Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How to misappropriate funds and ignore legislation

There are two things you need to understand before I can start this blog post.

Firstly, the South East Wales Metro project is a £2bn project to improve public transport in the South East Wales area. The main project is the electrification of the Valley Lines, but the scheme will also improve bus services. Wales Online has a nice overview here, and there is a page about it on the Welsh Government website here.

The other point is that in Wales we have the Active Travel Act. Among other things, the key part of the leglislation is Section 9(1), which states -

The Welsh Ministers and each local authority must, in the exercise of their functions under Parts 3, 4, 5, 9 and 12 of the Highways Act 1980 (creation, maintenance and improvement of highways, interference with highways and acquisition of land), in as so far as it is practicable to do so, take reasonable steps to enhance the provision made for walkers and cyclists.
This essentially means that cycle and walking facilities must be improved on upgrades to and the creation of new road schemes.

A background

This brings me to the start of the blog post, and an introduction to the Upper Boat Gyratory. The gyratory is a large roundabout, connecting 2 main arterial routes, 2 roads for more local access (although still carrying large amounts of traffic) and a small dead end that contains a few houses.

Those of a nervous disposition look away now
This gyratory currently has no provision for cycling, bar a shared use path on either side of the road to the South East of the gyratory, which ends abruptly at the roundabout. And while there are pavements, all crossings are uncontrolled, including the one signalised arm of the roundabout, which only just manages tactile paving and a dropped curb.

On 15th September this year, Rhonnda Cynon Taff council announced it was to start work on the gyratory, with £6.9m from the Welsh Government and other sources, and a newly obtained £2.4m from the South East Wales Metro project, to reduce bus journey times.

Great, you might think. With Active Travel Act legislation in force in Wales, and with a specific funding source to improve bus journey times, this might be a chance to improve this gyratory for people and public transport users.

Your right to information

Ha! Call me cynical, but with the lack of consultation, and the track record of my local council when it comes to provision for cycling and walking (that could be a blog post in itself), I decided to submit a Freedom of Information request, to get the plans for this scheme and to see if cycling and walking had been catered for here. At this point, I had no concerns about the way in which this scheme was funded, although I knew money for bus improvements had been sourced.

And after a long delay and having to get the Information Commissioners Office involved, I finally received the information I had requested, 37 working days after the initial request (the Freedom of Information Act says I should have a response in 20)

And having looked the response, everything is worse than I expected.

Intended side effects

What would you do to prioritise buses? The obvious answer is of course bus lanes, meaning buses can bypass traffic congestion in the general traffic lanes. What is currently being done at Upper Boat is that extra traffic lanes are being constructed. With money for public transport. The logic being that if there is less congestion, buses don't get caught in it.

The purple dashes indicate the part of the scheme paid for by public transport money

This is extra capacity for private cars, paid for by public transport money. Nothing has been constructed for buses here, yet the gyratory has recieved £2.4m out of a fund for them. This isn't the first time that funds for sustainable transport have been misued in the UK, Mark Treasure has a blog post about LSTF fund money being misused in West Sussex, but in those examples, they at least tried to make it look like they were using the funds for cycling.

This is an incredibly blatant misuse of funds. But bear in mind that this was not only applied for by Rhonnda Cynon Taff Council, but approved by the Welsh Government. A government which is proud to have world first legislation for Active Travel, but when it comes to action instead of words, fails to go by its own standards. Which brings me onto...

The Active Travel whatnow?

Remember the Active Travel Act? In a scheme such as this Rhondda Cynon Taff must take reasonable steps to improve provision for cyclists and walkers. I guess 'reasonable steps' is open to interpretation. But it is clear these reasonable steps have only been taken where it creates no disbenefit to motorised traffic.

For example, Rhonnda Cynon Taff seems proud of the signalised pedestrian crossings it will introduce, stating:

"Benefits of signalised pedestrian crossing upgrades (included in this scheme at the base of both A470 offslips) are that signalised crossings are preferred by visually impaired people, people with learning impairments and other groups of pedestrians including older people who have difficulty in crossing the carriageway in the existing informal crossing arrangements.

Other crossing design features will be tactile paving and rotating cones and audible signals for visually impaired pedestrians and adequate visibility to the crossings to ensure that approaching motorists can see a pedestrian or dismounted cyclist about to cross the road"
Great for blind people? I'm not blind myself, so maybe I'm underestimating the ability of a blind person. But there is no point having a great pedestrian crossing if all it does is lead you to a uncontrolled crossing point of a 70mph slip road. I don't think a blind person could cross a 70mph slip road unaided, but at least they can get to the crossing and then turn around.

70mph slip road, with two lanes. All you get is some tactiles. But at least you have a signalised crossing to get to it
We are adding a lane, but also adding tactiles. Hooray for balanced transport policy!

