by Will Bramhill
This week I responded to the Department for transport consultation on its transport appraisal and modelling strategy, which was flagged up late in the day in a letter from our local MP Will Quince.
The consultation closed on October 15 but the strategy document is still live.
I saw the consultation so late in the day that I didn't have chance to follow the question-and-answer format requested for responses. Instead, I gave an account of our experiences in Colchester. The letter is below.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am responding to your consultation. Rather than answer your questions directly I am going to pass on my comments relating to my experience as a local transport activist.
Far more investment needs to go into local transport, especially in urban areas. This is needed to offset the huge induced demand for motor transport that will be created by new housing and the growth in main roads (in the case of my home town, Colchester, the A12 and A120).
As well as capital investment in buses and local train services, more needs to be done by way of filtering (think Waltham Forest's mini-Holland), and the installation of Dutch-style cycleways on key urban routes to provide pleasant, separated conditions for cyclists and pedestrians.
It is vital for quality of life and public health that every urban scheme aims to reduce the number of journeys under five miles made by car and to increase opportunity/ability to cycle or walk — even if this adds to inconvenience/congestion for motorists making short trips.
Electric and AI cars have a place but while reducing pollution, they will not necessarily address congestion, health or motor vehicle dependence. I would also go so far as to say the idea of non-ownership is politically unlikely.
The current modelling scenario is one-sided. I have tried to influence several local projects but without success. In each scheme, the appraisal has failed.
One of these, a £1m shared cycle path in Mile End Road, Colchester, was clearly not going to work. I complained to Essex County Council and eventually won my case at the Ombudsman.
A second scheme (Brook Street, Colchester — already an AQMA) tried to relieve congestion by increasing throughput. Two years on and it appears that jams are no better and pollution has increased as a result, despite about £600,000 expenditure.
A third scheme (A133 roundabouts at Ipswich and Harwich Road — cost £8m) is currently under construction. Despite the funding being granted for an “integrated” scheme under, I believe, LSTF, very little is being done for cycling beyond renovating a single 1980s shared cycle route. Even with this, the wider car lanes will increase danger at one key point and no provision (on carriageway or elsewhere) has been made for north-south cycling on what the Dutch and Danes would consider main desire lines. The result is that the new roundabouts *may* relieve congestion in the short term but will not help beyond that.
While opposing the A133 scheme, I found:
• That my local authority had little or no understanding of a non-motorised user audit, believing that road safety audits were a satisfactory substitute
• That the non-mandatory application of DMRB in local schemes is used to skew designs in favour of motor travel to the virtual exclusion of other modes. DMRB’s guidance on cycling and walking was ignored (extra pedestrian crossings were added and/or reinstated at a relatively late stage of design).
• That the DMRB rules on gauging which roads were “affected” in terms of air quality were not fit for purpose — especially the “first year only” rule.
I would go so far as to say that the A133 scheme could be used as a case study of the flaws with the current version of WebTAG.
This experience has convinced me that cycling and walking need to be treated as a national issue rather than left to the discretion of councils, especially with regard to funding and design standards. Wales has a national cycle design guide, why not England? The effect of the lack of active travel because of poor infrastructure is resulting in diabetes, heart disease, obesity and poor mental health: the need for a nationally co-ordinated approach exceeds that for the fight to reduce the harm caused by cigarette smoking from the 1970s-2000s.
To help improve the current situation, I would suggest that all local authority schemes over a certain value have to undergo a peer review by a government body to check that they are meeting targets for green transport; that the go-ahead for such schemes is dependent on an origin and destination study being part of the assessment, and for compulsory land acquisition (to help install walking and cycling routes) is made easier, almost certainly with the introduction of new legislation.