Wednesday, 19 December 2012

All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry - Get Britain Cycling

I would have liked it to had been more detailed, but only came across the call for evidence by chance.

I have made a couple of edits for my own privacy, so apologies if this irritates a bit. I haven't blogged this earlier as I have only just got round to it!

1.0 Executive Summary

1.1 The main thrust of this evidence is that the planning, prioritisation, implementation and maintenance of infrastructure for cycling is not joined up. Proper infrastructure that protects cyclists from other traffic and allows people of all abilities and backgrounds to us the bicycle as an every day form of transport is all but lacking in most of the UK. Until a "golden thread" of cycling (and walking) infrastructure becomes inbedded in national and local government, nothing will change and for this, the responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of politicians at all levels.

2.0 Introduction

2.1 I am a chartered civil engineer, a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation, a Fellow of the Institute of Highway Engineers, an Associate of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment and an Associate Member of the Society of Road Safety Auditors.

2.2 I have over 15 years experience in the highways industry including streetworks, private development and local authority maintenance and design. I currently lead a local authority engineering team dealing with network improvement schemes (smarter travel, casualty-reduction, cycling, public realm improvements and accessibility), highways development management and highway structures management and improvement.

2.3 [edited] Comments on my professional and voluntary activities linked to cycling and walking.

2.4 I mainly commute by bicycle, cycle for business purposes and cycle for leisure, but like many cyclists, I also drive. [edited] Other personal context-setting comments.

2.5 The evidence I give here is my own personal evidence and not on behalf of any of the organisations mentioned above. I have commented on the subjects where I feel most qualified or have a strong opinion.

3.0 Substantive Evidence

Joined up Government
3.1 The Department for Transport and therefore the Government seems to do little in trying to promote cycling or lead on design standards/ guidance for good cycling infrastructure. Indeed, the loss of Cycling England was very harmful to research and coordination for improving cycling infrastructure. DfT does not seem to undertake consultations on cycling matters as a review of recent consultations will show; indeed, consultations seem to be aimed at improving conditions for motorised traffic. Without national leadership, it is no wonder that many local authorities simply ignore cycling.

3.2 In London, at least the Mayor can try and coordinate efforts across the city, but the incumbent's response to cycling issues have been sporadic at best and wasteful at worst. The London Cycle Superhighways were a flagship scheme for the Capital, but their implementation has been woeful. For example, CS2 between Stratford and the City is mainly a blue strip along the left hand side of the road with some advisory cycle lanes. Cycle travel has not been prioritised and the roads remain car-dominant and perceptably unsafe. TfL has tried to push DfT to allow trials of standard european approached such as cyclist traffic signals, but this has been resisted.

3.3 Highway authorities have a duty under the Traffic Management Act 2004 to secure the expeditous movement of traffic, but they seem to ignore the fact that this includes pedestrians and cyclists and instead concentrate on schemes to promote and prioritise motorised traffic. Schemes such as motorcycles in bus lanes, traffic signal removal, "smoothing traffic flow", pedestrian "countdown" are all initiatives to prioritise motorised traffic and are at the expense of other modes and especially vulnerable people.

3.4 Linkages between government departments are many, but underused. Health, air quality, transport, mobility, employment, economic activity in town and local centres, the independence of older people, education etc are all linked. Recently, the obesity issue has been in the news and it is recognised that exercise (and so cycling) can help get people fitter which is to be applauded. However, this was with a pitiful funding announcement and no commentary about why people will not take up cycling and indeed walking. Cycling is always described as being good for fitness or being "green", but never as a simple, equal and easy method of transport.

Ministerial Leadership
3.5 As far as I can see, there is not one high-ranking MP or cabinet member who is championing cycling (and walking). The transport portfolio has suffered a high turnover for as long as I can remember and there is never long-term stability or planning and certainly no leadership on the issue.

Funding & the Local Sustainable Transport Fund
3.6 Funding for cycling and walking is a tiny amount of all UK transport funding. The current DfT Business Plan (2012-15) puts the DfT budget at £13,090m for 2012/13(1). There is no specific allocation for cycling and clearly it is difficult to be sure what is spent through the complex funding streams on cycling, but many commentators suggest less than 1%, which is similar to UK mode share!

3.7 Bidding funds such as the LSTF are not cycling ring-fenced and of course are bid on by those authorities who already have a scheme or initiative. They are one-off funding opportunities and so are never within the main stream of funding which cycling so desparately needs. For the many authorities which are not resourced to bid, or politically uninterested, the funding is not accessible by them. Perhaps the TMA 2004 should be used to hold authorities to account on what they do in terms of cycling and walking with a national requirement for, say, 10% of transport budgets (as a minimum) to be used to secure the expeditous movement of cyclists and pedestrians.

