West Berkshire Cycle Forum (January 2018)

West Berkshire Council arranged a special meeting of the Cycle Forum to discuss the situation with the Kennet and Avon towpath.  We were delighted to be joined by Mark Evans from the Canal and River Trust and Peter Challis of Sustrans. We highlighted what a valued resource the towpath is and how well-used it is by cyclists, not just for leisure trips, but also to get to places, particularly within Newbury. However, the current condition of the towpath has deteriorated to such an extent in places that it is now hazardous for cyclists.

Mark Evans acknowledged the problems and admitted that the focus until now had largely been on maintaining the canal for boaters. He also recognised that wash from passing boats was causing erosion and that mooring pegs could cause splits in the bank, leading to localised issues. All parties recognised the scale of the problems facing the towpath, which are further complicated by environmental constraints, including the desire to maintain the historic feel of the canal and protect endangered wildlife that lives in the canal banks, such as water voles.

The good news is that the Trust is in the process of restructuring and will be placing a much greater emphasis on promotion of health and well-being in future. As a consequence, there will be a much greater focus on the towpath and its users.

There was some discussion about what standard we would like to achieve for the towpath, including widths and surfacing materials.  The original Sustrans construction was a crushed limestone surface, but it was recognised that this does not hold up well and needs regular maintenance. Alternatives are available, such as resin-bound surfacing, which can last up to 25 years, but this is much more expensive. What quickly became clear is that it will cost millions of pounds to achieve the ideal facility and that some degree of prioritisation will be required.

Key actions from the meeting were:

  • To complete the work on the local audit including the eastern section from Woolhampton to Calcot
  • Identify safety-critical points where there is a particular risk due to holes/bank erosion
  • Identify the top three priority sections where the path surface should be upgraded

Another meeting has been arranged for 20 February in order to maintain momentum.

The minutes for the January meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

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West Berks Cycle Forum (December 2017)

The main topic of discussion was the Kennet & Avon towpath, particularly the sections west of Newbury and east of Colthrop, which Spokes has flagged as being in need of complete reconstruction in order to make them safe for cyclists. Mark Evans had been invited from the Canal and River Trust, but unfortunately he couldn’t make it due to an emergency call-out. However, Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter managed to set up a separate meeting with him on 9 January. In the meantime, Spokes members will carry out an audit of the canal towpath to document the issues in more detail. We will be looking to get a commitment to add these sections to their maintenance programme as soon as possible and also to change their maintenance inspections to better take account of the needs of cyclists. We realise that funding may be an issue, so we are already looking at different options.

We were delighted to be told that following the recent public consultation, West Berks Councillors has agreed to progress the first section of National Cycle Network Route 422 in Newbury between Faraday Road and the Wyevale roundabout. This will see on and off-road provision for cyclists with new sections of route as well as improvements to existing sections.

Spokes gave a presentation on cycle wayfinding based on the results of an audit of cycle routes between Newbury town centre and the top end of Faraday Road. This had identified numerous issues, including a lack of consistency between on-street signs, on-line cycling journey planners, and the printed version of the Council’s cycle map. We also found that cycling information was completely missing from the finger-posts and monolith maps in the town centre, with several conflicting or missing signs adding to the confusion. Some of the issues have arisen as a result of individual schemes being introduced over a number of years with no holistic review of signage. Fortunately, many of these issues can be picked up as part of the NCN 422 scheme.

The minutes for the December meeting of the Cycle Forum (and minutes of previous meetings) can be found on the About Us section of the Spokes website.

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A4 Cycle Route (Phase 1) Consultation

West Berkshire Council is in the process of developing plans for a new cycle route along the A4 from Newbury all the way to the district boundary in Calcot. This will form part of the new National Cycle Network Route 422, which will link Newbury and Thatcham to Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell and Ascot. The scheme has received funding through the Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and will be one of the biggest cycling schemes in the county since NCN Route 4.

Given the length of the scheme, it will be rolled out in phases. The Council has just gone out to consultation on phase one. This will see improvements on London Road and Benham Hill, from the junction with Faraday Road right up to the Wye Vale Garden Centre roundabout.

The scheme will create safe space for cyclists on the road and will include the following changes:

  • cycle lanes on both sides of road where width allows
  • making better use of available road space by removing hatching and right turn lanes where it is appropriate to do so
  • removing traffic islands to get rid of ‘pinch points’ for cyclists
  • installing advanced stop lines at signalised junctions
  • new dropped kerbs to help cyclists get on and off the route

There will also be improvements to off-carriageway facilities. This recognises the fact that not all cyclists have the confidence to mix with traffic and there are areas where accessibility is currently restricted for those in wheelchairs, mobility scooters and with pushchairs.

The following improvements are proposed:

  • widening and resurfacing sections of pavement, and converting them to shared paths
  • giving cyclists priority across the entrance to the B&Q / Dunelm Mill retail park
  • removing unnecessary road signs, and relocating street furniture
  • creating wider pedestrian islands to improve crossing points for all users

It is also proposed to introduce new double yellow lines, in areas where there is a problem with cars parking and blocking footways. There will be separate consultations to follow for these restrictions as they require Traffic Regulation Orders.

