Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Amey and Plymouth CC both need a wake-up call

Yesterday I cycled to West Hoe park with my youngest, who wanted to go on the tag-along, as there are uphills her little legs don't like too much.
When we eventually left the park, we decided to cycle up Hoe road, on Plymouth's  foreshore. Hoe road is a one-way against us, but there is a contra-flow cycle lane that we could use.

Shortly after we started cycling on Hoe road, we encountered a small sign - smack in the middle of the cycle lane - warning of road works further ahead. Sure enough, we could see several Amey vehicles, with workers having dug up a section of parking, opposite the road.
Amey is a private company that Plymouth City Council contracted all road works to.

We could - just - squeeze past the small sign, without straying totally into the path of oncoming traffic, but why could these people not simply have placed the sign to the far left of the cycle lane? Doing so would have left about a third of the lane unobstructed!

The real stinker came a short while later, when we encountered a far larger sign that totally blocked the cycle lane. While the smaller sign was facing us, and clearly meant to serve the cycle lane, I could to a degree accept it. The large sign, however, was to inform drivers, and so should not at all have been in the cycle lane, but instead on the road itself.

As we were cycling on a contra-flow cycle lane, leaving the lane meant that we were cycling against the flow of traffic on a one-way street, and of course directly in the path of oncoming traffic. This is illegal and dangerous, yet apparently Amey couldn't care less about either point, as that is exactly what they forced us to do.
In a worst-case scenario, they should've put up a sign at the start of the lane, stating that the cycle lane is closed, although I most certainly do not accept closing a cycle lane simply to place a roadworks warning sign that serves cars.

I tried asking one worker why they blocked the cycle lane with their sign, but he simply stared at me and couldn't bother to respond.

Remember, that exact cycle lane is part of the official Devon Coast to coast route that brings large sums of tourist money into the region. It is also part of a new initiative aimed to link cycle routes in England with ones in France, as detailed here: http://cycle-west.com. Just in case you're not aware of it, a recent study by the London School of Economics state that cycling brings over £3 billion into the economy each year, although of course that is a national figure, and not simply related to cycle tourism.

The Devon Coast to Coast route has several sections that can rival the famous Camel Trail, which is said to bring in an estimated £3 to £4 million each year into the Cornish economy. The Plym Valley Trail, part of the Coast to Coast route, is stunning, and could be hugely economically very beneficial to the city, but NOT while our city council and their pet contractors behave as if cycling doesn't matter at all.

Cycling, in case you haven't noticed, is booming, and can bring huge health, and economic benefits, provided decision makers can see further ahead than what their noses are long.

EDIT: Today I took my 8 year old and her friend cycling. The route we took led us on to the cycle path parallel to Finnigan road. As we were approaching the junction with Laira Bridge road, what do you think we encountered?
Yep, an Amey truck parked in such a manner as to totally block the cycle path, and mostly block the pavement. Again I asked them why they were blocking the lane, and again I was simply stared at.

Some person on Twitter suggested we simply "cycle around" the truck, a comment that shows the remarkable (if predictable!) lack of understanding I've come to expect from otherwise clear-thinking people when it comes to cycling infrastructure.

See, DfT guidelines state that cycle paths should be between pavements and the road. In simple terms, to the left there should be a pavement, for pedestrians, and to the right of it a cycle path. The road itself will again be further to the right.

Plymouth City Council, however, feels itself above following DfT guidelines, as many different examples across the city will clearly demonstrate. Just ask if you want a list.

Back to what happened earlier today: to get around the Amey truck, we had to break the law by cycling on the pavement, because the pavement is between the cycle path and the road. It is exactly because of reasons like this that so many cyclists opt to ignore the poor cycling infrastructure, and instead cycle on the road. Indeed, had I been cycling on my own, I would have been cycling on the road.

In this instance, I was cycling with a 7 year old and an 8 year old, and there was simply no way I would let them cycle on the road.

Once we reached the junction, we had to cross Finnigan road. Crossing here with young children is a nerve-wrecking experience as there is NO pedestrian/cyclist cycle to the lights. Such a cycle only exists for crossing Laira Bridge road, and then you almost need to run to make it across in time.
And yet the crossing of Finnigan road again is part of the official Devon Coast to Coast route (National Cycle Network route 27).

Contrast the set-up in Plymouth with that of Tavistock and you will see a staggering difference. Why is it SO hard for Plymouth City Council to wake up to the major economic, health and environmental benefits of cycling?