Wednesday, 19 October 2011

NCN 2 in Plymouth

I've posted several times before about NCN 27, which is also known as the Devon Coast to Coast route, and I have some detailed writings about parts of the route, specifically the Plym Valley Trail and Drake's Trail.

However, there is a second NCN route through Plymouth: NCN 2.

Here's what Sustrans has to say about the route:
"National Route 2 of the National Cycle Network is a long distance cycle route which will link Dover in Kent with St. Austell in Cornwall when complete via the south coast of England and is sometimes referred to as the South Coast Cycle Route.
The route is only fully open and signed between Dover and Brighton, but is still under development between Brighton and St. Austell."

OK, so as per Sustrans, we're talking of around 300 miles of route that isn't finished. Now I'm not criticising Sustrans for not having completed the route. After all, they're upfront about the fact that it isn't complete.

Also, much as I'd like to ride the entire route, I have to be realistic and admit that I won't be able to squeeze that in anytime soon. As a result, this post doesn't really concern itself with the entire route, but will instead focus on the part that runs through Plymouth.

There are several reasons why: for starters, I happen to live in Plymouth, and I prefer to talk about things where I can verify my facts beforehand. I've never been to Brighton, so I simply cannot comment on NCN2 over there! The second reason is because NCN2 is to form part of the Cycle West initiative, which I've blogged about before.

Remember, Cycle West will aim to attract European cycle tourists, as well as British cycle tourists. Overall, it is fair to say it will be targeted at people who do NOT live in Plymouth, and who WON'T have much (if any!) local knowledge. Such people will therefore need to rely heavily on signs, maps or GPS devices (hopefully in that order of preference).

And here's the problem! Just try following the NCN2 signs through Plymouth and see if you can make any real progress. Last weekend I tried, and failed. Please bear in mind that I know Plymouth quite well, so people from out of town don't stand a chance without heavy reliance on fancy navigational aids, or detailed maps.

Is this acceptable?

Consider this, from the edge of Plympton (on the outskirts of Plymouth) all the way to Totnes, NCN2 is fairly straightforward to follow, even if not properly signed everywhere. In Plymouth it is a nightmare! Coming down the hill on Coburg street, at the junction with North Hill, there are two NCN stickers showing that you're on NCN2 and NCN27. Really!!?? NCN27 follows the shoreline, and Sustrans' own Devon Coast to Coast maps shows no sign of either route going past that point.

On Exeter street there are more NCN2 and NCN27 stickers, but they soon peter out. In Stonehouse, NCN2 stickers direct you down Durnford street towards Devil's Point, only to redirect you back along Cremyl Street, which runs parallel! In other words, the NCN2 signs there exist purely to take cyclists on a detour past the Royal William Yard. How does that help? There are many similar examples.

I propose a new signage system of local cycle routes, using signs that are colour coded, along with a map similar to London's Underground map. Routes signed should included every lamp post along the way being given a ring of paint in that route's colour. This should help cyclists to follow specific routes more easily.

One route could link the Plym Valley Trail with the seafront and the Torpoint ferries, with signed spurs to local shops and other attractions along the way. Other routes could link various points to the city centre, like spokes, while at least one route should be circular, linking various spokes.

Cycle maps could carry advertising for local businesses, and as such generate some income for the council, and should be available at all "access gateways" to the city. By doing this, Plymouth will make itself far more attractive to visiting cyclists, and as a direct result will stand to benefit substantially from increased tourism spend. At the same time, it will make things easier for Plymothians, which may just lead to more Plymouth people taking up cycling. This, in turn, will reduce congestion and pollution, while delivering major health savings.

Everybody wins, even those who will never cycle!

And now for the reality check: Plymouth City Council has shown over many years that it has no interest whatsoever in taking cycling seriously. This isn't a party-political thing - it was the case when Labour led the council, and it is the case now under a Tory council. Instead, it appears to be a total and utter lack of foresight and leadership by elected and unelected officials.

While I can easily suggest cost-effective ways to make cycling safer and more appealing across the city, I must admit I have no idea how to overcome the entrenched car-centric mindset that so firmly rules the council.
If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!