Crumbs

At the Leeds Cycle City Expo, the keynote speech was given by Robert Goodwill, the Under Secretary of State for Transport, with special responsibility for cycling.

It was full of pleasant soundbites and encouraging noises, but when he had to depart from his script – printed out on A4 pieces of paper that he was reading from – the detail was worryingly absent.

Goodwill seemed keen to boast about the record ‘£270 million’ the current government had spent on cycling – a figure that was questioned immediately by people on the stage next to him. But even if we take this figure at face value, it pales into insignificance compared to the sums being announced for road upbuilding and upgrading – tens of billions. It’s even dwarfed by the extra sums of money being employed to promote electric cars – the mode of transport nobody seems to want to buy.

How far does ‘£270 million’ – about £50 million a year – go towards actually addressing the significant barriers to the uptake of cycling in Britain a year? Even assuming, that is, that it is spent wisely – a very generous assumption, with hundreds of thousands of pounds currently being spent on schemes of dubious benefit.

By way of example, here is an issue in the town where I live, Horsham.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 17.19.50The railway line, in purple, cuts the town in half. I’ve marked five – the only five – crossing points between the east and west side of the town.

Let’s take a look at these in turn. Number 1 is a level crossing.

DSCN9718This is Parsonage Road, which has some truly dreadful cycle lanes that definitely should not exist.

DSCN9720

Yes, that’s a cycle lane

There isn’t actually a shortage of space here, but sorting this road out will require serious investment, to adjust the kerb lines and put in cycle tracks. It’s entirely unsuitable for mass cycling as it stands.DSCN9721Your next option for crossing from one side of the town to the other is the North Street railway bridge – crossing point Number 2.

DSCN9717As you can see, it is very busy, narrow, and effectively unusable for all but a tiny minority of the population by bike. This bridge, and the embankment, will have to be adapted, or rebuilt, to make this crossing point suitable for cycling. Probably quite a lot of money.

The next crossing point – Number 3 – is a pedestrian-only underpass. You are not allowed to cycle through here, and there are barriers that attempt to stop you.

DSCN9713

The sight lines are not good, it is narrow – and the ceiling is too low to safely cycle through, in any case. So as with the previous examples, for this railway underpass to be a crossing point for mass cycling, it will need to be widened and deepened. Another substantial project.

Crossing point Number 4 - the Queen Street bridge on the A281.DSCN9710Like the previous road crossings, this a busy road, carrying tens of thousands of vehicles a day, including buses and HGVs (it is not surprising these crossings are busy, as there is no discouragement to driving across Horsham, despite the presence of a bypass, and these crossings funnel motor traffic). The A281 itself is, in my opinion, the most hostile road to cycle on in Horsham, with a combination of pinch points, parked vehicles, side roads with limited visibility and a narrow carriageway all contributing to an unpleasant environment that requires constant vigilance. Totally unsuitable for most people to cycle on. It might be possible to create some form of protected space for cycling under this bridge without substantial re-engineering of the bridge itself, but again work will have to be put in adapting the carriageway.

The final crossing point, Number 5, is actually acceptable; a reasonably quiet residential street that does not carry much motor traffic, because it doesn’t really go anywhere. The low bridge also effectively acts as a form of ‘modal filter’, keeping out HGVs from this route, because they can’t pass under it.

DSCN9725The problem, however, is that this crossing, number 5, is (as you can see from the map) at the very southern edge of the town, and not at all useful for anyone who doesn’t live near it.

So. The main point here is that the town is severed for most ordinary people who might wish to travel by bike. There are no reasonable crossing points over or under the railway line that are in any way attractive to the general public. It is effectively impossible for them to cycle from one side of it to the other. And when you consider that the town centre lies on one side of the railway line while majority of the population lies on the other, that is a serious issue.