And cycling?

While my Freedom of Information response tries to justify the provision for pedestrians, cycling gets nothing at all.

Shared use cycle paths are outside the scope of this scheme. The footways are of inadequate width and the land beyond the back of the footway does not belong to RCTCBC. There is also insufficient room to create a cycle lane however, the existing cycle paths either side of Main Avenue have been retained.
Certainly, my interpretation of Section 9(1) of the Active Travel Act means this scheme is illegal in Wales. But the lack of consultation with the public means that there was no opportunity for this to be raised. And I hate to be a conspiracy theorist, but my Freedom of Information request may well have been delayed so that the illegality of this project couldn't be raised until construction had started. To me that seems entirely plausible.

What now?

I'm not sure. This scheme cannot be stopped, it is already half complete. And if Rhonnda Cynon Taff council continue their policy of not consulting with the public then there is little chance of schemes like this being stopped in the future. The Active Travel Act is great and all, but with no enforcement, it means very little on the ground.

Monday, 7 September 2015

To cross a superhighway

A short section of the East-West Superhighway has opened on the Embankment in London. And it is fantastic.

There are plenty of informal crossing points for coach passengers, but this blog post is to focus on how TFL have designed the pedestrian crossings at junctions, since we now have one operational example of it.

And they are terrible.

Great to see TFL designing cycle infrastructure to the same standard as the road alongside, but we don't need
car specific infrastructure here.

TFL has opted for signalised pedestrian crossings where the road alongside also has one. I can see why this approach is necessary in some locations, such as on Cycle Superhighway 5, where space is limited

I can see why TFL would opt to signalise the cycle track here on CS5, even if I don't agree with the decision
But this treatment on Embankment is bad for cycles and pedestrians.

They are bad because they cause unnecessary delays for cycles and pedestrians. While cycles have to wait a short period for the signal to turn green after pedestrians have crossed, when I timed how long it took for pedestrians to cross it took 57 seconds for pedestrians to get a green man. With a zebra crossing here pedestrians and cycles would barely have to wait for each other at all.

Pedestrians who wait for a green man may have to wait up to 57 seconds to do so.
Also, few people wish to use TFL's stagger arrangement, because it is unnecessary and indirect. Most pedestrians vote with their feet and don't use it. This isn't some form of protest, it is just people following the most direct route. Fully expected behaviour that TFL attempts to deny the existence of.

Pedestrians who want to walk Eastbound here aren't going to go in the wrong direction to use a staggered crossing

Even for westbound pedestrians, the crossing is unattractive and off the desire line.

This is a negative blog post about an otherwise fantastic piece of infrastructure, but problems like this need to be addressed, because otherwise this will become the standard design for London. We can't ignore problems like this just because it is better than before.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Maliciously bad cycle facilities - UPDATE

You probably saw my blog post about this maliciously bad cycle facility put in by Kent Highways during my time at University. I wanted to make an update because the understanding of what happened on Old Chatham Road has changed since my blog post.

Really not acceptable, even if only temporary
It turns out that this scheme is a 6 month experimental traffic order, and therefore only the minimum amount of cycle provision was added. It strikes me as bizarre that when considering what would be the minimum amount of effort required for cycle provision, the empty space wasn't considered as usable. Kent Highways are even going to the effort to source money to widen and resurface the footway, when there is a wider and well surfaced area right next to the footway.

 However, since this is an experimental traffic order, it is up for consultation.

The consulation page is here -


To respond to the consultation, you'll need to send an e-mail. Feel free to write your own response, however I've provided a template below if you wish to respond quickly

Address -

Subject - TRO/Experimental/Chatham Road

Message -
Dear Sir/Madam

I would like object to the experimental traffic order on Old Chatham Road in its current form. The completely unused space between the southbound traffic lane and the footway should be used for a cycle facility, because it will provide a much more suitable space for cycling than the current narrow footway. I understand that KCC intends to widen and resurface the footway, however it would still be narrower than the unused space on the carriageway, and there are other shared footways on this route that would benefit from money to widen and resurface the footway.

[Your name]

Thinking inside the box

It seem to me that the highways department at Kent County Council seem to think it is acceptable to shove cycling onto a footway the minute any sort of difficulty arises. Hopefully a large response to this consultation will change their minds.

Use this space, this space here!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Maliciously bad cycle facilities

EDIT - I've removed the link to report this to KCC. I believe they've got the message.

I'm not a massive fan of the Kent Highways department. Therefore to say I've never been so angry at them about something means quite a lot.

Old Chatham Road used to be the main road between Chatham and Maidstone, but was bypassed by the construction of a dual carriageway to the west, before I was even born. The old road was kept for access, and is part of the National Cycle Network Route 17.
The previous situation. The road was two way, with a lorry park on the left. 
While I was at university, this road has been changed to one way, with bollards used to prevent parking. It also has a 40mph limit.