You can send your comments or objections to this proposal to the Highways Project Team, no later than 22 October 2017.

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National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy Published

Department for Transport Logo

The Department for Transport published its National Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy today. This aims to:

  • Double cycling in terms of the estimated total number of cycle stages made each year, from 0.8 billion stages in 2013 to 1.6 billion stages in 2025.
  • Increase walking activity to 300 stages per person per year in 2025, and
  • Increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49% in 2014 to 55% in 2025.

The target for cycling is eye-catching until you start doing some international comparisons. Even if we achieve our cycling target, then just under 4% of trips will be made by bike in 2025. This is low compared to levels that are already seen now in other European countries, e.g. 5% in France and Italy, 9% in mountainous Switzerland and Austria, 19% in Denmark and 26% in the Netherlands.

Our view is that the target is distinctly unambitious – the ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry report, which was published in 2013 and strongly backed by MPs of all parties, businesses and the media – called for targets to boost cycle use to roughly German levels (10% of trips) by 2025 and to near-Dutch levels (25%) by 2050.

A headline grabbing £1.2 billion is being allocated to help deliver these aims over the next five years, with a breakdown as follows

  • £50 million to provide Bikeability training for a further 1.3 million children
  • £101 million to improve cycling infrastructure
  • £85 million to make improvements to 200 sections of roads for cyclists
  • £80 million for safety and awareness training for cyclists, extra secure cycle storage, bike repair, maintenance courses and road safety measures
  • £389.5 million for councils to invest in walking and cycling schemes
  • £476.4 million from local growth funding to support walking and cycling
  • £5 million on improving cycle facilities at railway stations

This sounds great until you realise that it is just a tiny fraction of the overall transport budget (approximately 1.3%). In London alone, Sadiq Khan has committed £770 million to improving cycling facilities in the capital city during his term in office – that’s a rate of £17 per person per year compared to just over £5 per person per year that will be spent on the rest of England’s populace. Also, much of this funding is already available through existing or committed transport spending, which is allocated as unringfenced grant funding to councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships and may therefore be siphoned off to be spent on other priorities.

It is interested to note that some of the main transport pressure groups appear to have been largely bought off by the promise of funding for their pet projects:

Despite there being little improvement in the content and ambition of the strategy compared to the draft version, the responses from these organisation has been distinctly muted this time compared to their original responses and even heaping praise on the Government saying how much they are looking forward to working with them to deliver the strategy. This is disappointing to say the least.

The strategy promotes Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans (LCWIPs), aimed at enabling local authorities to develop their own plans. However these are voluntary, and even for those local authorities that are interested and willing to prepare them, the lack of clear, high-quality cycling design guidance remains a major concern. The strategy suggests that there will at some point be a ‘refresh’ of LTN 2/08 ‘Cycle Infrastructure Design’, which provides design guidance for those involved in developing new cycling schemes. Given the length of time that has elapsed between the consultation on the draft strategy and the publication of the final version, this is disappointing.  The UK has a history of building some mediocre cycling infrastructure that is some way below the best practice examples seen in leading cycling nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

While it is great to see the Government finally publish a strategy that articulates a national approach to promoting cycling and walking, Spokes is disappointed that they have not been more ambitious in their aims and funding commitments and that opportunities to promote best practice design standards have not been taken.

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Canal and River Trust seeks your views on towpath use and possible traffic calming

Towpath sign

Our canal towpath network represents an incredible recreational resource that is enjoyed by millions of visitors every year. The Kennet and Avon is an excellent case in point, since it is used by cyclists, walkers, runners, boaters, anglers, canoeists, and even the odd horse pulling craft along the water.

Having so many different activities in close proximity means that people must share the space considerately if they are going to get along. Unfortunately, there is always the odd inconsiderate person who upsets the delicate balance of give and take, and recently there have been reports of runners and cyclists charging along canal towpaths at top speed in order to set the best link times on Strava.

The Canal and River Trust has tried to respond to the problem by creating the Towpath Code, which clearly states that cyclists should slow down and give way to pedestrians and other waterway users. This has been promoted through the ‘Share the Space, Drop Your Pace’ campaign.

However, this has not been sufficient to completely eradicate the problem and in some places the Trust has carried out trails of speed reducing features such as speed bumps and chicanes in an effort to make the code self-enforcing. Unfortunately, these have the potential to cause additional problems, particularly for wheelchair and pushchair users. They also create hazards for users who may not be expecting them, particularly when using towpaths at night.

In order to get a better understanding of the extent of the problem and to identify possible solutions, the Trust has decided to carry out a survey of towpath users.  This asks:

  • how you currently use the towpath network
  • if you have had any negative experiences whilst using the network (e.g. crashes, near misses, or confrontations)
  • whether or not you use technology to track your speed when using towpaths
  • your impressions of how fast people generally travel on towpaths
  • your thoughts on chicanes, barriers and any other potential speed reducing features

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and by giving your views, you will be entered into a prize draw to win one of three £50 Wiggle vouchers. The consultation runs until 20 January.

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