Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Brixton - Yealmpton Cycle Path

There's a brand-new cycle path being built alongside the busy, but narrow A379, between the two villages of Brixton and Yealmpton, just to the East of Plymouth.

This takes in part of my commute, and especially lately I've had a great many close overtakes at speed along that road. Being in Devon, the road is hilly and that necessarily means at times cyclists will go slow as they ride up a hill.

The speed limit on this section of the A379 is 60mph, but often vehicles will go faster than that. However, I must also point out that the majority of drivers are sensible enough to stay well below that limit. In particular, I wish to single out HGV drivers on that stretch of road for being particularly courteous towards cyclists - thanks, much appreciated!

As I've come to expect as normal, riding on the new cycle path will mean losing priority to cars on the road at junctions, and the cycle path will be significantly slower than cycling on the road. Also, while the road in places has been cut into the hills to reduce the gradient, the new cycle path enjoys no such benefit and in places has very steep gradients. There are a number of wooden gates being put up, thus forcing cyclists to lose all momentum and come to a complete stop several times.

The path is officially a shared use one, and much has been made of disabled people using it. The reality is I don't see people in wheelchairs using it, precisely because of the steep gradients. Once it has been surfaced, I will ride it and using GPS I'll measure the gradients, the results of which I'll post here.

The new path doesn't actually go all the way into Yealmpton, but instead will spit you out on a very narrow segment of poor quality, debris-littered pavement shortly before the entrance to Kitley House. This isn't ideal by a long shot and at this stage it remain unclear how cyclists are expected to safely rejoin the carriageway.

Equally unclear is how cyclists heading into Plymouth are to safely turn right onto the path at this point. I certainly wouldn't want to slow down and stop in the middle of a fairly narrow road, with approaching traffic  potentially closing in from behind at 60 mph or more! Those drivers won't be expecting stationary vehicles on this stretch of road as there are no car turn-offs.

The other downside of the path is that as per usual, it won't be gritted in winter, nor regularly swept, which means this path will only be usable for part of the year, at best.

Plymouth Cycling Campaign, Sustrans and others have been pushing very hard for a different route, along the  old dismantled railway. Sadly, despite the immediately obvious advantages of this route, it was blocked by the Bastard family (stop sniggering there in the back!) who own the Kitley Estate over which the old railway goes.

Kitley Estate also owns parts of the land that the new path is being built on, and Michael Bastard made it clear that they'd permit the path only if Devon County Council agrees not to re-attempt to build a path along the old railway for at least the next 25 years! For reasons that I simply cannot understand, Devon County Council appears to have capitulated and so the inferior route is being used to build a new path.

I won't go into what I think of the shortsightedness of it all, nor will I voice my private opinion about what led to the wrong decision having been reached. The reality is that the path is being built where it is being built and I cannot change that.

Once completed, of course I'll ride the length of the path and update the blog. Equally, despite its huge shortcomings, part of me is thinking that it might be rather nice to cycle along the new path instead of having occasional homicidal maniacs race past me at great speed, with inches to spare, while I'm cycling on the A379. That actually says a lot about cycling on the road - the fact that I'm getting all excited about instead riding on an admittedly inferior cycle path!

The flipside of course is that drivers may come to not expect cyclists on the road, and when winter comes and the path is too dangerous to use, things may be even worse when I start riding on the road again.

Time will tell, I guess.