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

* 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.

Review of the improvements to the Ipswich Road cycle path, Colchester

General overview of the Ipswich Road improvements whereby the pavement was widened outside the Rovers Tye and a cycle path created, segregated from pedestrians by a white line. While this scheme is a big improvement on what was there before, there are problems…

By Jim Rayner

I thought I would like to do an "occasional personal review" of the various recent cycle improvements in the town, plus some other bits and bobs from earlier times.

Many of us in Colchester Cycling Campaign may well  know what has taken place, but some may not.

It would be good to know what people think who use these facilities every day.

I'll start with Ipswich Road, where the footway was widened in 2016 by taking about a metre of carriageway in a realignment scheme outside of the Rovers Tye pub.

Apart from a simple kerb, there is no  buffer between the cycle path and the road. Already you can see tyre marks and concrete clips caused by vehicles hitting the edge

I stopped at the one spot for about ten minutes. In this time three cyclists passed by, two of whom were cycling on the pedestrian side of the path. To me this indicated that many cyclists feel uncomfortable riding too close to the edge.
Slightly to the south of the pub the path has also been widened and new demarcation lines laid out. The width of the cycle path here, while much improved, is still very narrow. The lack of national cycling standards for England mean we have to have these ridiculous give-way markings. The corduroy slabs for the disabled can also be a hazard for cyclists, gripping tyres and also slippery when wet.

With regard to the distance buffer between the road and the cycle path the Dutch CROW design manual recommends:

"The higher the speed of the traffic, the greater the separation should be between the tracks and the main carriageway although for safety, bikes should still be visible to car drivers.

"In built-up areas, the minimum width of the buffer between a cycle track and the road should be at least 0.35m for a one-way cycle path and 1m for a two-way, but usually the width will be greater depending on the barrier type."

Apart from the kerb itself on Ipswich Road, effectively there is no other barrier between the traffic and what is a two-way cycle path.

This seems crazy as there are plenty of examples elsewhere in Colchester of a 0.35m kerb markers / concrete strips to demarcate an extra edge between the road and the cycle path.

This example is at the Hythe:

This example (above and below) is a shared-use cycle path at the Hythe, Colchester, where a 0.35m buffer has been incorporated into the design. This should have happened Ipswich Road, either taking the space from roadside properties under the Road Improvement Act, or reducing the (very generous) width of the road for general traffic.

Yet another cyclist on the pedestrian side of the path. I reckon about half of all users do this. Is this because the demarcated section is too close to the road?

As an aside, this rider had a bag dangling from her handlebars, which I consider to be a dangerous practice because they can go into the front wheel and cause a spill — it is always best to get a rack and use pannier bags. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Proposals for a new A120 between Braintree and Colchester

A discussion paper by Colchester Cycling Campaign

CCC is neutral on whether this new road is needed. Supporters’ opinions range from being enthusiastically for it (safety) to vitriolically against it (the environment). We do not anticipate taking a stance on the project’s rationale or giving an overarching view on its desirability. That said, we strongly believe in the need to mitigate the effects of a bigger road on towns, villages and the countryside.

A120 will mean more traffic, especially in towns
A bigger A120 will create more traffic — as did the M25 and roads such as Newbury bypass (a traffic generation case study). Most journeys begin and end in towns and cities. The A120 will have a disproportionately adverse effect on urban areas which will be to the detriment of quality of living, health and local economies.

Campaign recommendations on cycling and the A120
CCC calls on the powers-that-be to:
  • consider better cycling provision and infrastructure at every stage of this scheme, both adjacent to and across the new and old roads and in nearby towns
  • include, publish and consult on cycling proposals and cycle proofing at the earliest possible date
  • apply the Equality Act and the Brown Principles as the scheme is being developed
  • take into account the recent report on air pollution from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) and the DfT’s interim standards for highways
  • give early assessments of how each option for the road will increase traffic in Colchester and Braintree
  • limit the number of new junctions to restrict use by local traffic and hence overall traffic growth

Campaign recommendations on restricting traffic growth

We would welcome:

  • pressure for a daily car-use toll (no multi-day tickets) to replace annual/six-monthly vehicle tax (possibly the best way to reduce the number of short car journeys)
  • a move towards workplace car park charging, which has shown its value in Nottingham
  • consideration of the potential of e-bikes in the general move to electric vehicles
  • support a future Colchester to Stansted railway line

Campaign recommendations on helping cycling and improving quality of life

We would also welcome:
  • a national cycling design manual to replace the current mishmash of guides (some good, some bad)
  • support for area-wide 20mph where people live in Essex
  • backing for Cycling UK’s Space for Cycling campaign
  • support for Cycling UK’s Road Justice campaign
  • installation of real-time pollution monitors in all major Essex towns
  • greater coordination of Essex County Council’s public health, transport planning and highways functions

    Paul Avison, Neil Allen and Will Bramhill, January 2017