Thursday, 9 March 2017

Shafted

Cycling from east of Plymouth into the city leaves precious few routes. Cyclists starting from (or passing through) Ivybridge have essentially one route to take (albeit with a few minor variations that may be chosen in places).
Those cycling in from further to the South, starting from or passing through Yealmpton, have two routes - the fast, narrow and busy A379, or a convoluted route via some rural lanes. As would be expected, the second option is longer and slower, but a bunch more scenic.

The trouble with the rural lanes route is the new town being planned, callled Sherford. Sherford is being built just south of the Deep Lane junction on the A38. This rural route takes Deep Lane, then continues along Sherford Road.

Both these roads are narrow, and already carry more traffic than what they ought to, before adding lots of construction traffic into the mix. Construction traffic means lots of HGVs, specifically tippers, cement mixers and similar. The number one killer vehicle for cyclists is tippers.

To the best of my knowledge, there is NO requirement for the HGVs to be fitted with side skirts, nor are there any plans to offer cyclist awareness training to the drivers. There certainly is not even a hint of a cyclist-friendly traffic management scheme through the area during construction.
That is unsurprising, given how Plymouth City Council finds it perfectly acceptable to close a main cycle commuter route into the city, along Embankment Road, for 5 months. The only "cyclist provision" along there is the dreaded "Cyclists Dismount" signs, and workmen harrassing those cyclists that don't dismount.

Sherford Road itself is to be ripped up and completely removed. The plans call for a new cycle route, alongside the main flow of motorised traffice between Sherford and Plymouth, to Vinery Lane, from where cyclists are to cycle uphill to Billacombe Road. Yep, cyclists will be forced to ride downhill, then back uphill on a narrow road that will carry vastly increased traffic.

The current route, which is as level as can be for the area, is to be scrapped. Clearly this wasn't thought through!

The explanation given was that a new cycle path (read that as botched shared path, not properly segregated path!) was to be built through the adjacent playing fields. Now this route could potentially be very good, provided a) there was a safe way to cross Vinery Lane (which will carry the bulk of traffic to and from Sherford) and again Haye Road, on the other side of King Henry V Playing Fields, and b) that it was properly segregated.

The new route is then meant to continue along the disused railway line, towards the river Plym.

If there were safe, light-controlled crossings that won't take absolute ages to turn green to cyclists, and if that entire route was in place, then what is being planned would make sense.

Sadly, there simply is no funding available to develop the route further, so current plans may well have great aspirations, but won't alter the reality that in its current format cyclists are yet again being shafted. After all, it may be many years before the path is extended beyond Vinery Lane, and even then getting signalised crossings would be very unlikely.

The town of Sherford is being toted as a sustainable town. It would have its very own HQPT (High Quality Public Transport) otherwise known as a bus service. The team behind the design appear to think that the very existence of the buses would be sufficient to lure people out of their cars and onto public transport.

When I asked what would happen if people don't use the bus service as envisaged they were visibly taken aback, as if that possibility hasn't occurred to them. They fumbled for words, admitted that such a scenario would create congestion, then went on to say such congestion would be good as it would help people leave their cars to take the bus instead.

There simply was no recognition of the fact that such congestion would necessarily increase danger to cyclists, as well as delay cyclists more. Neither of those two factors are likely to lead to increased cycling, but the team appeared unable to grasp this simple fact.

Cycling provision in Devon is a hit and miss affair. West Devon Borough Council seems to have grasped the fact that cycling is an economic lifeline for many rural towns and villages, and North Devon seems to be very pro-cycling. The South Hams, under whose jurisdiction Sherford falls, appears if not actively anti-cycling, at very best to not care about cycling at all. This shows in on-the-ground implementations, with no real success stories within the South Hams.

Now the South Hams is arguably the richest part of Devon, with many highly-paid people commuting from rural locations to Plymouth, Exeter or Torbay. Those people don't see cycling as an alternative form of transport, and are often likely to be the very people giving cyclists narrow overtakes at speed on rural roads.

As a result, there simply is no political motivation for South Hams Council to ensure decent cycling provision is delivered throughout the area and indeed, at times they roll over and give in to the slightest objection from landowners. A good example of this is the fiasco around the re-opening of the disused railway between Yealmpton and Plymouth. If re-opened, that would be an excellent community facility, allowing many people to safely and easily cycle into Plymouth, while also allowing Plymothians to escape the city and spend their money in the South Hams.

Unfortunately, South Hams Council agreed with the landowner to not even try and re-open this route for another 20 years! That is simply shocking and mind-boggling!

Plymouth City Council certainly talks the talk when it comes to cycling, but delivery on the ground shows it is all hot air. I cannot think of a single piece of really good cycling infrastructure recently delivered by Plymouth City Council. What they feel is good cycling infrastructure is in fact botched shared paths, which increases conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.

Such paths also tend to follow round-the-houses routes, and never the most direct routes.

Certainly within Plymouth City Council there is no appetite whatsoever for even considering, let alone implementing, Dutch-style high-quality cycling infrastructure.

As a result, with Sherford being a collaboration between the South Hams and Plymouth, it is utterly unsurprising that despite all the big talk of a sustainable community and all the promises of good cycling infrastructure, cyclists are yet again being shafted by both local authorities.