The part of the road my road my bike is on is wasted space. It does nothing at all. Therefore the logical thing to do would be to use this space to accomodate the pre-existing National Cycle Network Route.

Instead, Kent Highways have decided that the best place for cycling would be on the pavement. And an incredibly poorly surfaced and overgrown footpath at that.
Compare the cycling surface vs. the smooth tarmac of the bollarded of space that does nothing.
Thanks to the new signage introduced in the 2015 TSRGD, this pavement can also be used by horses. Big barriers are used to prevent cycle access to this now useless section of road.

The barriers also exist at the other end, forcing cycles to use the overgrown, and badly surfaced footpath.


This goes above and beyond the usual crap provision that cycling gets. I can only see this as an actively malicious attempt by Kent Highways to prevent cycling here. I simply cannot believe that the people who design Kents roads for a living could see this as acceptable, even by British cycling infrastructure standards.

You know you are a second class road user when nothingness gets better provision than you

Monday, 4 May 2015

Remove the barriers to cycling

Sign the petition to remove access barriers in Rhondda Cynon Taff 

Access barriers are a common sight on cycle paths across the UK. They are particularly prevalent in Rhondda Cynon Taff, my local authority.

Lifting 23kg of Dutch bike above your head twice isn't fun
For me, the barriers are at best irritating, meaning I have to dismount and lift my 23kg Dutch bike over my head. At worst, they mean I avoid the traffic free route altogether and ride along the main road instead. I'm relatively hardened when it comes to cycling in the UK, most people would be put off cycling completely if this was the case.

For other people, the barriers will completely prevent access. Anyone who is elderly or has a disability wouldn't be able to lift their bike over their head. Wheelchairs and pushchairs may be equally denied access. It isn't right that a large group of legitimate users should be blocked from using a facility in an attempt to block motorised access.

Yes, I emphasise attempt because these barriers do not block all motorised access. Some motorbikes can still get through these barriers. It is incredibly frustrating that I, as a legitimate user am denied access while the very people the barriers attempt to block pass through with ease

 This is why I've started a petition to get these barriers removed. While the petition relates to my local area, please still sign. Maybe in the future it will gather enough momentum to put pressure on other local authorities too.

Access barriers are, and never have been, appropriate for a cycle route and should be gone, and never, ever installed in the future.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

A light at the end of the tunnel?

There has been a lot of media coverage recently about plans to turn an abandoned railway tunnel at the top of the Rhondda Valley into a cycling and walking route linking the towns of Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi. Much has been made of the tourism benefits of such a scheme, however I am more interested in the possibilities to cycling as a mode of transport that a project like this presents.

The tunnel is over 3 kilometres long, which would make it the second longest cycling and walking tunnel in the world. The shortest road route between Blaencwm and Blaengwynfi is currently about 17 kilometres. There is no public transport between Blaengwynfi and the Rhondda Valley, meaning that if you don't own a car in Blaengwynfi, this is currently a near impossible journey.

Red line is roughly the Rhondda Tunnel. Blue line is existing traffic free cycle route. The Rhondda Valley is the urban strip consisting of Treherbert and the railway stations
Google Maps link
The Rhondda Valley on the other hand, is very well serviced by public transport. Although only a having single track branch line, the Rhondda Valley has a half-hourly service into Cardiff and beyond to Barry Island and Bridgend. Accessing this service from Blaengwynfi currently involves a 20 minute drive to Treorchy station along the A4061, and as mentioned previously, is a journey only possible by car.

However, cycling through the Rhondda Tunnel puts Treherbert Station, further up the same train line, also a roughly a 20 minute cycle away from Blaengwynfi (averaging 15kph). This means cycling can compete well with driving here, potentially becoming the naturally better option for accessing train services. This follows the Dutch method of the carrot rather than stick approach to achieving mass cycling.

It is therefore of great importance to link the tunnel to Treherbert station with a further traffic free link, otherwise the transport potential of this project would be lost.

Future cycling and walking route?
I guess the important question is how feasible is this project. The society certainly has a large following, and the project has the backing of Plaid Cymru. It would certainly be an expensive project (although pales in comparison to the £1bn for the M4 Relief Road), and the project currently hinges on a survey currently being carried out this week about the safety of the tunnel.

Overall, I think this is a project to be supported. The potential for providing independent mobility to the residents of Blaengwynfi without reliance on cars is huge. The important task now is ensuring that this project is done correctly, with the cycle facilities being constructed to a high standard, without relying on shared use or access barriers that plague the other cycling routes in the Welsh Valleys.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

National Cycle Network in Pontypridd

My first attempt at a video with narration, following National Cycle Network Route 4 through Pontypridd. I spend more time off the bike rather than on it.

This is not cycle provision.