I haven’t even mentioned here the fact that every single one of the main roads in Horsham is totally unsuitable for inclusive cycling. They are not environments that most people would even dream of cycling in.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 21.21.30

Cycling is designed out of Horsham. That is why – despite the town being essentially flat and only 3 miles from one extremity to the other – it is practically non-existent here, probably around 1% of all trips. The 2011 census revealed that even for trips to work (usually a higher mode share than trips for other purposes), just 1.6% are made by bike in Horsham, a decline (for what it’s worth, given these are very small numbers) on 2001.

As I understand it, the entire West Sussex budget spending on cycling in the last year was around £30,000. This for a total population of around 900,000 people. The only other funding stream is Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) money, which WSCC successfully bid for. About half a million pounds is being spent in Horsham, but – despite some good intentions – none of the systemic problems I mention here are being dealt with, and it will almost certainly be frittered away, in the most part, on ‘infrastructure’ that nobody wants to use, or signing circuitous routes on back street that people are using already.

To deal solely with the severance problems created by the railway line detailed here will require, at a low estimate, more than a million pounds, spent properly. This is just one issue, in one town, of 55,000 people. Scale this across England and Wales as a whole – villages, towns and cities with very similar problems to Horsham – and it is quite obvious that the current sums of money being ‘invested’ in cycling just aren’t going to cut it.

What is depressing is that congestion is primarily an urban problem, yet the huge sums of money the government is throwing at the road network are missing the target, going on large road schemes between urban areas, rather than addressing the prime issue of mobility within urban areas.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 00.02.12

Towns like Horsham have a dysfunctional road network, clogged with single occupancy vehicles at peak times. The necessary conditions that will enable people to opt for sensible, painless alternatives – attractive, safe, direct cycle networks – are not being created, even though doing so would solve these congestion problems at a stroke.

The solutions to urban congestion are being ignored. So as far as I can tell the only purpose of the occasional announcements of tiny sums money ‘for cycling’ is to create the illusion that this government actually cares, rather than an actual serious engagement with the issues. They are crumbs, and not even comforting ones at that.

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This entry was posted in Cycling policy, Horsham, Infrastructure, Transport policy, Uncategorized, West Sussex County Council. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Crumbs

  1. Schnauzer Minelli says:

    This shows that cycling infrastructure needs to be replaced/upgraded/improved not only in London but all over the country. I cycled through the South Downs near Brighton the other day and was appalled by the complete lack of cycling infrastructure. I actually found it extremely dangerous, even though I have been cycling in London for 10 years now…

  2. @angus_fx says:

    I don’t know Horsham, but just from the map – suppose Parsonage Road were made one-way with a Royal College Street style light segregated two-way cycle lane? It looks like the rest of the network could cope in terms of distance, if not capacity or political acceptability.

    That plus replacing the barriers at the pedestrian underpass with an advisory dismount, or better a “Considerate Cycling Permitted” and a height warning, would give you a drastic improvement for a rather small spend. If you’ve got reasonable east-west routes at 1,3,5, is it that vital to have 2 and 4 as well?

    • platinum says:

      Adding cycling dismount signs to a dank, dingy underpass does not, and will never, equal good infrastructure for mass cycling. We’ve already had years of ‘compromise’ and look where it’s got us. Time to start asking for what we really need; what can easily be achieved if we got even a fraction of the tens of billions being spent on the roads.

      http://s3.amazonaws.com/lcc_production_bucket/files/4406/in_content.jpg?1328744870

      And do we really need to justify why you should be able to cycle across multiple railway crossings? When you’re moving under your own steam, especially for children, the elderly and the disabled, distances need to be short and direct. Even for the most fit and capable of us, if you’re late for work you should never have to choose between a safe route and a quick one. So why not say “If you’ve got reasonable east-west routes *for cars* at 1 and 5, is it that vital to have 2 and 4 as well? “

      • @angus_fx says:

        You are of course absolutely right in principle. I’m not suggesting for a moment that these things shouldn’t be done – rather that you can make a significant positive difference, and enable quite a few cycle trips, with considerably less money spent. If there is the political will to remove through motor traffic (and, if necessary, further calm the remaining access traffic), quite a lot can be done without much spend.

