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

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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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Little Joy for Cycling in the Government’s Spending Review

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On 12 August 2013, David Cameron joined with Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Jody Cundy to announce a new government ambition to kick-start “a cycling revolution which will remove the barriers for a new generation of cyclists.” On 31 July 2015, the Infrastructure Act was passed, which placed a legal requirement for the Government to produce a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. This is all promising stuff, and so it would be reasonable to expect this commitment to be supported by suitable levels of funding. The Government’s latest Spending Review has just been published, so we thought we’d take a look to see what it has in store for cycling.

Unfortunately, the reality fails to match the previous rhetoric. The headline news is that for areas outside of London, more than £300 million has been allocated to cycling investment between 2015-16 and 2020-21. This includes delivering the existing commitment of £114 million for the Cycle Ambition City scheme. In their report, ‘Get Britain Cycling‘, the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group recommended that the Government create a cycling budget of at least £10 per person per year, increasing to £20. The current allocation of £300 million over 5 years equates to just under £1 per person per year. Even if this were to be on top of local authority spending, it would only equate to around £2 per person per year, which is well below the amount needed to deliver the Government’s commitment to double cycling levels and reduce the number of people killed and injured on the roads.

There is more bad news for cycling later in the Spending Review. The Chancellor indicates that “the government remains concerned about the growth of salary sacrifice arrangements and is considering what action, if any, is necessary. The government will gather further evidence, including from employers, on salary sacrifice arrangements to inform its approach”. The Cycle to Work Scheme is one of the most popular salary sacrifice schemes, where employees can make tax savings of up to 42% of the value of a new bike and safety accessories used for cycling to work. Thousands of cyclists have benefited from the scheme since it was launched and while not all have used their bike to cycle to and from work, the health benefits of using a bike regardless of journey purpose must surely outweigh the tax that is foregone by the Treasury.

This is a disappointing Spending Review for cycling and it means that Spokes will have to fight even harder to secure the funding that is needed to improve cycling infrastructure in West Berkshire.

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National Cycle Network Appeal

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Pretty much anyone who cycles in the UK will at some point have encountered the National Cycle Network – a series of safe, traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling and walking routes that connect cities, towns and villages up and down the land.

This audacious project was brought into being by the sustainable transport charity Sustrans. Their first project was the Bristol to Bath cycle track, which followed the line of the disused railway line.  During the summer of 1979 five miles of usable pathway were completed by an army of volunteers. By the early 1990s they had built cycle paths all over the country, but they weren’t linked together. So, in 1995, Sustrans campaigned and won the first ever grant from the Millennium Commission for £42.5 million to create a UK-wide network of high-quality, convenient routes. Today, the Network passes within a mile of half of all UK homes and stretches over 14,000 miles across the length and breadth of the country.

TV presenter and travel writer, Nicholas Crane, is championing a BBC Radio 4 Appeal for Sustrans to raise vital funds for the National Cycle Network in its 20th year. You can listen to the appeal on the BBC website. The money raised will help Sustrans to maintain and enhance the Network, and provide their volunteers with the training and equipment they need to carry out this vital work. You can help by donating; spreading the word to colleagues, friends and family; and sharing news of Sustrans’ appeal on social media. But hurry – donations close at 7:00AM this Sunday, 13 September.

We are hopeful that at least some of the funds raised will be allocated to carry out much needed maintenance work on NCN4, which connects Fishguard to London, passing through West Berkshire along the way, following the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath for much of its length. Although the route is popular for both utility and recreational cycling the path has been badly neglected. In places, the grass has encroached to such an extent that the path is less than a foot wide. In other places, the top coat of the towpath has been worn away exposing the larger stones beneath, which makes for uncomfortable cycling. Also, increasing levels of usage within urban areas has exposed the inadequate width of the path, leading to some conflict and ill-feeling between different user groups. Spokes will therefore be writing to Sustans and the Canal and River Trust, who have responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the path to push for NCN4 to be at the top of the investment list and make it fit for purposes again, and restore the legacy for future generations.

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