Towards the end of last year, several events were organised as part of the development of the Cambridgeshire Transport Plan, the key document for influencing cycling over the next five years.
At the end of November I attended the first meeting of the Cambridgeshire Transport Forum in Ely, an afternoon and evening get-together of over 100 people with a direct interest in transport issues and the Cambridgeshire Plan. In December there was a more detailed consultation meeting in Burwell on the Cycling and Walking Strategies that are a legal requirement of the Plan. At the same time, a Plan exhibition was travelling around the county. Also in December, the County received details of its funding allocation from central government for the first, provisional year of the Plan.
The Ely meeting was organised into groups, generally with common interests. With one exception, I would say that most groups were pushing in the direction of more sustainable transport options. Much of the ground covered has been gone over many times in different guises over the years. Alison Quant, Assistant Director in the Environment and Transport Department at Shire Hall, gave a very useful summary of the current position with up-to-date facts and figures.
In a sense, I thought the importance of the meeting was more in having been there than in what was actually said. It was clear, though, that there is a decided lack of enthusiasm in the controlling Conservative group of the County Council for traffic reduction (rather than reduced rate of growth) and for the workplace parking charges that would be needed, both to provide funding and to deter driving.
The Cycling Campaign seeks better, safer and more cycling…
The Burwell meeting, on the other hand, was much more focused. The County already has a document labelled Cycling Strategy , but though it went through the committee process, it was never promoted or given any prominence. There is nothing approaching a walking strategy yet. After an introduction to the past and present, we again split into groups.
We were asked to produce one sentence which described the purpose of the strategy and then six key elements that should be included. Having done some preparation beforehand, it was no surprise that both the cycling-focused groups had the words better, safer and more cycling in their sentences, the Cycling Campaign’s slug-line on its letters and publications. Of course, all of those can mean different things to different people – indeed that is one of the problems that both we and the County and City councils face in general. I spelled out what I meant by these terms in the input I gave (see Box).
My own six key elements were
- Road Danger Reduction (the culture of safety, enforcement, speed limits)
- Provision (the kind of things we have in our Manifesto; addressing corridors, vulnerable spots and barriers; the hierarchy of provision from Cycle Friendly Infrastructure ; continuity)
- Security (parking, theft and personal security)
- Cycling environment (reallocation of road space; integration; convenience; comfort; holistic view of streets; hierarchy of user groups; traffic reduction; street design and streets for people)
- Customer focus (‘level of service’; convenience; quality, standards and maintenance; marketing; promotion and promoter)
- Monitoring (targets; review; Cycle Audit; cycling officer’s role)
The meeting then went on to have 15 minute discussions on six themes arising from these group sessions. These were:
- Customer focus – marketing and education
- Cycling and Walking Environment, and especially ‘Streets for People’ (home zones, speed reduced zones and the like)
- Design issues
- Shared pedestrian and cycling space
- Integration with public transport, health and tourism.
We will, of course, let you know what comes out of the Strategy process. The previous strategy had some really good, laudable words in it but was let down because its policy targets took cycling out of context and measured success in terms of length of cycle path built. Let us hope that the more recent introduction of the National Cycling Strategy , documents like Cycle Friendly Infrastructure and Cycle Audit and Cycle Review , the integration aspects of the transport White Paper, the need for a walking strategy, and the Cycling Campaign’s contributions to the process, result in the new Cycling Strategy dealing with the whole environment in which cyclists operate.
Who to contact: John Richards and Kevin Whiteside at the County Council are dealing with the Cycling and Walking Strategy.
In the shorter term, the County Council has now received its funding allocation for this year. The final plan will be for five years, but this year is a trial run with funds awarded for April 2000 to March 2001.
It is clear that the Government has backed off somewhat on limiting road building – for example in Cambridgeshire the Fordham bypass (north of Newmarket) has been approved, as has a bypass for Baldock in Hertfordshire. From a cycling point of view, this may mean more favourable cycling conditions within the by-passed towns, at least initially, but poorer access between town and country. But ultimately the big worry is what it always has been – that building more roads just leads inexorably to more traffic.
In Cambridge the message seems to be ‘business as usual’ with funding allocated along much the same lines as before. There is a small increase in the cycling budget. There is £600,000 to ‘explore how workplace parking charges might operate in an historic city.’ County Councillor Shona Johnstone said: ‘It means that whilst not committed to introducing workplace charging, all the issues – including the benefits and problems – will be closely examined by the County Council to see if there is any potential in the charging scheme to provide solutions to the city’s congestion problems.’ This, and money to prepare for the Fordham bypass, make up the increase over last year.