Sunday, February 28, 2016
A letter to Will Quince, MP, on the Mile End Road saga
Saturday February 27, 2016
To Will Quince, MP for Colchester
Copied to ECC party leaders and others
(Updates following this letter are given at the end of this post)
I am writing to you regarding the £750,000 Mile End Road cycle route.
I don’t know whether you are familiar with the latest situation but work is due to start on Monday, when roadside trees will be felled.
Urgent action will have to be taken if it is to be stopped.
Please step in — and if there is resistance, do consult the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government: they are the ultimate source of the funds gleaned from hardworking taxpayers. I am sure they will be most interested in how Conservative-controlled Essex Highways (EH) is wasting our money.
Should you be unsuccessful and the scheme go ahead, I will be making a formal complaint to ECC against ECC/EH and Cllr Rodney Bass prior to a report to the Ombudsman; writing separate letters to key people in both government departments; issuing press releases (including to magazines for local authorities and transport professionals), and consulting the Taxpayers’ Alliance with a view to highlighting this matter at a national level.
The secrecy and arrogance of ECC/EH, as well as the lack of engagement with community stakeholders and reliance on “gut feeling” rather than data, also applies to other schemes in the current funding round, notably the Lexden Road bus lane, the shared route on the busy approach to Colchester station and the Priory Street flow reversal.
Please see the detailed background to the Mile End Road issue, below my sign-off.
ECC/EH’s attitude and performance leave a lot to be desired. Perhaps the council should hold an independent inquiry into the culture, direction, capabilities and overall strategies of ECC/EH, especially given that managing local transport is key to a healthy economy and how every public pound should be made to count. Professor John Whitelegg would be an ideal chairman.
The original plan for Mile End Road was unworkable and should never have seen the light of day; the current scheme is not much better. This calls into question the abilities and competences of Ringway Jacobs, ECC/EH’s service provider, in relation to cycling schemes.
With best wishes,
BACKGROUND TO THE MILE END ROAD CYCLE ROUTE PROPOSAL
1) No one asked for this route
(FoI response by ECC/EH to Sam Turner)
2) No research was carried out into whether it was wanted or necessary
(FoI to Sam Turner) It appears that portfolio holder Rodney Bass or senior officers at ECC/EH decided that it was a way of spending the SELEP funding, and it went from there.
3) No research was carried out into the number of cyclists already on the route and their average speed
(source: FoI to Sam Turner) This should have been a prerequisite to spending so much money.
4) Essex Highways ignored DfT local transport note 1/12.
(LTN 1/12) This recommends that local authorities proceed with care with shared use footways. Point 1.3 says: “Shared use routes created through the conversion of footways or footpaths can be controversial. There are many such examples that have been implemented inappropriately and/or poorly designed, particularly in urban areas. It is essential for designers to understand that shared use is not the ‘easy fix’ it might appear to be.”
Point 1.4 adds: “A poorly designed facility can make conditions worse for both user groups.”
5) Essex Highways ignored the sequential test in LTN 1/12
The DfT flow chart (point 2.4, pp8) is intended to ensure that an LA reaches the right conclusion for a particular scheme, especially on a lightly trafficked route such as Mile End Road. (For instance, making Mile End Road — together with Nayland Road and Mill Road west — a 20mph area would have cost less and served all road users and, therefore, helped the economy more.)
There is no evidence that ECC/EH applied this test; most certainly no stakeholders were involved at a sufficiently early stage. The response to Question 8 in Sam Turner’s FoI says: "No other schemes were discounted in favour of the planned shared footway/cycleway scheme.”
The DfT is also encouraging local authorities to introduce demand management policies and measures. There is no indication that this was considered for this particular scheme or indeed any of the schemes in the current funding round. See also Table 6.2 on pp103 of the Welsh national design guidance (acknowledged as the best in the absence of a similar document for England)
Point 2.2 of the LTN says: “Suitable on-carriageway solutions are sometimes ignored in favour of inappropriate conversion of footways.” LTN 1/12 also says that: “Stakeholders could be involved throughout the process.”
6) Danger to cyclists and pedestrians
Colchester Cycling Campaign flagged up the dangers of the scheme at the ECC/EH announcement event. (It wasn’t a consultation. CCC was told: “This is what you are getting.”) The dangers include potentially mixing pedestrians (some elderly) with fast-moving cyclists, especially downhill. Cyclists will also be at risk from car doors being opened in their path (so-called dooring) and cars coming out of driveways. The feeling of safety of being off-road can be deceptive. These issues are well known following deaths and injuries in similar poor quality installations in the 1970s and since. ECC/EH officers and RJ staff should be familiar with these.
My understanding is that this path is going to be 3m wide. This would be insufficient given that there are parked cars on one side and walls/hedges on the other. The Sustrans Handbook for Cycle Friendly Design (April 2014, a summary of best practice) covers unsegregated shared use but not the Mile End Road kind of facility — possibly because these have been so widely discredited.
The closest comparison in the handbook is for urban traffic-free routes (think Wivenhoe Trail) which says that 3m is the minimum and 4m preferred, and that segregation of cyclists and pedestrians should be considered (Table H8) — and this is before the issues of gradient, parked cars and driveways enter the equation.
