This is the second post in a series examining the ways in which West Sussex County Council are spending the £2.46m of cash they received from the Department for Transport, in the form of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF), for schemes to be implemented between 2012 and 2015.
The first post looked at the Northgate gyratory in Chichester, where £210,000 (£140k from the DfT, £70k from West Sussex’s road safety budget) will be spent repainting an existing dangerous and substandard cycle lane around the gyratory, and adding flashing warning signs.
That scheme – like most of the other schemes being funded in Chichester and Horsham by the DfT’s £2.46m – is being implemented right at the last minute, before the April 2015 deadline. This delay is symptomatic of West Sussex’s problems with knowing how to spend money properly, and developing schemes that will actually make any significant difference to how people travel in the county.
However, when it comes to spending that same LSTF cash on conventional motor traffc-centric schemes, West Sussex are quickly able to deploy it – and all of it.
In Horsham, well over a hundred thousand pounds of that DfT funding – remember, for allegedly ‘sustainable’ transport – was used rapidly and efficiently for new traffic lights at three junctions on the town’s inner ring road, as Horsham District Cycle Forum point out.
These new lights appeared in spring 2014, well before the 2015 deadline, and involve ‘signal optimisation’ – a fancy word for increasing the capacity of the junctions on the ring road, for motor traffic. So in essence –
Sustainable transport funding has been used to reduce delay for motor traffic in Horsham town centre.
The money has been spent on new MOVA traffic signals, which unlike the pre-existing standard traffic signals, will respond to queue length. For instance, if there’s a very long queue of motor traffic on one arm of a junction, the system will respond, and allocate more signal time to that arm of the junction, to disperse the queue. The system serves to increase the ability of these junctions to handle motor traffic, by ensuring more efficient flow of motor traffic. Driving in the town centre just got a bit easier.
Astonishingly this is against the background of falling motor traffic levels on the road in question, Albion Way.
It’s not as if congestion has been getting worse – the money has simply been hoovered up for a project to reduce queues for drivers.
So how has this use of ‘sustainable’ funding been justified? Here’s the paragraph describing the scheme, in West Sussex’s DfT bid document –
Access improvements around the town centre
Improving access to the town centre (HR4), that will reduce delays and improving safety at junctions with A281 Albion Way/Park Way. These will include Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation. This will help improve and create an efficient transport network to support access for businesses by reducing congestion, and encourage investment in Horsham.
In what amounts to an unintentionally ironic nod to the way this scheme has been delivered on the ground, this paragraph positions the the real purpose of the funding (smoothing the flow of motor traffic, a.k.a. ‘reducing congestion’) behind some ASLs.
Of course, describing the improvements as
including Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cyclists, as well as traffic signal optimisation
is a bit like describing a shopping trip as ‘including some Monster Munch, as well as a new car’, because the cost (and indeed usefulness) of the ASLs is absolutely negligible. They are just paint, as we shall see. The near entirety of the £127,000 West Sussex received from the DfT for this scheme has in reality gone on the MOVA system – new traffic signals, new induction loops, and assorted computer software.
The painted ASLs are simply window-dressing, a convenient fig leaf for a scheme centred on improving journey times for motorists. They will do little or nothing to make the three junctions they’ve been painted at any more more attractive, or safer.
They have been thoughtlessly applied, as the following examples will show.
Here is a typical example; a box three lanes wide, with no safe way to access it. Indeed, no legal way to access it, with a solid white line stretching from kerb to kerb, which can’t be crossed under a red signal.
Within a matter of weeks, it had evidently been decided that the green of these ASL were too lurid, and they were all repainted a darker shade of green. This same ASL now gained a hatched entry point.
There was some vague talk of giving this new traffic signal system the ability to prioritise buses, by fitting them with sensors that would allocate green signal time to buses stuck waiting. This hasn’t happened, and even if it did, without the presence of any bus lanes it’s not at all clear how buses will really benefit, given that – as in the photograph above – they will remain stuck in the flow of general traffic.
This ASL technically allows you to position yourself in front of motor traffic to make a right turn, from lane three, but this is a deeply unappealing prospect under free-flow conditions, with motor traffic flowing in lanes one and two, and stopped in lane three.
This same junction has other dreadful examples.
It is arguable that these designs actually increase danger, by encouraging people to cycle to the front of the queue up the side of large vehicles, which may then set off.
Any existing cycle lanes have simply been repainted, with no thought or consideration about how they could have been widened, or improved.
Likewise this crap – a short stub of contraflow that ends in an absurd fashion – has again been given a fresh coat of green paint.
This short bit of quiet one-way road is crying out for a properly-designed contraflow, to allow people to access the town centre. But West Sussex have failed to use the money they’ve received to design one; they’ve lazily repainted the existing crap, which people continue to ignore.
The ASLs on the other junctions are just as bad. Another three lane-wide strip, with no safe access –
And these beauties –
The final junction, again, has ASLs that have the potential to encourage people to put themselves in danger –
The design of this junction was also altered, making it worse for pedestrians. A direct, single-stage crossing on the northern arm (captured on Streetview, below)…
… has been replaced by a two-stage, staggered crossing.
The pedestrian crossings at the other junctions remain dire. Merely crossing the road into the town at the first junction described can involve up to five separate crossings, because there are no crossings on the eastern side of the junction.
Despite West Sussex’s bid for the LSTF cash having the stated aim of ‘improving access to the town centre’, no new crossings have been added here. People continue to dash across five lanes of motor traffic, rather than hanging around waiting, pushing buttons on four separate crossings.
The LSTF cash that West Sussex won could have been used to make this unpleasant road genuinely attractive for walking and cycling, with direct pedestrian crossings, and a bi-directional track on the ‘town’ side of the road, replacing a traffic lane. Something like this.
But instead it’s been wasted on traffic signals to ease the passage of motor vehicles through the town, and (as at Chichester) on some paint that does very little to make the road safe or attractive for cycling.
How many people will be tempted to start cycling on Albion Way now it has got some green stripes on it, at the junctions? Very, very few. These ASLs might make life slightly easier for the people already cycling here – those who know how and when to safely use them – but in my experience, huge numbers of ordinary people continue to ignore the road, cycling on the pavement, like pedestrians.
Bluntly, we need infrastructure that works for these people, not tokenistic bits of green paint for the handful of people willing to cycle on hostile roads like this one.
To remind ourselves, West Sussex received nearly two and a half million pounds from the DfT to spend on sustainable travel in Horsham and Chichester – over a million pounds, for each urban area. That money could have made a tremendous difference, had it been spent on meaningful, high-quality routes for cycling.
But instead it is entirely going to waste, hoovered up to ease the passage of motor traffic, or dribbled away in the form of ineffective projects like the Northgate gyratory, or hopeless ASLs like here on Albion Way.
One thing I forgot to mention in this post is that the induction loops in the Advanced Stop Lines frequently fail to detect bicycles. That means if you are sat in the ASL, and no motor traffic is queuing behind you, you will wait indefinitely until some motor traffic arrives behind you to ‘trigger’ a green. That’s how ‘sustainable’ transport works!