Saturday 27 September 2014

Weekend Download

OK, I know my recent posts have gone increasingly away from the technical and into the wistful. This week is no exception, take it as a bit of therapy for me, it has been a long week. The technical will return soon...

This week has been very "planning" oriented. I am not a planner by training - I am a kerbs and tarmac person, but I have picked up an awful lot over the years (and a lot of awful things no doubt). What has been a help to me dealing with the highways planning side of things is the fact that I used to work for a developer (exposed to the planning process from the other end) and so it is very much poacher turned gamekeeper from that perspective.

1.5m cycle lanes with a bridge pier on one side
and flimsy traffic wands on the other. Slightly
better than now, but the right answer involves
either traffic lane removal of structural works to
the bridge. Good Streetview here. Image is an

extract from the TfL consultation on CS2.
The start of the week was fun. I sat down with a transport planner and we worked up some (very) rough Quietways concepts in anticipation of a funding announcement later this year. We aren't actually holding our breath, but there is enough useful stuff in what we have looked at to come up with some good little schemes which might help at a more local level and we are eager to get things "on the shelf". It was nice to get back into some engineering as all too often my day gets bogged down in stuff which has nothing to with being an engineer.

It did show that there are some major issues which need serious money spent to make cycling a safe reality - an issue which seems to be gradually popping up all over London as a few projects get going. Even the CS2 revamp has plenty of compromise to avoid spending the real money needed for a proper job. As usual, we will have to think if we are going to do most of the job as well as possible, only to leave the big problems on the too hard pile, rather than deal with that pile first.

Much of the rest of the week was either spent in meetings with planners and developers or reviewing planning applications from a highway authority perspective. I won't go into the details of course, but at least one developer brought an architect to the meeting who seemed really up for making walking and cycling the heart of their new estate layout and working vehicle access around people - a first for me and I have been involved in this side of the business for a long time. Another meeting led to a chance discussion with a colleague from the Housing Department which has turned into an idea to improve an existing (and short) walking and cycling link. Not sure where it will end up, but hopefully, there will be photos in due course! One of my meetings also included a discussion on solar farms and whether they are appropriate in the Green Belt. Opinion was divided, but I was compelled to point out that motorways seem perfectly acceptable in the Green Belt!

Because maximum parking standards apply, I am forced, kicking
and screaming to park my works van on the cycle track. But don't
worry bus driver, I have used my hi-vis vest to stop you crashing into
the metal tube on my roof rack, but you won't be able to get into the
bus stop properly, so anyone who has trouble with stepping into the
road and then up onto the bus is screwed.
Other meetings and many planning applications had me wrestling with parking standards - both local and London Plan. The situation is that we have maximum standards these days, although the London Plan has lower maximums than you might find is the norm in Outer-London. The conundrum is that maximum standards (as in private, off street parking) seek to limit car ownership, but where development is in existing areas with low public transport provision, how do we stop people arriving with more cars, filling up their private parking and then over-spilling onto the streets and invariably onto the footways, round corners and so on?

Developers come with different views. Some want to maximise the number of units on a site and as parking is dead land for this purpose, they go for low provision. Some see parking spaces as a selling point and so we end up with new front gardens mainly parking spaces or parking courts which perhaps should be gardens. Please take a minute to read John Dales' views on the current proposals by Eric Pickles MP to take local decisions away from local authorities. Localism - when it suits him (Eric, not John). I digress. I don't have the answers, other than an idea that "car storage" is an issue in many local streets. Coupled with loads of parking at destinations and no alternatives, it is no wonder we are in this mess.

"Hello. Is that the 1970's? About this footbridge you sold me. I am
standing on it now, but the traffic is still screwed and people are still
dashing across the road at street level."
I spent a fair bit of time catching up with correspondence which was the usual mixed bag of moans about lack of parking, congestion and requests for schemes we don't have funding for. The magic pill for most of the problems is of course to prioritise walking, cycling and public transport. The enquiry of the week was from a disgruntled driver who felt we should build a footbridge over a road so that they were not held up by people using a pelican crossing. The road in question is a relatively narrow "high street" type affair which is tidally stuffed at peak times. Putting pedestrians on a bridge at this location would mean that drivers get to the back of the queue further up. Oh, and the idea was so bloody stupid, impractical and discriminatory, I wouldn't even know where to start with an answer. Still, the person remained anonymous and so although no reply could be sent, I (and colleagues in our contact centre) still had to log and close the pointless rant.

Peppered around the week (and away from work), Mrs RH and I have been trawling secondary schools with Ranty Junior in anticipation of him moving up to Year 7 next September (have I got it right? I went back to being a 1st Year!). I am hoping it is the local secondary school (he really likes it) as he will be able to walk (and cycle perhaps). Some of the other schools were good, but needed walks at each end of one or even two bus journeys to get to. Mrs RH and Ranty Junior did the journey for real and I met them either on my bike, or with the car (after going home to drop off the bike - we had the baby in tow as well and yes, it was just easier). It said a lot about how local and national planning policy over 40 years had rendered our area so hostile to kids getting to school.

As the week came to an end (and I was stuck in the office far too late for a Friday) I had a look at my final planning application of the pile (the pile that always replenishes itself!). It was for a new house in a more rural part of the patch. Actually, it was to demolish an existing big house and build an even bigger one. 6 bedrooms, cinema, 10 metre swimming pool (in the house of course), triple garage large enough for two cars and a horse box. OK, reviewing planning applications brings out the nosiness in me. I don't begrudge the person wanting to build this house - I am not there to judge (other than on highway impacts!), but it seems as far away from normality as one could get in my area.


  1. " do we stop people arriving with more cars, filling up their private parking and then over-spilling onto the streets and invariably onto the footways, round corners and so on?"

    Answer: Tow the cars away. With, of course, the usual heavy fines, towing and impound fees to be paid if one of the car drivers wants his lethal weapon back.

    1. If it were that simple - unless restrictions apply, people free to store their property in the way of other people!