Pedal Power
Issue 81
July 2009

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Sorry Saga in Hathern

(based on notes from Michael Forrest)

A further chapter in the Hathern cyclepath saga was triggered by a conversation with Roy Dann, chairman of the Parish Council. He was not amused by the claim that the PC had supported, approved and asked for, the deletion of the central section of a long established and heavily used cyclepath in Hathern, on the premise that now the A6 is restricted to 30mph, it is OK for cyclists. A recent private survey, commissioned by residents (neither the police nor Leicestershire County Council (LCC) would undertake it), showed a large number of crashes recently on the stretch between the traffic lights and pedestrian crossing – only insurance claims to drivers but potential fatalities to soft skinned cyclists, especially as the majority using the cyclepath are inexperienced.

LCC use LTN2/08 as authority for doing this as they find it expedient to pretend the J24 Loughborough rat run is now a quiet village street. Our survey showed that 15% of traffice exceeded 36mph, with peaks of 70mph. Indeed, during that afternoon's torrential rain, a curtain sided HGV went through at about 60mph, in a blinding wall of spray.

I have now learned (10/6/09) that LCC is aiming to pepper the cyclepath ubiquitously with those absurd signs 'Cyclists dismount and walk'. I initially thought this was a ploy of bureaucratic boneheads, but now realise that if they also apply the same philosophy to motorists, airports, rail and sea transport, we can simultaneously solve the problems of pollution, traffic jams, climate change and obesity – and solve unemployment by training all to make or mend shoes. A touch of genius.

Can you imagine the reaction of drivers/media/politicians if motorists were confronted by signs requiring them frequently to get out and push in the name of safety and bureaucracy? These “dismount” signs will be ignored, but will insulate the LCC from any responsibility for providing proper facilities.

Have asked the CTC to investigate and do what they can: and Betty Newton, our CC, and Andy Reed, but fear the LCC will stonewall, quote their Bible, and change nothing, and cycling will get another setback. I suspect they are concerned about the noise from creaking knees and the pollution from sweaty, poorly maintained bodies, upsetting village residents.

Road to the Future

This documentary examines choices the United States (and the same applies in the UK) has for investing in its infrastructure, and how they affect the way people live.

It explores three very different American cities - Denver, New York and Portland, and their surrounding suburbs - looking at their challenges and possibilities, and how citizens, local and federal officials, and planners struggle to manage a growing America with innovative transportation and sustainable land use policies. Click here to view.

LETTER FROM PARADISE

from Anthony Kay

Where was I during National Bike Week? Well, I spent 3 days in a Better Place. The Best Place, in fact. Groningen, which has the highest proportion of journeys made by cycle of any city in the developed world.

I was there for an academic conference, but I did have a few hours to wander around before the start of the conference. The first thing I saw when I stepped out of the railway station was the cycle hire shop. The next thing I saw was the entrance to the 5000-space underground cycle park. Crossing the main road outside the station and walking into the city centre along streets full of pedestrians and cyclists, with just the occasional moped or car, what struck me was the quietness. Later, other conference delegates from the UK mentioned this, without any prompting. A pub on a street corner had a pianist playing Chopin, with the windows and doors open, and I was able to stand outside and listen without any motorised disturbance.

Cars are actually allowed on many of the streets in the city centre; it's just that the highway engineers treat motorists as second-class citizens, so that driving is the transport choice of last resort. Cars are subject to tortuous one-way systems, whereas cycles can go in both directions along every street. The narrower streets are block-paved (or cobbled), with no kerbs, to give the feel of a pedestrianised area even where cars are allowed. Cyclists and pedestrians mix with no apparent problems on these streets, with pedestrians staying near the sides and cyclists near the middle; there are some markings to provide nominal segregation, but essentially it's a matter of everyone being aware of others' movements. On the broader streets there is clear segregation: a pavement for pedestrians and a cycle lane on each side of the street, with the remaining space allocated to cars. The same principles of pedestrian and cycle priority apply in the suburbs, and the default speed limit on all roads apart from main arteries is 30kph (just under 20mph). It is also noticeable that roads which are well designed for cyclists are also good for wheelchair users.

You may be surprised to learn that I did see a "Fietsers Afstappen" (Cyclists Dismount) sign in Groningen. A bridge over one of the canals was closed for repairs, so a temporary bridge had been erected alongside; this was rather narrow, and rather congested when I saw it, so the request to dismount did seem reasonable. Of course there was no need to make any provision for cars.

