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

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