        And that’s really that’s what I *am* saying in regard to Parsonage Road. 2 and 4 are good east/west routes for cars; even if you fix the railway crossings for cyclists there are still junctions to address on both sides of the tracks, and those will always be busy roads. If cars can be partially or fully excluded from *1*, and if that gives you a pretty good cycle route for a fairly small spend, why on earth wouldn’t you do so?

        • Jitensha Oni says:

          Because it doesn’t really go anywhere? The town centre is ~1 km to the S (between 4 and 5). Also the Strava heatmap shows that Parsonage Road is one of the least used of the main thoroughfares. Yes, I’m aware of the chicken & egg there, but It may be more immediately useful to get infra put in on roads currently “busy” with bike riders. Otherwise, it might be the same old, same old – infra being put in where it’s least needed. Having said that, the roundabout at the east end of Parsonage Road, which the heat map shows has “well used” N, NE and SW arms, looks ideal for a Dutch treatment ;)

        • Joel_C says:

          For the reasons just outlined, indeed the meaning of the title of this post: “crumbs from the table”. 40+ years of acquiescence, “quick fixes” and small spending has got us where we are today: sub-2% cycle modal share. And ever shall it be thus if real, substantial action is not taken. The time for compromise is over.

        • platinum says:

          Why should we be so interested in trying to spend as little as possible? Motorists never have to justify the tens of billions spent on luxurious motorways.

          You know, you can get to your destination in a car just as well on dusty cobbled medieval tracks, so why do we spend so much money on tarmacked roads at all? Why should we spend money teaching children to read and write when we could just as easily send them down the mines? Why do we put paintings in art galleries when we could keep so many elderly people warm in the winter burning them on the fire?

          We do these things because society has decided they are Good Things. The Netherlands is the only country in the world that has decided wholly, completely, no excuses: Cycling Is A Good Thing.

          If we in Britain are also to decide that Cycling Is A Good Thing, (and the evidence is overwhelming that we should), then make no doubt about it, we are going to NEED to spend some serious dough on proper, safe cycling infra. Not fitting it in around the margins, where it’s easy, or cheap – we’re going to have to redo our entire built environment.

          Ok, you might argue we can’t afford it right now: well, here in Scotland duelling the A9 is costing £3 billion (for 80 miles of road, no cycle lanes included, ironically due to “environmental impacts and costs”). Spending on cycling at £25 per head (same as Netherlands) for the 5 million population of Scotland comes to £125 million per year; £3 billion is enough for 24 years of spending at that level!

          Our society has decided to choose to make it slightly easier to overtake in places for 10-15,000 cars per day (at least for a while until induced demand clogs it up again back to the status quo) rather than to choose to improve the lives of the whole entire population every day for 24 years, and to make all the money back, and then some, from healthcare savings alone. Will that new A9 still be suitable for driving 24 years from now, and how many people will have needlessly died, lived in poor health, or in transport poverty as a direct consequence of this decision, I wonder?

          Scale that up to England and we’re talking about £1.25 billion per year for Dutch levels of spending. And the government thinks they can fob us off with a few million here, a handful of million there to cover the whole country; meanwhile motorists are not having to beg for figures hundreds of times that.

          And you think asking for a handful of railway crossings in one town to be able to be used by everyone, not just people in cars, is asking for too much?!!

          We’re not even getting the crumbs! We’re getting the mouldy inedible molecules that have fallen off the crumbs and motorists are even resentful of that! Meanwhile they’re swimming in the biscuit tin! If it was anything other than cycling it would be a national scandal!

