Monday, 15 March 2010

Moans & groans

A old friend of mine taught me something simple, many moons ago: whatever you focus on will seem bigger & more important than things you don't focus on.

And therein lies the problem: In my hometown of Plymouth I would dearly love for the cycling infrastructure to at least rival the best in the UK, but the sad reality is that Plymouth City Council has repeatedly shown they have no real interest in cycling at all.

The problem, ignoring for the moment the embarrassingly inadequate cycling infrastructure in Plymouth, is that I do NOT want to be fixated on the negative. God knows life has enough negativity and there is no need whatsoever to go and hunt for some more.

By constantly harping on about being ignored and possibly lied to by council officials all I'll achieve is making the negative seem overpoweringly strong, and I don't want that to happen.

So how exactly does one get the council to start paying attention to cyclists' needs, without pointing out their mistakes? How does one point out mis-truths in the words of a council officer without dragging the mood down? What is required to get the council to stop their current way of doing things and implement Department for Transport guidelines instead?

Remember, nobody is starving here, whole villages aren't being burned down and there isn't an outbreak of contagious diseases. And these facts to a large degree define the seriousness of the matter. But still, our degree of civilisation is judged not by the fact that we don't exterminate entire villages, but by other, more subtle measures, such as the arts, or even cycling provision.

I cycled into town today as I had to get new DVD-RW disks for my in-law's camera. Usually I'd cycle in via the Barbican, over the swing bridge, or via Exeter street, using the shared pavement on the northern side. Roadworks by Drake circus means the crossing is closed for a while, so I cycled in on Exeter street, sharing the road with cars.

Now this is Plymouth, not London, Tokyo or New York, and traffic is usually reasonably OK, plus most drivers are actually quite nice to cyclists. As a result, cycling on Exeter street is not exactly torture, nor exceedingly dangerous, with the exception of Charles Cross roundabout. That roundabout is just NASTY.

Approaching Charles Cross roundabout I cycled in the bus lane, as I'm expected to. At the roundabout there are traffic lights, with seperate lights for the bus lane. Immediately after the lights cyclists are expected to leave the road and cycle between two barriers for a short stretch of cycle path, before having to yield to traffic coming off the roundabout to enter the parking at Staples.

Just a few more meters, and cyclists are to yield again to traffic entering the roundabout from the Staples parking. The next exit is on to Exeter street, and there is a dedicated exit-only lane feeding traffic from the roundabout.
That dedicated lane is to the right of the cycle path. This means that cyclists are forced off the roundabout onto Exeter street, with no way of continuing around to take the exit onto Charles street - which is where I wanted to go.

If you're feeling suicidal I suppose you could chance crossing a busy exit-only lane at 90 degrees and try to re-join what is possibly Plymouth's busiest roundabout.

Not only is this entire setup wrong, but Plymouth City Council apparently decided it wasn't bad enough and took some steps to make it even worse for cyclists: they put additional barriers in the section where you cycle between two railings. Now cyclists are forced through a chicane that exists for no apparent reason!

If they wanted to stop cyclists using the bike lane they couldn't have been more successful!

Remember DfT guidelines? Those that state major commuter cycle routes should be as direct & free from obstruction as possible? Apparently PCC feels those guidelines aren't relevant here.

And that is frustrating! And leaves me with a difficult choice: do I focus on the lovely surroundings and treat my bike as something to be loaded onto a car, driven to a secluded spot before cycling, or do I point out what PCC is doing wrong?