Leadership, Commitment & Capacity in Local Government
3.8 Many local authorities have outsourced their engineering departments and so in terms of design costs, the use of external consultants is disproportionally high. In addition, the age profile of local authority engineers is getting older and few apprentices or junior engineers can find roles. Current government cuts have made the problem worse as many engineers in their late 50's are taking redundancy. Those who remain are having to deal with larger workloads and the ability to keep design skills up to date (including designing for cycling and walking) is becoming more of a challenge. Many local authorities no longer have chief officers from a highway engineering background and so high level officer support for cycling does not exist in many cases. The decision-makers are often not engineers and therefore have no technical competence.

3.9 Some local councillors are interested in cycling and improving the environment for that mode. But they are rare. In my experience, many seem more interested in promoting schemes to improve motorised traffic flow and providing parking rather than schemes which will make cycling and walking easier, safer (actually and subjectively), especially if they are perceived as "costly" or reduce motorised traffic capacity. Some local councillors (including those at cabinet level) are downright hostile to cycling. Leadership and comittment comes from the top and this must include council leaders, chief executives and chief officers.

Behaviour Change
3.10 No amount of marketing, encouragement and other such campaigns can change the fact that most people who want to cycle do not, because they perceive it as dangerous and do not wish to mix with cars, buses and HGVs on busy or fast roads. Soft measures have been used for decades, but the modal share for cycling remains low. I consider the "soft" measures to have been pretty much ineffective.

3.11 The UK is facing an obesity epidemic which has a massive cost to the NHS. Cycling is a convenient form of exercise which can be undertaken incidentally by travelling and so should be accessible to all and have people taking regular exercise without being concious of the fact.

3.12 Training for cyclists is important and for those at school, the start to positive habit forming, but no amount of training makes cycling on busy or fast roads attractive. Cycle training needs to be introduced for motorists and should form part of the driving test. For HGV drivers, practical cycle training should be mandatory given the disproportionately high level of HGV vs cycle collisions which result in death and injury of cyclists.

The Olympic Legacy
3.13 In my opinion, apart from some interest in cycle racing and perhaps an offshoot of leisure cycling, there is no legacy for cycling from the Olympics. I would state, however, that as London operated with the Olympic Route Network, it was proved entirely possible to remove motorised traffic capacity for the Olympic Family. It shouldn't take a leap of faith to apply this reallocation of road space to protected cycling infrastructure.

3.14 There are two parts to this. First, there is safety measured by casualty rates or casualties per distance travelled. This is useful in many cases where schemes, interventions or projects are concerned, but it does not help with the other part of safety – subjectivity. Many people cite danger as a reason for not cycling and while casualty rates may be relatively low, people feel unsafe cycling in many areas. If cycling to work, a person needs a direct route and so this often means using main routes – back streets and quiet routes are rarely direct and so useless for day to day utility cycling. These main routes feel unsafe and are unpleasant to use and people can often be seen using footways. These routes are certainly not suitable for children. Unless people can feel safe, they will not cycle.

Dangerous Roads & Junctions
3.15 Junctions are a place of conflict and so the over-riding principle for their safe operation is separating movements in time or space. This means separate phases for different movements or modes and junctions being bypassed if possible. In order to provide for cycle safety, cyclists need to be given priority with "early start" or separate signal phases. Again, unless junctions feel safe to use, people will not wish to cycle them. We have a strange concept of priority for cyclists whereby a cycle track can have priority over motorised traffic if placed on a speed table and with give way markings, but this layout is rarely used and gives no pedestrian priority. The Dutch use special road markings to give priority to cycling and this needs to be converted to simple UK use, backed up by regulation of motorised vehicle movements.

3.16 Road hierarchy is an issue whereby motorised traffic is prioritised almost universally, be it A-roads or residential streets. This leads to complicated facilities on main routes whereby cyclists and pedestrians (often on a narrow shared-use facility) are required to cross multiple traffic arms to cross or continue their journeys through junctions. At the other end of the scale, residential streets suffer from rat- running and excessive parking which do nothing to make cycling attractive.

Traffic Law, Enforcement and 20mph Speed Limits
3.17 There is a perception amongst cyclists and cycling groups that the police do not take intimidation or bad driving which affects cyclists seriously. I am aware that the police are also reluctant to take action against those who speed within 20mph Zones or limits or encroach into Advanced Stop Lines. The police should not be allowed to pick and choose what they enforce and certainly, the outcome of poor or dangerous driving when a cyclist or pedestrian is involved often means injury and death.