          • Angus Hewlett (@angus_fx) says:

            Whether the country can afford it is not the issue (as it happens, we can, easily, but it’s an irrelevance). My argument is not that we should spend as little as possible, but that money is not the issue. If there were the political will, the money to do both cheap good stuff (bollards) and expensive good stuff (bridges) would be found. Without the right kind of political will, it’s possible to spend billions and acheive almost nothing, as may turn out to be the case with Johnson/Gilligan. I’m hoping they can prove me wrong.

          • Joel C says:

            This… so much this! The spending on the A9 is bad enough, but there is at least some safety justification there (although ironically, one reason the road is so deadly is precisely *because* of the existing dualled sections – if it was single-carriageway the whole route, it would probably be safer).

            Contrast that with the £700M for *7 miles* of motorway for the M74 extension – that bit of infrastructure that was built despite the public enquiry recommending against it. A few years on and what is it like? A car-park most days… but hey, at least you can get from Lanarkshire to the back of the daily traffic jam around Glasgow Airport without crossing the Kingston Bridge now!

            Let’s not forget fiasco of the 2nd Forth Road Bridge too. Soon there’ll be three ways from Fife to Lothian to get stuck in traffic…

            If we want more spent on cycling and active travel, the minister has to scrabble about the back of the sofa or shakedown other departments for loose change. If its motor-related on the other hand, Scottish governments (of all stripes) will fall over themselves to get the chequebook out, no questions asked.

  3. dave lambert says:

    It’s interesting that these politicians are permitted to throw around this bullshit without many journalists questioning it.

    • fonant says:

      Newspapers are funded by advertising. The biggest adverts in newspapers are for houses and cars. They don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.

  4. Tim says:

    A (believably pro-cycling) Manchester councillor recently commented that spending on infrastructure with a focus on cycling should just come from the general funding for roads.

    While this might seem uncomfortably close to the “vehicular cycling” theme, I think I can see a logic to the argument. The crumbs you refer to also have the potentially damaging consequence of making it seem okay that all other spending should be “car focussed”.

    Of course, if it was one big pot, I don’t know how you ensure that work to enable cycling would happen (given that it often doesn’t happen even with money budgeted for cycling). But wouldn’t it be nice if cycling was on an even footing, and some of the local authority “roads” money was actually spent on closing through-routes to motor vehicles and building protected cycle routes, rather than having to bid on, and wait for, these poorly allocated crumbs.

    • Joel C says:

      He’s right – it should come out of the normal roads/council budget but that would be to merely to maintain the current position. Coming from such a lowly level, we need to front-load the first decade (at least) of funding to get immediate improvements. Savings made due to less need for repair-work in future can be offset against the initial increase in targeted spending – common practice for large infrastructural projects like HS2, why not for more diffuse but nonetheless imperative programs like re-shaping urban roads for cycling?

      In addition, an argument could be made for some funding be sourced from other governmental departments like Health or Business as these are areas that will directly benefit from a healthier, more productive workforce, reduced congestion etc. We spend billions on treatments for the ill-effects of sedentary lifestyle and pollution. In a world where we pay nicotine addicts to quit, would it be unreasonable to prescribe “cycling” as a health intervention? Could it be assessed by NICE?

    • fonant says:

      Quite agree. The problem with cycle funding at the moment is no only that it’s too little, but that it’s random and not continuous so no-one can plan ahead. The bits and pieces of funding prevent joined-up long-term thinking, and, worse, often require officer time and effort for complicated “bidding” processes. It’s often easier for a highway authority to not bother bidding, especially since budget cuts have seen authority staff numbers drastically cut and key posts like cycling officers made redundant.

      WSCC has an annual Highways and Transport budget of their own of around £50 million. Just 10% of that budget for cycling would produce a constant stream of investment of around £5 million each year: plenty to do something really useful over a period of five to ten years in all the towns in the county.

