, the more we are convinced that ECC needs to scrap this plan.

A new scheme should have cycle permeability on all arms and first-class pedestrian/cyclist provision. If tweaks can be made to the double roundabout design which improve matters for motorists, then well and good. ECC's current thrust, especially with the garden villages in mind, is to promote sustainable transport, and this scheme tries to fit that around the cars rather than vice versa: it will do little if anything to promote active travel. On top of this, any future changes could cause controversy because you would have to “take space from the motorist”.

We told ECC: "At present you have the chance to install first-class cycle and pedestrian facilities and tweak traffic throughput — please don’t miss it."

We'll keep you in touch with developments via this blog — or you could join our email newsgroup at

:: On a separate point, Oregon's experience of using dongles to measure and possibly charge for car use by the mile is worth further study. This link is from 2015 but there have been substantial developments since then. Yes, there is an issue of personal liberty and privacy, but arguably people lose that the moment they carry a smartphone, drive in an area with ANPR cameras or use Aviva insurance data boxes.

Will Bramhill, December 8, 2017
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* house of multiple occupation, a shared home usually in the private rented sector

Saturday, August 12, 2017

By Wolf Simpson

I am writing this after an experience I had earlier today & thought I'd shared what I had already posted online so others can read it & help others see the need for good quality infrastructure..

Whilst waiting on the Wivenhoe Trail to see a steam train passing, in the hour I was there I saw 4 eBikes passing & 2 gentlemen riding some of those eBikes stopped to chat & get photos too. Whilst we all were waiting we chatted about eBikes & the gentleman in the hi-viz jacket with the walking stick attached to his eBike normally uses a mobility scooter.

As he explained to me he found eBikes to be better & faster to use & something I didn't consider before when thinking of mobility scooters compared to eBikes. When the battery dies on a mobility scooter especially when using on terrain like the Wivenhoe Trail then you're stuck there as the mobility scooter is too bulky & heavy to push but if the battery dies on the eBike then its light enough for you to push it along & use it as a walking frame.



Now these guys are in their 60s or older & they found eBikes gave them the mobility & freedom to go around town more than mobility scooters ever could & this is why we need to build infrastructure, for these sort of people especially as the aging population increases & why we need infrastructure suitable for all ages & abilities whether they're walking, cycling or using any other mobility aid.

Just like they already have in the Netherlands.

   

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Colchester view of the new London cycleways

Jim and friend on Santander hire bikes
By Jim Rayner

During a recent visit to London with a friend I used the cycle hire bike and the cycle superhighway along the Embankment in order to get around the city.

I highly recommend the experience if you have never done it before.

The dedicated cycleway is between 3-4m wide and for a large part runs alongside the Thames. The road engineers created the space largely by taking a lane away from general traffic.

The cycleway is well used and the feeling of freedom when travelling by bike through one of the world’s greatest cities in exhilarating, but also highly practical.

My only complaint is the cycle routes don’t stretch far enough!

Not everyone sees it this way, however, and some people have blamed the new lanes for a range of ills — including helping the terrorist to attack Westminster on March 22 to bus stop bypasses being a danger to hospital patients (read the case for such bypasses here).

Thankfully, the cycleways are here to stay, despite Chancellor Philip Hammond trying his hardest to twist the arm of London mayor Sadiq Khan.

The proof must be measured in the number of people riding on them. This article in the Guardian helps debunk the myths. It supports the arguments put forward in Bike Nation, a new book about cycling infrastructure. One key quote from the Guardian is:

"So why does this myth (of cycle lanes causing congestion) persist? I’m afraid it probably comes down to – as I have written about before – how cycling and cyclists remain one of the few areas of life in which newspapers and columnists feel able to write sweeping generalisations without worry. 

"This is a complex and longer-term issue, as are the many reasons why separated cycle lanes and other infrastructure are so vital for a modern city or town
"But in the meantime, when someone repeats the bike lane myth, ask them for evidence."

Bike Nation: How Cycling Can Save the World by Peter Walker is out now.