Saturday, July 14, 2012

Local Sustainable Transport Fund: Putting Cycling Last

News from the valleys: Traffic-free routes for pedestrians and safe cycle lanes will be developed across Wales to connect sites such as hospitals, shopping centres and schools as part of the Active Travel (Wales) Bill.

Meanwhile, in Belfast, the Roads Service plan to drive cars out of Belfast city centre, in a plan endorsed by Sustrans.

Even Glasgow has been getting in on the idea of decent-quality cycle provision, according to Joe Dunkley at War on the Motorist.

Only England stands alone against the onslaught of Continental-style active travel. While Boris has signed up to the LCC's Go Dutch principles, we have yet to see what his plans for Vauxhall and Greenwich will involve. Vauxhall in particular already has off-road provision - it just happens to be crap. You're expected to share pavements with thousands of commuters on foot, crossings that take ages to negotiate: the whole gyratory is basically a road scheme with cycling belatedly tacked on as an afterthought. And once through the junction you're spat back onto busy roads such as South Lambeth Road. How many parents do you think let their kids cycle in these conditions?

One chink of light, the government would have us believe, is the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF). This is supposed to promote cycling as well as public transport. But are the bids actually favouring cycling - and do the bidding local authorities know what they need to do to deliver more cycling, or will they steer towards the usual cycle facilities that upset no-one, and are used by next-to-nobody, because they stop when there's a tough decision to be made that might slow down a couple of motor vehicles?

Let's take a look at one successful bid, from Slough. I've picked it more or less at random, partly because I have some knowledge of the town, but not because I believe it to be better or worse than any of the other bids. Slough is a pretty typical English town, where the car is king. Only a tiny percentage of trips are made by bike. 40% of journeys to and from school are by car and that accounts for 20% of traffic between 08:00 and 09:00. With a few well-placed, well-designed cycle routes, you could make a dent in that, you would think.

So what are they actually doing?

"We will therefore carefully target funds to make tactical improvements to the safety, security and
connectivity of the walking and cycling networks to make it more attractive to travel short distances to work and school on foot and by bicycle. For example, we will improve links to and from the trading estates, town centre, A4 corridor and surrounding residential areas such as Britwell, Chalvey and Langley."

No reference to minimum standards, segregation, Continental approaches, or any of the stuff that is proven to work, you'll note.

The bid as a whole looks pretty car-centric to me. Over 75% of the supposed benefits are accounted for by "reduced congestion, improving journey times and journey time reliability". It consists of the cycle network improvements, 'behaviour change', which means cycle training, help with journey planning, and so on, and SCOOT. The only purpose of SCOOT is to push more motor traffic through junctions, so how that counts as 'sustainable' I don't know. We know from experience that if you increase capacity for motor vehicles, more motor vehicle journeys will result, as sure as night follows day.

Now turn to Section C1 in Slough's LSTF bid. The bits in blue on the map are the new infrastructure that is resulting from the LSTF. There looks to be considerably less than a kilometer of new route, and two 'junction improvements'. There is a new east-west cycle route planned, but that's not part of the LSTF bid (except for the very small sections illustrated), and crucially, it is not clear whether this will be segregated from traffic. It needs to be, because it will pass through the industrial estate area, which will see heavy traffic at commute-times, unless I miss my guess.

So let's summarize what's going on in Slough. They are spending £10M on "sustainable" transport projects, of which £4.5M is the LSTF contribution, and the rest is locally-funded. They are building under 1km of new cycle infrastructure, while at the same time increasing motor traffic flow and reducing motor journey times. Yet Slough's Cycling Strategy Document identifies the domination of motor traffic as a major problem for cycling. How is making motoring quicker and easier going to fix that? Unfortunately although this Cycling Strategy Document does a reasoable job of identifying the problems, it is pretty clueless when it comes to solutions. "Segregation" doesn't even appear in the list of "best practice". It notes that "insufficient confidence to ride on heavily trafficked roads) is also restricting accessibility to cycle travel", yet without a trace of irony it criticises the Local Access Forum (whose job is to "encourage people to walk or cycle") for being "pre-occupied with pressing for off-carriageway provision for all non-motorised users including cyclists. This contravenes current Government advice."
Slough is typical of local authorities who shut their eyes to the experience of European countries that have a track record of success in promoting cycling, and cling to policies with an uneviable, uniform and uninterrupted record of failure.As a result, Slough has as much chance of a local cycling revolution that I have of winning the Tour de France.

This is localism in action: a government with no strategy on cycling giving money to people who have no idea how to spend it to good effect, even if they had the inclination.

1 comment:

  1. Cycling is hardly the centerpiece of the Slough bid, if anything that would be the shuttle bus/work hub initiative making it much easier for people to get to and from work cheaply and in a more sustainable manner.

    While more cycle routes would be nice shuttle buses and improved public transport will have a greater end effect.