  5. Andy R says:

    I hate to say it, but finally an acknowledgement of the actual costs of building infrastructure in the UK. The one-off awards of £20 milllion or so to the likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds is a fraction of what cities of their size need to spend in order to get anywhere near the Dutch ideal. Make it £20m/p.a., for about 10 years or so, and you’ll be getting there.

    I once looked at what could be done in my home town (pop. approx. 25,000), with a small, very well defined shopping area at the centre, surrounded by residential areas and then beyond them farmland or motorways/main roads separating it from the adjacent city. Without going mad with full kerbed segregation everywhere I could easily have spent several million. It would have been a joy to cycle (despite the hills), but completely unrealistic in terms of getting that much spent on one place and within a reasonable time.

    BTW, given these are railway crossing points in your post, you’ll also need to factor in timescales. Network Rail are bad enough, but if HMRI got involved you’d be talking eons.

    To get the amounts of money spent that ‘proper’ cycle infrastructure requires, needs a change in our thinking as a nation. Or perhaps one, very brave, non-populist politician.

    • petestevens2012 says:

      “BTW, given these are railway crossing points in your post, you’ll also need to factor in timescales. Network Rail are bad enough, but if HMRI got involved you’d be talking eons.”

      Bang on. Our infrastructure is creaking under the weight of bureaucracy and is why it’ll never change.

  6. David Cohen says:

    On a slightly lighter(ish) note, the title really rang true with me, as it highlights that we tend to get get “crumbs off the table”, or “tailpipe solutions”.

  7. cyclestrian says:

    Besides not being necessary, the other disadvantage of the large, dual/motor ways between towns is that they take many years to plan and build and the money goes to large corporations. Improvements to accommodate cycling for all on city streets, on the other hand, can be made relatively quickly with money feeding back to the local economy much more efficiently via the smaller contractors involved in such projects. From a chancellor’s point of view, this sort of distributed, local investment is much more effective as an economic lever than vanity-scale project like HS2 or a bypass somewhere.

    My town is also split by railway and motorway where motor traffic dominates the available bridge width. Many rail crossings have steps: try crossing with two kids on bikes and one on the back of your own! The removal of uncontrolled level crossings will exacerbate this: I feel safer using these with the family than watching my daughter trying to stop her bike rolling away down the token guide channel on the rail overpass. I wonder if the trend to close uncnotrolled crossings has been evaluated to consider external effects on public health and safety. Closing these minor crossings may occasionally save someone from death under a train but elsewhere people are dying through inactivity or in road accidents on incrementally more busy motor/rail bridges.

  8. Paul Gannon says:

    Something for bloggers to think about, given growing propensity for people to refer blogs etc to police & lawyers. Borrowed from an email selling standard T&Cs: “[need for] advice on website terms and conditions.

    There are a couple of reasons for this – firstly, the changes brought in by the Defamation Act 2013 mean that in some circumstances a web forum host might need to pass on a user’s details to a libel claimant; secondly, well-written, tailored T&Cs can make the job of hosting and moderating online debate a lot easier.

    The Defamation Act reforms include a new defence for online publishers hosting discussion, debate, reader reaction etc. What this means is that if a reader who posts something onto your site wants to defend what they have posted, then the legal action is between them and the claimant, potentially excluding you as the host.

    For this to happen effectively you need to be able to give the poster’s details to the claimant. So there are issues about how people register for your site, and how you make them aware of the legal risks they may incur.

    However, in informing them about these risks, you do not want to scare users away, or impinge upon their legitimate free expression on your site.

  9. Imagine whats going to happen when HS2 carves its way up the country. I just can not see things improving in the UK. Every year I head off to Europe I realize that the UK is falling further and further behind.
    Said it before, I will be gone, my lifetime over again and we will still be at the same point we are at now. Droppings for cycling.

  10. Manchester City Council are spending Local Sustainable Transport Fund money on infrastructure for cars. Fantastically expensive car park signs.

  11. fonant says:

    West Sussex County Council hates cycling and cyclists. That can be the only explanation.

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