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!