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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Survey highlights the barriers to investing in cycling infrastructure

Barriers to investing in cycling

The University of Cambridge has published the results from its recent survey that looked at the barriers to investing in cycling. People targeted by the survey included: local government highways officers; local politicians; Local Enterprise Partnerships; cycling advocates; academics; consultants; and businesses with an interest in cycling.

The main barriers uncovered by the survey come as no surprise:

  1. Funding issues
  2. Lack of political leadership
  3. Lack of support within local authority highways departments

Funding tends to be scarce, sporadic and involves competitive bidding, with the lion’s share going to the cities. This creates a postcode lottery for cycling investment and makes it difficult for local authorities to make long-term plans. Also, the competitive element creates a barrier to sharing expertise between councils.

The survey suggests that there is little political support for cycling at either the national or local levels, with a few notable exceptions, such as the London Mayor. The general picture is one where priority is still given to providing for motor vehicles. It seems that politicians still don’t see cycling as a viable mainstream transport option. In fact, schemes are often compromised by local councillors who are worried about anything that may cause additional delay for motor vehicles.

The survey results also paint a rather gloomy picture amongst those tasked with delivering cycling schemes on the ground. Cuts to council budgets have meant that most local authorities have had to restructure and reduce their staff. In smaller local authorities, cycling is usually a small part of one officer’s role, who has to fight to get their voice heard amongst colleagues.

When asked about the solutions that could overcome these barriers, the most popular answers were:

  • Ring-fenced, long-term funding for cycling
  • High-level political support at national and local levels to drive through changes

Respondents felt that tackling the funding and political support issues would in turn encourage local authority highway departments to give more priority to cycling.

The survey results emphasise how important it is for local people and campaign groups like Spokes to lobby for change and to make the case for investing in cycling. So what can you do to help?

  1. Let us know what cycling schemes would make a difference to your local journeys, so we can raise it at the Cycle Forum
  2. Let your local councillor know that you support increased investment in cycling
  3. Add your name to the national Space for Cycling campaign
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Give us your thoughts on ‘quick win’ schemes for cyclists

Cheap Street, Newbury - cyclists exempt from banned right turn

Often, little changes can make a big difference for cyclists – for example, exempting them from a banned right turn, or providing a contra-flow in a one-way street.  These schemes can create useful short-cuts and help to make cycling safer and more attractive for local journeys.

West Berkshire Council has told us that there is money available in this year’s budget for small schemes like these and has asked us for suggestions. Ideas so far include:

  1. In Newbury, allow cyclists to turn right into Cheap Street from Market Street.  This would help cyclists travelling from West Fields to Sainsbury’s and Hambridge Road.
  2. Formally designate Newbury Town Centre as a ‘Pedestrian and Cycle Zone’. Although cycling is already allowed in Bartholomew Street and Northbrook Street, existing signs are confusing.
  3. Where possible, exempt cyclists from one-way restrictions on roads in and around Newbury town centre.
  4. Put direction arrows in each lane on the St John’s Road approach to the Burger King roundabout in Newbury. This would reinforce that the middle lane is for straight ahead movements only. Increasingly, motorists are turning left from the middle lane, which goes against Rule 186 of the Highway Code. This results in cyclists being cut up when they are travelling from St Johns Road to Greenham Road.

If you can think of a small change that would make a big difference to your journey, then please let us know. We can’t promise that they will all see the light of day, since each scheme will be subject to a safety audit and appropriate consultation, but we’re happy to pass on ideas for consideration.

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Hermitage to Hampstead Norreys Cycle Route

One of our long-standing aspirations has been to reopen the former railway line to the north of Newbury to make it available for cyclists and other non-motorised users. Although some sections have been built on, much of the track bed and bridges remain in tact and would be an easy conversion. We have been focusing our efforts on the section between Hermitage and Hampstead Norreys, as this offers the greatest potential. Over the last year or so, we have engaged with stakeholders, including West Berkshire Council, landowners and parish councillors, and we are pleased to report that good progress is now being made.

Previously the scheme had been held up by a land ownership issue of a small parcel of land to the south of the M4 bridge at Hermitage. The landowners, Highways England, have now agreed a way forward to allow public access by way of a permitted path instead of transferring ownership to West Berkshire Council. The Section 18 Order has been signed to stop up the highway, and the council are waiting for Highways England’s service providers, Kier, to approve the design and specification under a Section 6 Agreement.

All going well, construction is programmed for next year. The first part of the scheme will be a new footway on the eastern verge of the B4009 to provide safe passage for all users (pedestrian, equestrian, and cyclists) under the M4 bridge and to connect the disused railway track on both sides. Englefield Estate, the landowner for this section, are supportive of the scheme but have surveyed the railway path and presented a number of conditions regarding maintenance and tree survey work before agreeing to a lease for the permissive path. Talks are ongoing with the council’s Countryside and Rights of Way Team over maintenance agreements but we will hopefully get an agreement in place before too long.

External funding is still required to undertake necessary improvements throughout the route before it opens to the public. This includes: making the bridges safe; carrying out localised repairs to the track; and erecting new sections of fencing. We are hopeful that bids to cover the shortfall will be successful. As we move forward with the scheme, we will be asking for volunteers to help clear vegetation from the old railway line. If you would like to be involved, then please email us at secretary@westberkshirespokes.org.

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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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