Wednesday, 24 July 2013

An open letter to Tudor Evans, leader of Plymouth City Council

Dear Tudor Evans,

On Monday, 22 July 2013, while cycling along Billacombe Road in the late afternoon, I found the cycle lane was blocked by roadworks warning signs, as you can see in the photo below:



I tweeted @PlymouthCC the photo, asking why the signs were placed in such a manner that they completely blocked the cycle lane, bearing in mind the two car lanes alongside merge into one shortly after and that there would have been the opportunity to place the signs out of the cycle lane.

I also blogged about this issue, explaining in some detail why and how the thoughless actions of Plymouth City Council & its contractors needlessly increased the danger to cyclists. That post is available here, and I implore you to read it.

The operator of @PlymouthCC replied yesterday, saying they had forwarded my request to Amey and pointed out that I could email Amey using the plymouth.watchman@amey.co.uk address.

Late yesterday I received the following email from Amey (sections in bold are my emphasis):

"Thank you for your email regarding the road works on Billacombe Road.

As statutory undertakers South West Water have the right to work on the public highway to maintain their utility apparatus.  Plymouth Transport & Highways received the correct amount of pre-warning required and these works have been entered onto our Streetworks register in accordance with usual procedure for utility works. 

The traffic management in place is in line with the New Road and Street Works Act 1991 Chapter 8 and the signage gives road users forewarning of the road works and lane closure up ahead.  As the cycle lane you refer to is only advisory no Temporary Traffic Regulation Order was necessary on this occasion.

Although not ideal for everyone, it is necessary to have the signage and traffic management in the location it has been placed and we are sorry for any inconvenience that this has caused.  The works will be completed on Friday 26th July 2013 when all traffic management will be removed and the cycle lane will be free for use again.

If you have any further questions please do let us know.
  
Kindest regards"

In plain English, Amey's reply translates, to my mind, as simply "We followed all the rules, and that isn't a 'real' cycle lane, so we don't have to worry about it at all. End of conversation."

Yesterday afternoon the coned-off area had been moved along Billacombe Road, and there were no signs completely blocking the cycle lane. I was naively optimistic when I thought that perhaps they understood cyclists' legitimate concerns about what they had done wrong, and how they needlessly put cyclists at increased risk.

Sadly I was soon to be freed of any such delusions. The photo below was taken this morning, along Billacombe Road. It may help if at this point I quote a bit from Amey's reply to me; "it is necessary to have the signage and traffic management in the location it has been placed



Take a good look at the photo, then ask yourself if it was truly necessary to place the signs in such a manner that they block the cycle lane? Do you think that by some miracle the signs could have been placed slightly over to the right, outside of the cycle lane yet still not on the carriageway?

Also, given the reality of the situation is that Billacombe Road has been reduced to a single lane along here ages ago, I really struggle to understand how Amey believes the signs are needed to warn of a "lane closure". Perhaps you can shed some light on this as clearly I don't seem to have the mental capacity required to fathom such mysteries?

This may seem like an insignificant matter to some, but there is a far larger issue at play here. That issue is the simply fact that neither Plymouth City Council, nor Amey seems to care in the slightest how their actions can and do endanger cyclists.

Something else that comes from this is the utter and complete refusal of both Plymouth City Council & Amey to EVER admit that anything they had done was less that absolutely perfect. Such sheer and astonishing arrogance does little to build bridges and trust. Instead, it simply makes both organisations appear like a bunch of unreliable, untrustworthy liars.

Councillor Evans, you have often made sounds that are broadly supportive of cycling. My question to you at this point is simple: do you feel this whole issue was handled in the best possible way, or do you feel Plymouth City Council and Amey could have done better?

When roads are closed, the council signs alternative routes and advanced warnings are displayed often weeks before the closure. Cyclists never receive the same courtesy - why is this? And please, forget about the letter of the law, let's be grown-up about this and also look at the spirit of the law, as well as ask ourselves if ignoring the needs of a significant proportion of road users is morally justifiable.

If you feel they could have done better, what will you do to ensure there is no repeat? What will you do to ensure there is a lasting change that sees Amey ALWAYS include cyclists needs in what they do? And no, no amount of assurances from you or anybody else will convince me that they have done so to to date - clearly the facts on the ground prove they haven't.

I look forward to your reply.

Kind regards,

William

UPDATE:

I've been in contact with Councillor Evans on Twitter, where he expressed his dissatisfaction with how this has been handled by the council and/or Amey.
He made inquiries and was told that the cones and signs weren't actually placed out by Amey themselves, but by South West Water (SWW). Amey apparently went further and stated that the work was done within the law.

My impression was (and still is) that Amey were washing their hands of the entire affair, despite the leader of Plymouth City Council, a person democratically elected by the people of Plymouth, clearly telling them that what had been done was NOT right.

I stated on Twitter that I believed Amey and/or SWW would do NOTHING to remedy the situation, and that they would instead simply wait until the 26th of July, the date the work is scheduled to end, and remove the signs and cones altogether.

Quite unsurprisingly and unfortunately, I was proven correct.

This has enormous implications as it means not even the person heading up Plymouth City Council seems to have any control over private companies doing as they please on the city's roads. Plymouth belongs to its people and the council is meant to serve the people of the city. Companies like Amey are contracted to deliver services in the name of the council, and therefore in the name of the people.

The entire process fails when such a company is too arrogant to care about the people of Plymouth, and too powerful to do as they're asked to by the elected leader of the council.

That means democracy itself in Plymouth has failed.

There really are only two ways out of this:
Either we all surrender to the will of greedy, profit-before-people corporate types, or Councillor Evans and co put on their arse-kicking boots in a hurry and start to publicly put these contractors in their place.

I'm not about to roll over and die so some greedy fat cat can deliver fewer services just to increase their profit margin, and I suspect the rest of the city will feel much the same about it.
And if our elected leaders aren't prepared to do the required arse-kicking, perhaps they're not the right people for the job?