Most of the cycles I saw were the traditional Dutch type, with curved-back handlebars giving the rider an upright position. Child-seats were common, but trailers (for children or freight) were rare. Passengers were sometimes carried on the rear luggage carrier, although I only saw one instance of a girl pedalling while a boy sat on the carrier! There were a few machines designed for greater speed, but cycling as a sport does not seem to be very big in the Netherlands. There were a few recumbents, but the most intriguing machine I saw was a child-front tandem. As the owner of a conventional child-back tandem, where I have full control of everything, I was wondering how the steering works when there is a child of about 7 at the front and rather low down, with Mummy behind. It obviously does work, as I watched them glide round a corner with no difficulty.

What to wear when cycling in Groningen? Whatever you happen to be wearing at the time: business suit, dress, casual clothes, . . . . Cycling helmets were only seen on some of the riders of the few sporty machines, on tourists (probably foreign) and on a policeman.

Not all forms of human-powered transport are catered for as well as cycling in Groningen. Some of the bridges over the canals are very low, and they lift when a boat goes past. However, they don't lift for the Rowing Club. Watching a rowing eight all lying on their backs to go under a bridge is an unusual spectacle!

In conclusion: the UK now has official publications referring to a hierarchy in which pedestrians and wheelchair users have the highest priority, followed by cyclists, and then various forms of motorised transport, with the private car at the bottom. Groningen is what it looks like when you take this hierarchy seriously.

Ed. If you interested in seeing what cycling in Groningen is like, try this link.

New Approach to Appraisal (NATA)

(based on comments by Stephen Joseph – Executive Director of the Campaign for Better Transport)

NATA (from the Department for Transport) has had inbuilt biases against schemes that aim to change travel behaviour and reduce car use. It takes account of the tax effects of any transport scheme - which in practice has meant that any transport project that reduces fuel consumption has the loss of fuel and vehicle taxes and VAT to the Treasury counted against it. Even projects that apparently help motorists, such as "green wave" linkages of traffic lights to smooth out traffic flow, have faced large "disbenefits" from the resulting loss in fuel duty.

This runs directly counter to efforts to combat climate change and the Department for Transport has now said that it intends to separate out the tax effects from the other costs and benefits of schemes.

Another large problem with NATA is the emphasis it has given to time savings as a benefit of transport schemes. The time taken for work and other journeys is differentiated by mode - people using buses tend to get lower values of time (because fewer of them are deemed to be working) than people in cars. In addition, small time savings of as little as 10 seconds are aggregated and valued over a 60 year period, meaning that big road projects tend to have large benefits because they have lots of motorists with small time savings. The Government should either eliminate this from the calculation or at least show what the relative time savings are.

CBT suggest that the real issue is reliability rather than time; people and businesses want reliable journeys that take about the same time each day rather than faster ones. The values given to modes need to change - otherwise measures that, for example, give buses or cyclists priority will tend to lose out because of the time penalties on car drivers.

Environmental and health benefits - key selling points for smarter choice measures - have not tended to fare well in NATA, though this is changing. After pressure from Sustrans, the health benefits of cycling and walking are now to be included and this will give such schemes a much better value for money rating. Environmental impacts such as noise and carbon emissions are given money values and traded off against time savings, rather than treated as absolute limits. Again, this could change - whether transport projects help to cut carbon emissions ought to be a simple test rather than subject to complex money values and trade-offs.

But the real problem that smarter choice and travel behaviour change schemes face, is when appraisal combines with traditional transport models to "show" that it's not possible to change travel behaviour and that providing more roads is the only way to go. Reforming appraisal on its own won't address this - we need to ensure that transport modelling reflects the real world and takes account of the increasing evidence that given the right measures people can be weaned from cars. See www.bettertransport.org.uk for more details.

'The bicycle and the car: modelling their relationship'

Increased cycling in Britain’s urban areas has long been seen as highly desirable in the face of ever growing traffic congestion, environmental problems and ill health. In practice however, it has often proved exceedingly difficult to achieve any substantial increase in cycling.

Dr. John Stubbs of the University of Derby will be giving a talk on this on Wednesday 14th October at 7.30pm.

By modelling the mathematical relationship between changing trends in car and cycle usage since the 1950’s, this talk offers insights into factors fundamentally inhibiting cycling in urban Britain. The mathematical modelling is used to predict likely levels of cycle usage in future decades and some comments are offered on the contradictions of current national transportation strategies.

The event will take place at the Law Lecture Theatre, University of Derby. No charge is made to attend meetings and non-members of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) are welcome.

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