Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Plymouth STILL doesn't get cycling!

There are new roadworks in Plymouth, at the junction of Laira Bridge Road and Finnigan Road, as well as on Laira Bridge itself. This is part of a larger, ongoing project to improve traffic flow (for motorised vehicles!) to and from the eastern side of Plymouth.
The big picture is that a new town, Sherbourne, will be built and that is expected to add around 7000 cars per day to the traffic flowing over Laira Bridge each day.

Clearly this is work that is essential, else it'd simply result in complete gridlock.

Oddly enough, when faced with gridlock, the best, cheapest and often easiest solution is to get more people out of their cars and onto alternative forms of transport, such as buses, cycling or walking. In fact, even car-sharing will help reduce congestion. These are simple, common-sense steps that don't need much debating.

And yet, let's go have a look at the practical implementation:
Billacombe Road is a major commuter route, and unsurprisingly, a major cycle commuter route. The southern pavement is a "shared space" jobbie on which cyclists are allowed to ride. It is between two to three meters wide, with several obstructions, and quite predictably it forces cyclists to yield to all side entrances.

To make matters worse, all the temporary signage (aimed at drivers) are affixed to easel-like structures that are placed on the pavement and reduces the available width massively, in one place to about one meter. Do bear in mind this is meant to accommodate two-way cycling and walking! Curiously, there are virtually unused sign posts along the road that could easily have been used to mount the signage in a position that is far less obstructive to cyclists, yet more visible to drivers.

Cycling west along Billacombe Road brings you on to Laira Bridge, where again the southern pavement is a shared space, and the road changes its name to Laira Bridge Road. Right from the start of the bridge there is a crash barrier between the pavement and the road, and damage to this barrier suggests it exists for very good reasons. It also means once cyclists started cycling on the shared pavement, there is no realistic option to join the road again.

At the intersection with Finnigan Road itself there is temporary metal fencing put in place that force cyclists (and pedestrians) to turn left, even if they wanted to go straight ahead, like cars are free to do. Cars are also free to turn left here, and typically come around the corner at some speed. Around 10 to 15 meters from the corner, pedestrians are supposed to cross the road. Cyclists are faced with a "dismount" sign at the intersection, and would be crossing at the same place.

Once on the opposite pavement, after having miraculously dodged cars that come speeding around the blind corner, there is an on-pavement cycle track that cyclists can take to return to the intersection, and continue along Laira Bridge Road.

Travelling the opposite direction is much the same thing, except there is no sign telling cyclists to dismount.

Cycling inbound along Embankment Road, with a view towards continuing along Finnigan Road and into the city, after having cycled on the link cycle path, is a disaster as there are no signs warning cyclists that they'd be forced to cross Laira Bridge towards Plymstock, cross Billacombe Road, then re-cross Laira Bridge.

So let us look at how it could have been done better.

The reality is the roadworks will bring disruption, no matter what, and I think everybody accepts that. However, the level of disruption is controllable to quite some degree.

For example, traffic leaving the city gridlocks, but not at the road works. The cause of the gridlock is the traffic lights before the roadworks, which cause tailbacks all along Laira Bridge Road, Exeter Street, and even jams most approaches to Cattedown roundabout, as far as the Greenbank fire station.

And yet the road engineers seem unwilling to change the traffic-light timings!

Cars travelling west-bound over Laira Bridge are still permitted to turn left onto Finnigan Road. This doesn't cause much relief to traffic flowing over the bridge at all. Just go stand at the intersection and count the cars - you'll come back agreeing.

By closing the left-turn into Finnigan Road, the danger of cars turning left at speed coming into conflict with pedestrians and cyclists is removed, and a safe and direct crossing for cyclists and pedestrians can be maintained, straight across the mouth of the Finnigan Road intersection. This will have the added benefit of allowing the construction crews more space to store tools, equipment and materials.

This will also allow for the fencing panels to be removed around the corner, where their weighted stands  seriously reduce the width of an already narrow section of pavement, another improvement!

Removing as many obstacles as possible for cyclists along the shared pavement on Billacombe Road can help the route sustain more cyclists, which in turn will help reduce congestion. Additional signs, suggesting people try cycling, should be displayed, but all signage must not cause an obstacle, nor reduce the pavement width.

Clearing the vegetation on the paths between the roundabout on Billacombe Road and the roundabout at Pomphlett Road - the bit where the rhino statue is - is essential. Currently the pedestrian path is so overgrown that people have no choice but to walk on the cycle path. Equally, the vegetation on the corner, where the paths meet Billacombe Road needs to be completely trimmed back as it creates an unsafe blind corner.

Finally, removing the stupid and utterly pointless barriers either side of the boatyard's old (but closed for years!) entrance would improve the route for cyclists and pedestrians even more.

The suggestions I made won't take any time at all to implement, and are extremely cheap to make, yet I am convinced they simply won't happen. Why? Because the road engineers responsible for this project simply do not consider cyclists or pedestrians at all.