3.18 The rules governing the implementation of 20mph Zones/ limits have been relaxed recently, but the police still suggest that schemes that have not been designed strictly in accordance with the rules cannot be enforced. It should be enough that the road or area is signed to mean the lower limit is force. I would go further and make all lit urban roads 20mph by default by changing the status of a restricted road to 20mph. Local authorities will then need to decide what roads should be subject to a 30mph limit and implement a Traffic Regulation Order as normal. National funding and a time limit would be a way to convert the current default limit of 30mph to 20mph and the police must be charged with enforcement.

Cycle-Friendly Planning & Design

3.19 If cycling is to provide the backbone of local journeys (2 – 5 miles), then infrastructure needs to be planned and rearranged around these journeys. 20mph speed limits and the removal of through routes to motorised traffic will civilise local areas generally and especially allow cycling and walking to be given priority. Longer distance and through traffic should be confined to main routes, even if congestion worsens until people change their travel patterns. Main routes need to be redesigned to provide high-quality, segregated cycle routes to cater for longer journeys or travel from suburbs to town and city centres. Again, cycling (and walking) must be given at least equal priority to motorised traffic at junctions.

3.20 The principles for planning for new development should be the same. So many developments place motorised traffic movement over cycling and walking. Because of the densities of these developments, space is then lost for future changes to redress the balance.

3.21 In many cases development or redevelopment brings the opportunity to change the highway layout, but all too often, projects are arranged where the aim is to provide an attractive looking urban realm, rather than investigating how the urban realm could be made to work better and that includes designing for cyclists and pedestrians. Examples such as Exhibition Road in London may well have achieved the aim of providing a backdrop to the historic setting, but on the through route has done nothing to improve conditions for cycling. Instead, multiple lanes of traffic still speed through the area which is meant to be designated as "shared space". Until these schemes look at how non-motorised users wish to pass through these spaces with priority and then arrange motorised traffic around them, then these schemes are costly failures.

3.22 Planning policy continues to provide for motorised transport and cycling and walking is marginalised. Transport should be the major part of planning policy for all development and any proposal which does not consider the needs of cycling and walking at its heart deserves not to proceed.

Road Maintenance
3.23 The UK has a significant and long-stated highway maintenance backlog. The ALARM Survey (2) suggested that the cost of filling potholes alone is £90m a year and in England and Wales (including London) there is a highway maintenance backlog of £788m. Despite this, government policy is geared to the construction of new road schemes. Indeed, in his autumn statement, the Chancellor said;

We’re committing an extra billion pounds to roads, including four major new schemes to:
  • upgrade key sections of the A1, bringing the route from London to Newcastle up to motorway standard.
  • link the A5 with the M1.
  • dual the A30 in Cornwall.
  • and upgrade the M25, which will support the biggest port developments in Europe, and I pay tribute to my HF for Thurrock for campaigning to achieve this.
This funding would clear the maintenance backlog and the change could be invested in the UK's cycling network, rather then continuing the failed "predict and provide" way of planning roads.

3.24 The knock-on effect of under investment in highway maintenance is that where cyclists are able to use the carriageway, they suffer from the impacts of potholes, flooding, failing surfaces etc. Where facilities are provided away from carriageways, their maintenance is such a low priority that they are effectively left unmaintained on a proactive basis.

4.0 Recommendations

4.1 My "top ten" recommendations for this inquiry are as follows and all with equal weight;
  • National cycle strategy written by professional institutions and campaign groups, to be widely consulted and implemented with funding removed from new road schemes;
  • National design design standards with cycling and walking at the heart of highway design produced under the National strategy;
  • Change in legislation to make 20mph the default "restricted road" speed limit on lit urban roads with a time limit and funding to allow highway authorities to decide which roads should remain 30mph (or higher). This would also remove the requirement for traffic calming or repeater signs. 30mph and higher limits in lit areas would need to be provided with repeater signs in line with current rules.
  • All highway improvement budgets (new schemes) to be restructured to require at least 10% funding on cycling infrastructure at all government levels;
  • Re-establishment of Cycling England as an executive agency of the Department for Transport, with a Ministerial responsibility and budget;
  • Cyclist and pedestrian awareness to be included and tested for in the driving test;
  • Practical cycling and walking experience to be made part of HGV driver training and a requirement of passing a higher licence test.
  • Changes to how the police enforce all road traffic law, especially where cyclist and pedestrian safety is concerned. The decline of traffic policing teams in terms of numbers and training of officers must be addressed;
  • Planning for cycling and walking must be made a high profile and material part of planning applications which may be rejected if judged insufficient.
  • No new roads schemes should proceed until maintenance backlogs are addressed.

5.0 References

(1) 2012-business-plan.pdf

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