There is also increased danger to cyclists and pedestrians using/crossing the carriageway. The presence of a cycle facility will lead motorists to expect cyclists to use it but riders who want a comfortable, efficient and safe journey will avoid it. There is no compulsion on them to do so (R v Cadden). Pedestrians and cyclists can reasonably expect this road to be 20mph.
The Urban Design Group warns that some local authorities are using out of date approaches to highway design. This applies particularly in relation to lack of commitment to area-wide 20mph which would be the ideal treatment for Mile End Road. The UDG says that LAs who resist area-wide 20mph (rather than isolated zones or just on new developments) could, in the event of certain deaths or injuries, face prosecution for gross negligence, manslaughter and corporate manslaughter. A similar argument could be made with regard to Essex’s unwillingness to apply the experience of providing cycle infrastructure from the Netherlands and, increasingly, from forward-thinking LAs in the UK, especially London.
7) Essex Highways and Essex County Council have ignored the council’s own cycling strategy
The Essex Cycling Strategy 2015 says:
"Cycling infrastructure options have expanded rapidly since 2012, with continental-standard facilities being rolled out across the country. These represent a huge improvement on previous provision and have led to significant increases in cycling. For our major routes on high-demand corridors which serve important trip attractors [ie, just like Mile End Road], we will include continental standard segregated facilities, where appropriate.” [NB: CCC doesn’t believe Mile End Road needs this treatment and it would also require the removal of residents’ parking spaces, which should only be considered when absolutely necessary, which is why we opted for a 20mph proposal.]
The strategy points out that cycling can be the quickest mode over short distances and promises “a step-change in the … quality of cycling infrastructure” that “caters for all users and abilities”. It also mentions the possibility of “Quietways”, for which Mile End Road would be eminently suitable.
Despite the strategy’s emphasis on the need for efficient bike journeys for utility cycling, the Sam Turner FoI says: “The facility will have features which will naturally check the speed of cyclists: these include road signs, trees, lighting columns, bus stops and deviation of route at side roads.” The FoI response also incorrectly implies that most cyclists use the footway at present (ECC hasn’t made a study).
The strategy promises that ECC will "support cycling clubs, groups and the volunteers that run them” — but the county has cut Colchester Cycling Campaign out of its considerations and even the regular local cycling forum, which lasted for 15 years, appears to have become so irregular it might as well have been dropped.
8) Essex County Council & Essex Highways and equality impact assessments (EqIAs).
ECC/EH has a public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010 which requires a set process to be followed to tackle discrimination and provide equality of opportunity for all people with “protected characteristics". There is no EqIA on the website for the Mile End scheme (lack of transparency again). I have previously challenged ECC/EH’s tick-box attitude to EqIAs and warned that their process is not of a sufficiently high standard, especially when compared with EqIAs conducted by Colchester council. Again, this matter should be drawn to the attention of Essex County Council as part of an inquiry.
9) The role of SELEP
My understanding is that the funds for this and other schemes in the current funding round have come from Whitehall to ECC via SELEP. You would think, then, that SELEP would be interested in how the funds are being spent. I have copied every email in connection with this scheme to SELEP and have not received even an acknowledgment. I have also twice filled in a form on the SELEP website asking whether it is receiving my emails, but no response. Surely it is vital that any organisation handling a huge amount of public money knows how it is being spent, and is publicly accountable. Again, the DfT and the DCLG need to inquire into this.
10) Ignored by councillors
Both councillors Rodney Bass and Ray Gooding were invited to site meetings to discuss this issue. Mr Bass did not reply. Mr Gooding — the council’s appointed “cycling champion” — replied when pressed but did not return an email to set a date.
Update, March 5, 2016
John Thompson of the national cycling charity CTC visited the road today and walked the route with Mile End councillor Dominic Graham. He agreed with our concerns and will be writing to ECC. He also flagged up the issue of the eventual width of the carriageway, especially between numbers 53-61, where two buses may have difficulty passing. We have tipped off the local bus users' group to alert the bus companies.
Update, March 4, 2016
Tree-cutting began today, so the serious work cannot be far away. Since the last update, we have asked Essex Highways to tell us which parts of LTN 1/12 they actually followed. They have tried to wriggle out of it. Their brass neck at wasting taxpayers' money takes your breath away.
Update, March 2, 2016
Colchester Cycling Campaign and councillors met Essex officials last night, prompted by Will Quince's intervention. They said they had followed the guidance in LTN 1/12, and that "some people" wanted the cycle path. They acknowledged that the path could be "used by a dad and a five-year-old" but said they expected most cyclists to stay on the road. They were amazed by the fact that people put out their bins on Fridays but said thinking about how people deal with their rubbish "is not part of a highway engineer's job". The FoI response "had been very poor quality" and the person who put it out had been spoken to. The scheme is going ahead. Money -- our money -- is being poured down the drain.
Update, Sunday February 28, 2016
Will Quince, replied earlier today to say he would be raising the matter with Essex County Council.